A New York Musician Pays Homage to Former STP Frontman
by Robert Michael Bray
Rock lost one of its most iconic figures this past week. Frontman Scott Weiland was found dead in his tour bus. At 48 years old, he outlived many of his heroes and contemporaries by decades. And at 48 he was also making some of his best music.
When all the dust settles, when father time has made folly of fad and flash in the pan, among the figures of that age, it will be Scott Weiland who will adorn the poster as the archetype of late 20th century rock ‘n roll. His slinking, preening, gyrating silhouette standing alongside Elvis Presley and Jagger and Richards, the rock icons of generations past.
Scott Weiland and his peers grew up in an era where rock ‘n roll excess was romanticized and indulged in. It was commercially and socially beneficial in many ways. It destroyed his closest and most important relationships, but it never dampened the public’s appetite to watch him do his thing or to listen to his records. It was what his heroes did, and he was always paying homage to his heroes. Bowie, Morrison, James Brown, Jagger, Iggy, T-Rex…
In addition to anesthetizing himself from real pain and trauma, Scott, like many of his heroes, believed that drugs unlocked creative passageways, delivered human insight, and severed useless inhibitions. He should also have known that it ruins and destroys lives and obliterates talent and skill, even talent as oversized as his.
Core, Purple, and Tiny Music..Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop, Stone Temple Pilot’s first three albums, came out when I was 11, 13, and 15 respectively. The most awkward and emotionally fraught time in the evolution of a soul. I became conscious of his music the same afternoon I was flat out rejected by a girl I was smitten with for the first time. I was given the dreaded “we should just be friends.” Ouch. And then as if on cue, out of the speakers… “One time a thing occurred to me, what’s real and what’s for sale…” You know what I’m talkin’ about. That music cut through.
Those songs were among the first ones I learned when I started taking guitar lessons. I wasn’t the only one, and I have no doubt that kids 50 years from now will have similar stories to mine. Later on I would find out many critics, especially from the major publications, were dismissive of those early efforts, referring to him as a poor imitation of some of the other grunge era standouts like Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder, Chris Cornell, Layne Staley, Shannon Hoon (let it be known I love all those guys)… Those critics and their descendants will have to wear that shame like a badge.
Scott Weiland could make a three-piece suit look rock ‘n roll, and while most rockers move around on stage like your dad dancing at a wedding, Weiland’s movements were instantly recognizable and infinitely expressive. Scott and his bandmates were brilliant on those recordings but their live show was an entirely different animal due to the dynamism of Weiland’s movement. His moves communicated in their own feral and sensuous way, giving you a physical vocabulary and imprint for your internal emotional life that you take with you to your dying day.
STP live, in their prime, was the most ecstatic and euphoric two hours I have ever spent in my entire life outside of intimate moments with my girlfriend and laughter with loved ones. It changes you, thoroughly. From that moment on I became determined to approach that level of joy and energy in my music – to get some kind of a taste of it as a performer. This man, and his gifts, spawned a generation of frontmen, myself included. Adam Levine sings about having “moves like Jagger”, the last line in my song “One Kiss” goes, “I’m dancing like I’m Weiland on to your set.”
Why I’m so drawn to him and why news of his death was so heart wrenching for me, I can’t put into words. I connect to Scott Weiland’s rich baritone. His sweet tenor. His ability to croon warmly like Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra and also sing melodically and soulfully over the heaviest sounds his bandmates could play. I connect to the knowledge that Scott Weiland thought of his voice as another instrument in the mix, adjusting his tone with pedals and settings just like his bandmates.
He wanted the letters STP as part of the band name because of its association with race car driver Richard Petty, who for him was the personification of cool. For me, Scott Weiland’s image is the personification of cool. He was boyish and rambunctious in his songwriting as well, writing about spies, bootleggers, dogs… and his songs were full of earnest romantic sentiment and expressions of deeply felt personal loss.
His rock music was not the rock music of promiscuity, the party, and hot one night stands. It was the rock music of real love gone sour. It was the rock music of intense connection and devotion and the subsequent highs and lows that come with it. Scott was proud of his background as an athlete and a member of the choir, not all that dissimilar from my background. He credits it for his confidence as a vocalist and his prowess on stage. I credit it with lending his voice an angelic and ethereal quality while at the same time containing plenty of teeth and grit. I like him because he was a Notre Dame football fan, like me. And because he sought a connection with other musicians and just wanted to rock out with his friends.
It is sad to know we will never hear another Scott Weiland album, or see him perform live again. That is a loss of biblical proportions. His last album “Blaster” is so good and so vibrant that I was hopeful and optimistic that greatness in music from him wasn’t relegated to the past. Big things were surely ahead. I really had that sense.Those hopes are now dashed. It’s sad. It’s even sadder that he leaves behind a wife and kids. To them his legacy is anything but iconic.
Musically and culturally, however, Scott Weiland gave and left this world an astonishing amount. To paraphrase the Jewish folk song Dayenu, If he only would have given us Core…it would have been enough. If he only gave us Purple…it would have been enough… Tiny Music… Number 4…Shangri-La-dee-da…Thank you…Contraband….Eponymous…12 Bar Blues…Happy in Galoshes…The Most Wonderful Time…Libertad…Blaster... It would have been enough. Fortunately for us, it was never enough for him.
Rest in long sought after peace Scott, you will be deeply and profoundly missed.
Robert Michael Bray is the frontman for New York rock band Gideon’s Army.Share on social media