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Remembering MARK LANEGAN: 15 Essential Facts From His First Memoir, Sing Backwards And Weep

Mark Lanegan

"Life's the study of dying; how to do it right." Mark Lanegan certainly taught us how to live one's final years with dignity. On February 22, 2022, the icon tragically passed away at 57 years old. Mark was best-known as the frontman of the insanely influential rock band Screaming Trees. The prolific godhead released an amazing total of 12 solo studio albums. Among his many achievements, Mark co-founded a group called The Gutter Twins with Greg Dulli of The Afghan Whigs. Over the years, Mark has collaborated with an extensive list of artists: Isobel Campbell, Duke Garwood, Cult of Luna, etc. Mr. Lanegan was even a member of Queens of the Stone Age. You may not have realized that Mark wrote the hit "No One Knows" with Josh Homme. Mark also authored several books — I Am the Wolf: Lyrics and Writings (2017); Plague Poems (2020); Sing Backwards and Weep: A Memoir (2020); Leaving California (2021); and Devil in a Coma in (2021), which detailed his COVID nightmare.

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Sing Backwards and Weep is by far best rock n' roll autobiography you will ever read. It will make you do just what its title suggests. Mark will catch you off-guard with the force of the cutting honesty with which he delivers his most brutal memories. This book is full of amazing anecdotes, such as the time when Alice in Chains' Jerry Cantrell allegedly made off with Lanegan's entire porn collection. Mark relayed the story of how he unintentionally breathed acid into his lungs before appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman and then initiated a food fight after the show. Our protagonist even revealed that his reckless antics nearly got Josh Homme killed. Let's not neglect to mention the fact that Lanegan casually recalled sticking a lighted cigarette into the jacket of Singles (1992) star Matt Dillon. (Screaming Trees contributed the hit "Nearly Lost You" to the film for free.) Fans will be curious to hear what Mark had to say in retrospect about the Screaming Trees' infamous feud with instigator Liam Gallagher of Oasis.

“Here come[s] the devil. Buy the round. One whiskey for every ghost.” We would suggest raising a glass in Mark’s honor; but instead, a sobering cup of coffee feels more appropriate. We salute Mark for his bravery in fighting addiction. If there ever was a musician who inspired his listeners not to “slip away,” it would be Mark. His work gives the word “authenticity” new meaning. Mark changed the lives of countless fans. For that, we owe him our eternal gratitude. Help us take some time today to remember Mark Lanegan with these facts from his autobiography Sing Backwards and Weep.

1. Mark first saw Kurt Cobain at the Ellensburg Public Library

Mark Lanegan was born in Ellensburg, Washington on November 25, 1964. As a teenager, Mark was obliged to complete community service hours at his local library, where he wanked off in the restroom bidaily. Needless to say, libraries have always had a special place in Mark's heart due to his "nasty librarian" fetish. It is absolutely insane to think that Mark witnessed an early incarnation of Nirvana perform at the Ellensburg Public Library. Their concert was shut down after only three or four songs. After the show, Kurt told Mark that he was a big fan of his. Two weeks later, Krist Novoselic phoned Mark to ask if he could join Screaming Trees.

2. In less than two hours, Mark finished his work for Mad Season's Above (1995)

Actually… the time spent on “Long Gone Day” and “Above” amounted to slightly over an hour. Mark Lanegan and Layne Staley actually wrote the lyrics for the former song together — first Layne composed a line, then Mark, then Layne again, etc. Fans probably know that Mad Season was a supergroup that included Mark’s Screaming Trees bandmate Barrett Martin.

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The 2013 deluxe edition of Above contains Mark’s “Slip Away” as well as the late genius’ “Locomotive” and “Black Book of Fear.” Mark selected these three songs out of a batch of seventeen tracks that were started in 1996. Guitarist Mike McCready told Total Guitar that he had waited sixteen years for Mark’s vocal and poetic contributions. These songs were intended for Mad Season’s second album, which never materialized.

Mad Season’s bassist John Baker Saunders and Layne Staley passed away in 1999 and 2002 respectively. Drummer Barrett Martin explained Billboard: “I don’t want to speak for Mark, because they’re his words, but it’s his tribute to Layne and Baker. He knew those guys very well. He was one of Layne’s best friends.” “Slip Away” is one of the most heartrending songs known to man: “Down to the water; drawn to the flame. This life will leave you crippled; don’t you know the game?” Mark was not kidding when he sang these lines. At a young age, his legs were crushed by a tractor. Mark faced many injuries, including others to his legs, over the course of his life. Mike McCready’s outro for “Slip Away” is definitely one of the greatest of all-time.

3. Layne Staley and Mark once allowed a woman to drink water they had used to clean their dirty needles

Layne, Mark, and Mark's friend John Hicks often shared the same syringe. While on tour in Europe, they allowed an obnoxious woman, whom they nicknamed "the Queen of Sweden," to drink the glass of water that they had been using to rinse their dirty needles. Although Mark tried to find the words to stop her, Layne grabbed his arm in an effort to hush him. This incident transpired after Mark nearly had an arm amputated as a result of shooting heroin with Layne while on tour. During Mark's first night in the hospital, Layne stepped up and performed "Nearly Lost You" with Screaming Trees to a Canadian audience.

4. Mark perceived Screaming Trees as a ticket out of his hometown

Mark penned: "Bad as things were, I saw the band as my ticket out of my go-nowhere life in my hometown, my only ticket out." To say that Mark had a rough upbringing is to understate the matter. Although Mark's parents were teachers, they both came from poverty-afflicted backgrounds: Mark's mother witnessed the murder of her father when she was just 6 years old. She once tried to shove her son down an escalator in a department store. This occurred just months after Mark was freed from a full body cast that resulted from what could have been a fatal drowning accident. Mark's youth was full of vandalism, bicycle theft, and other miscellaneous crimes. He and a friend even destroyed a police van with a sledgehammer.

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However, Mark actually demonstrated an aptitude for sports in high school. Like Stone Temple Pilots' late frontman Scott Weiland, with whom he recorded an unreleased song, Mark had been a quarterback. Mark loved playing baseball until he was dismissed from the team for failing home economics. It is heartbreaking that both Scott and Mark became morbidly fascinated with the idea heroin after reading the work of William Burroughs.

5. Mark hated the term grunge

Don’t call Mark Lanegan a grunge pioneer! Mark referred to the term with which he had been “shitstained” as “moronic” and “media-generated.”

6. Mark had an unfortunate meeting with Anthony Kiedis' father

Mark Lanegan agreed to accompany a man dubbed "Blackie" to his home. On two hard chairs, Mark and Blackie made out with two young-looking girls. When Mark went to the restroom, he saw photos of Anthony Kiedis and pieced together the family relationship. Mark soon fled in disgust.

7. While homeless and on the streets, Mark encountered both his parents

When Mr. Lanegan Sr. unexpectedly arrived from Alaska and asked to crash with his son, the musician was forced to turn down his father’s his request. (Keep in mind: By that point, Mark’s father had already seen his rockstar son open for Johnny Cash.) The very next day, Mark’s mother and stepfather handed him a pamphlet for a rehab facility.

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8. Mark's music could have been featured in the movie Spanking the Monkey (1994)

Director David O. Russell wanted to use Mark’s Whiskey for the Holy Ghost (1994) as the soundtrack for his directorial debut, Spanking the Monkey. O. Russell even offered to give Mark a role in the film. He also promised to remain loyal to the singer in the future. Once Mark read the screenplay, however, he was too disgusted by a scene in which the mother and son have sex to answer O. Russell’s follow-up phone calls. Furthermore, Mark feared travelling to a place where he might not have luck procuring heroin.

9. Kurt Cobain frequently listened to Whiskey for the Holy Ghost in the weeks before his passing

That's what Courtney Love told Mark after the fact… Mark had received a couple of calls from Kurt Cobain shortly before he committed suicide in 1994. Mark was unaware that Kurt had escaped from the Exodus Recovery Center. Mark was soon enlisted to help look for his missing friend. Kurt's suicide would prove haunting to Mark. Above all, Kurt had been a generous friend. Mark recalled an instance when Kurt handed him a much-needed stack of over $3,000 in cash. One of the saddest moments in Sing Backwards and Weep is when Kurt confided the following: "You [Mark] and Dylan [Carlson of Earth] are the only real friends I have. You guys are the only people in this world I trust anymore."

Mark and Kurt had collaborated on an aborted Lead Belly cover album. You can hear Kurt on guitar and backing vocals on Lead Belly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” which appeared on Lanegan’s debut solo record, The Winding Sheet (1990). Of course, Kurt sang this song on Nirvana MTV Unplugged New York (1994).

10. Following the death of Layne Staley's ex-fiancée, Demri Parrott, the Alice in Chains singer moved into Mark's apartment

Before Demri’s passing, she taught Mark a lesson about the brutal nature of addiction. One day, she appeared at his place in search of drugs while still wheeling an IV pole after contracting endocarditis and receiving a pacemaker. Demri was just 27 years old when she passed away of intoxication and the effects of drugs. Mourning the loss of his beloved, Layne moved into Mark’s one-bedroom apartment, where a man on the run named St. Louis Simon also stayed. Layne remained with this odd couple for a few months. At a certain point, Layne’s father Phil became his son’s drug runner. Layne eventually returned to the condo that would become his deathbed. According to David de Sola’s Alice in Chains: The Untold Story Book (2015), Mark would later visit Layne there to try to talk some sense into him.

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11. Mark did not like Sub Pop Record co-owner Bruce Pavitt

Bruce Pavitt selected a photo for the cover of Mark's The Winding Sheet (1990) that the musician had specifically asked him not to use. Although Mark burst into Pavitt's office with clenched fists, he left the bigwig unharmed in a triumph of the virtue of restraint. Mark nevertheless vowed that he would kill Pavitt if the opportunity ever presented itself again.

12. Shortly before his death, Jeffrey Lee Pierce asked Mark to be his frontman

Mark Lanegan went from idolizing to The Gun Club's Jeffrey Lee Pierce to receiving the friendship of the man himself. Jeffrey wanted to form a new band for which he would play guitar and Mark would sing. Mark did not believe that he could possibly be the star of any show that included Jeffrey. Mark was devastated when Jeffrey passed away soon afterward.

13. Lee Conner and Mark owe their first collaboration to the insistence of Mrs. Conner

Van Conner and Mark bonded over their shared love of punk. Thanks to a job offer from Van, Mark became a repo man for Gary Conner Sr. who owned a video store. Van, his brother Lee, and drummer Mark Pickerel rehearsed in the backroom. Van and Pickerel wanted to boot Lee and recruit Mark. Although Mark was skeptical about the idea, he would attend a fateful Conner family dinner that would change his life. From the table, Mrs. Cathleen Ellen Conner called to her son Lee to demand that he let Mark listen to his songs. Surprisingly, Lee and Mark had not spoken beforehand. In Lee’s room, the duo wrote lyrics and Mark added vocals to a song that Lee had been working on, “Pictures in My Mind,” using a four-track recorder. Mark agreed to join Van and Pickerel’s group on the condition that they keep Lee.

14. Producer Terry Date, Chris CornellVan Conner, and Mark had a basketball routine

The legendary Terry Date, who is known for his work with groups like Pantera, produced Screaming Trees’ first album with Epic Records, Uncle Anesthesia (1991). Chris Cornell was enlisted as a co-producer. After recording each day, Terry and Chris would square off against Mark and Van on the basketball court, where the latter team repeatedly kicked ass.

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15. At 33 years old, Mark's only possession was a corduroy coat from a thrift shop

This garment had been purchased for £10 in Glasgow. Mark had gone from conquering the world to shoplifting Orajel for a rotten tooth and nicking socks from Nordstrom to cover his drug wounds. Mark, who worked several odd jobs during his life, survived by selling drugs and stolen batteries. To add insult to injury, he was obliged to buy the coffee and donuts for the man for whom he sold heroin.

We mention this because it makes Mark’s recovery story all the more touching and inspiring. Although our hero clarified that he was “not a really religious person” when speaking with The Quietus, he went from literally smoking pages of the Bible to seeing the Light: “… my life flashed before my eyes — but I finally understood what that meant.” Mark’s recovery journey was aided by the likes of Courtney Love and Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan. Sadly, however, Mark introduced his readers to a female partner in crime nicknamed Shadow who met a worse fate. Shadow was tragically murdered by a serial killer. The fact that Mark was able to rise “Above” a life of danger seems to have been a miracle. It serves as a testament to Mark’s superhuman willpower. With infinite respect, we continue to mourn the great artist.

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