TEAR Marc Laneganfeeling very lucky i got to see him as part of Gutter Twins in Lollapalooza many years ago.
Born to a sadistic mother and an alcoholic father, Mark Langan had his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. It has since deteriorated. At the age of 12, singing and crying backwards, as he says in his new memoir, he was “an addicted gambler, a young alcoholic, a thief, a porn fiend”. At 18, his criminal record includes burglary, shoplifting, drug possession, vandalism, insurance fraud and 26 counts of underage alcoholism.
At 21, he was at Proto-Grungers Screaming Trees. Not what he wanted: It was his only way out of the ‘dusty cow town’ of Ellensburg, Washington, and he left her on the path to ‘decay, depravity, everything, everything’ . At 29, after eight albums, he was living in Seattle, smoking in dirty boxers and a dirty bathrobe, and watching soap operas while one of his best friends kept calling him.
He decided not to answer. It was Kurt Cobain who committed suicide later that day. There will be many more deaths in Mark Langan’s life, and it’s amazing that this life continues. Lanegan, a sober 55-year-old who had a second recording career with Stone Age Queen, Isobel Campbell and Greg Dulli (as gutter twins), spoke to me twice in this interview: December. London, then for his electro-pop album Somebody’s Knocking.
The first meeting was painful: Langan did not want to talk about his memoirs at all. He stood in front of an intricate backstage mirror, signed the book, and looked at the pages through thick glasses. Eye contact is almost zero. The atmosphere melted briefly as he stepped out to smoke three cigarettes, and he curled up with his star-tattooed fingers. “Many times I wanted to stop writing this book, but I have a commitment,” he said. Like her singing, her voice was strong, heavy and rough.
Lanegan had promised a friend, Kitchen Confidential author Anthony Bourdain, that he would write his memoir. Bourdain encouraged him to write a preface to his 2017 collection of poems, “I am a wolf,” liking his work and urging him to do more. “Anthony said, ‘There’s got to be a level of honesty beyond what you can live through to not be a shitty rock autobiography. It’s the last thing I want to do. This may sound ridiculous, but if it wasn’t for literature, I don’t want to do this.
In 2018, when Lanegan was only four chapters old, Bourdain took his own life. “I had to do it for him.” He offered a brief sense of humor. “I also took the first third of the advance, which I was unable to repay.”
Sing Backwards and Weep chronicles Lanegan’s life in the late 90s. He didn’t want to include his childhood at all. “But I’ve been told that you don’t just create your musical life in a vacuum. There must be a backstory. His parents were “the product of extreme poverty and brutal deprivation” and became teachers. Her mother, Floy, witnessed her father’s murder in her front yard when she was a child. She is mean to her son. When he broke his femur aged eight and was in a full cast, she angrily threw a box of textbooks at his head. Lanegan prefers his father, Dale, “a kind, caring man who means well but can’t control me”.
A photo of Iggy Pop in Creem magazine changed Lanegan’s high school life and opened his eyes to punk. Becoming a musician initially wasn’t exciting for him, as he didn’t get along well with his Screaming Tree bandmates. “Several times I suffocated [Gary] Lee [Conner] seconds ago,” he wrote of the guitarist and band founder. Signed to Epic Records before the grunge craze, they took a slight hit on Nearly Lost You in 1992, by which time Lanegan had taken over the band. But all is not good. “Basically I had to stay with a band that I didn’t like to make money to support my addiction.”
The drug’s history in the memoirs is relentless and dark. The heroine who “saved me from the fear of dying from severe alcoholism” has been mentioned 102 times. While on the Screaming Trees tour in 1992, he was hospitalized with an arm infection which led doctors to consider amputation. Also, many sex stories mainly revolve around drugs. While in hospital, his drum tech tried to give him his “last gunman shot” of a sex worker in a stairwell, even though Lanegan was on an IV. He said he was now ashamed of the behavior.
Lanegan fondly documents his friendship with Cobain. He first met Nirvana at a community center in 1988 with his friend Dylan Carson, who would soon form the doom metal band Earth. “I returned to the depressing junkyard with electric steps and a newfound passion for life,” Langan wrote. “I just experienced being moved by greatness.”