As much as I craved some temporary oblivion

It was incredibly lucky that I was here

As much as I craved some temporary oblivion
Mark Lanegan performs in Screaming Trees at Rock for Choice concert at the Hollywood Palladium on January 23, 1993 in Los Angeles. (Photo: Lindsay Brice/Getty Images)

“Our Next guests are a Seattle band, and tonight they’re making their network TV debut with us,” David Letterman says. “This right here is their newest album, it’s entitled ‘Sweet Oblivion,’” he says and then he goes “ladies and gentleman here they are… Screaming Trees. Kids…” and the kids cheer and then the band all shorts and long metal hair both of which were cool then and then weren’t at all for years and now are again kicked into “Nearly Lost You.”

I must have seen this at the time. I was still very young at this point even as old as I am now but Letterman was a big deal for the people like me watching and an even bigger deal for the bands playing although probably not for Mark Lanegan who didn’t seem to be impressed by much of anything. He did later say that he was a fan however. “Leno was a drag as far as I was concerned. Letterman blew Leno out of the water in every category: humor, intelligence, and quality of engagement with his guests.” That’s not really germain to any of this but it’s funny and true anyway. After the show the band got in a food fight and he accidentally hit Dave with something and wouldn’t be invited back on for seventeen years.

I’m looking at him on stage right now. He sounds like he sounds like how you remember him sounding from two days ago when he was still alive. The casually delivered growl that sounds like a man who has lived and also very much always almost not lived throughout most of that living. Hold on let me look up how old he was at the time of that performance. He was twenty eight. Old enough to not be too overwhelmed by it all but still. His voice sounds good though. Jagged but strong. Let’s make a conservative estimate and say at 20 smokes a day times almost 11,000 days since then that his voice always husky like that to begin with was about 220,000 cigarettes younger than the day he died which was yesterday. He’s got a black eye and he looks like the type of guy who would have a black eye as a matter of course. The day before the band had been in a bar brawl and their drummer fucked up his shoulder which accounts for why Steve Ferrone from the Heartbreakers and Average White Band is playing drums. Paul Shaffer is sitting in too of course. Mark is wearing a very nice black leather jacket and his hair is freshly washed and I’m wondering if he washed it because he was going to be on TV and if so that breaks my heart a little bit.

Everyone loves this song. Everyone loves it and it’s still underrated.

Did you hear the distant cry
Calling me back to my sin
Like the one you knew before
Calling me back once again.

This is the most important song Mark Lanegan ever sang to me. He made a couple dozen or so more records since then including with Queens of the Stone Age and the Gutter Twins and his collaborations with Isobel Campbell of Belle & Sebastian which were very exciting for me at the time as you might imagine – like a duet between the lion and the mouse that pulled the thorn out of his paw – but “Nearly Lost You” is still the main song for me. One of those songs that always existed even though you were alive before it actually did.

Now after all, don't it feel like nothing
Like walking away
Like a mouth full of rain
At 12:00
The bell starts ringing
A dog starts barking
And you're still missing
Still missing something
You've never known what it was

I can’t remember the specifics of shows I saw from the distant past anymore there have been too many at this point. I guess if I had to do some dumb math again maybe starting at 16 going strong through at least 38 it was two to three a week. That’s about 3,000 but that doesn’t seem like enough. I know for certain however that I saw Screaming Trees in Worcester in 1996 playing with Manic Street Preachers and Oasis and while those two were a bigger deal for me at the time I needed to see Mark and Screaming Trees play this song very much. The song from Singles. A song could be from a movie then and it was still cool. Mark was bitter about its inclusion on that soundtrack for most of the rest of his life though as he wrote in his memoir Sing Backwards and Weep.

Our first single, “Nearly Lost You,” became the only song of ours to ever make the charts, as well as the only video we ever had in MTV’s regular rotation. Not only had I grudgingly gotten it included on the hugely successful soundtrack, “Nearly Lost You” became one of the most popular singles from it. It was a double-edged sword. Our song, in heavy rotation on MTV, spurred sales of the soundtrack, but by the time our record came out, it was already old news.

I later learned that all the bands on it had also gotten hefty paydays for their tunes. Mudhoney received twenty grand for the use of their song but we had been forced to waive our sync fee for the fucking “privilege” of being included at all. In other words, we’d given them a hit single for absolutely nothing.

Our album went on to sell somewhere around 300,000 copies, well short of the half-million sales required for a gold record. I remember reading somewhere that we were raised to our peak in record sales due to the soundtrack. I knew the reverse was true. We’d shot ourselves in the dick for the sake of the soundtrack, a soundtrack we’d helped to sell, never receiving a single penny in payment at the expense of our own album. A soundtrack to a film that I had been told by friends who’d seen it was just as corny as it sounded when Pfeifer had first told me about it, a lame and sap-filled farce of a movie. It was supposedly set in the “Seattle Scene,” but sounded like an episode of General Hospital, an obtuse bandwagon jump if ever there was one. To me, it may as well have been the Spice Girls film. Seeing a poster for it featuring actor Matt Dillon in a terrible wig was as close as I ever got to watching it. That poster, plastered all over town, told me more than I ever cared to know on the subject. Years later, while drinking together post-gig in a NYC bar, I stuck my lit cigarette into the pocket of Matt Dillon’s suit jacket when his back was turned and set it on fire while I walked away.

Got his ass.

So like I said I don’t remember much of anything from that show but that’s not saying much because I don’t remember much of anything from that time of my life besides wanting to be alive forever like in the Oasis song.

I just looked it up and the Manics sent out a nice tribute to Mark yesterday. “Devastated by this-heartbreaking a huge talent on so many levels-such an amazing voice and all those beautiful words-love and respect to family friends and all those who loved his unique artistic vision,” and then they added a few broken heart emojis. Liam Gallagher didn’t post anything. Those two had an ongoing feud that stemmed back to that tour but having a feud with Liam isn’t exactly unique.

“Liam Gallagher was an obvious poser, a playground bully. Like all bullies, he was also a total pussy,” Mark wrote in the book. Apparently the two were supposed to have a fist fight and Liam chickened out.

Sorry I’m making a singer’s life about me but that is the deal. You sing about your life and I take it to be about my life and then I write about it and the people reading that take it to be about theirs.

My friend J. Bennett interviewed him a few years ago and I’m reading that now and he asked him where he takes his inspiration from and Mark goes:

Well, I try to be open to inspiration no matter what I’m doing. For a large part, stuff starts from memory. Maybe a real experience, maybe somebody else’s experience, maybe something I heard about. I don’t know. Or it could be other people’s music. Wherever the spark comes from, I can’t really give any specific examples, although I’m sure there are some. I really don’t even think about where it comes from. I just let it go where it’s going and don’t really question it too much. I think it just comes from life in general.

Then there’s this part which is hilarious on its own but even more so if you know what J. looks like.

Okay, let’s talk about Queens. Your MO in that band was to walk onstage, sing three or four songs, and then walk off. It seemed like the best job in rock n’ roll. Was it that way for you?

Absolutely. [Laughs] When Josh [Homme] first asked me to do it, I thought it was crazy. But I quickly took to it. It’s a great job if you can get it. [Laughs] Have we met before?


In those days?


You were on Lollapalooza. I remember you.

Yeah, you told me you thought I was a cop.

[Laughs] I probably thought everyone was a cop back then. Don’t take it personally.

I didn’t understand that–I had long hair back then. I looked even less like a cop than I do now.

That’s how you were trying to get me.

He could be funny like that too when he wanted. It wasn’t all death and darkness and addiction and shit although it was significantly that. For example the opening scene from Sing Backwards and Weep is a perfectly concise albeit dark gag. It starts with him in a car after having just scored in Seattle before getting hassled by some cops.

I was almost to the corner when a short, young cop in jeans and muscle shirt suddenly jumped around in front of me, held a badge in my face, and said, “Hold on a second, buddy! Where ya off to so fast, buddy?”

Hands raised automatically, I did my best full-of-shit, bewildered, what’s-this-all-about look. “I’m just going home.” I pointed dumbly to my apartment building. “What’s this?” he asked, reaching out to squeeze the drugs through the thin cloth of my shirt.

“What the fuck, man? I live here! What do you want?” I yelled while pulling away from him with phony indignation. In my head, I quickly calculated how sick I’d be in jail before making bail since I hadn’t done a shot yet that morning. Down the street, I could see both Simon and the cab driver sitting curbside in handcuffs, feet in the gutter, the entire backseat pulled out of the cab.

“Okay, man, let’s see some ID.”

In my mind, I saw my passport upstairs on the coffee table covered in crack pipes and the huge pile of used syringes next to it. That wasn’t going to be an option.

“I don’t have it on me. My name is Mark Lanegan.”

The cop narrowed his eyes, took a hard look at me, then said, “Didn’t you used to be a singer?” After walking me back down the street to the surveillance van, he took a small black-and-white photo off the dashboard: a guy they wanted for auto theft and who looked something like me. He had me sign it with a ballpoint pen, then let us be on our way.

The other day I was finishing up swimming at the pool I go to and I got into the shower to wash the chlorine that dries my skin into sand paper off and there was a baby crying nearby. His or her father had taken it into the pool for like a fun little thing to do to get out of the house and show the baby the world and such I don’t know what parents think like and anyway the baby was screaming mama mama. Over and over. Mama. Mama’s not here right now the father said. I know that’s a very common thing for a baby to cry out but there was something different about this one there was a dissonant harmony to it like a second voice speaking underneath its voice and it unsettled me it was something like the bear in Annihilation like there was a fully formed human trapped inside horrified at the body it found himself in. The father was whispering to it and talking baby language like a parent does and it all knifed under my skin and peeled a layer off this little baby’s anguish and I needed to get away from it so I got dressed as quickly as I could and I walked with my limp I have all the time now out to my cold car in the cold snow and on the way out I almost bumped into who I can only assume was mama herself as there was a woman about the same age as the dad standing outside the locker room with a whole other forthcoming baby bulging out of her belly and when I got into the car I turned on the sports talk radio station and they were talking about the Bruins and whether Brad Marchand deserved his suspension for beating a guy over the head with a stick or whatever he did and I started crying like I haven’t in a long time. Sports talk radio on in the background while a middle aged guy cries is probably more common than you think. Mama. Mama. I know it’s not a big deal when a baby cries! It’s very routine but I couldn’t stop thinking about how it never asked for this it never asked to be wrenched out of oblivion into this. To be dropped on a changing table at the shitty community pool where the scuba divers train and the dozens of children get yelled at for not swimming fast enough as I bob back and forth for twenty to thirty minutes a day depending on how hungover I am and for some reason the screaming at the beginning of life that we all do – the first thing any of us ever does is scream out for a mother we don’t have the words for yet – made me think about men dying in war dying in trenches screaming for their own mothers too and I wondered if any of all this was worth it. It made me feel guilty too for never having given M. a child that she wants so much despite trying but sometimes I don’t know why I would do that to a perfectly non-existent soul not existing nowhere. Bring it here.

I do not believe Lanegan had any children for what it’s worth.

I said that type of shit to M. later on that night I was trying to explain how this baby crying just completely tossed my entire world off its axis for a few hours and she said well would you rather have never been born and I thought about it for a minute and I said no because I would have never met you but that’s silly maybe because if I had never been anything I would never have done anything and I wouldn’t know what I was missing one way or the other.

I guess something is better than nothing but ask me again when things get worse down the line which I’m sure they will.

I have no idea what specifically happened to end Mark Lanegan’s life but his horrific bout with Covid certainly couldn't have helped matters for a man who was like a lot of us already always gambling with time. He fell down the stairs one day and fucked up his knee and his ribs and all the other parts of him and next thing he was in the hospital as he wrote in his recent book Devil in a Coma and then at some point he got Covid and although he lived through it it sounds like it was absolute torture. He didn’t live through living through it though if that makes sense. Or maybe he did I don’t know. An addict rock star dying is never really that surprising but fifty seven still seems too young though. It’s not young for anything besides dying but it is young for that. A lot of people from that Singles soundtrack are dead now including of course Layne Staley and I know Lanegan said he hated the movie but that scene where Alice In Chains plays in the club switched something in my brain man.

He and Layne and Kurt were often trying to kick at the same time or else one of them was and the other two weren’t and that is typically how it goes with using friends. It has to be a united front or else it won’t hold up. He wrote:

I supported any of my friends who tried to get clean as I was often trying to kick on my own. Whenever anyone found out I was trying to kick, however, my efforts were greeted with raised eyebrows and rolled eyes from pals and using buddies alike. Neither Kurt nor Layne believed I would ever get clean due to my maniacal hunger for drugs and the lengths I’d go to get them. Both had said as much at different times in conversation with me. They both imagined they would kick for good someday, but that my chances of ever getting clean were next to nil.

Every addict always has their friend they compare themselves to so they know they at least aren’t as bad as the other guy yet.

I just listened to this cover of “Nutshell” Mark performed with Maggie Björklund for some Alice In Chains benefit type thing at the height of early Covid and it’s as lovely and haunting as you might expect.

We chase misprinted lies
We face the path of time
And yet I fight, and yet I fight
This battle all alone
No one to cry to
No place to call home

I was just reminded of the band Sparklehorse and I’m not sure why maybe because the person behind it was named Mark Linkous and he’s another Mark who is dead. I would have first heard one of his songs “Someday I Will Treat You Good” around the time of that Screaming Trees show. It was on a sampler CD from Urban Outfitters of all fucking places and it was the first time I had ever heard of them or Jimmy Eat World and Mojave 3 and all these bands all of whom became very important to me from that exact point going forward. I used to think about that song a lot when I either treated someone bad or good. Someday I will treat you good I’d think and sometimes I did and sometimes I didn’t. My face is so dry right now from the chlorine and the drinking also. It’s a bad combo. I just looked up Sparklehorse on Wikipedia and under legacy it says “In March 2020, Spin magazine stated that Linkous was more respected by his peers, such as PJ Harvey, Nina Persson and Tom Waits, than recognized by the record-buying public,” and I guess that’s true but it bums me out to see that’s about all there is written there. People love to respect a person on the day they die but then it diminishes incrementally over time unless they were a very big deal. Lanegan seems like the type of guy whose stature will grow after death though I’d imagine. People who sing about death and pain a lot become more important when they’re gone because now it seems like they’ve completed the final course prerequisite. It all feels even more authentic now.

I was talking to a friend of mine just earlier who is also a favorite songwriter of mine and he’s gone to visit mother who wasn’t going to die of cancer for a while before but now it seems like she is and we had a depressing chat and then at the end we both typed “maybe go listen to Mark Lanegan to cheer up” in the DM window and then we both said haha like when you say something at the same time and the other person owes you a coke.

Here’s a chunk from Mark’s chapter about being in the hospital with Covid:

Six weeks later and still in the ICU, 3.30am, wide-ass awake now, raw as fuck, still fighting for air. Wiped out from severe insomnia and the twin kicks to the nuts that were the virus and my injuries, I started wishing I were still in my medical blackout. It was beyond evident that as much as I craved some temporary oblivion, the woefully inadequate amounts of Seroquel, Xanax and OxyContin I was being given were not going to put me down for more than a few minutes at a time – probably since I’d been self-administering elephant-sized doses of the same shit on and off for years. To me it was second nature to eat tablets like candy and I’d been doing it so long I’d forgotten what they actually felt like unless I was caught without for a time and then started again. And, of course, it never occurred to me that there might come a time when I would legitimately need some.

As I started to slowly regain my shattered wits, the deal I’d made with a night-time doctor for extra pharmaceuticals was predictably fucked, and I neither received the meds I’d been promised nor was I given the freedom to have a smoke at the window before lights out. Everything felt like something that was happening again, an unwelcome deja vu, with the end result preordained. The hillbilly Nostradamus in me had often been mythically correct as to a handful of likely outcomes in any given situation, but what my self-destructive mind was telling me here was nothing I wanted to entertain. Still, I found it impossible to keep these unwanted thoughts from invading my head 50 times a day. I was so angry at being deprived of the cigarette I’d been promised, I stopped interacting with staff for a good week or so. This was unnecessary torture.

More and more this was reminiscent of an unending stretch in county jail that I couldn’t shake, with my trial date being intentionally undetermined, constantly moved around just to keep me inside. Whatever was in this shitwagon I’d caught a ride on, it was no fucking joke. I’d taken my share of well-deserved ass-kickings over the years but this thing was trying to dismantle me, body and mind, and I could see no end to it in sight.

Which part of all that stood out for you? Hopefully none of it. I’ve never been in jail but I think living at all is a type of jail. I am fucking trapped right now man I am not going to lie to you. None of my material needs are lacking but I am fucking trapped. It’s ok though it’s almost time to put on the Game Show Network to eat dinner then pass out until I wake up in the middle of the night and watch fuckin… Super Store on NBC as a form of xanax. America Ferrera is a treasure and then they have her flirting with Ben Feldman who is charming and fine but I can’t look at him without thinking about the scene from Mad Men where he says he feels bad for Don Draper and Don Draper says I don’t think about you at all.

After Mark recovered from Covid he did an interview with Consequence of Sound where he talked about the experience more. He told them he felt a million times better and had finally turned a corner.

“But it took a really long time. It was crazy. There’s some residuals. Whatever I had, it attacks places where there was trauma in the body previous times.”

“I had a number of accidents over the course of my life. I have a chronically fucked up knee which still gives me some pain. That was one of the strange things about [Covid] — it went for any place where you were injured or had something happen before.”

Now I’m wondering if it’s a coincidence that my back pain came back for the first time in a long time right around when I got Covid earlier this year. My knee has been fucked too lately and I haven’t been able to run in a month and the lack of that is compounding inside of me.

That part about wanting a cigarette desperately after being in the hospital for a few months was visceral for me. I could feel that. You would hope that you would have weaned off of the addiction by that point but I guess probably not.

I don’t think I ever got over my father dying. I don’t mean I never got over him being dead because he had been for a period of years before that dead to me but rather him dying. The process I mean. It’s a different thing for someone to be dead and to have to watch them dying. I remember him sitting in a wheelchair in some shitty care facility in Weymouth or Braintree or wherever it was looking so small. I bet he wanted a cigarette.

“Everything that’s made is made to decay” that Sparklehorse song goes. Sorry this was supposed to be about Mark Lanegan.

The other night M. and I laid on the couch and watched Cranberries videos and sang and did the funny little exaggerated lilt in her voice that you do that borders on offensive to the Irish but it’s ok because we’re grandfathered into that the two of us.

My mother, my mother
She'd hold me
She'd hold me when I was out there
My father, my father
He liked me, well he liked me
Does anyone care?

She’s dead too now. She died at 46 which I practically am. Then after we got sick of singing I went and looked up her Wikipedia and cried reading it which is known as going full Luke Mode and read that “at 2:00 am on 15 January 2018, O'Riordan had a phone call with her mother. Later that morning, she was found unresponsive in the bathroom and was pronounced dead at 9:16 am.”

Sorry sorry it’s supposed to be a Lanegan. Did you ever do the thing where you meet someone from fucking… Germany or whatever and you go oh my friend is from there do you know him and it’s a dumb thing to say because there are like 80 million people in Germany but you ask it anyway. That’s what I do sometimes when I think about people who are dead it’s like they all must of course know each other now. Whenever a musician dies a bunch of people do that little weird fantasy about how they’re jamming in Heaven with like Prince and Bob Marley and whoever and it always sounds like the shittiest band ever. Nineteen guitarists and shit and like a sulking Kurt Cobain sitting there. He’s not dead yet but you know Paul Shaffer is going to insist on sitting in every time when gets there. I haven’t seen anyone say that type of thing about Lanegan yet though and that guy would collaborate with almost anyone.

I just saw this the other day and now you have to look at it too.

Mark and Kurt were friends of course and I think he introduced him to the famous Leadbelly song. He wrote about not answering Kurt’s phone calls the day he died and how the guilt of that stayed with him for the rest of his life and that is very understandable but also there is only so much a person can do for another person.

I wrote about the day Kurt died in here early on and the conflicting emotions of guilt and exasperation you feel with a friend who is an addict.

When you struggle with depression and addiction you think about being dead a lot which is something I can attest to because I’m addicted to everything. Also my best friend is an addict and depressed and tells me he wants to be dead a lot and I have tried a lot of different things to get him to stop thinking that but sometimes I think I’m maybe not the best person to present the case because I tell him things like Yes, bitch, I want to be dead too but you can’t do it. You have eternity to be dead so just wait like everyone else there is no point in rushing to be dead.

I still think that for what it’s worth. There’s no point in rushing.

I don’t think I really understood that Cranberries line about her father liking her at the time it seemed like a dumb thing to say when I was young like of course your parents like you but I guess I know now that parents don’t always like their kids or at least they don’t show it which sounds obvious but it takes some people longer to figure out than others.

Lanegan’s mother did not like him.

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 beatdowns, 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.

I guess Eddie Vedder played in Seattle last night coincidentally and he paid tribute to the latest in his collection of dead friends.

“I got here about four o’clock and all of a sudden my body started shaking a little bit,” he said. “I started to feel really terrible and I think it was because I was having an allergic reaction to sadness. Because we lost … there’s a guy called Mark Lanegan. You know, there are a lot of really great musicians, some people know Seattle because of the musicians that have come out of the great Northwest. Some of those guys were one of a kind singers. Mark was certainly that and with such a strong voice.”

“It’s hard to come to terms, at least at this point,” he went on. “He’s gonna be deeply missed, and at least we will always have his voice to listen to and his words and his books to read, he wrote two incredible books in the last few years. Just wanted to process it and put it out there, let his wife and loved ones know that people in his old stomping grounds have been thinking about him and we love him.”

Speaking of Ireland Lanegan spent his final years there with his wife and apparently he loved it. He told the Irish Times that he was fortunate to have had his bout with Covid there as opposed to in America. There’s always a healthcare angle in Hell World.

In America he said “I’d be dead, or in debt for 10 lifetimes.”

“It was incredibly lucky that I was here,” he said and while he didn’t mean it like that I agree. It was incredibly lucky. I guess that’s the point of all of it anyway. To have made someone else or as many other people as possible feel lucky that you had been here before you no longer are.