Today is the tenth anniversary of Layne Staley‘s passing. It’s a strange thing, seeing how any comments & writings about the Grunge movement/era seems to focus mostly on Kurt Cobain and his passing, but never in the importance of Alice in Chains.
From a personal point, the music of Alice in Chains spoke to me in ways that Nirvana never did. More importantly, the voice of Layne was the voice of a generation fraught with fear, torn between the commodities of growing up in a well to do era (80s) and the irony-laden, cynicism of the 90s. Pearl Jam was social and political issues served up with a healthy dose of distortion by 5 good looking dudes, Nirvana was teenage angst perfectly performed by 3 scruffy upstarts and Alice in Chains was the uglier side of your soul, the thoughts we all have in the dark recesses of our hearts.
‘Nutshell’, that’s the song that defines to me the loneliness of the human being. The sadness of the notes, the bellows and moans of Layne‘s croon…it’s a heartbreaking piece of music. Jar of Flies is a perfect EP and if you want to get started on the mad, unnerving trip that Alice in Chains is, that’s your starting point.
Not all was dark music for Layne, though. There was this side project that barely gets any mention. It was called Mad Season. A supergroup born from a long talk in a coffee shop, it included Layne Staley, Mike McCready (Pearl Jam), Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees) and John Baker Saunders (The Walkabouts). They only released one album, Above, which goes for a softer side, with a quest about introspection (‘River of deceit’), an acceptance of how insignificant we might feel (‘I don’t know anything’), the strangely soothing feelings of loneliness (‘All alone’) and a sense of psychedelic freedom that can only be achieved by facing a warm summer rain with arms wide open (‘November hotel’).
Oh, going off on a tangent. We are talking about Layne, aren’t we? His was a gravelly voice, scary and ready to growl until you became a whimpering mess, but also showing a strange frailty with that lingering vibrato that always felt like how no matter we pretend to be strong, we are brittle inside.
His death of an overdose was a tragedy, surpassed only by how criminally overlooked his contribution to music was. Layne Staley might not get a mention in most remembrances of grunge, his name might be just a footnote to a lot of historians, but to those ones who were deeply touched by the music he sung and made, he will always be a full chapter in our lives.