Mark Lanegan, Singer for Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age, Dies at 57

Mark Lanegan, the impassioned solo singer-songwriter and adventurous collaborator with Queens of the Stone Age and others who followed a long stint as the lead vocalist for the proto-grunge band Screaming Trees with a distinguished career as an impassioned solo singer-songwriter and adventurous collaborator with Queens of the Stone Age and others has died. He was 57 years old and was claimed to be suffering from Covid-19 and renal illness last year, but no cause of death was given.

A message on his Twitter account states, “Our cherished buddy Mark Lanegan died suddenly this morning at his home in Killarney, Ireland.” “He was a beloved singer, composer, novelist, and musician who died at the age of 57, leaving behind his wife Shelley. At this time, there is no additional information available. At this time, the family requests that everyone respect their privacy.”

Lanegan, who went by the moniker “Dark Mark” on occasion, lived up to his moniker, focusing on what he called “continuous themes of loss, desire, death, and pharmaceutical dependence” in original lyrics set to music that fluctuated between loud, unbridled strength and quiet poetry. A horrible life of breakdown, crime, and addiction inspired some of his most profound work.

Lanegan was already a blackout drinker with a long history of minor arrests in 1985. He formed a band with his boss’s sons, guitarist Gary Lee Conner and bassist Van Conner while repossessing leased videocassette players at a video business in his birthplace of Ellensburg, Wash. – a tiny rural town southeast of Seattle where he was born on Nov. 25, 1964.

Lanegan, who was rebellious and dissatisfied, was drawn to fame and the rock ‘n’ roll route. In his horrific 2020 memoir “Sing Backwards and Weep,” he writes, “I wanted excitement, adventure, decadence, perversion, anything, anything,” adding, “I would never find any of it in this dusty, remote cattle town.” It was worth any humiliation, difficulty, or agony if the band could get me out, into the life I so much desired.”

Screaming Trees, with Lanegan as its imposing baritone frontman, were a psychedelia-tinged hard rock band whose heavyweight early albums foreshadowed the grunge music explosion in Washington state. SST Albums, a Southern California punk company, prefaced a major-label deal with Epic with attention-getting records. Their single “Nearly Lost You” was prominently featured in Cameron Crowe’s celluloid love letter to the Seattle scene, “Singles,” and became an alternative-radio smash after the group’s 1990 debut for the label — which was co-produced by Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell — and became an alternative-radio smash. The Trees’ second major-label debut, “Sweet Oblivion,” was propelled to national popularity by that hit.

Lanegan had already begun a solo career at the time, with Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic of Nirvana (who would subsequently sing Lanegan’s arrangement of Lead Belly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” during their “MTV Unplugged” performance) appearing on his 1990 Sub Pop debut “The Winding Sheet.”

Lanegan lists a number of artists who influenced the music on that album in his 2017 collection of lyrics “I Am the Wolf,” including his friend and idol Jeffrey Lee Pierce of the Gun Club, Leonard Cohen, John Cale, Nick Cave, and Ian Curtis of Joy Division, whose influence would be felt repeatedly over the course of a 30-year solo career.

He followed up his solo debut with three more sparse, low-key Sub Pop releases, all of which featured guitarist Mike Johnson (Dinosaur Jr.) and a slew of Seattle grunge notables, and all of which favoured blues, folk, soul, and gospel styles: “Whiskey for the Holy Ghost” (1994), “Scraps at Midnight” (1998), and “I’ll Take Care of You,” a collection of covers (1998).

Lanegan’s work at the time mirrored his ongoing drugs battle: After a time of homelessness, he attended treatment in Southern California in 1997 with the support of the Musicians Assistance Program for his heroin and crack addictions. His long feud with Gary Lee Conner, which frequently developed into violent altercations, led to the disbandment of Screaming Trees in 2000 after the band had failed to capitalise on the popularity of “Sweet Oblivion.” In its final eight years, the band issued only one album, “Dust,” in 1996.

Lanegan made his first appearance following the breakup as a guest vocalist on “Rated R,” the first album of Queens of the Stone Age, helmed by Josh Homme, who had previously worked as Screaming Trees’ touring guitarist in the late 1990s. Lanegan went on to appear on four more Queens albums and form close bonds with other members of the region’s “desert rock” scene, including Masters of Reality’s Chris Goss, Dave Catching, Nick Oliveri, and Queen’s multi-instrumentalist Alain Johannes, who produced the majority of Lanegan’s later solo albums.

“Straight Songs of Sorrow,” Lanegan’s most recent Heavenly album, was released in 2020 and served as a musical complement to Lanegan’s uncompromising, often-horrific book “Sing Backwards and Weep.” The internationally regarded book — described by the Washington Post as “fearsome and savage” — tracked the singer’s tortuous journey through addiction and the drug-related deaths of his pals Cobain, Pierce, and Alice in Chains member Layne Staley.

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