I don’t think anyone ever expected Stone Temple Pilots to be more than a 90s punchline. But here we are, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of Core (their worst record), and as derivative as the band may have initially appeared, their music has dated infinitely better than that of their humorless post-grunge peers. They’re no nostalgia act. In writing about their 2003 singles collection Thank You, Stephen Thomas Erlewine of All Music Guide put it well:

“[Other bands] certainly had more indie credibility, but great pop music isn’t about credibility; it’s how the music sounds, and STP made music that sounded great at the time and even better now… These are the songs that have been classified as guilty pleasures by alt-rockers too consumed by conventional definitions of good taste, but ten years after STP’s peak, this music reveals itself as some of the best singles of the ’90s. Scoff if you want and call them the Guess Who of the ’90s, but this music has stood the test of time and this collection is nearly perfect.”

As the 90s revival shifts into full gear–and I’m not just talking about last week’s Spice Girls reunion–STP’s reappraisal is particularly vindicating, especially for those of us who own all of their uniformly solid side-projects (Talk Show, Army of Anyone, Scott Weiland solo). Isn’t it remarkable how the term “poseur”, at one point a fate worse than death, has so completely become a relic of a now-discarded cultural code/Law? As if anyone anywhere isn’t posing on some level… The Pilots, it turns out, had it right all along. They weren’t trying not to be rock stars. Which was held against them at the time–the line between Axl Rose and Kurt Cobain having been freshly and firmly drawn (woe to those who don’t bemoan their success or hold their audience in contempt…). Then again, perhaps it was simply a matter of singer Scott Weiland channeling Bowie and Bryan Ferry about eight years before it was cool to do so, at least in America.

My own interest was re-ignited in a new way a few years ago when Weiland released his largely excellent second solo record Happy in Galoshes and included, as the final “hidden” track, a moving and sincere version of the Jesuit hymn “Be Not Afraid.” The man’s troubles with addiction and the law have never exactly been a secret, but up until that point he had tended to reference his pain with bluster rather than vulnerability–which is fine, since Scott’s always been ridiculously good with the ol’ rockstar bluster. But this means that “Be Not Afraid” hits a person sideways, all reverb and echo and Weiland’s affect-less vocals, sounding eerily like an outtake from Lift to Experience’s Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads. Eddie Vedder eat your heart out:

You shall cross the barren desert but you shall not die of thirst
You shall wander far in safety though you do not know the way.
You shall speak your words in foreign lands and all will understand
You shall see the face of God and live.

Be not afraid
I go before you always
Come follow Me
And I shall give you rest.

If you pass through raging waters in the sea, you shall not drown
If you walk amidst the burning flames you shall not be harmed.
If you stand before the pow’r of hell and death is at your side
Know that I am with you, through it all.

Be not afraid
I go before you always
Come follow Me
And I shall give you rest.

Blessed are your poor for the Kingdom shall be theirs
Blest are you that weep and mourn for one day you shall laugh.
And if wicked men insult and hate you all because of Me
Blessed, blessed are you!

Perhaps, then, you can’t blame me for picking up Weiland’s recent memoir, Not Dead and Not For Sale, to read at the beach as a follow-up to Gregg Allman’s enjoyable tale. Truth be told, Not Dead and Not For Sale is less an autobiography than a padded-out moral inventory, i.e. AA 4th Step. In fact, I’m almost certain it was written for recovery purposes. Which means it contains a handful of discoveries that are very much worth reporting. First, as “Be Not Afraid” might indicate, Scott considers himself a practicing Catholic…! And he references his faith frequently and convincingly throughout. Indeed, one of the book’s most touching moments is also its least self-focused: the miraculous story of his grandmother–Grammy–being cured of encephalitis. Let’s just say credit is given where credit is due. Second, being such a born rock star (and clearly a bit of a diva) hasn’t prevented Scott from being consumed by the sort of self-loathing you might expect from an addict… Nor has he been spared the tragedies that often follow serial substance abuse. I lost count of his attempts to get clean, but it must number somewhere near Allman’s 18.

Lastly, it’s surprising how little of the glammy sugar and psychedelic whimsy that characterizes his work with STP made it into print. Indeed, from a man who has distinguished himself by embracing the less self-serious aspects of rock n roll (when it was unfashionable to do so), it’s a gravely serious read. That said, it’s pretty amusing to discover how Weiland’s denominational journey went in the opposite direction of Gregg’s:

In my preteen years, I had developed a deep and abiding love of God, inspired by the ministry of Father Plato and Father Trevisin. Dave brought us into the Catholic fold. My mother had been Episcopalian but felt comforted by the view of Christ afforded by these two gentle priests. It wasn’t about fire and brimstone, guilt or punishment. It was about a compassionate and patient love that doesn’t judge, scorn, or scold. “Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come follow me and I will give you rest.” I related to the notion of… an all-forgiving love. I wanted it.

I became an altar boy. I wore the robes. During Mass, I brought the wine and host to the priests. I lit the candles. Today, no matter where I am–tour bus, hotel room, studio, cabin in the woods–I light the candles. They… remind me of a time when God sat in the center of my heart. Not that He’s ever disappeared…

For years I’ve known goddamn well that I’m a drunk, but who wants to admit that? After kicking the strong stuff, why couldn’t I have a little drink now and then? What harm was there in a small indulgence? The answer was serious harm–potentially fatal harm. For me, putting a drink in my mouth is something like putting a lead blanket over my heart. There’s been so much pain in the past few years that I’m afraid to feel, or commit. I pray that this will end. I don’t want to be alone anymore. I want to be able to love again. The dream of every drunk–to be able to manage their drinking–is one that has died hard for me. My prayer is that, once and for all, that dream is good and dead.

STP Releases, Ranked From Best to Worst*

  1. Tiny Music…
  2. Purple
  3. No. 4
  4. Happy in Galoshes – Scott Weiland
  5. Stone Temple Pilots
  6. Shangri-La Dee Da
  7. Core
  8. Talk Show – Talk Show
  9. Army of Anyone
  10. 12 Bar Blues – Scott Weiland

*Velvet Revolver is enough of a different beast not to include, but generally speaking, Libertad is the superior record, at least as far as Weiland’s involvement is concerned.