‘You were my Heathcliff’: Isobel Campbell pays tribute to collaborator Mark Lanegan | Mark Lanegan

These dark days got darker. And tonight [22 February], when Jeff [Fielder, Lanegan’s long-term guitarist] called, so thoughtfully, at first I did not believe him. I did not want to believe him. After a time, the tears came. Now leaden body with heart in boots, my world is for ever changed.

I hope your final journey after arduous battle was kind and graceful enough, Old Scratch. And I pray grieving loved ones left behind in time are soothed and heal. I will for ever cherish your memory in my heart.

People said we were beauty and the beast. Yet I witnessed your beauty and I could frequently inhabit beast. Light and dark. Angel and devil. Of our records, you said you were “happy for me to do the heavy lifting”. Yet you brought my songs to life. Yes, even the so-called “butt naked” ones, with timbre so beautiful. I loved you especially on those.

You breathed mystical air into the songs of many, your own, QOTSA; poetic, incessant collaborator, I could not nail you down as I might. There’d be times we’d be offered main stage at a whopping festival and you’d turn me down precisely to play the same festival in the smallest tent. I dared never assume anything about you. You could be intimidating and scary some days and kept me on my toes. And yet we enjoyed appreciation and our time and there was nothing finer or more spiritually rewarding for me than to sing with you. Or hear you sing. Even on the evenings you were jonesing like the roadrunner to get away from the Neumann, out the vocal booth and in front of a Clippers game. Or every night backstage after the ceremonial defluffing of the pants. “Let’s do this!” you’d say.

On stage in Barcelona in 2010.
‘You could literally sing the phonebook’ … on stage in Barcelona in 2010. Photograph: Jordi Vidal/Redferns

There’d be days in 2006 and 2007 when I’d live in dread of that phone call, or fear switching on the radio to hear the news that was so lovingly delivered tonight. You chose to stay with us back then and that was no small miracle. Said our songs were keeping you alive. I wish they had still. Fifty-seven is too young.

Men loved you, women wanted to be with you, but you were more of a big brother to me. And I the tolerated kid sister. You were my study in the great dark man of which, in the words of Quentin, there are none. You were my Heathcliff, my fantasy. I pulled all-nighters in my flat in reclusive monk mode writing songs for you. It was an honour and gift.

On producing our records, I was, in your words, a “benevolent dictator”. Though in truth I just could not help or stop myself; you were that inspiring. A bit too young and uncool for grunge, I missed Screaming Trees and Nirvana and all that, but oh boy did I love Bubblegum and I’ll Take Care of You. To play organ for you live on Brook Benton, my heart was zinging! And we would talk about our old bands and all the fighting. And we would laugh.

I never bought into the debaucherous rock’n’roll tales of you then, nor can I bear to read headlines now. You were simply my friend. To me and many. You would speak to me of dear ones, like Jeffrey Lee Pierce.

When we first spoke, you had written lyrics to accompany my music and sang Why Does My Head Hurt So? down the telephone. You could literally sing the phonebook.

When I flew to Los Angeles to finish recording Ballad of the Broken Seas with you, you were out on day release from lockdown rehab and clearly in a lot of pain. And yet I sensed I was the source of great amusement to everyone at the studio, as such an innocent little Scottish pipsqueak, but that was OK. You were one of the funniest people I’ve ever met and also one of the grumpiest, too, which is saying a lot, because I thought I was the grumpiest. Until I met you.

You were the most generous tipper. In a diner one day, somewhere in the boonies, you really made the waitresses smile! Backstage somewhere in Berlin, when we were having a share, I was grousing and you said how surprised you were that I wasn’t a junkie. I knew what you meant.

Thanks for writing on my birthday last year (for the first time!) and telling me you miss me – which you had said at other times before. Sometimes in the past I felt you indifferent, but I sure miss you too in this strange new world. Have peace now. Be free. See you again for one last concert together in the furnace or sky. Sueños con los angelitos, dear friend, you are loved and missed.

This article was amended on 24 February 2022. It was Jeff Fielder who broke the news of Lanegan’s death to Isobel Campbell, not Jeff Barrett, as an earlier version stated.

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