The Seattle Weekly, December 2001
Mark Lanegan won't say much about
his softly screaming life.
IF HE'S A ROAD, it's not gravel, although that's what the others would have you believe. They say his voice is ripped by small stones, that it's rumbling and rocky, it wears at your tires, and fucks with your transmission. And if he's a bottle of something, it ain't whiskey, but that, too, is what they like to say.
He is an old glass jar filled with miracle flowers from a garden that nearly dried up and died a long time ago. He's the upturned corner of a basement bedroom and noises in the attic; the sharp whisper of an apparition. He's a long, winding, seamless highway paved clean by a work-release crew. But he doesn't care to explain any of it.
Go ahead and try asking if he can tally up the lives he's led. See if he can separate them into at least two: one long-haired and flailing; the other gentle, wise, and subdued; one full of psychedelic, bluesy garage-rock thrown up against the wall of grunge; the other stacked deep with dark, reverberating echoes, softly twanging guitars, and the shadows of folks like Mike Johnson (Dinosaur Jr), Ben Shepard (Soundgarden), and Jeffrey Lee Pierce (Gun Club).
"I just sort of do my thing, and one thing leads to another," he says quietly through the lines of a tinny phone connection. "I don't really think of my life that way; it's not like, 'Oh, I used to be in the army and now I'm a schoolteacher,'" he says and smokes a quiet laugh.
"It's like this," he starts, with a steady voice, "I made records for quite a while, for years in fact, and I've been lucky enough to keep making them. If I think about it at all, I just think that I'm grateful that I've been able to make a living and make records for pretty much my entire adult life. There are personal phases, like I was with this person then, I lived here then, I had money then, now I don't, or I was enjoying this kind of music then--you know, personal stuff."
Here again, he doesn't care to explain any of that.
You probably shouldn't go looking for too much of him on his records, either. He has said over and over in various publications and in numerous ways that the singer and the song are two distinct entities, though it's a bit difficult to believe that that isn't just a shield he carries around in order to ward off thieves. There are so many patterns running through his songs, so much carrying on about being alone, so much about the rain, about leaving town and finding new places to be. But he says it just isn't him, so it really can't be.
"It's not real life; it's a song. So I think of it as something outside of me. [The songs] sorta show up when they do. I try to make myself available to them," he says, and his voice has a direction that could remind you of your father reprimanding you for asking silly questions.
In the end, though, he might soften. If you speak to him with your own version of headstrong strength, and if you keep your sentiments tight, he might be willing to let you in--just a little.
"Well I'll say this," he begins, and his voice drops to a whisper as a door creaks open, "I'm the kinda guy who thinks that if he talks about the magic, maybe it'll go away."