Thursday, April 30, 2020

Honesty: the best policy?

As The Slits' Viv Albertine observed during her Midnight Chat with Loud And Quiet's Stuart Stubbs, the problem with plucking up the courage to write a warts 'n' all autobiography is that you find yourself forced to revisit the most troubled periods of your life not just once but repeatedly. Committing traumatic incidents to paper inevitably arouses media interest, and playing the promotional game requires you to talk about them even if you'd much rather just forget and move on. Judging by the "painful" nature of the first of his two interviews with the Guardian's Jude Rogers, it's a lesson that Mark Lanegan was in the process of learning.

Not that Lanegan was exactly enthusiastic about the idea of writing a memoir in the first place. "So many times I wanted to stop writing the book", he told Rogers, "but I had an obligation." That obligation was partially to the publisher who had paid him an initial slice of the advance, but predominantly to his friend Anthony Bourdain, who had pressed him to write with "a level of honesty beyond what you'll be comfortable with for it not to be some crappy rock autobiography". When Bourdain committed suicide in 2018, Lanegan knew he had to see it through.

Sing Backwards And Weep, by all accounts, honours Bourdain's advice - an unflinchingly candid account of an early life lived on the wrong side of the tracks. Lanegan's salvation was that distinctive voice - "magnificent, heavy and gnarly" in Rogers' words - though he also owes a debt of gratitude to Courtney Love for funding the rehab that helped him on the path to getting clean. A poignant gesture, given that Lanegan is evidently still wracked with guilt for not answering the phone to Love's husband Kurt Cobain on the day he shot himself. Personally speaking, it's a shame to see his disdain for Screaming Trees spelled out ("I basically had to stay in a band I didn't like in order to make money to support my drug habit"), but it was already an open secret. Regardless, Sweet Oblivion and Dust still stand up as two of the best records to emerge from grunge-era Seattle.

What is interesting in light of Albertine's comments is Lanegan's conviction that writing the memoir will ultimately lay things to rest: "[It] means I won't have to answer any questions any more. If anyone wants to know what this experience was like ... it's all there." Maybe, after the current round of press interviews is over, he'll be proven right.

But if that gets you excited at the prospect of a sequel, picking up where Sing Backwards And Weep leaves off (in the late 90s), don't hold your breath: "I wouldn't put myself through that again."

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