Publisher : White Rabbit
Available in ebook and hardback (30 April 2020)
ABOUT THE BOOK
Kurt Cobain’s best friend and former Queens of the Stone Age member unveils the gritty underbelly of the Seattle music scene in the most honest and unflinching grunge memoir to date
When the rock maverick and grunge pioneer Mark Lanegan first arrived in Seattle in the mid-1980s, he was just another nihilistic waster seeking catharsis from rock ‘n’ roll. Yet little did he know that less than a decade later he would rise to fame as the apocalyptic frontman of one of the most trailblazing grunge bands of all time and soon fall from grace as a low-level crack dealer and a homeless heroin addict while watching some of his closest friends rocket to the forefront of popular music. Nearly three decades later, Lanegan is ready to revisit his gritty past in a gripping memoir Sing Backwards and Weep published in April 2020 by Orion’s new music imprint White Rabbit.
A sinister chronicle of the most tumultuous times of his life, from the formative years of his neoteric rock band Screaming Trees to his brutally honest accounts on the hardships of his life, Lanegan’s memoir is an unembellished tale of one of the most romanticised decades in rock history. From addiction to touring, petty crime, homelessness and the tragic deaths of his closest friends including Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley, Lanegan masterfully interweaves these stories into a coarse fabric of his life that is bursting with creativity yet dripping with drugs. With a voice that’s as “scratchy as a three-day beard yet as supple and pliable as moccasin leather” as once described by Pitchfork, Lanegan’s hoarse penmanship is much like his musicianship with its desolate yet highly nuanced and poetic narrative. From the back of the van to the front of the bar, from hotel room to emergency room, onstage, backstage and everywhere in between, Lanegan’s words flow eloquently from once city to another, from one year to another and one tragedy to another.
Between the chaotic years of touring and addiction, music remains the paradoxical anchor of hope glimmering on the bottom of the barrel, offering solace yet simultaneously pulling Lanegan further into the darkness. Sing Backwards and Weep tracks his artistic journey through a series of stories about his fellow musicians like Cobain whose impact on Lanegan’s music remains infinite. Their artistic camaraderie plays a central part in Lanegan’s life story, all the way from their first meeting to long phone calls on music and girls, jam sessions filled with brotherly love and eventually the bitter end with Lanegan being the last person Cobain spoke to before his death. Lanegan’s memoir offers a unique chance to be immersed in the sonic wonderland of influences behind his hauntingly raw signature sound by revisiting his first encounters with cult musicians and friends like Nick Drake and Nick Cave as well as dipping into his personal playlists of the time that included the likes of Leonard Cohen and Neil Young.
Sing Backwards and Weep tracks the volatile rise and fall of Screaming Trees in an unsparing manner while diving deep into Lanegan’s personal struggles. Unflinchingly raw and powerful to the bone, Sing Backwards and Weep is not your usual celebrity memoir with a pseudo-inspirational tag line, it goes beyond that by telling a story of a man watching his dreams catch fire yet finding a way to drag himself out of the wreckage as one of the most extraordinary musicians of our time.
Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Sing Backwards and Weep. My thanks to Bei of Midas for the invitation to take part in the tour and to the publisher for providing the extract for sharing.
CHILDHOOD OF A FIEND
WITH THE UMBILICAL CORD WRAPPED AROUND MY NECK, I WAS born by c-section in November 1964 and then came up on the wrong side of the Cascade Mountains in the small, eastern Washington town of Ellensburg. My family were from a long line of coal miners, loggers, bootleggers, South Dakotan dirt farmers, criminals, convicts, and hillbillies of the roughest, most ignorant sort. They came from Ireland, Scotland, other parts of the UK. My grandmother on my mother’s side had been born in Wales to Welsh parents. The names of my parents, uncles, aunts, and grandparents came straight out of the Appalachians to the deserts of eastern Washington and every trailer park in between. Names like: Marshall and Floyd, my grandfathers; Ella and Emma, my grandmothers. Roy and Marvin and Virgil, my uncles. Margie, Donna, and Laverne, my aunts. Dale, my father. Floy, my mother. My older sister was given the name Trina. I was the only one who escaped with a non-backwoods white-bread name, a name I hated but thanked God for when I found out my mother had intended to name me Lance. Lance Lanegan. I couldn’t think of anything more ridiculous or humiliating and I thanked my father for not allowing it. After that, I could live with Mark. But I always preferred to simply be called by my surname, Lanegan. If I were introducing myself to a stranger, I would always use my middle name, William. As if by telepathy, though, that was how most of my teachers, coaches, and acquaintances referred to me: Lanegan.
Both of my parents came from backgrounds of extreme poverty and cruel deprivation. Both of their lives had been transformed by tragedy when they were young. Both of my parents were the first members of their large families to go to college. Both became schoolteachers. School was something I just could not do.
Caged behind a desk, I never tried to pay attention to what was being taught. I was often lost in daydreams about my first love: baseball. After school, I’d spend hours playing game after game in a makeshift field on a neighbor’s property until it was too dark to see. Finally, I’d shuffle slowly home to endure the inevitable torrent of verbal abuse from my mother. The main focus of her rage (although there were many brutal angles to her attacks) was the fact that I was never home. She herself was the reason I stayed away. To avoid her corrosive mental beat-downs, both my older sister Trina and I looked for any excuse to be elsewhere. From my earliest memories, Trina and I were also at each other’s throats. Since my father was hardly ever home, it meant I was at both females’ mercies at all times. The only thing that ever seemed to give my mother pleasure was bullying and ridiculing me and anything I showed interest in. One of her favorite rote sayings as she slapped me in the face was “You’re not my son!” How I wished that were true. As a six-year-old child, she had witnessed her father being murdered on the front lawn of her family home, then had been raised in all-male logging camps where her mother worked as a cook, and had grown into a toxic adult. “A piece of work,” as my father would say.
When my parents split, I gladly opted to remain with my father. Though he’d always projected a deep, quiet sadness around him, he was a good-hearted and caring man who meant well. But from the time I was very young, he could not control me.
I shoplifted Snickers, Three Musketeers, Milky Way, and Almond Joy candy bars from the Vail’s grocery store across the street from my school and sold them to my classmates at a discount. I became obsessed with playing Quarters, a game where the participants tossed coins off a wall. Whoever landed closest to the wall won all the money. I spent every spare minute rounding up kids to play and would get pissed when the bell rang to return to class. A close friend’s father was a gambling-device salesman who traveled to bars and taverns around the state, selling punchboards and other amusements for the drunks to waste their dollars on. One weekend, I stayed at my friend’s while his parents were gone.
“Hey, Matt, let’s get in and check out your dad’s stuff.”
That was all it took. We climbed through a window into the barn where his dad kept his merchandise. I grabbed a few punchboards from his stash and took them home. Even then, I was plagued with this devilish obsessive focus, and whenever I saw an opportunity to get over, it kicked in hard. With nothing but time on my hands, I went to work. Over the next few days, I painstakingly split the boards open with a flat-edge screw-driver, extremely careful to not leave any obvious marks of damage. I then spent hours carefully unrolling the tiny pieces of paper inside, removing the ones with $20, $50, and $100 winning numbers, replacing the $1, $2, and $5 winners and other nonwinners back into their slots. Then I carefully glued both halves of the board back together. My handiwork was so tidy that you couldn’t tell anything had been done. I carried the boards in my gym bag from class to class all day and sold punches to kids for a dollar a shot. No one ever won the big money, of course, since I had already removed all those slips, much to my friend Matt’s amusement.
My obsessive hustling consumed my every day, every action, every thought. It was the first thing on my mind upon waking and the last before sleep. It made me an unpopular figure among some of the other students, who were overwhelmed by my aggressiveness, my willingness to take their money. It never mattered how much or how little money I had. I only came alive with the inventing of ways to get it, and the action of getting it. It would get worse.
While in junior high, I began stealing a few cans of beer from my old man’s endless supply and started smuggling them to school in my gym bag. He was also a carpenter and had built a full-size bar and a room to play cards with his cronies in next to my bedroom in our basement. He’d built them out of old wood he’d gotten for free by doing demolition of barns in the area. I drank the purloined beers in an unused janitor’s closet between classes or behind some tall bushes on school grounds at recess. I began smoking weed, only one of three junior high kids in my small rural town who did. I became a petty thief. Each class period, I asked to use the restroom and then quickly made my way through our small school, down to the gym locker room. I would rifle through the pants pockets of those kids who didn’t lock up their stuff. Change, paper money, whatever was there, I took. The only period of the day I didn’t steal was during my own gym class. I was never caught.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Lanegan (b. 1964) is an American alternative rock musician and singer-songwriter who is widely regarded as one of the most influential musicians of our time. He is the founding member of influential psychedelic grunge band Screaming Trees and was a full-time member of Queens of The Stone Age between 2000-2014 when he also penned the theme song for Anthony Bourdain’s award-winning TV show Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown with QOTSA front man Josh Homme. He has collaborated with a long list of industry heavy weights over the years, including Massive Attack, Moby, Warpaint, UNKLE, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Eagles of Death Metal amongst others. Lanegan lives in Los Angeles.
ABOUT WHITE RABBIT
White Rabbit is a new imprint published by former Faber Social impresario Lee Brackstone launching in April 2020. In its inaugural year of 2020, White Rabbit will publish twelve titles by music industry legends like Carl Cox, Richard Russell, Mark Lanegan, Annie Nightingale, Chris Frantz and Jehnny Beth of Savages amongst others. Dedicated to publishing the most innovative books and voices in music and literature, Brackstone aims to build on the uniquely successful publishing he was responsible for at Faber Social with authors like The Beastie Boys, Viv Albertine and Jon Savage. Brackstone’s titles for his Orion imprint indicate the range and personality of a list that will encompass memoir, history, fiction, translation, illustrated books and high-spec limited editions.