“All my life, I had never felt right in my own skin. I always felt that wherever I went...I don't know, I always felt very uncomfortable. Like I didn't belong. Like every room I walked into was an unwelcome room.
This is my life, a cautionary tale. Maybe somebody can learn from it.“
Scott Weiland came barreling onto my radar in 2007 when I read a Rolling Stone article about his band in which he was named "the quintessential junkie rock star." He was thirty-seven at the time and he already had several platinum albums to his credit. He also had, to his credit, five drug arrests, a six-month jail stint and uncountable attempts at rehab. "Think Kurt Cobain without the shotgun."
In 1987, Scott had formed the group that became Stone Temple Pilots, or STP. (The acronym originally stood for Shirley Temple's, uhm, private part.) STP was one of the biggest bands of the 1990s, following in the footsteps of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Weiland hit the mainstream media cycle in 1996, when the members of his band held a press conference on the eve of a national tour to let the world know that Scott was an "incorrigible heroin addict, unable to rehearse or appear”. The tour was canceled and Scott's life descended into an "epic shitstorm" of arrests, overdoses, prison, domestic problems and parole violations. After another heroin and cocaine arrest in 2003, he was shipped off to (yet another) rehab, this time for a 6 month stay. However, at the time of the Rolling Stone article’s publication in 2007,
Weiland swore he was back on top. He was on a world tour, he had accumulated more than four hundred days of continuous sobriety, and he was living peacefully with his two young children and his wife, Mary.
I was fascinated by Scott Weiland. I’m drawn to heroin addicts. Scott was handsome in that "I've got one foot in the grave" kind of way, like Sid Vicious, the lead singer of the 70s punk band The Sex Pistols. I like that look. I find some strange savage beauty there. Hidden behind the bruised eyes, pale translucent skin, and haughty seen-it-all expression. I find junkies sexy in the way that they really go for it. I even found the simian actor Ben Stiller attractive once I saw him plunging a needle full of heroin into his arm in the film Permanent Midnight. Junkies go for what I was seeking through drugs and alcohol. Oblivion. However, heroin seems to be an oblivion that the user can remember. Drink enough and you will black out. Where's the fun in that? But according to my junkie friends, heroin is the most gorgeous experience in the world, and you get to remember it. Unfortunately it then quickly takes over your life and you get clean or die, but still the appeal is there. That is why I love general anesthesia, the controlled blackout. A medically monitored blackout where I won't wake up in some bed not knowing where I am, or what I've done. A blackout where I get to wake up to a friendly nurse patting my hand and asking me if I'd like some juice. What could be better?
But back to Scott. Not only was he a wonderful front man for every band he graced with his presence but he was also smart. You can sense his intelligence when you read his words on his heroin addiction.
"Once I started shooting, I realized I'd made a career decision; you can't hold on anymore to regular life. It's like your life becomes a friend dangling over the edge of a building. You're trying to hold on, but the hand is slipping from your grasp, just slipping and slipping, and you just know that you're going to lose that person. And that person is your former self."
Those words gave me chills. I never did heroin but I had the same experience with alcohol. I would try to stop drinking for a week or two. While actively alcoholic I once went an excruciating 27 days without a drink, almost a month without "my medicine“. That almost-month was a huge accomplishment. But I always went back to the bottle, eventually. I was in "the grip of the grape" as it were. And every time I picked up a drink after a period of abstinence, I knew that what I was doing was not in my best interest. I also knew that it would end the same way it always did. With me drinking more than I wanted to, drinking alone, and drinking even when I had sworn to myself that I would not. Like Scott, every time I picked up my drug of choice I knew that I was, once again, acting against my true self, my higher self, my better self. I recently listened to an hour-long interview with Scott Weiland where he speaks about his music, his life, his addiction. When he was clean there was a sharp measured clarity to Scott's language. He was a deep thinker. You can hear it. I have come to learn that most addicts are deep thinkers. Maybe too deep. I'd like to make a bumper sticker for my car that says "Addicts - we think too much".
Scott struggled for years, but then he got sober. And his wife got sober. And they had 2 children. Then on December 13, 2015 while on tour Scott's body was found "cold and stiff" according to the 911 call from the back of his tour bus. He was dead from a toxic combination of drugs and alcohol. He had overdosed again, this time fatally.
So at some point after getting clean he had started using again, and it killed him. The usual story. And the world lost an amazing talent. A bright, gifted, charismatic light extinguished much too soon. His wife lost her husband, his parents lost their son, and his children lost their father.
Maybe that was part of his appeal for me and others. That razor’s edge that Scott Weiland danced wildly on for years, the razor’s edge between life and death. Will he make it? Will he live? Or will he die? It was exciting in a sick way, hard to turn away. Like a human car crash happening in slow motion.
Over the years and through the endless scandals I think society sort of gave up on Scott, years before he died. He was still touring, still making music, still illuminating stages with his intense magnetic energy. Personally I never gave up on him. I thought there was a chance for him, a chance for us to keep enjoying his enormous talent. But he let go of "that friend dangling over the edge" when he picked up again. He let go of that person he was holding on to, his former self. And in doing so, in letting go of himself like that, he lost his life.
I wonder what made Scott start using again? Before his death he said this:
"Having children showed me a whole different kind of love than I had ever known. It was something that had always been missing. Complete love. I would die for them. Right now, for the first time in my life, I'm finally happy. I don't think any more about getting high. I've struggled with it for so long. I've gone through kicking so many times, I've been on and off-it's just played out, you know?"
"I'm finished avoiding myself."
So maybe that's the most important gift that Scott left us humans, this "cautionary tale" as he christened his own life. That last line about avoiding himself was a gift to me. Because that is what addiction is, for me anyway, avoiding myself. Avoiding my feelings. Over the years I have learned that feelings are not facts. So I remember Scott's words always. When I want to drink. When I want to drug. "I'm finished avoiding myself" I repeat when cravings strike. If I can keep those words in mind, if I can continue to feel my feelings in real time, then I think I have a good chance at a beautiful sober life. Feelings, although brutal at times to confront head on, are not, in fact, life threatening. Whereas addiction often is.