The news of Scott Weiland’s sudden death Thursday hit me hard, taking me back and down.
Back to my teenage years: I grew up as Stone Temple Pilots was at its apex, mingling grunge, power-pop and art-school chicanery, and that first, indelible trio of albums I wore out in a variety of formats — Core, Purple, and Tiny Music ... Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop.
Down to grief, albeit tinged with inevitability: Weiland, who reportedly died of cardiac arrest in his sleep at the shockingly young age of 48, was always one misstep away from the abyss, having spent much of his professional life reeling from one addiction or another.
One of my earliest concert memories is attending, with my dad, a Stone Temple Pilots gig in May 1997, at Tulsa’s Expo Square Pavilion.
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The band, touring with Cheap Trick, was fresh off of the previous year’s Tiny Music, a sublimely weird and irresistible album unlike its heavier, darker predecessors. My enduring memory, apart from Weiland’s writhing across the stage, is how profoundly loud it was. I didn’t care that I could hardly hear for two days — it took at least that long for the adrenaline to wear off.
STP was, and is, a foundational band for me.
The absurd hostility Weiland and his bandmates faced upon the release of 1992’s Core — the chief sin being that Weiland’s voice sounded too close to Eddie Vedder’s; oh, for the simpler days when singing in similar fashion was all music writers had to wring their hands about — only forced me deeper into Core’s urgent, strange darkness.
I spent so many hours listening to songs I didn’t fully understand — the grinding Plush, the amphetamine rush of Crackerman or the haunting Where the River Goes — getting lost in Weiland’s pleading croon, his feral roar.
As happens with teenagers and rock music, I fell hard, and soaked up anything I could find on the band.
Inhaling subsequent records — Purple, and specifically, Interstate Love Song, has the dubious honor of being the cassette tape cranked up loud on the tape deck during my first car accident as a new driver — I wasn’t bothered by the critics’ indifference, or the fact that bubblegum pop was beginning to overtake alt-rock in popularity.
I plunged into STP’s music and could hardly bother to come up for air.
I even succumbed to Weiland’s gorgeously odd solo album, 1998’s 12 Bar Blues. That record’s bizarre atmosphere, combining esoteric wordplay and dense, vivid thickets of sound, still sounds like little else that escaped from the ’90s.
As happens in life, my musical horizons began to broaden in college, and I drifted.
The band’s fourth album, 1999’s No. 4, didn’t click with me as the previous three had, and by 2001’s Shangri-La-Dee Da, I’d lost interest — and so did the band: it broke up in 2002.
But, as the nostalgia for 1990s rock began to crank up, Stone Temple Pilots came back around, reuniting the original foursome and hitting the road.
I saw the band again for the first time in over a decade when STP played Verizon Theatre in June 2008. Going in, I was hesitant, as early reviews of the tour had been less than kind.
Much to my amazement, what I saw and heard pulled me right back to the late ’90s: “Nostalgia helps people forgive a lot,” I wrote at the time, “but STP was on point throughout, pummeling the boisterous crowd with one killer track after another, all delivered with the band’s trademark fusion of art-school pretension, glam-rock flash and crunchy hard rock ’tude.”
At that moment, it seemed as if STP would join the ranks of grunge relics, remaining active, recording and touring on the strength of past glories. But Weiland’s troubles would once again derail the band, and the singer parted ways with the group in 2011.
Apart from his time as lead singer of the supergroup Velvet Revolver, Weiland also continued with his solo career, authoring a memoir in 2011, recording (his final solo LP, Blaster, was released earlier this year) and touring (his 2013 stop at Dallas’ House of Blues was not, to put it mildly, his finest hour).
That deep, abiding affection for STP and Weiland’s singular creativity probably made me grade his and the band’s work harder once I became a music critic.
Everyone comes to the job with favorites and soft spots, and knowing the band’s history with critics made me tighten up, making sure I wasn’t giving Weiland or STP a pass just for nostalgia’s sake.
It seems cruel that Weiland, forever cleaning up and, tragically, slipping back into bad habits, was lost at such a young age.
More than many of his contemporaries, he had such a unique approach to making music that, for myself at least, it forever changed the way I listen.
The news of his death is unspeakably sad.
A piece of my formative years is gone.
To celebrate all Weiland and the band gave us, the only fitting thing to do is to fall back, and down — getting lost, one more time, inside the music.