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Layne Staley – c. today

By UrbanAnthropod, April 5, 2010 8:00 am

In Moratorium

I never had the opportunity to see Alice in Chains back in the day. By the time I was an appropriate age to go to concerts with friends, Alice in Chains was already in great decline. While they released the eponymous album (aka, “Tripod”) when I was in college, they were effectively not touring. Even though the Unplugged performance took place nearby at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, I couldn’t get tickets. A strung out, emaciated form slumped on a stool in front of a microphone. It was clear from watching the show, that Layne was severely ill. I watched and knew that I would never see them in concert. I remember the day when I learned the news of his death (April 20, 2002) from my sister and I remarked “It’s about time”. It wasn’t a callous remark as it might seem. It was just acceptance of what we all knew would happen to him. The reports would later trace his actual death to about April 5. Two weeks of decomposition alone as his lyrics would foreshadow.

Layne Staley was capable of reaching out to people by expressing his pain and loneliness in numerous dirges. While Jerry Cantrell’s lyrics pointed towards acceptance of internal problems and learning to overcome issues associated with addiction, Staley’s lyrics never offered any insight or resolution to his own problems with disastrous outcome. His constant moratorium on self often crossed the line toward consolidation of a negative identity. While he acknowledged his problems, he couldn’t actualize a way to overcome them. He would remark in Wake Up
from the Mad Season album

Wake up young man, it’s time to wake up
Your love affair has got to go
For 10 long years, for 10 long years
The leaves to rake up
Slow suicide’s no way to go, oh
Blue, clouded grey
You’re not a crack up
Dizzy and weakened by the haze
Moving onward
So an infection not a phase
Yeah, oh

The cracks and lines from where you gave up
They make an easy man to read, oh
For all the times you let them bleed you
For little peace from God you plead, and beg
For little peace from God you plead

But through all his pain and suffering, he called out to us. We related in some way. He didn’t have a pleasant voice, but it pleased us to hear it. The pain and raw quality echoed on top of his forlorn words drew us into his world.

Revival

I knew I would never see Alice in Chains live. At least that version of it. Then in 2007, they went on tour with William Duvall. We were all hesitant to accept this form of the band, but it was the only way to see them on stage again. Without great expectations, we went to a show where they opened for Velvet Revolver. After getting over the fact that they were reduced to the opening slot for a poorly executed supergroup, we marvelled at the magic that was Alice in Chains. As a matter of respect to Staley and Duvall, this version of the band was acceptable. Duvall didn’t attempt to be Staley. He didn’t even attempt to sound like Staley. It wasn’t the best performance I could’ve seen, but it gave me what I wanted and expected from this re-formed band playing their old and classic tunes we were all nostalgic for.

Black Gives Way to Blue

The real test would come later. Last year, Duvall took the lead position permanently and the band wrote new songs without Layne. They played to a sold out crowd at Irving Plaza 2 weeks before the release of the new CD. The real judgement of the band would come at this point. And while the internet was abuzz condemning Duvall for not being Staley, I went in with an open mind. The doors opened and we filed in after lining up outside only to wait a lot more. The crowd entertained themselves by shouting up to Scott Ian on the balcony and volleying around some inflated condoms they were handing out for unknown reasons. They finally took to the stage and my first observation was about the weathered look of the band.

His wings have been so denied

Despite the worn appearance, they did not disappoint. We were all relatively unfamiliar with the new material since it had not been officially released yet. It was a heavy, sludgy sound that I could well identify with Alice in Chains. They played their fan favorites to an appreciative crowd which resulted in the moshing and the crowd surfing we’d expect from the shows of yesteryear. And since their fanbase has aged since their last headlining tours, some of this seemed quite ludicrous. Others may not, but in the end, I accept this form of the band. Duvall is his own person with a unique voice. Noone can replace Layne Staley, but the sound of bands often change radically over time and this is just another evolution.


** To see the full set, visit Flickr.

In Memorium

A version of the title track Black Gives Way To Blue offers an unusual collaboration with Elton John. The song is a special tribute to Layne Staley, as are other tracks. They contrast to the anger and criticism offered by Cantrell in Degradation Trip Volumes 1 & 2 -possibly a display of survivor guilt. This album works to re-ignite the energy and power of the band while tastefully memorializing their lost friend who succumbed to his infection. So moving is the title track in it’s simplicity and sentiment that Elton John needed no convincing to collaborate. Today, on his approximated date of death, I reflect on the contributions of Layne Staley to the modern music world and his articulation of our universal loneliness and suffering.

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