The Tragic Life And Unavoidable Death Of Scott Weiland
The former Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver frontman's death was the sad culmination of a long downward spiral of drug abuse – one which he had little chance of escaping.
On the morning of May 16, 2015 an army of angry grey clouds gathered above Mapfre Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, and by lunchtime lashing rain was pounding the shit out of the main stage of the Rock On The Range festival. Then, just like that, the rains ebbed, and out strode Scott Weiland And The Wildabouts to a magnificent roar of approval.
But as soon as Weiland opened his mouth it was clear that something wasn’t right. Sporting mirrored Jim Beam sunglasses, Weiland stumbled through the songs with spiritless, atonal apathy. A smattering of boos greeted him.
It wasn’t the first time this had happened. Only a few weeks earlier, audience-shot footage from a Wildabouts show in Texas captured a similar tableau – a spaced-out Weiland delivering a slurred, barely recognisable version of Vaseline, a song by his former band Stone Temple Pilots.
The footage provoked an avalanche of speculation that he had fallen off the wagon. He responded by claiming 13 years of sobriety, but there was little doubt that he had relapsed – again.
After his set, the singer turned up in the media tent for a radio interview. Sitting next to his wife Jamie, I watched the cringeworthy exchange, with Weiland speaking in a flat, monotone drone, peering at some vague point in the distance with the thousand-yard stare of someone who has been to hell and hasn’t quite made it back yet. The signs looked all too familiar. Despite three decades of addiction, arrests, rehabs and jail, it seemed Scott Weiland had still not hit rock bottom.
San Diego is a tangle of thorny contrasts largely obscured by a reputation as one of North America’s most chilled-out, sun-drenched beach destinations. Beyond the epic surf, ‘America’s Finest City’ is renowned as much for its stodgy, Reagan-era conservatism and pervasive military culture as for its bleach-blond surfers and breezy, New Age spirituality.
In the early 90s, the music industry decided that San Diego was the next Seattle, and record labels dispatched legions of silver-tongued A&R people with fat cheque books in the hope of signing the next Pearl Jam or Nirvana.
Mighty Joe Young were one of the bands they were most interested in. Formed in the late 80s by Weiland, DeLeo brothers Dean (guitar) and Robert (bass) and drummer Eric Kretz, they had emerged as heavyweights on the San Diego scene. Even then, as Mighty Joe Young battled for opening slots in small clubs, Weiland had adopted the bulletproof swagger of an established superstar, drawing generously from his worship of Bowie and Bolan to create a stylish and thoroughly modern new rock star. Gifted with muscular pipes, swivelling hips and a commanding presence on even the tiniest of stages, by the early 90s, Weiland was ready for his close-up.
“In 1992, San Diego was the flavour of the month,” recalls Tim Mays, owner of The Casbah, San Diego’s iconic waystation for heat-seeking new rock bands. In the early 90s The Casbah’s tiny stage showcased bands such as Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins, as well as local bands including Mighty Joe Young. “Anything from San Diego was getting attention,” Mays says. “Record labels were coming down and wining and dining bands, setting up showcases, all sorts of crazy stuff. There was a feeding frenzy going on.”