The death of Mark Lanegan, the former vocalist with the bands Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age, at the age of 57, feels painfully premature, but he had been walking a tightrope for most of his life. Last year, Covid-19 rendered him deaf, unable to walk and frequently comatose; he wrote a terrifying account of the experience in Devil in a Coma (2021). As a teenager he had numerous brushes with the law for drug and alcohol offences. A notorious drunk by the time he was 12, he admitted that he had started taking heroin as a way to beat his alcohol problem.
At 20, he was run over by a tractor; the accident came just as he was preparing to leave his native Washington state and head for Las Vegas. Instead of going to Nevada, he ended up joining the prototype grunge band Screaming Trees, which set him off on his musical career. Despite releasing a string of frequently impressive albums, which helped establish Lanegan as an expressive singer blessed with a rich and dark array of vocal tones, the group were handicapped by violent personality clashes, and never hit the commercial heights enjoyed by contemporaries such as Nirvana or Soundgarden.
By the time Screaming Trees called it quits in 2000, Lanegan was already four albums into a solo career. This had begun in 1990 when he released The Winding Sheet, a brooding and downbeat set of songs typified by his doomy version of Lead Belly’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night. This featured Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain on guitar, and the song also entered Nirvana’s repertoire. All of the dozen solo discs he released over a 30-year period had much to offer in different ways, helping to affirm Lanegan’s status as a writer and performer who was compared to such idiosyncratic artists as Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave.
He was born in Ellensburg,…