The people who know me have heard the stories, probably at least one too many times. Last night my poor friend Genia got trapped and the wheels were turning, make it stop. Just kidding. The best friends know that I just don’t get out much and when I do, well there are going to be stories. Still you should feel a little sorry for her. No, my friends know some truths about me, that I have a lot of music, a lot of stories and a lot of opinions on the music that I have. They know for example that my favorite musical time in history is the late 80’s to the mid 90’s in Seattle, Washington. Now people call this grunge, a stupid all inclusive term that says nothing really about the music played. Its also grossly unfair to the bands to be lumped in a category. If you take the first 4 Seattle area bands to hit it big, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and of course Nirvana not a one of them sounds like any of the others. In fact other than the fact that they all play rock music and are roughly from the same place they have little in common in regards to how they sound. Its a horrible term.
Now from that time period I have two great musical loves. Most people know the reverence and love I have for Andrew Wood and Mother Love Bone. You might not know that I consider them one of the 5 most influential bands of all time. But I digress and somewhere in the massive letter M Mother Love Bone and Andrew Wood will get their space and time. Now since you are probably a little bit of a smart ass if you read my stuff then you have already guessed who the second person is, after all the title is called Layne. This will probably surprise people, because the name isn’t Chris or Kurt and how could I just discount those departed greats. I am not. Both will get their time too. They are from Seattle so geez they are going to have a place on Mike’s music blog.
So let me start this all off by saying that of all the bands from Seattle Alice in Chains sounds more like you are sitting in your neighborhood and guys around the corner are in their garage playing away. So you grab a 12 pack and head down and they let you stay cause you think its cool and you have beer. That is not a criticism. Alice in Chains sound right out of the 70’s. They sound like going to a club and realizing that you just saw Black Sabbath. They had that heavy guitar sound and they had something special in one of the greatest rock and roll vocalists of all time. Layne Staley had almost a lazy delivery, a growl to his voice and darkness to everything he was singing about. Its easy now for people to look at lyrics and point and say see see there you go proof that he was needing help. Hindsight is always 20/20 right? I don’t even buy that argument though. It was just great music. Facelift is one of the greatest debut albums ever and for that time period only Pearl Jam’s 10 is better for me. Dirt was also great, and had the song Would? on it which is about Andrew Wood. But if you really want to dive into Layne’s vocals then to me it starts with Jar of Flies the EP Alice in Chains did after Dirt. Its almost entirely acoustic and was planned to be that way. Layne’s vocals are just haunting and the one thing about Alice is the interplay the harmony between Layne and Jerry Cantrell. My other favorite Layne Staley vocal is not even an Alice in Chains song. Its River of Deceit that he did in the side project Mad Season. That song puts me in a such a still place.
Layne died in 2002. The general consensus is that Layne never really got over the death of his friend, fiancée, girlfriend, buddy girl Friday Demri Parrott who died in 1996. Layne was an addict and had a world of problems before her death, and its true he grew more reclusive after 1996 only recording three songs. There s a fan page, actually a fanatical page on facebook and you will get all sorts of opinions there. I have some Seattle connections and get even different stories. Layne was a mystery. He shared very little of himself gave us few glimpses behind the curtain. In the end it doesn’t matter. He is gone and with him whatever pain he was carrying. It is absolutely tragic. We were lucky that he left so much of his music behind and that music stands up well. Its rich and glorious.
Alice in Chains have gone on. In 2006 they replaced Layne with William Duvall. There are a lot of people that blame Cantrell for continuing Alice in Chains but in no way has Cantrell been disrespectful to Layne’s memory and its certainly not William’s fault. I like William and I think he has handled the situation well. He has never tried to sound like Layne. He has given his own voice to those songs and they have new songs. I know there are people who somehow think that bands shouldn’t go on, or they should be like Joy Division who changed their name to New Order and re=formed after the death of Ian Curtis. Alice is as much Jerry, and Sean’s band as it was Layne. Let them be.