Sing Backwards and Weep

A Memoir


By Mark Lanegan

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This gritty bestselling memoir by the singer Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age, and Soulsavers documents his years as a singer and drug addict in Seattle in the '80s and '90s.

When Mark Lanegan first arrived in Seattle in the mid-1980s, he was just "an arrogant, self-loathing redneck waster seeking transformation through rock 'n' roll." Little did he know that within less than a decade he would rise to fame as the frontman of the Screaming Trees and then fall from grace as a low-level crack dealer and a homeless heroin addict, all the while watching some of his closest friends rocket to the forefront of popular music.

In Sing Backwards and Weep, Lanegan takes readers back to the sinister, needle-ridden streets of Seattle, to an alternative music scene that was simultaneously bursting with creativity and dripping with drugs. He tracks the tumultuous rise and fall of the Screaming Trees, from a brawling, acid-rock bar band to world-famous festival favorites that scored a hit number five single on Billboard's alternative charts and landed a notorious performance on Late Night with David Letterman, where Lanegan appeared sporting a fresh black eye from a brawl the night before. This book also dives into Lanegan's personal struggles with addiction, culminating in homelessness, petty crime, and the tragic deaths of his closest friends. From the back of the van to the front of the bar, from the hotel room to the emergency room, onstage, backstage, and everywhere in between, Sing Backwards and Weep reveals the abrasive underlining beneath one of the most romanticized decades in rock history-from a survivor who lived to tell the tale.

Gritty, gripping, and unflinchingly raw, Sing Backwards and Weep is a book about more thanjust an extraordinary singer who watched hisdreams catch fire and incinerate the groundbeneath his feet. It's about a man who learnedhow to drag himself from the wreckage, dust offthe ashes, and keep living and creating.

"Mark Lanegan—primitive, brutal, and apocalyptic. What's not to love?" —Nick Cave, author of The Sick Bag Song and The Death of Bunny Munro




WITH THE UMBILICAL CORD WRAPPED AROUND MY NECK, I WAS born by C-section in November 1964 and then came up on the wrong side of the Cascade Mountains in the small, eastern Washington town of Ellensburg. My family were from a long line of coal miners, loggers, bootleggers, South Dakotan dirt farmers, criminals, convicts, and hillbillies of the roughest, most ignorant sort. They came from Ireland, Scotland, other parts of the UK. My grandmother on my mother’s side had been born in Wales to Welsh parents. The names of my parents, uncles, aunts, and grandparents came straight out of the Appalachians to the deserts of eastern Washington and every trailer park in between. Names like: Marshall and Floyd, my grandfathers; Ella and Emma, my grandmothers. Roy and Marvin and Virgil, my uncles. Margie, Donna, and Laverne, my aunts. Dale, my father. Floy, my mother. My older sister was given the name Trina. I was the only one who escaped with a non-backwoods white-bread name, a name I hated but thanked God for when I found out my mother had intended to name me Lance. Lance Lanegan. I couldn’t think of anything more ridiculous or humiliating and I thanked my father for not allowing it. After that, I could live with Mark. But I always preferred to simply be called by my surname, Lanegan. If I were introducing myself to a stranger, I would always use my middle name, William. As if by telepathy, though, that was how most of my teachers, coaches, and acquaintances referred to me: Lanegan.

Both of my parents came from backgrounds of extreme poverty and cruel deprivation. Both of their lives had been transformed by tragedy when they were young. Both of my parents were the first members of their large families to go to college. Both became schoolteachers. School was something I just could not do.

Caged behind a desk, I never tried to pay attention to what was being taught. I was often lost in daydreams about my first love: baseball. After school, I’d spend hours playing game after game in a makeshift field on a neighbor’s property until it was too dark to see. Finally, I’d shuffle slowly home to endure the inevitable torrent of verbal abuse from my mother. The main focus of her rage (although there were many brutal angles to her attacks) was the fact that I was never home. She herself was the reason I stayed away. To avoid her corrosive mental beat-downs, both my older sister Trina and I looked for any excuse to be elsewhere. From my earliest memories, Trina and I were also at each other’s throats. Since my father was hardly ever home, it meant I was at both females’ mercies at all times. The only thing that ever seemed to give my mother pleasure was bullying and ridiculing me and anything I showed interest in. One of her favorite rote sayings as she slapped me in the face was “You’re not my son!” How I wished that were true. As a six-year-old child, she had witnessed her father being murdered on the front lawn of her family home, then had been raised in all-male logging camps where her mother worked as a cook, and had grown into a toxic adult. “A piece of work,” as my father would say.

When my parents split, I gladly opted to remain with my father. Though he’d always projected a deep, quiet sadness around him, he was a good-hearted and caring man who meant well. But from the time I was very young, he could not control me.

I shoplifted Snickers, Three Musketeers, Milky Way, and Almond Joy candy bars from the Vail’s grocery store across the street from my school and sold them to my classmates at a discount. I became obsessed with playing Quarters, a game where the participants tossed coins off a wall. Whoever landed closest to the wall won all the money. I spent every spare minute rounding up kids to play and would get pissed when the bell rang to return to class. A close friend’s father was a gambling-device salesman who traveled to bars and taverns around the state, selling punchboards and other amusements for the drunks to waste their dollars on. One weekend, I stayed at my friend’s while his parents were gone.

“Hey, Matt, let’s get in and check out your dad’s stuff.”

That was all it took. We climbed through a window into the barn where his dad kept his merchandise. I grabbed a few punchboards from his stash and took them home. Even then, I was plagued with this devilish obsessive focus, and whenever I saw an opportunity to get over, it kicked in hard. With nothing but time on my hands, I went to work. Over the next few days, I painstakingly split the boards open with a flat-edge screwdriver, extremely careful to not leave any obvious marks of damage. I then spent hours carefully unrolling the tiny pieces of paper inside, removing the ones with $20, $50, and $100 winning numbers, replacing the $1, $2, and $5 winners and other nonwinners back into their slots. Then I carefully glued both halves of the board back together. My handiwork was so tidy that you couldn’t tell anything had been done. I carried the boards in my gym bag from class to class all day and sold punches to kids for a dollar a shot. No one ever won the big money, of course, since I had already removed all those slips, much to my friend Matt’s amusement.

My obsessive hustling consumed my every day, every action, every thought. It was the first thing on my mind upon waking and the last before sleep. It made me an unpopular figure among some of the other students, who were overwhelmed by my aggressiveness, my willingness to take their money. It never mattered how much or how little money I had. I only came alive with the inventing of ways to get it, and the action of getting it. It would get worse.

While in junior high, I began stealing a few cans of beer from my old man’s endless supply and started smuggling them to school in my gym bag. He was also a carpenter and had built a full-size bar and a room to play cards with his cronies in next to my bedroom in our basement. He’d built them out of old wood he’d gotten for free by doing demolition of barns in the area. I drank the purloined beers in an unused janitor’s closet between classes or behind some tall bushes on school grounds at recess. I began smoking weed, only one of three junior high kids in my small rural town who did. I became a petty thief. Each class period, I asked to use the restroom and then quickly made my way through our small school, down to the gym locker room. I would rifle through the pants pockets of those kids who didn’t lock up their stuff. Change, paper money, whatever was there, I took. The only period of the day I didn’t steal was during my own gym class. I was never caught.

My father spent scant time trying to parent me. Due to his own prodigious drinking schedule and his lifelong interest in playing cards all night with his pals and chasing women, he quickly gave up trying to enforce any kind of control. That happily left me to run feral in the streets. After the unpleasant years under my mother’s thumb, I loved my father for this new freedom to explore my current compulsions, my wild fascinations, my burgeoning perverse fetishes. I felt like the luckiest kid I knew, no rules, no curfew, no nothing. By age twelve, I was a compulsive gambler, a fledgling alcoholic, a thief, a porno fiend. My porn magazine collection was massive. I’d found most of it by spending hours going through the dumpsters near student housing on the college campus. I had trouble finding a place to conceal it all in the large split-level house I shared with just my father and a couple of dogs.

Hiding anything I wanted kept private had become a necessity when my folks were still together. When I was nine, my mother had discovered a box of unused condoms I’d fished out of a garbage can and she’d hit the roof. Shortly before my folks split up, she’d found a pot pipe in my room and insisted I see a psychologist. He told me, “I think it’s your mother that needs counseling, not you.” Still, the only thing my dad would not abide was his thirteen-year-old son smoking marijuana. I sometimes hid my weed and smoking apparatus—bongs, papers, and whatnot—in the doghouse under our carport. Several times I discovered my shit not disappeared but destroyed, either stomped by boot or smashed by hammer. I wised up and got the message and found new hiding places.

My dad believed actions spoke louder than words. I could probably count all the conversations of deep importance we ever had on one and a half hands. One evening, he called me upstairs.

“Mark, c’mon up here. We need to talk.”

I assumed the cops had come looking for me again, told him what they thought I’d done, and had given him a time frame in which to bring me into the station.

“Sure, Dad. What’s up?”

“Well,” he said, “I am a teacher and my classes are made of kids who don’t have half the opportunities or skills or drive that you have. Every year, one or two new students arrive and I get an overwhelming feeling that they will one day end up in county lockup, prison, or in an early grave. You’d be surprised at how often it comes true.

“Son, I get this same feeling watching you make your way through life just… however you please. You think the rules that apply to the rest of us people don’t apply to you. I’m talking to you tonight because I have come to the conclusion that even though you’ve already learned a few tough lessons, you have many more coming. You are going to have to learn them a very hard and painful way. You are exactly like your uncle Virgil. He had nothing but pain, turmoil, and trouble from the day he was born until the day he died.”

My uncle Virgil had died of terminal alcoholism in an old folks’ home at age forty-three. He had crisscrossed the country for years, hitching rides on hundreds of trains, an actual hobo. As a college student, my dad had been burdened with the task of traveling all around the Northwest to pay my uncle’s bail. He’d had to get Virgil out of jail so often that he’d obviously developed some resentments. Virgil rode the rails until one night he fell under a train, drunk, and it cut both his legs off. My father told me he had been in his brother’s hospital room when Virgil came to and realized his legs were gone. “What did he say?” I had asked him. With his typical spare language, my father had replied, “Well, he wasn’t too goddamn happy.” While cleaning out my grandmother’s house after she died so it could be demolished, my father and I had found a shoebox full of postcards Virgil had written from every part of the US. Each one started the same, telling where he was writing from, then what menial job he was working. Each one ended exactly the same. Every single one of them sent to his mother.

“Mark,” my father said, “you seem unable to change. You refuse to be teachable.”

Teachable was one of his favorite words. I forced myself not to roll my eyes.

“So I’m suggesting you start right now to toughen up, and by that I mean smarten up. I’m not talking about fighting. You do that enough already and I’m tired of paying for your broken hands.”

It seemed every other altercation I got in, I broke a knuckle.

“You need to toughen up your mind and body. The places you are headed, son, you will need every ounce of strength and all the wits you have in order to survive. I don’t know why but you just came out of the box this way. Just like Virgil, goddamnit,” he said, shaking his head. It was true. Out of everyone I knew, I was seemingly the most uncanny human-shit magnet manufactured. Brawling had been a constant from grade school through high school. At age fourteen I’d been punched in the face by a grown man outside a small tavern at the edge of a trailer park, after asking him to buy beer for me and my buddies. I even carried a lifelong small black dot of a tattoo on my face from where a kid had buried a pencil in it, attempting to put out my eye one day.

Yet as I remembered being a young child, sitting on the floor near where Virgil sat in his wheelchair, a blanket on his lap, he struck me as the exact opposite of the troubled, morose picture my father had painted of him.

When I knocked on the hollow cosmetic prosthetics he wore under his pants, he’d lean his head back and roar with laughter. His raven-black slicked-back hair reminded me of Elvis Presley.

One day, I saw a strangely compelling photo of a shirtless man on the cover of Creem magazine at Ellensburg’s lone comic-book/record store, Ace Books and Records. I asked the owner, Tim Nelson, who it was.

“That, my friend, is Iggy Pop.”

In the culturally isolated cow town where I lived, all that was played on the local radio station was country music. No one in Ellensburg even knew who Jimi Hendrix was, born only a hundred miles away in Seattle. Tim played me some early punk rock 45s and I was instantly grabbed and fucked hard. The Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.” was the revelation that changed my life, instantly and forever. I was mesmerized by this aggressive and snarling music. As a little kid, I’d owned one Alice Cooper record and listened to it obsessively, but this was something exotic, something that spoke to me in a way I couldn’t articulate. All I knew was I had to have more.

Within a couple of days, I’d traded in all of the comic books I’d collected as a child for records: the Sex Pistols, Damned, Stranglers, and Ramones, Iggy, David Bowie, the New York Dolls, and Velvet Underground. It was a veritable miracle that these albums could even be found here, but Tim Nelson was a unique cat who looked like a hippy but had broad tastes and a curiosity for the new and different. I thanked God I found them and I listened to these records in solitude for years.

Frequent run-ins with law enforcement did little to improve my opinion of authority figures. At fifteen, I was brought in and questioned about some car stereos that had been stolen from a dealership lot. When I failed to give up the name of the guy I knew was responsible, Captain Kuchin himself came in the room and was left alone with me.

Fabian Kuchin was a notoriously hard character. He had performed the job of local enforcer brutally for several years. One arm was in a cast from some rough arrest or bar brawl.

“Son, I’m going to ask you one more time. Who lifted these stereos?”

“I don’t know.”

The instant the words left my mouth, he clubbed me in the head with the cast on his broken arm, knocking me off the chair and onto the floor.

“Maybe you’ll give it a little more thought the next time I ask you something.”

It would not be the last time cops would kick the shit out of me in Ellensburg. A few years later, while leaving a Fourth of July celebration, I was whacked in the nuts and the back of the head by baton-wielding deputies who had me facedown on the asphalt.

Kuchin got busted a few years later for selling a couple of ounces of cocaine to some undercover federal agents. He was given a measly $25,000 fine and a year of work release, a prime example of the corruption endemic to my town’s local law enforcement, who had always had a hard-on for me. I rejoiced at the news of Kuchin’s arrest anyway. I had always wished him the worst.

IN HIGH SCHOOL, I PLAYED baseball, which I loved, and football, which I loathed. I was one of two quarterbacks on our team, and we were terrible. Sure, I could throw and the other quarterback could run, but that didn’t add up to a winning combo. Our tight end was a giant, already six foot seven at age sixteen, a strong, fast, and powerful player but with hands like a kitchen sieve. Whenever I dropped back to pass in the few seconds I had before being crushed by the opposing defense, he was the only target I could see. No matter how many times I threw a strike, the football bounced laughably off his hands, helmet, face mask, or torso. He went on to a successful decade-long career in the NFL but as a lineman. A brute just there to block and never touch the ball. After most games, we’d limp off the field, defeated, carrying our black-and-blue asses into the locker room in our otherwise useless hands.

And I was the odd man out. Despite playing a position that presupposed leadership, most of my teammates treated me with barely concealed contempt. I could not fathom their concern for their grade point averages, cheerleader girlfriends, and school functions. I laughed to myself when I watched them working so hard together as a group to cheat on their schoolwork. I didn’t even give enough fucks to cheat. I never did one piece of homework my entire high school career. I couldn’t have cared less if I failed or, by some twist of fate, passed any of my classes. For that, I was treated with a mixture of curiosity, dislike, and fear. I kept to myself and took no shit. That enticed some of the supposed tough guys to try and poke the bear.

On a bus ride home from another loss, someone asked to hear what I was listening to on my Walkman. My punk rock playlist was diplomatically passed around so every member of the team could partake in my ridicule. I’ll never forget how they laughed and looked at me as though I were crazy. A running back, one of the most popular guys on the team, threw an ice cube at my head to amuse his friends. I broke my hand punching him out in the rear of the bus and then spent the rest of that season playing running back myself, my throwing hand in a hard cast wrapped in several layers of foam rubber and tape.

In the off-season, I was a full-blown alcoholic. Each day on my way home from school, I got off the bus while still in town, stopped at a grocery store, and shoplifted a pint bottle of MD 20/20, a fortified wine more commonly known as Mad Dog. I would slip the flat bottle down the front of my pants, casually stroll out the door, then walk up the street to the park to drink it. Then I would go back and get another one. Those flat bottles, it was like they were designed to make the rotgut wine easier to steal.

After my second bottle, I’d stop by the college campus to rip off a bicycle. Then it was a drunken, harrowing ride often broken up by a few wipeouts before I came to a canal that ran through the fields about a half mile from my house. There I would toss the bike in the water, cross the bridge, and walk the rest of the way home. This went on for a couple years.

My father was arrested for drunk driving and had his license to drive taken away. This coincided with my passing driving class, and while everyone else my age got their certificates and cars, I had to wait until my father was legal again with fully reinstated auto insurance before I was able to get my own. He spent six weekends in jail and paid a fairly hefty fine. It burned me up that six months after passing my test I still couldn’t legally drive. After what felt like an eternity of waiting, I got my driver’s license at almost age seventeen. Late one afternoon, I took a girl for a ride down the dirt road adjacent to the canal to drink some beer and hopefully fuck. At one point, she got out to urinate in the bushes. When she came back, she was vibrating with excitement.

“Mark, you’ve got to come out here and see this!”

She walked me over to the now-dry canal, littered with the rusted-out, reed-covered skeletons of seventy or more bicycles. I felt the thief’s guilty flush creep up the back of my neck.

“Weird,” I said, then steered her back to the car. All my secret shit. There was no way I was then, or ever, going to give any of it up.

Summer of my junior year, I finally decided Fuck football. My only friend on the team, a tough and savvy, streetwise surrogate big brother named Dean “Zeek” Duzenski, had graduated the previous year. He’d been my drinking buddy, advisor, and on a few occasions when I needed it, protector. While going in to suit up for practice one day, I’d found my helmet filled and dripping with soda. The “prankster” had been the biggest, heaviest lineman on our team, an extremely large dark-skinned black guy who weighed well over three hundred pounds named Waddell Snyder. I was a frequent target of his jokes and abuse, and he rarely missed an opportunity to give me shit. The entire team had watched in awe after practice that day as Zeek spent ten long minutes putting the most intense, calculated, physically dismantling ass-kicking I’d ever witnessed on the huge, slow, hapless, loudmouthed bully. He connected punch after pummeling punch to the big kid’s face until it was nearly unrecognizable. Needless to say, Del Snyder never so much as spoke to me again. I’d also been completely out of step with my other teammates and their juvenile concerns, and had hated our head coach from the beginning. The way he bossed me around like I was a private at boot camp had never sat right with me.

When I declined to show up for the first day of summertime practice for what would have been my last season, our coach decided to make a personal appearance at my house. When he failed to reel me back in, he got angry, pointed his finger at my chest in my yard, and called me a quitter and a loser. My dad, who was also a teacher at my high school, finally came out of the house.

“Hey, Coach,” he said nonchalantly, “why don’t you get the fuck off my property before I call the cops?”

I laughed out loud. Although every other word out of my dad’s mouth was goddamnit or bullshit, I’d never in my life heard him say fuck. That he had saved it for my coach—his coworker—brought me untold amounts of joy.

AFTER DRINKING FOR HOURS AT my house with a friend one night, I talked him into executing a dark idea that had haunted my mind and rolled around my head for several years. We drove deep into the countryside in my friend’s Jeep until we found the van that belonged to my probation officer, who I detested. It sat in a field being used to store hay for her husband’s cattle, a utility vehicle to cover the several acres of property they owned. While my buddy stole engine parts and tools, I destroyed the van with a sledgehammer. On the way home, the car stereo between the two front seats started to short out; when we both reached down to jiggle it back to life, my friend took his drunken eye off the road, sending us straight down into the deep ditch alongside the pavement.

I was tossed out of the Jeep and thrown violently across the asphalt. I went to brush the hair out of my face and it all came off in my hand. I was partially scalped, the side of my head badly lacerated. My friend, who was driving, had his thumb torn off.

We walked almost a mile to the nearest farmhouse, my pal holding his thumb in place, moaning in agony, blood gushing out of the hole in his hand. It was four a.m. when we banged on the door for help. We were greeted by the homeowner pointing a shotgun at our faces. As we stood in his kitchen waiting for the ambulance, I stared at the huge pool of our blood collecting on the ancient linoleum tile floor. I was read my rights by a cop while lying in a hospital bed.

When my case went to trial, my previous offenses were taken into account: vandalism, car prowling, multiple counts of illegal dumping of garbage, trespassing, twenty-six tickets for underage drinking, shoplifting alcohol, possession of marijuana, bicycle theft, tool theft, theft of car parts, theft of motorcycle parts, urinating in public, theft of beer keg and taps, insurance fraud, theft of car stereos, public drunkenness, breaking and entering, possession of stolen property, and on my second arrest for urinating in public, a disorderly conduct charge. I was convicted on the vandalism, theft, and underage drinking charges, but taking into consideration my long juvenile record, they sentenced me to eighteen months in prison. I would do my time at Shelton, the medium-security prison in Washington. As I stood in court to hear my sentencing, the judge reviewed my rap sheet, then addressed me directly.

“Has anyone ever tried to get you help for your problem, son?”

I said nothing.

“Looking at this record, it’s glaringly obvious that you are an alcoholic and drug addict. Every single one of these charges is drug and alcohol related.”

I still said nothing.

“Madam Prosecutor, I find it somewhat difficult to comprehend your willingness to send an eighteen-year-old boy still in high school to prison. I am shocked that it did not occur to you to help this kid.

“Mr. Lanegan, I am giving you a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I strongly suggest you do some soul-searching and self-reflection. I am suspending this sentence on the condition that you complete a year of outpatient substance-abuse treatment. You are also hereby ordered by the court to take regular, supervised doses of the drug Antabuse. If you fail to meet these requirements to the T, I’ll have no qualms about sending you to Shelton for a year and a half.”

I walked out in a daze. I knew the judge had cut me a huge break. But my biggest concern was how I’d be able to drink while taking a drug that existed solely to make you deathly ill if you drank. As a kid, in the middle of wintertime at a local park, I’d seen a Native American man drink after he’d taken it. He’d become wretched, lying on his back on a picnic table, groaning in misery. I knew better than to tempt fate and drink alcohol during my court-ordered year of sobriety.

But in 1982, nobody in my program even got piss tested. I continued to sell and use weed and acid daily. Almost every day before school, I’d eat a small hit of acid, do a couple hits of weed, and hop in my truck and head to class. Four nights a week, I went to my program. Many times in group when the counselor went around the room asking everyone “Clean and sober today?” I would be stoned or lightly frying on acid.

Two weeks into my final season of baseball, I was having my best year ever, by far. Even though it was still early in the season, I was nonetheless hitting .700 and sometimes batting cleanup or fifth, depending on the opposing lineup, the two power spots in the batting order. Pitching had become practically effortless. I was brought in as closer in the final couple of innings if we were leading. Throwing at least twice as hard as our starting pitcher, I either struck out batter after batter or wildly beaned them in the body or the head, giving them a free ride to first.

With that well-deserved reputation for wildness, I already had the advantage as opposing hitters stepped in. No one wanted to get hit with a fastball, and I once or twice closed the game with three straight strikeouts. Finally, after years of mediocre seasons, my burning desire to win was being fulfilled. And it was rumored that scouts who worked for college teams had begun to turn up to see us play, although with my seven-stories-below-average grades it was a virtual impossibility that I’d ever make it to college. Baseball had provided escape from my mother as a child, but it was doubtfully going to be my ticket out of the stagnant puddle of piss that Ellensburg had become to me.

Our high school vice principal turned up at one practice and pulled Coach Taylor aside. We couldn’t hear what they were saying, but when my coach threw his hat to the ground and got up in the administrator’s face like an angry pro manager arguing a call with an umpire, my teammates laughed. I laughed along with them. Then the coach called me over.

It had been brought to the school’s attention that I had failed a home economics class the previous semester and thus had not passed the minimum amount of classes required to participate in sports. The vice principal had been informing the coach that my baseball career was over.


  • "The artist's journey to find one's true voice can travel some very dark roads; addiction, violence, poverty, and soul-crushing alienation have taken the last breath of many I have called friend. Mark Lanegan dragged his scuffed boots down all of those bleak byways for years, managed to survive, and in the process created an astonishing body of work. Sing Backwards and Weep exquisitely details that harrowing trip into the heart of his particular darkness. Brutally honest, yet written without a molecule of self-pity, Lanegan paints an introspective picture of genius birthing itself on the razor's edge between beauty and annihilation. Like a Monet stabbed with a rusty switchblade, Sing Backwards and Weep is breathtaking to behold but hurts to see. I could not put this book down."—D. Randall Blythe, author of Dark Days and lead vocalist of Lambof God
  • "If you ever wondered how Mark Lanegan's music came to blossom, here's a taste of the dark dirt that fertilized it. But saying that, or something like it, feels irresponsible, almost like saying 'If you want to make great, soul-shattering art, traumatize yourself to the limit and beyond' ... Sing Backwards and Weep is gnarly, naked, and true."—Michael C. Hall of Dexter and Six Feet Under
  • "Harrowing, edgy, tense, and hypnotic. A very truthful, sobering account of what it's like in the throes of addiction, with shades of Bukowski, Burroughs, and Hunter S. Thompson."—Gerard Johnson, director and writer of Tony, Hyena, and Muscle
  • "Some books amuse you, some intrigue you, and some-they don't come along often-like Mark Lanegan's Sing Backwards and Weep, squeeze you by the throat and drag you down the back stairs of the author's soul and blast you till you see what he's seen and feel what he's felt. Mark Lanegan spares no detail of the toxic and maniacal things he's done and had done to him, nor of the glorious, weird beauty he walked out with on the other side. You can't look and you can't look away. This is my kind of book. Fucked-up, full of heart, and hard-core as a shot of battery acid in the eye."—Jerry Stahl, author of Permanent Midnight, I, Fatty,and Happy Mutant Baby Pills
  • "A no holds barred memoir of uncompromising honesty. All of the usual suspects are here-sex, drugs, rock and roll-and if that were all, it would be compelling enough on the strength of Lanegan's writing and the setting of 80's and 90's Seattle, a near mythical time and place in music history. But what elevates Sing Backwards and Weep above the pack is the window into Lanegan's development as an artist, from his first musical influences to the singular singer and songwriter we see today. He seamlessly weaves that storyline into the more conventional rock memoir fabric and the results are outstanding."—Tom Hansen, author of AmericanJunkie and This Is What We Do
  • "Sing Backwards and Weep is powerfully written and brutally, frighteningly honest. First thought that came to my mind was, 'Mark Lanegan gives the term bad boy a whole new meaning.' These are gritty, wild tales of hardcore drugs, sex, and grunge. But this is also the story of a soulful artist who refused the darkness when it tried to swallow him whole. And who found redemption through grace and the power of his unique and brilliant music. Finally, the song becomes truth. And the truth becomes song."—Lucinda Williams
  • "A stunning tally of the sacrifices that sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll demand of its mortal instruments."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "It's a hell of a read. All-consuming, even. Be warned."—Louder Than War
  • "In a gritty new memoir, Sing Backwards and Weep, Lanegan offers an unflinching look at his shadowy past, stretching from childhood up until the death of his friend Staley in 2002. The book reads like a debauched Bukowski novel, as Lanegan drifts from sin to sin, cursing those who held him back from music, drugs, and hookups, and recounting grisly tales about his famous friends."—Rolling Stone
  • "A dark, gripping and compelling piece of work."—Guerrilla Candy
  • "Rather astonishing... [it] reads kind of like the grunge-scene Andy Warhol Diaries: check the index, and there's probably a great story about your favorite artist."—Minnesota Public Radio, "The Current"
  • "MARK LANEGAN'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY IS THE MOST RAW AND BRUTAL ROCK MEMOIR EVER WRITTEN... [This book is] one of the most unflinching memoirs in the history of music writing."—Kerrang!
  • "[Sing Backwards and Weep] unflinchingly tells the musician's hardscrabble story."—SPIN
  • "[A]n extraordinary snapshot of the reality lower down the totem pole.... one of the most compelling accounts of squalor and misery ever committed to paper. In comparison, Bukowski at his most fevered reads like Somerset Maugham."—New Statesman
  • "[A] fearsome and brutal new autobiography."—Washington Post

On Sale
Apr 27, 2021
Page Count
352 pages
Hachette Books

Mark Lanegan

About the Author

Mark Lanegan released his first solo album, The Winding Sheet, in 1990. His most recent album is Straight Songs ofSorrow. His singular body of work encompasses dozens of albums both solo and collaborative. He lives in Los Angeles.

Learn more about this author