Last Friday (Dec. 18) saw the official determination that former Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver singer Scott Weiland’s Dec. 3 death at age 48 on his tour bus was from an accidental overdose of cocaine, alcohol and methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), and that further spotlights a theme in the remembrances of him.
While many praised Weiland’s talent, several of the tributes to him (particularly those from Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath and Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx) also focused on his long-running public struggles with addiction. Weiland’s second ex-wife, Mary Forsberg Weiland, went even further in an open letter published in Rolling Stone, seeming to blame the music industry and the ticket-buying public for enabling him:
December 3rd, 2015 is not the day Scott Weiland died. It is the official day the public will use to mourn him, and it was the last day he could be propped up in front of a microphone for the financial benefit or enjoyment of others. The outpouring of condolences and prayers offered to our children, Noah and Lucy, has been overwhelming, appreciated and even comforting. But the truth is, like so many other kids, they lost their father years ago. What they truly lost on December 3rd was hope.
We don’t want to downplay Scott’s amazing talent, presence or his ability to light up any stage with brilliant electricity. So many people have been gracious enough to praise his gift. The music is here to stay. But at some point, someone needs to step up and point out that yes, this will happen again – because as a society we almost encourage it. We read awful show reviews, watch videos of artists falling down, unable to recall their lyrics streaming on a teleprompter just a few feet away. And then we click “add to cart” because what actually belongs in a hospital is now considered art.
Forsberg Wieland’s comments hit home for me from my own experience of seeing Weiland live. I loved his work with Velvet Revolver and enjoyed a fair bit of his Stone Temple Pilots stuff as well, so I went to what wound up being one of his final STP concerts. That was in Abbotsford, B.C. on Sept. 17, 2012, and it almost caused a riot.
Openers Crash Kings put on a great hour-long set, but then over two hours passed with no appearance from STP. Fans started angrily chanting, security got nervous, there were reports of backroom negotiations with facility staff to try and get them on stage, and then they eventually walked out after 11 p.m. Weiland briefly made light of the delay and then seemed to be staggering around the stage, not entirely there during the short set they did play.
The rest of the band didn’t seem particularly impressed with him. They canceled their show the next night in Alberta, one of the final shows of that tour. Then (after similar reports popped up at other shows the group played, and after he started touring with his own band in November), Stone Temple Pilots fired Weiland the following February, citing addiction and tardiness in a lawsuit, with bassist Robert DeLeo saying “We didn’t really have any other choice.”
That STP concert has always been somewhat of a punchline for me, and a great story about “The worst concert I’ve ever been to.” But Forsberg Weiland’s letter has me rethinking that a bit.
No, those of us in attendance didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, but there had been plenty of reports before that indicating Weiland had a serious problem. That’s perhaps even more true for the shows he performed after leaving STP, and after their lawsuit publicly cited his addiction struggles as a reason for firing him. Many read the awful show reviews and saw videos of Weiland falling down, and some still bought tickets to see him anyway. But does that mean we have a share of the responsibility for Weiland’s death? Should we stop clicking “add to cart,” as Forsberg Weiland writes, for tickets to shows by artists who are clearly struggling with addiction? And if so, where do we draw that line?
If there is any responsibility for fans, they’re far from the only ones. And to be clear, Forsberg Weiland’s piece seems just as aimed at the industry people who financially benefited from Weiland’s tours. Managers, bandmates, label executives, promotion companies, friends and others would all seem to have much more of an ability to convince someone in trouble to get help than any individual fan. However, collective fan support enabling those performers to keep their career going certainly can play a role in convincing them that their current course of action is fine and that they don’t need drastic remedies.
The problem is that it would be incredibly difficult to get everyone to boycott a particular artist, and even if you did try that, where would you draw the line? Reports of drug use alone clearly don’t seem like enough, as that would lead to a boycott of much of the music industry. Sixx spoke about how Weiland’s drug addiction reminded him of his own struggles before he got clean, especially as Weiland died on his former tour bus. It’s notable that there have been many positive stories of artists overcoming addiction, too, from Sixx to Alice Cooper to Weiland’s former Velvet Revolver bandmate Slash, and none of those were prompted by fan boycotts.
Moreover, fan boycotts could have unforeseen effects, perhaps causing the subject to become depressed and further turn to drugs. The reality is that addiction is often very individual, and what works to help one person may not work for another. There’s no universal cure, and the subject’s personality and own desire to quit or not can play a big role. That’s what McGrath referenced in his comments on Weiland’s death, saying that many tried to help him and couldn’t:
“It’s the old cliche, you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help himself,” McGrath said on the Allegedly podcast with hosts Theo Von and Matthew Cole Weiss. “Scott was resigned to his belief. His heroes all went through their thing, and I think he was romanced by the whole idea of addiction.
“He always has been,” McGrath continued. “He told me, himself! It was more the routine of shooting up and copping and all that, as well. It was the lifestyle and all his heroes did — it was Iggy Pop, or Johnny Thunders. He lived it. He was a real dynamic and true artist in all the sense and unfortunately sometimes that’s part of the package.”
If anything, that’s perhaps the biggest area where fans can have an impact; trying to change the lifestyle, or at least spreading the message that they aren’t only going to support the stereotypical hard-living rockers, or even just talk about them a different way. Fans can be supportive of artists who take time off to go to rehab, and supportive of those who have more to talk about than just how hard they party.
That doesn’t necessarily mean a boycott of those who have problems or who endorse problematic lifestyles. There’s often a worthwhile distinction to be drawn between enjoying art and endorsing the artist’s views, and beyond that, a boycott isn’t automatically impactful or helpful. However, a change in how we discuss celebrities with addictions might be useful. We’re often drawn to comment on their struggles when plastered across supermarket tabloids, or to use them as a punchline after a particularly terrible interview or show, but it’s worth remembering that these are real people with real families and real problems.
There may not have been anyone who could really have changed Weiland’s course, but it’s worth pondering how our wider culture helped him get to that point, and how we could potentially help others not suffer the same fate. Forsberg Weiland’s conclusion is apt there:
This is the final step in our long goodbye to Scott. Even though I felt we had no other choice, maybe we never should have let him go. Or maybe these last few years of separation were his parting gift to us – the only way he could think to soften what he knew would one day crush us deep into our souls. Over the last few years, I could hear his sadness and confusion when he’d call me late into the night, often crying about his inability to separate himself from negative people and bad choices. I won’t say he can rest now, or that he’s in a better place. He belongs with his children barbecuing in the backyard and waiting for a Notre Dame game to come on. We are angry and sad about this loss, but we are most devastated that he chose to give up.
Noah and Lucy never sought perfection from their dad. They just kept hoping for a little effort. If you’re a parent not giving your best effort, all anyone asks is that you try just a little harder and don’t give up. Progress, not perfection, is what your children are praying for. Our hope for Scott has died, but there is still hope for others. Let’s choose to make this the first time we don’t glorify this tragedy with talk of rock and roll and the demons that, by the way, don’t have to come with it. Skip the depressing T-shirt with 1967-2015 on it – use the money to take a kid to a ballgame or out for ice cream.