‘Sing Backwards and Weep’, A brutally honest memoir of dysfunction and addiction

American singer Mark Lanegan’s haunted baritone is a force of nature. His deep, gloomy voice sings of the darkest nights of the soul, the deepest heart-breaks and emotional bruises, broken dreams, desperate addiction and longing, failure, desolation and death. From his work with Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age, right through to his solo projects and collaborations with Kurt Cobain, PJ Harvey and Greg Dulli, Lanegan always provides a reliably sepulchral presence. While he comes from the world of punk and grunge, his work harkens back to the primal force of the earliest folk and blues music.

As his devastating new memoir Sing Backwards and Weep brutally shows; this pain is not method acting. Focusing on his life from boyhood to time spent in rehab for heroin and crack addiction in his early 30’s — the book is an unvarnished look at addiction and compulsive behaviour. Written in beautifully honed and precise blasts of shotgun prose, it transcends the clichés of the rock memoir. Rather than a voyeuristic tableau of sex and drugs, Lanegan honestly details a life of self-hating excess. Born into a brutally dysfunctional family, he finds early escape in a life of petty crime and punk rock, later becoming the singer of psychedelic grunge act Screaming Trees, a band with tempestuous- and often darkly hilarious, internal politics.

Lanegan’s singing made him an idol to other Seattle musicians such as Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Alice in Chain’s Layne Staley, who the book fondly remembers. However, as with his more commercially successful friends, Lanegan’s own career was plagued by relentless depression and addiction. The book offers grimly detailed portraits of life as both a touring musician and a full-blown junkie. Lanegan’s need to score on tour lands him in multiple life-threatening situations like robbing’s and nightmarish bacterial infections, while back at home — he turns to dealing crack cocaine as a means of funding his relentless habits…. Fortunately, he is still alive and clean today. Released with an accompanying album of new songs, this book is an incredible record of a tormented life and the complex relation between creativity, addiction and mental illness.

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