When you look up Stone Temple Pilots on iTunes or Spotify, and you look at the suggested or similar artists, you’ll see Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones and Aerosmith — all bands that STP is not nor ever could be. They lack the crunch of Alice in Chains, the flair of Aerosmith, the prowess of Zeppelin, the influence of the Stones, the political charge of Pearl Jam and the range of Soundgarden. And because their sound is so derivative of all of these other bands, STP are incredibly easy to mock, write off and forget.
STP hasn’t aged well, and its music lies perpetually stuck in the early ’90s. Their songs are the ones you’ll hear played on the few remaining adult alternative radio stations, whose listeners are approaching their mid-40s, desperately trying to cling to a bygone era of stadium fuzz and shredded vocal cords. It wasn’t cool to like STP back then, but it was at least justifiable. No one could deny the big dumb greatness of “Interstate Love Song,” the plow of “Vaseline” or the stadium-sized hook of “Plush.”
I have a few STP songs on my iPod, even if it’s roughly equivalent to having a Nickelback song or two (which I may or may not be guilty of — every band, no matter how awful, has one song — (except Creed). That ’90s grunge era produced some of my favorite music, and those aforementioned STP songs naturally belong there. I owe the band at least the acknowledgement that it produced some perfectly acceptable grunge-tinged rock tunes worthy of being belted out in my best ’90s rocker impression as I speed down the freeway.
The death of former STP frontman Scott Weiland last week from what was likely a cocaine overdose has probably brought the band its most cultural relevance in 15 or 20 years. I imagine their first two albums, Core and Purple, will experience a brief but modest rise in sales as people pay their respects to a fallen rocker. And next week, they will remember that it isn’t cool to like the Stone Temple Pilots, and the band and its legacy will drift back into obscurity and mediocrity.
But we should not forget STP, or at the very least we should not forget Weiland. I won’t try to say he’s a great vocalist or try to turn you on to his music, but I would like to remind you that Weiland was a textbook junkie rock star. His death is not the least bit unexpected, and I’m surprised he made it all the way to 48.
The older Weiland’s death lacks the shock value of the universally loved Kurt Cobain’s suicide. It lacks the prescience of Layne Staley’s demise as he withered away from heroin. He wasn’t dazzling like Amy Winehouse or influential like Buddy Holly. He’s just another rocker that burned out and faded away concurrently.
It has become incredibly easy to glamourize the deaths of musicians. Their music expresses their pain and their struggle, and so an early death is the most logical, and in a twisted way, most desirable capstone to their careers — an unlikely demise cements the mythic quality of these tragic artists. Maybe we’re sick like that, demanding our heroes to tap into emotions too strong for us, the general public, to endure, and the result is self-sacrifice.
But Weiland’s death will not be glamourized. He wasn’t popular enough or young enough or tragic enough. We will not remember him for his death, and we will probably remember him only fleetingly for his life and his music. This is what it looks like when we remove the beer goggles: the deaths of rock stars are ugly, minimalist, unsurprising.
Take a listen to STP’s song “Creep.” Weiland’s voice sounds like Cobain’s. And the refrain: “I’m half the man I used to be / This feeling as the dawn it fades to gray.” Read that as you will, but it sounds like addiction and heroin.
Weiland gave an interview to Esquire in 2005 where he recounts the long struggle with addiction. He ends it by describing how the love of his family got him through it, how he doesn’t think about drugs anymore. Ten years later, he’s found dead of cardiac arrest on a tour bus with cocaine in his room.
Addiction is, in many ways, endemic to rock stardom. It’s time we shed the glamour. We owe Scott Weiland at least that much.