Mark Lanegan (1964-2022)

by Greg Prato

Sub Pop, courtesy of Mark LaneganSub Pop, courtesy of Mark Lanegan
It's uncanny how many truly amazing singers hailed from the same area and arrived around the same time. Of course, I'm talking about Seattle in the late '80s and early '90s. Case in point, Chris Cornell, Layne Staley, Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder, and... Mark Lanegan.

Sadly, Lanegan passed away at the age of 57 on February 22, 2022.

As the singer of the Screaming Trees from 1984-2000, Lanegan's smokey baritone became a crucial sonic ingredient for the band, especially on their best-known tune, "Nearly Lost You." But Lanegan also issued classic recordings with a variety of other bands and projects, the best known being Queens Of The Stone Age (including what many consider their two best albums, 2000's Rated R and 2002's Songs For The Deaf).

But it was as a solo artist that Lanegan issued the best work of his career, especially such classic recordings as 1990's The Winding Sheet, 1994's Whiskey For The Holy Ghost (this album and the previous one being favorites of Kurt Cobain's), and 2004's Bubblegum (which featured PJ Harvey, plus members of Queens Of The Stone Age and Guns N' Roses).

But as Lanegan detailed in his 2020 memoir, Sing Backwards and Weep he suffered from a horrific substance addiction and alcoholism for a long stretch of his life.

Although I did not interview Lanegan for my 2009 book, Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, many of his friends and acquaintances did discuss what made him so special as not only a singer, but as a person. Here are some excerpts.
Mark Pickerel [Screaming Trees/Truly drummer]: We formed the early incarnation of the Screaming Trees — which hosted several names — [in] about 1982. We started a group called Him and Those Guys, which was me, Van Conner, Lee Conner, and a guy named Dan Harper on bass. Van met [Mark] Lanegan at drama class — I believe Lanegan was a senior at the time. It was around my sophomore year in high school. Van approached Lanegan — just from having a mutual appreciation of everybody from Motörhead to Black Flag to more obscure '60s artists. I was already a drummer — I could play pretty well considering my age. We decided to start this new band, that would just be me, Van, and Lanegan. It was just going to be a three-piece punk band. But Van's mom, Kathy, got really pissed off, because we were using equipment that Lee had part ownership of, and that his mom had also. She stormed into our rehearsal, and demanded that we let Lee back into our new band.

Chad Channing [Nirvana drummer]: Lanegan — that guy always had long hair! With the punk rock thing evolving into what they coined "grunge," the Screaming Trees were different from all that. Seeing something like that in the mix, it opened things up. Nothing has to be totally hardcore all the time or whatever. Mark's just got that eerie, melancholy type of voice.

Tad Doyle [Tad singer/guitarist]: Mark — an incredible singer. That voice of his is really low, warm, and full of pain.

Tracy Marander [Photographer (cover of Nirvana's Bleach), girlfriend of Kurt Cobain]: [Lanegan] would usually stand with his eyes closed — reminded me of Jim Morrison.

Dawn Anderson [Journalist, publisher of the zine Backlash, ex-wife of Jack Endino]: Mark Lanegan was one of the shyest guys I've ever met. When I interviewed them, it was really difficult, because they were afraid to talk to a girl [laughs]. Later on, they loosened up.

Mark Pickerel: Mark Lanegan's first solo record was one of the best experiences of my career — The Winding Sheet [1990]. I really hoped that would develop into a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds kind of environment. I didn't want to abandon the Screaming Trees, because I thought that the Screaming Trees had a lot to offer and were very exciting. But I did picture Mark's record and talents evolving into something that would have been more of a working band/working environment — rehearsals, tours. But that was not meant to be. Now, it has developed into something — it's more palpable than it was at the time.

Hiro Yamamoto [Soundgarden/Truly bassist]: I remember those two big guys — Van and Lee — shaking their hair. Those guys were so big and had so much energy. An awesome band — Lanegan is something else. Pickerel was just a kid — he was, like, a 16-year-old back then. A lot of big bodies and hair flying.

Mark Iverson [KCMU DJ]: The Screaming Trees at the Central Tavern were always fun. But Mark Lanegan would be a bit... he would take his time showing. So the whole band would be onstage, and it's like, "Where's Mark?" One time, it was probably midnight, and all of a sudden, he comes tearing through the crowd. His hair is flying, his flannel is flying, he jumps onstage, and they just launch into their thing. Who knows what he was doing outside.

Mark Pickerel: None of us really knew what we were doing — we all had pretty specific ideas about how we wanted to be presented to the world, and how we saw ourselves. On the other hand, there was a lot of confusion within the band. I mean, I was still a junior in high school when I was recording [1985's Other Worlds]. So my influences varied from everything to current David Bowie hits to early Cream, 13th Floor Elevators. I was still very impressionable.

We knew that we were outcasts, so we had that working against us — so we thought. Although coming to find out later that that ended up appealing to people — because we were so sheltered, it really helped us create our own little culture in Ellensburg. I watched that Ramones documentary recently [2003's End Of The Century], and I immediately felt a kinship with those guys. It reminded me so much of our story — four absolute misfits who had a common vision. At the same time, there were a lot of personalities within the band that didn't really work together, but somehow, managed to figure out a way to continue to move forward every day.

February 24, 2022

Further reading:

Sub Pop Founder Bruce Pavitt
Kim Thayil of Soundgarden
The Story of Truly
Mark Arm of Mudhoney
Chad Channing

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