Welcome to another special ‘90s entry! This week, we’re going to discuss what many music fans refer to as “lead singer syndrome” (this is not something I made up, I promise). This is a disease that has affected plenty of frontmen (and women) over the years, and it’s not strictly a ‘90s phenomenon. However, there are a number of ‘90s bands that struggled with a temperamental lead singer, and many of them called it quits because of that one person’s sour attitude.
So let’s take a look at three notoriously asshole-ish lead singers (that I also happen to like a lot) and find out just where they went wrong.
Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots)
Why Is He an Asshole?
His highly publicized substance abuse problems led to multiple arrests, which constantly derailed STP’s attempts to tour and even release new material. Over the years, he became more and more withdrawn from his bandmates and began showing up to his own shows late or not at all (I know from experience because Scott was late to an STP show I attended a few years ago).
After STP went on hiatus in the early 2000s, Scott joined the supergroup Velvet Revolver. Much to no one’s surprise, his bad habits followed him, and Velvet Revolver eventually dumped him. He reunited with both bands later on, but that didn’t last long. Scott got a little cocky about the Velvet Revolver one-off reunion, claiming he was back with the band for good (a claim Slash immediately shot down).
STP went on another hiatus, during which Scott began a solo tour. The tour was branded the “Purple at the Core Tour,” and basically consisted of Scott performing STP songs with another band. The rest of the original STP lineup accused Scott of and essentially touring under the STP brand without permission. They warned him to cease and desist, but Scott refused, so they fired him and replaced him with Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington.
In Scott’s Defense
I made my opinion on Scott Weiland clear in my Stone Temple Pilots entry, but I’d like to go into more detail here.
Like I stated above, I happen to like the three singers discussed in this entry. Out of all three, I like Scott the most (see my embarrassingly intense crush on him in middle school). He’s an incredible songwriter and his voice is heavenly. Though I honestly believe he was a better frontman in Velvet Revolver, his work with Stone Temple Pilots is still impressive.
Unfortunately, his skills as a musician are overshadowed by his rampant drug use in the ‘90s and his increasingly anti-social behavior. For those who don’t know, Scott was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a while back, which explains a lot. Now, of course that shouldn’t be an excuse for some of the bad moves he’s made career-wise—he’s still done some asshole-ish things to his bandmates, both in STP and Velvet Revolver. And I don’t think his admittance of his mental illness was a move to elicit pity from anyone.
His autobiography, Not Dead & Not For Sale, goes into detail about some of his deeper issues (if you’re curious about his life, please give it a read), but ultimately, drugs did him in. Like Kurt Cobain, Scott found solace in heroin, and it obviously fucked a lot of things up for him. I don’t think he’s completely blameless in terms of relationships with his former bandmates, but he’s still a human being who makes mistakes and maybe doesn’t know exactly how to deal with them.
Verdict: 60% asshole (40% misunderstood)
Courtney Love (Hole)
Why Is She an Asshole?
Her boisterous attitude and tendency to speak before she thinks have gotten her into many scuffles with other musicians (she once punched Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna in the face for supposedly no particular reason).
But perhaps her most prominent claim to infamy was her tumultuous relationship with Kurt Cobain. Because of Kurt’s absurdly exaggerated legacy, Courtney has continuously been viewed as his ultimate downfall. She’s been called everything from a “Yoko Ono” to a murderer.
In Courtney’s Defense
Courtney Love isn’t exactly the easiest person to like, but she has a lot of qualities I really admire.
She challenges mainstream expectations of how a woman should look and act. It seems to me that people who find Courtney’s obnoxious behavior more off-putting than similar behavior from her male counterparts are perhaps caught off guard by her unwillingness to adapt to traditional feminine roles. Or people just find her annoying, regardless of her gender. I can’t assume everyone who hates Courtney is a misogynist.
She also gets far too much shit for her history of substance abuse. Scott Weiland followed almost the exact same path, yet he gets off easy compared to Courtney. But alas, rock ‘n’ roll is a boys club and girls will almost always get the short end of the stick.
But the one thing I really admire about Courtney is her ability to move past the tragedy of Kurt’s passing. No matter what you think of her, you have to admit that being in her shoes at that point in 1994 must have been incredibly difficult. But she prevailed. That takes a hell of a lot of strength.
Sure, she’s made mistakes, and yes, her public image is one of the worst in rock history, but she’s a strong woman (and she probably doesn’t give a shit what you think of her).
Verdict: 75% asshole (25% badass bitch)
Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins)
Status: Only original member left in the band
Why Is He an Asshole?
A notorious perfectionist, Billy insisted on playing all the guitar and bass parts on both Gish and Siamese Dream, which caused early internal drama with the Pumpkins.
The original Smashing Pumpkins lineup began to disintegrate by the late ‘90s, and the band eventually broke up in 2000. Billy reunited with drummer Jimmy Chamberlin to form the band Zwan, but that didn’t last long due to the rift forming between the two.
In 2004, Billy basically ruined any chance of getting the original Smashing Pumpkins lineup back together by badmouthing everyone. He blamed James Iha for the breakup and called D’arcy Wretzky a “mean-spirited drug addict.” And on top of that, he slammed his Zwan bandmates, calling them “filthy, opportunistic and selfish.” (And he did this on LiveJournal, for Christ's sake. LiveJournal.)
Though Jimmy did reunite with Billy for the album Zeitgeist in 2007, he quit two years later. Billy decided to continue releasing music under the Smashing Pumpkins name.
In Billy’s Defense
Like Scott and Courtney, Billy Corgan has his own personal issues that played some part in his behavior. He is apparently obsessive-compulsive, which explains the need for the first two Smashing Pumpkins albums to be perfect (and they are perfect). But that’s still not an excuse to be an asshole about it.
His tendency to badmouth his former bandmates (along with Courtney Love, whom he was involved with for quite some time) is definitely problematic, and unfortunately, I can’t really defend him on that.
My only defense for Billy is his musical skills. The man is a creative genius. Just listen to the perfection that is Siamese Dream. His more recent stuff is okay at best, but he knows exactly what he wants and he makes damn sure everyone hears it.
Verdict: 85% asshole (but 100% musical genius)