Hard pressed to pick a favourite tune, though Bubblegum is easily the album I’ve listened to most, so here’s one of the ones that’s always struck me as a masterpiece marriage of songwriting and delivery:
Sad to lose another of the singers that shaped my youth, but—as I remarked to L____ when she sent me the news last night—having heard his music and read his memoirs, I can’t help but feel it’s a miracle we had him around as long as we did. As he was always the first to admit, he was a difficult and self-destructive man who approached much of his life like it was a perpetual punch-up in a crack-house, damaging himself and many others along the way. But you look at the list of people who worked with him—people who were never going to be using his incredibly minor fame as a ladder or easy source of cash—and you read their testaments to his character, and you wonder who he might have been, if only his upbringing had been even half as fucked up as it was.
It was a strange thing, reading his memoir Sing Backwards & Weep after so many years of knowing little about him beyond his musical output. The power of Bubblegum, in particular, is in his articulation of the sorrow and self-loathing regret of the junkie’s downwards meander through life: the seeking only of some sort of understanding, knowing that redemption has long since been taken off the table. But in Sing Backwards, which is very matter-of-fact and warts-and-all, and never elides the man’s own agency in everything he did, that sense of regret seems almost entirely absent, except perhaps as motivation for the existence of the book itself. He describes how learning to write his own songs (the Screaming Trees stuff was mostly written by a bandmate, for whom Lanegan’s enduring contempt is another constant motif throughout: he can just about forgive, but he cannot forget) was the thing that kept him from just stepping straight over the line that heroin drew in the sand for that whole generation of musicians. I interpret that to mean that he found, in his art, a way to express all the things he couldn’t get out in any other way; I find it in equal parts fascinating and tragic that his prose writing, absent the structures of melody and harmony, couldn’t express it so fully.
Ah, well. We only get so long, and he got longer than he ever expected, or felt he deserved. His music will last, one hopes, for as long as there are ears to hear it.
Go easy, man. The fight is over.