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Reconsidering Scott Stapp, Rock's Most Misunderstood Star

“We’d like to focus on the positive things,” Scott Stapp’s publicist tells me. It’s pretty much the first thing she says after greeting me. I’m allotted 10 minutes to ask him questions. I get that her client has spent the back half of his career — and even a good portion of the front half — enduring ridicule from thousands of haters trolling from all over the cultural landscape, but honestly, what more can someone say to or ask Scott Stapp that he hasn’t already heard? 

I am not a Creed fan, and if we’re being honest, I have for sure been among that derisive mob his PR team seeks to shield him from. Nothing I might say about Stapp really matters, and I doubt it will sway a person one way or the other if he or she is on the fence about going to his show on Wednesday night at Granada Theater. Either you are going to this show because you love Creed songs and you love Stapp’s voice or you aren’t because you don’t.

But now, nearly 20 years since Creed broke the proverbial bank with My Own Prison, what joy is there to be found in picking on Stapp? A quick scroll through Wikipedia makes it obvious that he’s been through a lot; 2014 was a particularly harrowing year for him, culminating in a self-recorded video in which he divulged how, despite all his success, he was broke and at the time living in a Holiday Inn. Prior to that, he’d been living in his truck.

The publicist told me he was open about his struggles with and triumph over alcohol and other substance abuse problems, but when I asked if he had been able to recover from his financial troubles, that was deflected into “positive news, the tour, that type of thing.”

I asked him if he was disappointed in the reaction to “Marlins Will Soar,” the anthem he wrote for the Florida Marlins in 2010; Deadspin accused it of ruining baseball. “I didn’t write it for anyone else," Stapp says. "I wrote it for the Marlins. I can take my boys to any game I want. So I don’t care if someone doesn’t like it.”

Sure, if you were a snob 15 years ago (and boy did I fancy myself one), the tank tops and Jesus poses made Stapp an easy punching bag, not to mention the corny earnestness of a song like “Higher.” But I, like most music fans, enjoy lots of popular music that sounds terrible to other people. One man’s trash is another man’s Human Clay. Actually, one man’s trash is 11 million other people’s Human Clay.

I’ll say this much: When My Own Prison was new, I made fun of that voice, a gale-force baritone that aped the least offensive Eddie Vedder-isms and used them to boom inspirational lyrics into the cheap seats of the arenas Pearl Jam was so embarrassed about filling. I’ve owned Pearl Jam albums, and looking back, I find Vedder’s Rain Man-having-a-fit moans and groans are way more grating to me than even the least consequential of Stapp’s many hooks. As a non-fan, I think his vocals are objectively the only part of Creed that really matters, a point underscored when Stapp tells me how his shows have been mostly sold-out. His voice is unforgettable the way Sinatra’s is, or Ray Charles’ or Madonna’s. It has gravity, both in the way it sounds and the way it keeps drawing my aural memory into its orbit.

So the annoying part about being babysat by PR minders is that it seems like there is more to Scott Stapp than hearing that attendance is great. “The shows are sold out,” he said. “People are coming out to hear the songs they love, and it’s great to see their response.” The sets are primarily Creed’s greatest hits; I assume there are some cuts from Stapp’s solo records in the mix, but when I asked him, he said, “Well, my solo work, it’s a continuation of that, of Creed.” Riveting, right?

It’s not that I think he’s boring, but I am interested in things that have little to do with his tour. I wanted to know what 2015 was like for him, in light of the bad place he’d found himself at the end of the previous year. “I focused on my health, and reconnecting with my family,” Stapp said. His marriage, kids and music are clearly the driving forces in his life, what keeps him focused and clear headed. These details elevate him from an easy target for click-baiting one-liners.

I’d argue that it’s the humanity found in Stapp’s failings that makes his music even more powerful for his fans today than when he was on top of the world; in 2016, his fall to the bottom and struggle for redemption imbues a song like “What’s This Life For” with a weight you can practically feel.

But there’s also the side of Stapp that knows who and what he is: one of the last rock stars. And he still believes in the power of music. When I asked him if he thought it was possible now for a person to become an iconic rock ’n' roll star, he answered almost beatifically. “If you believe in your music, if your music connects with the masses, then yeah, why couldn’t you be one?” Surely, the crowd who will be packing the Granada on Wednesday will affirm his belief.