Scott Weiland Biographer David Ritz Reflects on Late Singer's Conflicted Life & Their Time Together
David Ritz co-authored Not Dead & Not for Sale, Scott Weiland’s memoir published in 2011.
In 2005, Scott Weiland invited me to meet him after hours at the Viper Room in Hollywood. He was looking for a writer to help him craft a memoir. I liked him immediately. He exuded an enigmatic charisma that excited my curiosity. His speaking voice, like his singing voice, was a supple instrument of great flexibility. He could be quietly exuberant or boisterously reflective. The precarious introvert/extrovert balance of his personality was fascinating. He possessed tremendous natural charm, a deep intelligence, and a wide range of cultural interests and insights. He was just the kind of rock and roller I wanted to work with.
I got the gig and we became friends. I had easy access to his home in Sherman Oaks and his studio in Burbank. What wasn’t easy, though, was getting Scott to focus on the book. Separated from Stone Temple Pilots, he had recently reinvented himself as lead singer with Velvet Revolver and was enjoying a powerful resurgence in his career. Success, though, was always problematic.
“I work diligently,” he said, “and when I succeed I’m overwhelmed with contradictory emotions. I’m grateful, I’m happy, but I’m also surprised and bewildered. The dangerous part is that success makes me feel entitled. I feed myself the line that I’m entitled to reward myself with whatever I want.”
Because of my own history, I felt especially close to Scott’s dilemma. Months passed when, in lieu of working on the book, we attended 12-step meetings together. It was more important to be cohorts in recovery than coauthors of a memoir. Besides, recovery was obviously a major theme of his memoir. I realized that before Scott wrote about recovery he’d had to live it more fully.
Yet the chaotic pattern of Scott’s career and the rigorous demands of recovery were always at odds. He fell out with Velvet Revolver. He rejoined Stone Temple Pilots for a new record and tour that ended in rancor and misunderstanding. He formed Scott Weiland and the Wildabouts, put out a second solo release and toured, all the while falling in and out of one rehab or another. He approached sobriety with absolute sincerity and determination. At the same time, his obsession with opiates was epic.
Meanwhile, for all the vicissitudes in his life and career, our book didn’t get written. It was four years overdue, and our patient editor had lost patience. We had three months to turn in a manuscript or else the project would be scrapped. We had tried working on the road, but those long bus trips through Canada left Scott distracted. His mind was on music, not interviews. I had one last plan -- that we go away, just the two of us, for a couple of weeks and focus on the book. He agreed and said that a remote cabin he had built in the woods above Lake Chelan in Washington State would be perfect.
It was. For two weeks, we finally got down to work. The rural solitude did Scott a world of good. A natural athlete, he was in his element -- fishing on the shimmering lake, hiking through the dense woods, all the while retracing the steps of his life. There were no drugs, no promoters, no insane schedules, only the clean crisp mountain air and long brilliant days followed by starlit nights during which he sought to understand the dizzying complexities that formed his character.
I came to see that character as one of essential goodness. Scott open-heartedly sought love. He also sought to be an attentive and loving father to his children, Noah and Lucy, whom he adored. He sought ultimate reconciliation with his former wives and former band mates. A believing Catholic, he sought reconciliation with the God of love.
These are the memories -- these weeks in the woods -- that I cherish most: Scott calmly watching a bootleg tape of Let’s Get Lost, Bruce Weber’s comic-tragic documentary on Chet Baker; Scott listening rhapsodically to Chet’s instrumental and vocal albums over and again; Scott discussing the major characters in his life with powerful empathy while he sketched their images in pen and ink; Scott expressing his passion for the paintings of Egon Schiele; Scott dissecting the aesthetic of David Bowie, the architecture of Antoni Gaudi, the interiors of Philippe Starck, the fashion of John Galliano; Scott excitedly sketching designs for his own line of men’s clothing -- the Scott Weiland Collection -- for English Laundry. Scott had exceptional taste. He had the heart, mind and disposition of a pure artist. He clearly saw the irreconcilable contradictions of leading a life devoted to artistic truth, a life in which the unchecked pursuit of romantic ecstasy drowns out common sense. Though he yearned for simple domestic happiness, he feared that, given his untamed soul, such happiness could never be his.
When the two weeks were up, I knew I could use another fourteen days. But I also knew that another such period of intense isolation was highly unlikely, and I’d have to make do. Back in Los Angeles, listening to the transcriptions of our conversations, I was struck by how often and insightfully Scott spoke of death. He was intrigued by John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” in which the English poet wrote, “I have been half in love with easeful Death/Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme.”
“Is death the muse?” asked Scott, reflecting on the poem. “Is rock and roll the nightingale? Are opiates the key to unlocking the magical kingdom where colorful flowers fade to black? Why should anyone -- especially a kid or an adult who suspects that he or she may have talent -- be drawn to such a kingdom? I don’t know -- except that the pull is visceral. It may also be an act of self-loathing or anger against home or society or even the human condition in which the promise of death shadows us from those first fresh moments of birth.
“To relive those first fresh moments,” said Scott Weiland, “that’s what my music, my art and my life are all about.”