Sing Backwards and Weep by Mark Lanegan review – touring, recording, drugs

Friendship with Kurt Cobain, spats with Liam Gallagher and a brutal chronicle of addiction … the Screaming Trees singer’s candid memoir

In 1992, on a tour bus heading to Canada, the American singer Mark Lanegan felt a tightness in the crook of his arm. By the time he reached Quebec, his arm had swollen to twice its normal size. Already an alcoholic, Lanegan – known to friends as “Old Scratch”, the pseudonym for the devil – had developed a ferocious heroin habit and would regularly share needles. In hospital he was diagnosed with a blood infection and given intravenous antibiotics. Using a pen, a doctor drew a line around the inflamed area which stretched from his shoulder to his wrist and told him: “I’m gonna come back in 12 hours. If the redness has gone outside the line, I’m afraid we’re going to have to amputate your arm at the shoulder.” Eight torturous days later, the swelling had subsided and Lanegan was discharged, his arm still intact. “Not for one moment did it cross my mind that I had done this to myself,” he writes in Sing Backwards and Weep. And so the next day he resumed shooting up.

Rock memoirs are traditionally full of myth-building and depravity, but Lanegan’s account of his tenure in the proto-grunge quartet Screaming Trees sidesteps the myth-building and rushes headlong into grand guignol scenes of degradation and self-abuse. Rare in its rawness and candour, the book is a brutal chronicle of addiction that began aged 12 when Lanegan was “reviled as a town drunk before I could even legally drink”, and continued into his 20s when he branched out into heroin and crack.

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