I rarely read music biographies, mainly because they are insanely repetitive, badly written and so fucking boring, but I like Lanegan, more than just about any other singer and I saw a good review so I thought, what the hell.
So, he has done way more (heavy-duty) drugs – a blowtorch was involved at some point – and much more drink and had a whole load more random sex than anybody you will ever meet – a lot of it apparently he was too wasted to recall details of. Days / weeks / years being a series of searching for the next hit, increasingly desperately, getting that hit, nodding, waking (who knows where or how many hours / day later) and searching for the next hit again. He’s a big lad and says he has a high tolerance for all this abuse…
…And then there is the violence. He makes no bones about it. He was raised in violence – his mother, his school, his home town: a blue-collar / working class town (Ellensburg, WA) where people settled thing with fists, knives, bottles or guns – and he has lived both giving and receiving sickening amounts of violence. Judgement isn’t the thing here: events are presented. You either carry on reading or you put the book down.
Sometimes he acknowledges that he was a dick and sometimes he genuinely seems surprised to have provoked whatever reaction in some one else.
There is a page and a half that solely covers all the STDs he has caught and their treatments – some of which he did himself:
“I was at the clinic in Seattle so often, they began to let me freeze-burn the warts off my dick myself. They also began letting me swab the inside of my dick myself. Previously to that, some nurse’s aide would brutally scrape the inside of my dickhole with a thin metal stick with some kind of rough material on the end of it, something I found to be acutely fucked.”
He leaves telling about how his mother treated him – abusively and with no pretence of affection – until late in the book. And that’s a canny move because it shifts your perception as the reader. It helps make sense of the boy was who already a known town drunk by the time he was 13. He’d basically stopped going to school and when he did go, he didn’t do anything. The only thing he seems to have enjoyed at school was the sport, and even then that often end in some kind of brawl.
He appears to have hated, or been hated by, pretty much everyone he has met, especially most of his former band The Screaming Trees. He also says he hated much of their music up until the last couple of albums when others (including him) were finally allowed some artistic input. Something that has been publicly disputed by a former band member and main songwriter, Lee Conner.
There is also no doubting his sadness at the death of several close friends, including Kurt Cobain – who he appears to have found a few days prior to his death, in a semi-comatose state, and with another friend, managed to revive – Kirsten Pfaff, the Hole bass guitarist, OD a few weeks after Cobain; Shadow, a drug addict / prostitute and friend / accomplice of Lanegan’s, found to have been murdered by a serial killer several months after she went missing – a world where people go missing and the absence is not really noted; Layne Staley of Alice in Chains. This is just the top of a very long list of people known to him and lost. He talks at length about his feelings of guilt over Cobain.
On the other side – his disgust at the guile-less swagger of Liam Gallagher, who has nothing but two huge bodyguards to back it up with, is hilarious and laid out at some length…as you feel the little brother might be if Lanegan ever got his hands on him.
He wants no one’s sympathy, repeatedly saying versions of ‘this hell is of his own making’. But he also admits that his ferocious persona, is just that, an act. He won’t allow himself to cry, except in private, just as he won’t allow himself to be second to the punch when challenged: he goes in hard and first. Often.
He is equally honest about his drug paranoias, physical dependencies and degradations: the longest chapter follows this descent lasting several days, following a gig in Sheffield, 4 hours at a bus stop in the rain (it is Sheffield) rapidly descending into withdrawal, trying to get to London, to Bristol and back to London and then abroad to Germany and Amsterdam. All while repeatedly collapsing on the street, puking a black bile, shitting himself…only to be found and rescued with massive doses of heroin and then back out until he is penniless, ripped off and mugged in a freezing Amsterdam at 4am. There’s no romance here; this is not being artistically wasted. It is desperate addiction.
If you want to be seriously sociological about this for a moment, there is a vast problem with the underside of “The American Dream” and it is writ large here: communities without hope; massive drug, alcohol abuse and / or violence as temporary relief / oblivion; in an endless cycle. America is very very sick, and somehow this guy came up through it and there is a trail of chaos left behind him. It is a scorched earth, devil take the hindmost society and it is brutal if you get on the wrong side of ‘normal’.
It is somewhat better written than most rock memoirs, but not that much.
By all accounts Lanegan is now a ‘clean’, herb tea drinking, former user. You leave this book hoping that it allows him to find more peace in his life.