When Mark Lanegan sings, his voice sends shivers down your spine. That dark, deep baritone reveals a man who has not only walked through the shadow of death, but has had a rental place there for quite some time. While many who sing dark songs of death, despair, and desolation know very little of the pain they are relating, Lanegan is the real deal. Sing Backwards And Weep, his newly-released autobiography, offers a contiguous and unrelenting onslaught of darkness, wickedness, and self-destruction.
One theme runs rampant throughout Sing Backwards And Weep: drugs. You name it, they’re there on every page. And why not? For the young Lanegan, they were his true love; everyone else was tangential. If he’s not doing drugs, he’s off on misadventures to get more drugs. If he’s not searching for drugs, he’s drug-sick and cranky and unhappy. And if he’s unhappy? Watch out—that’s when Dark Mark comes to visit, and you really don’t want to incur his wrath.
People come and go out of Lanegan’s journey—and often the ones that need to go the most are the ones who stick around. Lanegan has little interest in forming any casual attachments, and when the fame monster descends on Seattle, things only get worse. If you’ve ever wondered why no Screaming Trees reunion, Sing Backwards And Weep will set you straight. While maintaining a respect for Lee and Van Connor, it’s clear that he has no desire to return to that combustible relationship.
Yet when he loves, he loves hard. He develops a deep love for two fellow rock travelers, Alice In Chains’ Layne Staley and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. In these two restless souls he finds true companionship, even though both relationships are damned and end in tragedy. Lanegan’s last interaction with Kurt rivals only that of Waylon Jennings’ last conversation with his friend Buddy Holly. He finds and loses love with a long-suffering woman, but his truest relationship throughout the book’s time period is heroin. Furthermore, if you get on Lanegan’s bad side—not hard to do—he doesn’t forgive and forget. Lanegan pulls no punches with occasionally funny and often shocking run-ins with the famous and notable.
(Actually, that’s not correct, as Lanegan did pull his punches with two people who deserved punching: Sub Pop’s Bruce Pavitt and Liam Gallagher. with whom his two-decades long spat recently resurfaced in a hilarious Twitter exchange.)
Lanegan’s not just a source of frustrations for those in his immediate path; Sing Backwards And Weep offers its own set of vexations. For those looking to read about the music of the Screaming Trees, you might find Sing Backwards And Weep somewhat lacking. Lanegan largely dismisses the band’s early work, wherein Lee Connor served as mastermind behind the songwriting. Even on the records he enjoyed, such as the band’s definitive work Sweet Oblivion—he doesn’t offer much insight into the creative process. Furthermore, the book ends quite abruptly. After relating a disastrous European tour that’s both unnerving in its desperation and its nervous intensity—it’s a nail-biting tale that doesn’t seem like it’s going to end–Lanegan realizes he’s hit bottom and decides it’s time to get it together. He checks into rehab…
And that’s it; save for a tragic postscript a year or two later, that’s the end of the story.
But it wasn’t the end of the Mark Lanegan story, thankfully. Like a masterful storyteller, Lanegan’s left us in suspense, waiting to hear what happens next. And what happens next is truly a story worth hearing: a solo career that finds Lanegan achieving acclaim and critical success, his role as one of the most powerful voices of our time solidified. Here’s hoping Lanegan decides to share his tale of redemption. Sing Backwards And Weep offers one of rock’s most intense stories, and easily stands as the year’s best rock autobiography.
Purchase Sing Backwards And Weep: A Memoir: Amazon