Growing up as a weird kid in rural Washington State, it would have been hard not to know the name Mark Lanegan. As soon as fall came around every year, my friends all queued Mad Season (a grunge supergroup once counting Lanegan as a member), taking its name from the season when psychedelic mushrooms sprout up for the picking in the open fields around the Pacific Northwest. When Lanegan joined Queens of the Stone Age, that was all anyone listened to in the summertime, blasting Rated R out the windows of pickup trucks as we barreled down country roads.

Screaming Trees frontman, one-time collaborator with Kurt Cobain, and intermittent member of Queens of the Stone Age, Mark Lanegan was a legendary figure in the world of grunge and beyond. Sadly, Lanegan passed away on February 22nd at his home in Co. Kerry, Ireland. But with such a long and winding career, there’s a lot to look back on.

Forming his first band, Screaming Trees, in 1984, Lanegan spent a decade releasing some of the most iconic grunge albums of all time. A vocalist by trade, Lanegan brought his characteristic low, gravelly, and seductive voice to everything he contributed to. Unique and powerful in its strangeness, Lanegan’s voice has been described in many ways, but most often noted is the way he could sound haggard and soothing at the same time. The weariness of Lanegan’s voice doesn’t take away from its power and groundedness. The fact that he sounded perpetually tired does not diminish the command he held over his musical contributions. Some of his later recordings (particularly his collaborations with Isobel Campbell of Belle & Sebastian) remind me of the way Leonard Cohen’s voice developed in his later years, lending itself to a sort of spoken-word musicality more so than the belted crooning of Lanegan’s younger days.

Having paved an enormously successful career for himself, Lanegan released 12 studio albums as a solo musician, starting with Winding Sheets in 1990, which includes collaborations with the reluctant king of grunge, Kurt Cobain. In fact, Lanegan and Cobain attempted to form a band together not long prior but were foiled by their own forgetfulness about songs they had written, and their motivation to see the project through fizzled fast. But Lanegan’s list of collaborators doesn’t stop there. Over the years, he became a well-known and well-loved member of Queens of the Stone Age, starting on their hit album Rated R in 2000, which became the band’s first ever album to chart. He also collaborated with members of Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam in Mad Season and even got to record with Chris Cornell during his years with Screaming Trees. After collaborating with Isobel Campbell (Belle & Sebastian) for several years, Lanegan went on to form The Gutter Twins with Greg Dulli of Twilight Singers and The Afghan Whigs. Over the past decade, Lanegan continued collaborating with other artists, focusing heavily on electronic music with bands like UNKLE, Soulsavers, and even Moby. Prolifically active until his last years, Lanegan also released a solo covers record, Imitations, in 2013.

Encouraged by close friend and fellow artist Anthony Bourdain, Lanegan recently began focusing on writing and released two memoirs within the last three years of his life—Sing Backwards and Weep (2020) and Devil in a Coma (2021). He also released two collections of poetry, Plague Poems (2020) and Leaving California (2021). Devil in a Coma recounts Lanegan’s experiences contracting Covid-19, which rendered the artist temporarily deaf and unable to walk, and pushed him into a coma on and off over the course of several months. Lanegan admitted to having been skeptical about the virus early on during the pandemic, stating his interest in conspiracy theories and his belief that Covid-19 infection had something to do with the installation of 5G networks. However, after becoming so ill and facing the possibility of death, he spoke out about his support of vaccines and boosters.

Undeniably inspired and seeping with talent, Mark Lanegan will be remembered as one of the most treasured vocalists and songwriters in modern music history. Contributing so much not only to grunge and rock but to such a wide variety of music, Lanegan’s passing is being felt across the globe. One thing’s for sure: sometimes you really don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and I suspect this week has birthed more than a few new fans of the late Mark Lanegan.


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