Get in the Ring
When rock stars attack
According to Google, the colorful phrase "kiss-ass pussy sycophant bitch" appears on the Web 143 times. Every last one of 'em refers to me by name.
Granted, I'd prefer to see myself linked to "People's 50 Most Beautiful People" or "well-paid," but in my line of work, a little name-calling is an occupational hazard. If you write about people long enough, some of them are going to write back. Not that it's any consolation to my mother. She's not impressed I'm yielding the same search results on the Internet as those I'd have gotten with a law degree. Apparently, I've ruffled Scott Weiland's feather boa.
In February, I flew to Los Angeles to spend a day profiling Velvet Revolver, Weiland's new band with Guns n' Roses alumni Slash, Duff McKagan, and Matt Sorum. The piece was for the June issue of Revolver, a glossy metal magazine that features porn stars, tattoo artists, and a monthly Q&A column from Pantera's Vinnie Paul, the self-described "Yoda of Pussy." My piece hit newsstands in late April. By May 9, the story was overshadowed by a post on VelvetRevolver.com from Mr. Weiland himself.
Dearest Andy Langer,
I would love the opportunity to speak to you further, you fucking kiss-ass pussy sycophant bitch. Do you make common practice of licking the assholes of rock stars, only to walk away to a safe distance? Wait till a man's back is turned then print a headline like that? Do you?
Well, you know what half-man? My studio is in Burbank, the same place where you met me, interviewed me, and kissed my ass, you fucking worthless piece of journalist shit. Five days a week! I'll be there bitch!
No more interviews, you're all a bunch of fucking kiss-ass pussy turncoats.
PS: Oh, by the way, you wanna know about fucking drugs? Fucking try them yourself!
Nice. Or at least radio thought so; three of the leading radio industry tip sheets (including MTV's) picked up the story, making it instant fodder for hundreds of morning shows and newsbreaks around the dial. For many, the burning question was simple: What was the headline? Under the innocuous and admittedly cliché headline of "Appetite for Dysfunction" was a meatier subhead: "They're clean, sober, and ready to rock the world. So who did former GN'R members Slash, Duff, and Matt pick to front their new band Velvet Revolver ex-Stone Temple Pilot Scott Weiland. Of course. The biggest f**k-up of them all."
Naturally, I didn't write the words in question. Editors write headlines and kickers, not writers. Yet, whether it makes me stupid or just a stubborn prick, I'll stand by what I didn't write. The day Weiland and I filled 48 minutes of tape together, he was on a day-pass from a court-ordered rehab facility. This is the guy who's clocked more time this year on Celebrity Justice than Total Request Live. He's got four drug arrests. His last DUI was for wrapping his Beamer around a parked car. A fistfight ended his last band.
In the interview, Weiland says to me straight up, "I'll always be the wild card. ... You know, Evel Knievel sold a lot of tickets. And people didn't come to see him make the jump." For my money, calling him the biggest fuck-up of them all is only inaccurate in that it glosses over the achievements of Courtney Love.
In the week that followed his post, I got dozens of requests for radio interviews. Aside from a longer piece for LA Lloyd's locally produced and nationally syndicated news brief, I took the high road. "I wish him a speedy recovery" was my only comment to most outlets.
For their part, in the next issue, Revolver responds with: "The magazine's editors, not Andy Langer, wrote the story's headline. On a more up note, we're glad to see that the HTML classes the singer took in rehab are paying off." It's mildly amusing, but I fought for a different response. I wanted them to say they work at 1115 Broadway. Five days a week!
My favorite e-mail from a Velvet Revolver fan calls me a "worthless cochsucker." What the author doesn't know, other than how to spell, is that I'm a Velvet Revolver fan, too. I grew up on Guns n' Roses. I'm a sucker for a Slash solo. The group's debut, Contraband, has plenty.
As for Weiland, he's the perfect frontman. As I discussed with the man himself, it's pretty obvious that if you're former Gunners and you want to have a viable band, you've exactly two choices for a singer, and Chris Cornell's already taken. As it is, Velvet Revolver is greater than the sum of its parts. So how did Weiland and I get so sideways? You'll have to ask him.
We didn't share drinks at the Chateau Marmont. We didn't go antique shopping or barbecue at his house. This was business: It got no friendlier than the introductory handshake and the closing, "See ya later." In between, we talked about the band, the pressure, and yes, drugs. He brought them up. I assumed he was comfortable talking about addiction, because that's how he's been spending his time in rehab talking it through. Interviewers like to talk about vibes, but in this instance, there wasn't one. There also wasn't any ass-kissing.
My editors at Revolver will tell you that my inability to kiss ass has become something of a trademark. Every SXSW I see hundreds of people that share my job title, and nine times out of 10 I'm embarrassed for them. Most of them are fans first, journalists second. These are people who are way too eager to have audience with rock stars. In my book, ignoring the celebrity status of those you're talking to is an effective tool to disarm them into saying things they don't say to every other media outlet. So yeah, it stings a bit to have Weiland accuse me of being exactly the kind of guy I'd like to think I'm not.
What also stings is reading the message boards. Weiland's note generated hundreds of posts across five or six sites. It's little surprise that the bulk of them backed their hero, but the contempt for the music press was nothing if not eye-opening. It was as if Rolling Stone lied to them about WMDs.
I used to get excited when a music magazine mentioned my favorite band. Kids today get suspicious. I'm beginning to think I'm working in a dying profession: Thanks to the Internet, artists can communicate directly with their fans. Not only can artists spin their own agendas, they can rally the troops against reading anybody else's version of the truth.
Although my personal strategy has been not to protest too much, others have taken up the cause. Austin poster artist Billy Perkins and KLBJ's Johnny Walker both posted nice (and wholly unsolicited) notes of support to message boards. There were more, only with more mysterious screen names. This paper was less kind.
Apparently an illustrator noticed I have less hair now than when I started at the Chronicle nearly 15 years ago. Even so, the caricature that accompanied the Weiland news item in "TCB" added insult to injury. Bob Newhart is funny. That somebody thinks I look like him isn't. Equally disappointing is Revolver's official response. I'd hoped they would muster something stronger than an HTML joke. Instead, "The World's Loudest Rock Magazine" offered an apologetic whisper.
What folks ask me most now is whether I'm pumping iron in anticipation of a showdown with Weiland at Velvet Revolver's June 17 date at Stubb's. He says he'd like the opportunity to speak to me further, but I think I'll pass. I'm going to the show, alright. I'm just going to watch it from a safe distance with three or four large friends. Come to think of it, reading that last sentence, I'm willing to give Weiland this: Maybe I am a pussy. If so, call me Yoda.
What have I learned from all this? It's proof of journalism's primary tenants: You can't please all the people all the time, and no press is bad press. Weiland thinks I screwed him, but I think he knew the timing couldn't have been better. By calling out a journalist, he made headlines in anticipation of his group's debut.
Me, I'm gonna laugh it off. Maybe frame a copy of his letter with Billy Bishop's Stubb's poster. I may even revamp my business card. Since I'm a writer, television reporter, and radio host, I've never known what to put under my name. Scott Weiland and Google have decided for me: kiss-ass pussy sycophant bitch. This way you don't just get a card, you also get a good story to go along with it.
Velvet Revolver plays Stubb's Thursday, June 17. The Living Things open.