There’s been a lot written recently about how viruses spread, but Mark Lanegan was somewhat ahead of the curve. His new ‘90s grunge survival memoir Sing Backwards And Weep documents, among other bracing anecdotes, the pioneering work done in that field by Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell. In the book, Lanegan remembers coming down with a terrible cold while in the studio when his band, Screaming Trees, were recording 1991’s ‘Uncle Anesthesia’.
“Cornell insisted I allow him to lick my bare eyeball to test his invented-on-the-spot theory of virus transmission,” he writes. “I was, of course, delighted to take part in the experiment. Chris never got sick. I can’t recall if this proved or disproved his theory, but it was an effective way of making me laugh.”
Don’t try this at home in the fight against corona, of course, but it’s a rare, sweet and playful moment in a life story that otherwise makes being an underground rock icon with a paralysing heroin addiction sound like a pretty gruelling way to earn a crust. One chapter, ‘Ice-Cold European Funhouse’, finds our Seattle-born hero in 1996 touring the continent while dangerously strung out. He drags himself shitting and puking through the streets of King’s Cross and then, a few pages, later he’s in Amsterdam, still trying to score, only to be repeatedly ripped off, mugged and humiliated. You have to laugh.
When Lanegan calls me from splendid isolation at his home in Glendale, just outside LA, I tell him that merely reading about his experiences has been enough to put me right off heroin altogether.