When news arrived of the passing of Stone Temple Pilots lead singer Scott Weiland this past Thursday, no one who came of age in the '90s should have been surprised. Few rock stars of his era, it seemed, took the cliché of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll more literally. While drug busts don't typically foreshadow a long life, like the loss of any larger-than-life figure from our youth, Weiland's death at 48 was a shock.
He rose to fame in 1993, when Stone Temple Pilots' "Plush" played on virtual repeat on our MTV. Sounding nearly identical to Pearl Jam, and with Weiland in that video bearing a striking resemblance to Eddie Vedder, they seemed almost pre-fabricated, as if some record exec had sat down and said, "Pearl Jam is the biggest band in the world? Get me a prettier version of that."
The band became a kind of piñata for critics, a personification of the selling-out of alternative music.
Obituaries tend to omit some criticisms from when an artist was alive, but the praise Scott Weiland received upon news of his death wasn't just a nostalgia trip, or a result of the fact that bands like Creed and Limp Bizkit who ruled rock radio after STP made Weiland's songs seem like classics. It was in many ways overdue, because despite the persistent flack, Stone Temple Pilots actually did manage to record some classics. The Americana guitar twangs of "Interstate Love Song" and "Big Empty," along with the glam-ballad "Sour Girl," will stand the test of time. And those songs also sound nothing like Pearl Jam.
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Unfortunately, there were more important issues Weiland was dealing with than what music critics thought of him. Over the years, he was arrested for buying crack and was allegedly shooting up heroin with Courtney Love. Both Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver, the supergroup he formed with ex-members of Guns 'n' Roses, booted him out numerous times.
Two years ago, I was supposed to interview Scott Weiland. He was playing a solo show and it had been arranged for me to get a 15-minute phone call with him to promote the concert. But the day before the interview, I received a polite e-mail from his PR person apologizing that he wouldn't be available. It was disappointing, but because of his reputation, not surprising. He had just been expelled from Stone Temple Pilots for a final time, replaced by the singer of Linkin Park. To add insult to injury, this version of Stone Temple Pilots was touring arenas, while Weiland was playing mid-sized clubs.
I went to Weiland's concert at Revolution a few weeks after the cancelled interview fearing the worst. I distinctly remember speaking with fans who believed this might be their last chance ever to see him sing live. Unfortunately, that fear proved correct: It was his last South Florida appearance — but he didn't disappoint. He still had his charisma, and his voice surprisingly hit every note. His set included a lot of covers and a couple of his STP oldies, so I ended my review for the concert hoping Weiland could beat the odds, live to a ripe, old age, and end up a Las Vegas lounge singer reinterpreting all the hits for the grunge set.
That fate wasn't meant to be. Scott Weiland died the way he lived, like a rock star.