Tuesday, December 15, 2015

COLUMN: Weiland

I strive to be a music fan of the highest order, but I'm about the least rock-n-roll person out there. I've never thrown a TV out a hotel room window. Not once have I driven a limousine into a swimming pool. I don't bite the heads off bats, and I've never demanded a bowl of green M+Ms.

Here's the thing, though. Over the years, I've been fortunate enough to meet dozens of musicians, and one thing rings true: No matter what kind of pedestal we put them on, most rock stars are just regular people who happen to be good with a tune. By and large, they act like any of us would if we suddenly had tour busses, adoring fans, and a seemingly endless amount of money. There's no such thing as a Rock God. Not anymore, at least.

Last week, we lost Scott Weiland. The former frontman of the Stone Temple Pilots was found dead in his tour bus to no one's real surprise. Weiland had a long history of addiction, arrests, and rehab. Sadly, his is an extreme tale of rock excess and the trappings of fame.

Weiland's ex-wife composed a letter published this week by Rolling Stone. In it, she asks people not to glorify Scott's death.

"We are angry and sad about this loss, but we are most devastated that he chose to give up," she wrote. "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."

This makes sense. There's nothing dumber than "I hope I die before I get old." It's not better to burn out than fade away, and there are definitely better heroes out there to idolize. We shouldn't glorify his death -- but that doesn't mean we can't celebrate his life. Weiland may have been a lousy person, but he was one hell of a rock star... who, as it turns out, once tried to kill me.

The year was 1998. It was a Saturday morning when my friend Rockin' Rick Thames called. At the time, Rick was music director of Planet 93.5, and he was calling with an interesting proposal. That day just happened to be the Q101 Jamboree in Chicago -- the king of Midwest summer music festivals -- and Rick had a pair of backstage VIP tickets with our names on them. I'm pretty sure I was at Rick's house before he hung up the phone.

A slew of great bands played the fest that year, and my goal was to meet every one of them. Rick's goal was to press some flesh and solidify some of his industry contacts, so the first person we met was a label rep who worked with radio stations around the country. This poor guy looked stressed the minute we saw him, and we soon found out why. His main job that day was to play artist liaison for one Scott Weiland, and he had his hands full.

"Scott is... fragile," he told us, which is the polite way of saying, 'Scott's a crazed junkie in a downward spiral and God help me, I'm in charge of him.' We wished him luck and spent the rest of the afternoon filling autograph books and dining on complimentary backstage snacks. When Weiland's set rolled around, Rick's friend let us watch from the side of the stage, where the VIPs turned out to be myself, Rick, and actress Minnie Driver (who, for the record, is one of the nicest celebrities I've ever bumped elbows with.)

Then a side door opened and there he was, Scott Weiland in the flesh. He didn't look great, but it didn't matter. The minute the guy took the stage, he transformed from a gaunt husk into a consummate rock star. This was Weiland's first solo tour, and he was using the opportunity to reinvent himself into a Bowie-fueled glam hero. For those forty minutes, I was sold. He and his band played with such intensity that I was truly scared to be that close to the guy.

At the end of the set, they stormed offstage and had to walk right by me. As he passed, Weiland stuck out his hand and gave mine a hearty shake.

"That was amazing, Scott," I said.

"You really think so? Thanks, man!" he said, slapping me on the back before disappearing into the backstage throng of well-wishers.

The rest of the night was spent gathering more autographs and soaking up as much great music as possible. Eventually we bumped into Rick's label friend again, who looked even more haggard than before. "We've lost Scott," he said in a panic. "We think he's out there somewhere," he said, motioning to the massive crowd.

Rick said, "Hey, let's beat the traffic and head out now." As much as I wanted to be there for every last second, I owed this whole day to Rick, so I agreed. As we made our way through the sea of cars, suddenly Rick yelled, "Look out!" and I found myself diving for cover.

Security at the festival had been driving around all day in a small armada of golf carts, and it was one of those very carts that had almost just run me down. As I picked myself up, I looked at the cart, which was now doing 2-wheeled donuts in the lot feet from us, and it wasn't being driven by any security guard. Instead, there was a familiar face looking back.

"BUY MY ALBUM!" yelled a crazed Scott Weiland from behind the wheel of that miniature motorized monster. "BUYYYY MY ALBUM!"

This was nothing less than a felony cart-jacking in progress. We stood transfixed as Weiland drove off and then back again, precariously avoiding parked cars by inches. "BUYYY MY ALLLLLBUM, ALL OF YOU!"

His antics began drawing attention, and as he zoomed past us a final time, it was "A Hard Day's Night" come to life. There was Weiland in the cart, then a pause, and then a horde of screaming fans chasing him over the horizon as a circle of red police lights converged in the distance.

"That, my friend," I turned to Rick, "is rock-n-roll."

It's cliche to wish that Scott Weiland rests in peace. Frankly, I don't want him to rest. I hope he's up there with Layne Staley, Andrew Wood, and Shannon Hoon, raising some heavenly hell. The pearly gates better not have any golf carts sitting around, that's all I know.

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