Mark Lanegan Teaches Al Jourgensen A Painful Lesson

Read an exclusive excerpt from Mark Lanegan's incredible new memoir, 'Sing Backwards And Weep.'

As the rugged voice of Screaming Trees, Mark Lanegan was at the epicenter of Seattle’s alt-rock gold rush at the turn of the ’90s. An Epic contract and the momentum behind his band’s surprise hit “Nearly Lost You” kept Lanegan in and out of studios and dingy clubs for most of the decade. But behind the scenes he was barely hiding a harrowing heroin and crack addiction he fed first alongside confidants like Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Alice In Chains’ Layne Staley, then among fellow dealers living beside the freeway.

Lanegan is now long sober, and his grim new memoir Sing Backwards And Weep (Hachette Books) makes it abundantly clear how lucky he is to be alive and still making music. The author details his youth as a street-smart delinquent and his hope that baseball (he was his high school’s star pitcher) or punk music would provide a ticket out of his “dead-end redneck” Ellensburg, WA hometown. By the end of Lanegan’s teens, after narrowly avoiding a lengthy prison term for a variety of offenses, the long-haired and handsome Gun Club disciple forged his exit by forming Screaming Trees with his video store boss’ sons, Gary Lee and Van Connor, and their drummer friend Mark Pickerel.

As Lanegan tells it, he was forever dissatisfied with his group’s derivative neo-psychedelia, at least until their breakthrough sixth album. But despite the high-profile opportunities afforded a major label grunge act — Singles, Lollapalooza, an invitation to sing with Nirvana on MTV Unplugged — Screaming Trees and a promising solo career quickly took a back seat to booze and drugs anyway. “Heroin was my number one,” he writes. “And anything else — everything else — was such a far-distant second place as to be virtually unseen on the radar screen of my life’s importance.”

The book is a whirlwind of fistfights, casual sex, and desperate attempts to ward off dopesickness in hostile locales. During one winter tour opening for Alice In Chains, Lanegan spent eight days in a Quebec hospital being told the amputation of his right arm was imminent. Each day his bagman (the Trees’ drum tech) “tried to get a hooker past security with the idea that I would roll my IV stand down the hall to the stairwell to receive one final blow job as a two-armed person.” This is far from the most sordid episode relayed.

Lanegan is a vivid storyteller, and anyone with an interest in ’90s rock will thrill at how he names names and settles scores. Al Jourgensen (Ministry), Tim Armstrong (Rancid), Dean Wareham (Luna), Liam Gallagher (Oasis), and Jason Finn (the Presidents Of The United States Of America) are just some of the Alternative Nation denizens whose characters are exactingly assassinated. Anthony Kiedis’ father makes a creepy cameo with an apparently underage girl. The founder of Sub Pop is continually painted as a duplicitous dolt. But Lanegan saves his harshest vitriol for his mother, “a wholly detestable, damaged witch.”

There are some dark laughs, too. At one point he takes Screaming Trees’ clean-cut, young touring member Josh Homme with him to score crack in Rockford and all the dealers think the guitarist is a rookie cop. Alice In Chains’ Jerry Cantrell is accused of stealing Lanegan’s 100+ lb. porn collection at 6 o’clock in the morning.

It’s an exceedingly raw portrait of a damaged life and the most gripping autobiography I’ve read in years. We’ve got an exclusive excerpt from Sing Backwards And Weep below. In this chapter, Screaming Trees are at Big Day Out, the traveling Australian festival that in 1995 also featured Hole, Primal Scream, Silverchair, and Ministry on the lineup…

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Below excerpted from Sing Backwards And Weep: A Memoir By Mark Lanegan. Copyright © 2020.

In January of ’95, the Trees went to Australia to take part in the Big Day Out festival, something akin to Lollapalooza in the States. It was a huge traveling circus that hit every major city in Australia: tons of bands from several different countries playing on a bunch of different stages at every show. Somehow, we got booked on the main stage.

At the very beginning of the very first show, a huge outdoor affair in Melbourne, I got hit in the eye with something hard. It swelled shut instantly. Enraged, I looked around the stage with my good eye until I found the projectile, a thick, heavy one-dollar Australian coin. While the band continued to play, oblivious to my rage, I started talking through the mic to the crowd, holding up the coin and daring the asshole who had thrown it to make himself known. On the huge, high stage with a good ten-foot security pit between it and a fence that held back the thousands of audience members, I stalked back and forth, determined to identify the fuckhead who’d hit me and get some retribution. Suddenly, I saw a huge, blond, shirtless muscle-bound giant pointing at me, then at himself, then flipping me off with both hands. His gestures, his demeanor, everything clearly said, “It was me! C’mon, shithead, let’s go!”

My extreme anger boiled over. I tried to get off the stage and into the no-man’s-land between it and the crowd to throw punches at this physically huge fuck taunting me from just on the other side of the fence, but the multitude of security guys in front of the stage would not let me get down. Still being egged on by the blond steroid specimen, I searched the stage for something to throw. All I could find was a large, full, unopened oblong bottle of Evian water. I had been a quarterback and I had been a closer on my baseball team, but the shape and weight of this bottle, as well as the fact that I could only see through one eye, made hurling it into a crowd packed with women, children, and innocent concertgoers a tricky proposition. If I was to catch a child or a woman in the face or, Christ, anyone other than this blond musclehead, it would be all over for me. But as the source of my rage continued to egg me on, my intense anger could not be controlled.

I walked to the edge of the stage while the band still continued to jam, at this point five minutes into a vocal-less tune. I stood ten feet from where this son of a bitch stood, still flipping me off with both hands. Fuck it, I thought. I threw the heavy and weirdly shaped bottle with everything I had, maybe fifty miles an hour. It caught him horizontally right across the middle of the face. The audience roared with approval.

Intending to finish him off, I ran and leapt over the outstretched hands of the equally giant security guards hell-bent on keeping me on the stage. I landed directly on the other side of the fence from my now-wounded target. The instant I hit the ground, the excruciating pain in my heel told me that I’d broken my foot. For a brief moment, I was eye to eye with my adversary. His face was covered with blood as he tried to pull himself to his feet. On the opposite side of the fence, I had my hand on top of his, trying to do the same thing. His mug looked like shit, but I’m sure mine was equally contorted with pain. Security grabbed me and threw me back onstage. I finished the set seated on the drum riser, unable to walk.

I had not yet scored that day and instead got drunk. Hole was also on the festival, and in a shuttle van headed from the stage to the artists’ area, Courtney rode along with me, whispering in my ear that she and Al Jourgensen of the band Ministry had scared something up.

Later on that shitty first day of the tour, I was busted by members of Q Prime, my management team, when they walked into a backstage tent right as I was administering a shot of heroin to Courtney. To make matters worse, Q Prime had just begun representing Courtney and Hole.

“Lanegan! What in the fuck are you doing?”

“Tell me you two are not shooting heroin or by God, Peter and Cliff are going to hear about it!”

“Lanegan, for a guy who never makes us any money, you are a complete time-wasting ass! What in the serious fuck do you think you’re doing?”

“Jesus Christ! I cannot believe this! Honestly! Do you have a brain in your fucking head?”

And so on. Hardly a promising start to the tour. Now forced to hobble around with a cane and play each show seated on a stool, I turned my attention to scoring heroin, not getting busted, and staying well.

There were plenty of addicts on the tour. Besides myself, my close friend and the Trees’ longtime soundman Brian “Rat” Benjamin was also strung out. I’d quickly become acquainted with Al Jourgensen, Ministry’s notorious singer. He, Courtney, and I were the three most obvious dope fiends on tour. From appearances, Bobby Gillespie and Throb, the stars of British band Primal Scream, my favorite band on the tour, were also getting loaded daily and hell-raising nonstop, presumably with different drugs of choice than us. It was a continuous party.

https://courtney-hole.tumblr.com/post/190730670808

Al’s road manager was an old Scottish road manager of mine from the early ’90s, Michael “Curly” Jobson, a man rumored to have a dark and mysterious past. He and I had become instantly friendly, getting along famously during the time he was employed by my band until one day in Germany. I had spent the night at the apartment of a beautiful friend of mine named Petra Hammerer who was not cool with my drug use. She had said I could come over as long as I left my heroin in my hotel. I had given it to Hicks. After an enjoyable night at Petra’s, my first stop was Hicks’s room to get my dope and do a shot. He opened the door with a look that told me something was very, very wrong.

“Mark, I don’t know how to tell you this but Curly broke in here last night and took your dope.”

I hit the roof.

“What in the fuck do you mean, took my dope? Why in the fuck did you let him have it? How’d he know you had it? And where the fuck is he?”

Hicks went into a highly animated, lengthy explanation, playing both himself and Curly, bouncing between an imitation of Jobson’s threatening Scottish brogue and back into his own heavy Southern accent.

“He knocked on the door and then shoved me out of the way and forced his way in. He said, ‘Where is it? Where is it, John? I’ll break your nose and tear this room apart unless you give it to me now!’ ‘But Curly,’ I said to him, ‘Mark will kill me if I give it to you!’ ‘I’m gonna kill you right now if you don’t!'”

I was becoming more and more agitated by the moment.

“Where is he, Hicks?” I demanded, a furious fire welling up inside. “That’s the worst part. He got on a plane to head back to England. He took your dope and quit.”

Not only had he stolen my dope but he’d also just quit in the middle of a tour and left us to fend for ourselves? I was in shock. I called Kim, our hapless manager who’d hooked us up with him in the first place. I told her either she fixed it or she was fired but that this was on her.

Our soundman at the time, Rod Doak, had also been our tour manager in the past and he took over. A week later, Curly showed up out of the blue, full of apology and excuses, ready to finish the job. I found out the entire fiasco had been brought on by a long-distance fight between Curly and his wife. He’d freaked out and gone home to fix it, but not before stealing my heroin and leaving me high and dry.

Now, years later, Curly was no longer a drug-stealing dirtbag. He was clean and dressed impeccably in a suit or nice sweater to perform his job of looking after one of rock’s most notorious addicts, Jourgensen. Al began to grate on my nerves right away. Curly woke me up early one morning, asking me for something to get Al well.

Brian Rat and I always made sure we were covered. That meant hitting the streets, working the local crews and any other potential sources of dope. Every day, Brian and I hit the ATM with his card, drew out max dough, and set out to score before anything else. Before I’d left Seattle, I had bought a large bottle of “pain cocktail” from a guy in my neighborhood with advanced AIDS. It contained methadone, Dilaudid, liquid morphine, and who knew what all else. All I knew was that it didn’t just keep you well, it also got you loaded. I guarded it carefully at all times. It was my backup, not my party drug, only there to keep me well if I were unable to score.

Al, on the other hand, was the entitled variety of junkie, always one to want in on something he’d put zero energy into getting. He expected to be catered to. I gave Curly a small amount of my pain cocktail and told him it was the last time I was giving Al anything for free.

After our show in Sydney, I met two attractive, slightly older women, one blond, the other brunette, probably in their mid-to late thirties. They were funny and sexy and insisted on taking me out on the town. As we went from bar to bar, getting drunker and drunker, I became aware at some point that the brunette was the ex-wife of Chris Bailey, the legendary singer of the Saints, one of my favorite bands of all time. I couldn’t help thinking as we laughed and partied in a corner booth of a dark, crowded bar that if this wildwoman were my wife, I’d hang on to her.

We continued our pub crawl down in Sydney’s well-known Kings Cross, an area of the city filled with junkies, brothels, and bars, where I had scored drugs the day before. When I ran out of cigarettes, the women went into a shop to grab me some more while I leaned on my cane curbside and smoked my last one. I stood there, staring up at the sky, starting to get lost in my head, when I heard the unmistakable sound of someone speeding from around the bend and then the squeal of tires as they hit the brakes hard. I spun around. At that exact moment, an old panel truck plowed into a girl who was running across the street. The sickening crunch of impact made a hideous sound as it sent her flying out of her shoes toward where I stood. Her body landed in the gutter right next to me.

I snapped out of my reverie, recoiling in shock. I hobbled into the street. The first to reach her, I put my finger to her neck and checked for a pulse. Nothing.

My two new friends, the driver of the truck, and more passersby crowded around. As someone tried to do CPR, the truck driver began to quietly weep. When an ambulance arrived, they took the paddles to her, trying to shock her heart into starting again. I looked down at this good-looking young woman. Knowing I’d seen her last second on earth, I felt overcome with a sad weariness. The party was over.

The women gave me a ride to my hotel and only the blond stayed. As I said goodnight to the dark-haired woman, I selfishly wished that, if I was only to have the company of one of them for the night, it would have been her. But I knew I was more than lucky to have anyone at all.

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The end of the tour brought us to Perth, far Western Australia, with one day off before the last show. Staying a few miles outside the city, I knew I was gonna have to hit the streets to score. On my way out of the hotel, I gave Al a courtesy call and asked him if he needed me to get him something. His curt “Nope, I’m good, man” told me he’d already lined something up for himself and had no intention of sharing any with me.

Brian Rat and I took a cab into town to a punk rock house someone had tipped us off to as a place to score. When we got there, it turned into a shitfest lasting hours as we kept being promised “It’s almost here” and “Fuck, man, I’m sorry, but we have some other shit on the way.” After several hours of this bullshit runaround, I was getting pretty dopesick and puked into the toilet within earshot of the tenants and their friends who knew I was a musician and who were coming to the show the next day. Finally, some guy showed up with some dope that I instantly knew was fake.

We grabbed our coats and on the way out, a girl grabbed my arm and said, “Come on, I know where to score.” She took us to a house where we were finally able to get our daily allowance of heroin, always the exact amount we were able to buy with the daily limit on the ATM card. As soon as we got back to the hotel and Brian and I had finally gotten well, the phone in my room rang. I picked it up and the first and only thing I heard was Jourgensen.

“Thanks a fuck of a lot for thinking of me, asshole!” and then, click, he hung up.

After our humiliating day’s worth of dopesick waiting, the run-around, fake dope, and, above everything else, the fact that I had specifically asked Jourgensen if he’d needed anything before starting that hellish trek, I became enraged. Brian looked at me with a slightly concerned curiosity as I jumped up and ran out the door, headed to Al’s room intending to teach him a painful lesson.

I banged on his door and Mikey, his sweetheart of a long-suffering guitar player, answered. I shoved my way past him, then, obviously on fire with anger, turned to him and said, “Do you want some of this, Mikey?” He put his hands up palms forward and shook his head. I turned to find Al standing on the bed in his Speedo underwear, while lying there under the blankets at his feet was a woman who looked to be Miss Australia 1971. He had hold of the large old-school rotary phone and was brandishing the receiver as though he planned to club me with it. I crossed the room in a few long steps. I grabbed the hand that held the receiver, twisting his arm while I did it, and quickly wrapped the cord around his neck. I picked the diminutive loudmouth up against the wall with the cord as a noose.

“Don’t you ever talk to me like that, you fucking pussy. You don’t know me well enough for that. I asked you this morning if you needed anything so don’t go throwing shit on me because it didn’t work out for you. You’ll wish you never met me, motherfucker!” With that, I released him and left him choking, desperate to get some air back in his lungs.

Brian and I laughed when I relayed what had taken place, neither of us a fan of Al’s by that point. The next morning, a Sunday and the last day of the tour but two days before we were scheduled to fly home, the ATM ate Brian’s card when he’d inserted it, to our horror. Our only source of cash gone, we were now faced with the prospect of two or more days of dopelessness before we could get home. The two of us sat on the steps of the backstage hours before showtime, dejected and wondering how we were gonna manage to score with no dough.

Suddenly, Curly walked up and, his voice filled with easily understood meaning, said, “Are you guys okay today?”

I shook my head no with a dark, disappointed look on my face.

“C’mon, boys,” he said.

We got up and followed him into one of the empty tents in the artists’ area. He closed the flaps and tied them shut. Then he pulled out a very large bag of the golden-brown powdered heroin we’d been using the entire tour. He poured it all out on top of a folding table and, with a credit card, pushed at least three-quarters of the pile to one side and left a small amount on the other side. He proceeded to fold a large piece of paper into a makeshift bindle and scooped the smaller of the two piles back into its original bag. Then he pushed the other huge pile into his folded paper container, closed it up, and handed it to me.

“What the fuck, Curly?” I asked, not believing he was giving me this huge pile.

He replied in his thick Scottish brogue.

“Al has to go to Japan tomorrow, he can’t take it with him. And besides, little brother,” he said with a smile and a wink, “I believe I might just owe you one,” referring to his theft of my stash all those years before.
We both gave him hugs of joy.

“Careful now, boys,” he said, “don’t mess up the clothes.”

At that moment, my heart was filled with love for the guy. Yet for me the best moment of the entire tour came late that night when I received a call on my hotel-room phone.

“Hello?”

“Lanegan, it’s Al. I just wanted to apologize for yesterday. I was out of line and I’m sorry. You’re still gonna sing on my next 1000 Homo DJs record, right? And remember, there’s always a room for you at my place in Texas.”

“Sure, of course, Al, I’ll be there whenever you need me. All is forgiven. I’m sorry I overreacted.”

“Okay, man, that makes me feel better . . . and by the way, you wouldn’t happen to be holding anything would you? I hate to ask, but I’m seriously hurting.”

As I looked over at Brian with a huge grin and then down at the gigantic pile of Al’s dope Curly had given us, I said in my saddest-sounding voice, “Fuck, Al, I wish. We’re fucked, too. Have a great time in Japan and call anytime when you’re back in the States.”

Predictably, I was never to hear from him again. We did run into each other by chance at a hotel lobby bar in Milan, Italy, years later. He’d packed on so much weight, it was obvious he was either clean or had traded his dope addiction for one for food. His longtime bandmate Paul spotted me while Al was giving an interview in the corner and came up to me.

“Hey, man, Al’s doing really well; please don’t offer him anything or fuck him up.”

“Don’t worry, Paul,” I said. “He’s safe from me. I wouldn’t piss in Al’s mouth if he were dying of thirst.”

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Sing Backwards And Weep: A Memoir by Mark Lanegan is available now from Hachette Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Mark Lanegan’s new solo album Straight Songs of Sorrow is also out today via Heavenly Recordings.

CREDIT: Steve Gullick