redgebnT.gif (7711 bytes)


by Alicia Downs

1990 was a year in music that changed my life. Pantera released "Cowboys From Hell" and the glam metal that I never really got into from the 80s was seeing a steady slow down. The pop scene took a resurgence with "artists" like Paula Abdul, MC Hammer, and New Kids on the Block making waves. But behind that pop facade there was a whole new musical revolution brewing in the background that would change and influence rock from then thereon. 

In 1990, a Seattle band named Alice in Chains released their debut album "Facelift." Within a year the so-called grunge movement would be moving into full swing. Bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana would go on to become cultural icons for "Generation X" while another band would go on to change the rock dynamic, arousing and molding the sound of almost every popular rock band on radio today (i.e., Godsmack and Staind). The growling vocals and seething chunky guitars would become a yardstick for the future of rock. Alice in Chains was that band. 

They were the band that you could feel electrically altering the course of music. Everything about them ran through your veins. Alice in Chains, to me, was more significant then Nirvana or Pearl Jam could ever be. While some of the kids were praising Kurt and Eddie, I was thinking of Layne and Chris Cornell. Soundgarden and Alice in Chains were the two bands that formed my rock standard that I breathe to this day. It is with them in mind that I often snub my noses at modern bands who make poor attempts at emulating the sound and talent that Soundgarden and Alice In Chains exuded so naturally.

So it was with sadness that I woke up April 20, 2002 to learn that one of my musical icons had passed. Layne Staley, the founding member of a band that changed my life, lay dead in his home at the tender age of 34. 

It reminded me of an April eight years prior when many of my classmates were shocked and grief-stricken when they learned that Kurt Cobain had died from what was deemed suicide. For the first time in those eight years, I understood how all those kids felt that day when they gathered, lighting candles in memory of Kurt. They lost something just as I felt I lost Layne.

I cannot say by any means that this is a shock. Layne Staley was almost a running gag with his constant treks into rehab that thwarted any new "Alice in Chains" releases since their 1995 self-titled effort. Since that time, Staley became an ever-growing recluse in and out of treatment centers for his heroin addiction and their label continued to release compilations, the most recent being the 2001 "Greatest Hits" album. Staley fought his entire life from being consumed by heroin just as I was gluttonously consumed by the music he created in Alice in Chains.

The pain and anguish of Staley and his addictions are no surprise either. He wrote freely about his torment in various songs. I still remember to this day a friend of mine who suffered from the same addiction recommending to me that I listen to "Down In a Hole" to understand him only weeks before he took his own life. Staley and his music became to me a bridge to a world that I was content I never understood. Staley’s pain and anguish were more genuine then anything that Aaron Lewis could concoct today. You could not only hear what Alice in Chains was playing, you could taste and smell it. 

Even though, as of this writing, it has been yet to be confirmed whether or not Staley’s death came as a result of a drug overdose, Staley was gone long before that point. Either way, we can say that drugs took one of the great modern day rockers of our time. Not only did they take him from this world, they took from all of us the music that feeds us. I had always hoped that Staley would clean up and that Alice in Chains would continue to feed my malnourished soul with music as only they could. Despite the clichés, I suppose there is nothing more left to do but accept the fact that Staley’s legacy will live on in his music and in our own veins -- as the ultimate high he was always searching for and never found.

Back to Features Page

Back to Home

Copyright © 2002 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 31 Jul 2018 23:38:09 -0400