To mark the launch of Mark Lanegan’s memoir SING BACKWARDS AND WEEP in the UK, we teamed with White Rabbit to celebrate it with an online launch on their Twitter account. You can catch up on the whole thing here, and there are some highlights below – including a Q&A with Mark, a playlist featuring all the songs featured in the book, and an exclusive extract…
Q&A with Mark Lanegan and White Rabbit (originally on Twitter)
Hi Mark, thanks for joining us and congratulations on launch day. Firstly, let’s go back to the start with the book – do you remember the moment you decided you were going to write your memoir?
When Tony Bourdain read my prologue and wrote back “You’re doing it”
So that’s how it started, but the book ends in 2002 before you join Queens of the Stone Age. Why did you focus on this material, the first half of your life?
It was always meant to cover only the ten years I lived in Seattle
Were there other memoirs or literature that helped you find a voice and a form when you were writing?
Kinski Uncut, Klaus Kinski
And in terms of wider reading, who are your favourite living American and British writers?
Cormac McCarthy and Hilary Mantel
As the book shows, you’ve had a pretty eventful life and done some incredible things. But which is harder: writing a book, recording a new album, or touring?
Writing a book. By a mile
Now that your book is finished and out in the world, which of your peers would you most like to see write a memoir?
There’s been so much excitement about the book – and new album – with your fans here in the UK. Why do you think your music has always been so popular in the UK and Europe?
I haven’t a clue, I’m just grateful there is a place where some people connect to the music
And final question: if lockdown ended tomorrow and you could invite 2 dead poets, 2 dead politicians, 2 living painters and 2 living filmmakers for dinner, what would that dinner party look like?
Robert Lowell and Arthur Rimbaud, Salvador Allende and Fidel Castro, Cleon Peterson and Banksy, Gerard Johnson and Alfonso Cuaron
ICE-COLD EUROPEAN FUNHOUSE
I’M WAITING IN THE FREEZING RAIN AT AN UNCOVERED BUS STOP after a show in Sheffield, England. The moment I left the stage, I walked out the back door of the club, down a long, dark alleyway, and around the corner to this cold and empty spot. I was dopesick, I was cold and wet. I had tried to scare up some heroin between soundcheck and show but had come away from my search with no joy. The band had no show the next day, yet Wilkins had refused to drop me off in London en route to the next city we were playing in because it was inconveniently out of the way. So I’d stayed behind while they rolled on. I had to fix sooner than that or else it was going to be disaster.
We were scheduled to be in Europe and the UK for almost another month and things were looking grim for my prospects of staying well. I had already run out of my meager supply of methadone and there were still many more shows to be played. Wilkins was long over me. I had routinely woken him (as well as Josh Homme once and even Lee Conner) at all hours of the night and early morning to hit him up for cash. A cash advance in order to stay well. The last time I’d done it, he’d told me, “This is it, buddy, the last time. You have reached your limit. If you wake me up again, you’re going to be sorry.” I believed him. Kevan was a good guy but tough. After years of tour-managing Alice in Chains, getting them out of jams and shepherding their crew all over the world, he was tired. The last thing he wanted to deal with was yet another junkie, especially one in the aggravating habit of knocking on his door in the middle of the night.
As I stood there in the rain, a young couple huddling together beneath an umbrella walked up. They had seen the show and wanted to talk.
“Hey, Mark, just wanted to tell you how beautiful the show was, we love your music. What are you doing out here?”
“I’m trying to get a bus to Heathrow . . . but, hey, can I ask you guys a sensitive question? Where can a guy get some brown around here this time of night?”
“Brown? Do you mean heroin?” the girl gasped.
“Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m talking about.”
They quickly found a reason to flee. My desperation to obtain relief so great that with zero care about what it looked like, what I looked like, I had taken to asking innocent young concertgoers where I could score. It was time these kids grew the fuck up anyway, got with the motherfucking program, and faced the cold, hard reality of life. I had done my last, tiny hit at seven thirty that morning and it was now ten thirty at night.
Four days earlier in Manchester, I had been welcomed into the council-flat home of a dealer I’d met on the street. He was overly generous, excited to have an American rock singer in the house. It was exactly three weeks and one day until my thirty-second birthday but I looked at least ten years older, worn down from the demands of touring while battling the years-long, exhausting imprisonment of my crippling addiction. The balding man and his not unattractive blond wife, both in their midforties, had let me stay up all night in their flat shooting dope and occasionally taking a hit off the crack pipe. Shortly before midnight, the man had said, “C’mon, let’s go grab some cigarettes from the shop.” When we returned to the modest-sized public housing apartment, I was greeted by the sight of the wife lying on the couch, dressed in lingerie, her bare breasts exposed, pretending to be asleep. The man had walked over to her and started squeezing and rubbing her tits while I stood there uncomfortably in the middle of the room. She began to quietly moan and he said, “Nice, huh? Come on over here and get yourself a feel.” It was an obvious setup, exactly the kind of situation I had lived for in my youth, but as an old man of thirty-two, sex was the last thing on my mind. I shook my head, said, “No thanks, man, I’m good,” walked past them into the kitchen, put a small rock in the pipe, and hit it.
Four days later, standing in the rain and going into withdrawals, my intention was to catch a ride to Heathrow and then take the Tube into London to buy some heroin from a Portuguese dealer named Juan- Joseph I’d met on one of my many excursions to King’s Cross, a notorious London neighborhood where I always scored when in the city. I would then take the train to Bristol. Thee Hypnotics bass player Craig Pike, my old connection in London, had overdosed and died a couple years before. Now I habitually haunted this busy but shady neighborhood, scoring drugs whenever I was in town.
In the several-block radius around the large hub of the train station, you could almost always find someone selling drugs if you looked hard enough. Through the years I’d formed regular connections with some street dealers I’d met at different times in the Cross: out in front of the Ladbrokes betting shop, along the side street that paralleled the station, or near the porn magazine shop on the other side of it. Some would give me their phone number so we could hook up immediately when I was in need. Juan-Joseph had actually taken me to where he lived, three long blocks from the station, so that I could go directly to his flat when I wanted to see him.
My previous regular hook-up was a young blond punk kid in his early twenties. I had spotted him on the street one day and made him for either a dealer or a panhandler and decided that even if he didn’t have drugs, he’d sure as fuck know who out here did. Sure enough, when I’d approached him, he’d led me into an alley, unbuttoned his pants, and removed several balloons of heroin that he’d stuffed beneath the uncut foreskin of his dick. He’d kept them safely stashed there in case he was shaken down by the UK police, who at that time had the legal right to frisk anyone they cared to on the street, regardless of any evidence of wrongdoing. While walking together back to the bustling High Street after doing our first deal, he’d asked me where I was from and what I was doing in London. I’d told him I was a singer from Seattle playing some shows. He stopped in his tracks straightaway.
“Fuck, Yank! I love all Seattle music! Look at this!”
He pulled up his sleeve to expose his arm. The kid was a cutter, something I’d only seen a couple of times before. His forearm was covered with crude symbols and names carved into his skin with a razor or knife. He had messily cut into his flesh “God Bless Kurt,” now manifesting as a large, raised white scar.
“Damn, dude. A tattoo woulda been less painful,” I said, knowing full well that had been the point.
Shortly after parting company from that first encounter, I’d passed two cops myself. They’d quickly given me the once-over two or three times, turned around, and started following me. I’d unfortunately had no choice but to quickly transfer the balloons previously held under the skin of his cock from my coat pocket to my mouth so I could swallow them if stopped, questioned, and frisked. To be caught with drugs in the UK meant not only jail time in what were said to be some of the Western world’s shittiest prisons (especially for foreigners) but also most certainly a lifetime ban from the country. For this same reason, I always carried balloons and crack rocks in this fashion while out and about in America. At home in the US, I was often stopped and searched by cops. Wise to this common practice among street users and dealers, the police often asked me to open my mouth to show them if I was holding anything within. On the couple of occasions I’d had to swallow my stash with nothing more than my spit to help choke it down, I’d been compelled to search through my own shit in the days following in order to find the balloons or rocks within, they being more valuable than gold to me.
My current Portuguese-immigrant dealer wisely did not look the part. I’d met Juan-Joseph when he’d actually approached me late one night while walking his dog on the King’s Cross side streets. He’d seen me cruising the area, obviously looking for drugs. He told me to follow him a few blocks off the main drag to his flat, where he sold me dope and crack, gave me a clean rig, and allowed me to fix in his place. He had a thick accent that was difficult for me to follow word to word. He didn’t shoot dope himself. Instead, he was one of a very small group of people I’d met throughout my shadow life that was addicted to shooting crack. Not coke as was the norm, crack.
In order to shoot crack, he had to break it down to liquid form. He first crushed the rock into something like a powder, then added citric acid like you did with dope. Instead of cooking it up, he just added cold water and continued to crush and swirl the now-liquid with the plunger end of a syringe until it was a clear, not cloudy solution. When he tied off and did one of these shots of liquid crack, he immediately went into this crazed, fucked-up, bizarre routine. As soon as the drug hit his blood- stream, his face contorted in a way totally mirroring that of a person with cerebral palsy. He’d stand up and, in a heavily animated and spastic manner, he would do a strange dance, falling around his kitchen, pulling violently and shamelessly at his dick through his baggy brown corduroy pants. In a loud voice, he would emphatically attempt to say something to me. Whatever it was Juan-Joseph was trying to say, it took a Herculean amount of effort on his part just to spit it out as he struggled, stammered, and spasmed. Of course, through his twisted mouth and already thick accent, whatever he was loudly trying to say was impossible for me to understand.
Not great company, but soaking wet from rain in the frozen, cold, pre-midnight air waiting for the bus to Heathrow Airport, I desperately needed to see him. If I didn’t make my way onto this bus, I was fucked in the worst way.
I stood waiting, shaking and shivering in the bitter November night air. An hour passed, then two hours. Still no bus. Now I began to enter a fairly advanced state of withdrawal, stomach cramping, cold sweat covering my body, mixing with and joining the cold rain running off of my face and pouring from my soaked, hatless head.
Finally, a short time after midnight, a bus going to Heathrow pulled up and let a couple people off. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a ten-pound note and started walking up the stairs.
“Hey, mister, are you scheduled to take this bus? I don’t see anyone on my list to be picked up here.”
List, I thought, what the hell?
“Yes, I should be on the list.”
“Ticket?” he asked.
“I forgot to bring it, can I just give you cash?”
“No, you cannot, mate. These busses are preticketed and my work ledger tells me this bus is fully booked to Heathrow. I’ve got people to pick up on the way, I can’t take you.”
“How can I get a ticket?”
“You have to go to the local bus station during normal working hours or pay for it by credit card over the phone. Now off you go!”
Well, that was fantastic news. I hadn’t the slightest clue as to where the station was. It was obviously closed anyway and I had never even owned a credit card my entire life. I walked back down the steps, then turned around and asked, “When is the next bus coming to this stop, sir?”
“Three thirty, mate, but you won’t get on it either, unless you’ve booked it in advance.”
With this distressing knowledge, I got off the bus. I considered my situation: completely empty, rain-washed streets, no extra money for the train, only enough for one from London to Bristol, no idea where either a bus or train station was, no dope in the foreseeable future, soaking wet, freezing, going into withdrawals, no phone nor anyone to call. My options were extremely limited. I absolutely had to wait until the next bus at three thirty. I would try this again but with a new strategy: I would play on the sympathies of the driver and hope that if the next one were not fully booked, a little bit of cash and a little bit of pity would net me a ride.
As I stood in the increasingly biting cold air and rain, getting sicker by the minute, I silently cursed Wilkins and the rest of the entire goddamned band and crew. How hard would it have been to go an hour or two out of their way to drop me off where I could have taken a train directly to the huge station in King’s Cross? None of those assholes had an ounce of compassion for my self-created plight. They had begun to refer to me behind my back as “Mr. Burns,” the old, bitter, bent-over, and creepy boss on The Simpsons cartoon television program, slightly reminiscent of Klaus Kinski in the title role of Nosferatu the Vampyre.
I was admittedly getting skinnier and older-looking by the day. I was constantly operating on no sleep, walking the local drug neighborhoods of every city and town we visited every minute of every night I was not required to be with the band. Not in order to get high, forget about that, it was in order to just stay well. Every day I was subsisting on the barest minimum of dope that I could get by on, carefully rationing every last grain. When I could afford it, I also needed crack, since I was obviously a fucking degenerate crackhead also. Every spare second was spent on my feet and wandering, haunted, sticking out like a raw cock in my by-now filthy leather pants, eternally scanning the streets of the worst neighborhoods in every city we visited for more.
I paced up and down the sidewalk behind the bus stop in the freezing rain. My hair and clothes were soaking wet, only the leather trousers not saturated with rainwater yet. Shaking, shivering, and occasionally gagging, on the verge of vomiting every second. I was constantly spitting out the thick, sick mucus that kept forming in my throat, a strong road-sign that full-on withdrawals were right around the corner. If they came on before another bus showed up, there was no possible way any driver was going to let me on, regardless of my obvious “charms.” Every five minutes or so, I would try to sit for a moment on the slatted, raincovered metal bench at the stop and attempt to relax. But it was so uncomfortable and my already-through-the-roof discomfort so high, that I would inevitably stand right back up again.
As the hours crawled by like an extra-wide tarantula, I began to shake uncontrollably. I could not stop. Just when I began thinking seriously about trying to find a hospital where I planned to desperately throw myself on the mercy of the emergency room staff, I saw the unmistakable high headlights of a bus shine against the boarded-up building at the end of the block. A bus pulled around the corner, stopping to let a few people off where I stood on the street, shaking like a victim of Parkinson’s disease. After the last passenger got off, I quickly ran up the steps to where a kind-looking middle-aged female driver sat. I glanced at the clock on the dashboard: three thirty a.m.
“My Lord, lad! How long have you been in the rain? You’re soaking wet!”
I tried to hide my severe discomfort and talk normally.
“A few hours, ma’am. I’m so sorry to put this on you, but I’m in an emergency situation. I got a call before midnight that my mother had been in an auto accident and is in hospital in London. They told me to come straightaway as she might not make it through the night. I know I need a ticket for this bus but it was after hours and I had no way to get one. I can pay cash. If I could just get to Heathrow, I can take the Tube into the city. I pray to God I’m not too late!”
I poured out this river of horseshit as fast as I could, thinking I might puke at any second from the effort it took just to talk at all.
With a sincere look of horror and empathy, she said, “Oh my! I’m so sorry, son! Please take the first seat behind me; this bus is mainly unbooked to Heathrow. And don’t worry about payment, this is an emergency!”
I nodded my thanks and sat painfully down in the seat. I held my face against the window to feel the heat blowing up from the side of the cush- ion while fighting the urge to vomit.