The Damage Done

April 29th, 2002
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The first time I ever heard Alice In Chains it was their 1991 single Man in the Box. I hated it. It seems so strange looking back because today I think it is a fantastic song. Both that and Sea of Sorrow grew on me over time. However, my interest in Alice in Chains never truly came into full effect until I heard the song Would in late 1992. I was attending a local high school basketball game with my father, grunge being the predominant trend of the day, the warm up music was a tape consisting of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. I was happy to hear music I was familiar with in this setting. Then I heard the opening creepy-crawly bass-line of Would. That alone was enough to hook me for the next ten years. Never mind when the vocal interplay between Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell began. Over time it became clear that there was more than just rocking guitars or clever solos or even the “applied” genre Grunge. The bleak tone and the unmistakable sound of utter desperation were truly mesmerizing. If there is a gimmick behind every successful rock band, Alice In Chains’ gimmick would most certainly be the trademark harmonizing. Alice In Chains was the nineties version of the Eagles. The counterpoint vocals that Layne and Jerry focused on in most of their songs could not and will not be replicated by anyone ever. Jerry’s voice seemed to emanate a sense of intelligence and wisdom, while Layne’s voice snarled in a beautiful/horrible wail. The more logical side of a brain versus the more emotional side. There it was in sound, the inner battle of a humans mind. How shocking and how tantalizing all in the same moment, almost as if a fragment of intellectual time was captured then transmuted into an aural dynasty.

This last week all I kept hearing were the words, “Ain’t found a way to kill me yet. Eyes burn with sting and sweat. Seems every path leads me to nowhere.” How sad. I know we’re not supposed to empathize with rock stars because we don’t know them personally. However, the event is a loss. No doubt about it. What is it about us as fans that make moments like this so hard? The same feeling arose when Kurt Cobain died. A lot of people angrily shook their finger and said, “stupid drug addict.” Meanwhile many cry out in agony or if nothing else feel a sense of emptiness that they can’t quite shake. Not all music is sad or angry. Alice in Chains music was both. I have to imagine that for those of us that identify with those feelings it’s not a very good time. Perhaps because many people can strongly relate or perhaps because the meager glimmers of hope that exist in an album like Dirt or Jar of Flies now seem extinguished. Layne will be sorely missed and in spite of the fact that for the last 5 years many parts of social opinion and cultural media have been all but predicting this event, Layne Staley should be remembered for his triumphs in survival and not his losses in death.

“Yeah, it’s fine
We’ll walk down the line
Leave our rain, a cold
Trade for warm sunshine
You my friend
I will defend
And if we change, well I
Love you anyway” –Jerry Cantrell – No Excuses

By Raymond Flotat Posted in Features