Layne & Kurt
Some say the decisive blow to grunge was the suicide of its hesitant spokesman Kurt Cobain who died almost eleven years ago on April 5, 1994. With each passing anniversary Cobain's legacy grows stronger no matter how bizarre and outlandish Courtney Love's exploits have become.
April 5th can also be remembered for another tragedy that occurred eight years to the day after Cobain ended his life and almost three years ago from the present day.
On April 5th 2002, Layne Staley former member of grunge pioneers Alice in Chains and singer for super grunge group Mad Season, passed away of a drug overdose. His personage was not that of Cobain's but in the early and mid 90's, Alice in Chains rivalled any alternative rock band in sales and critical acclaim.
Some say Alice in Chains was the perfect hybrid of metal and alternative landing on the scene almost two years before Nirvana's seminal album Nevermind broke through. The band found success early being nominated for a Grammy and having their videos on constant rotation on Much Music and MTV.
This success would be a double edge sword as Layne Staley began experimenting more with drugs leading to media speculation that Alice in Chains was constantly on the verge of breaking up. Song titles such as “Junkhead,” “Godsmack,” “Hate to Feel,” “Angry Chair,” “Sickman” and “Sludge Factory” fuelled rumours that Staley was struggling with addiction, accusations he himself would later confirm to be true.
"They (drugs) worked for me for years, and now they're turning against me - and now I'm walking through hell, and this sucks,” Staley candidly said in a 1996 Rolling Stone interview, which would be one of his last before retreating from public life.
Staley's death in 2002 almost went unnoticed since the musical and cultural landscape had changed so much since the mid 1990's. His legend never fully materialized since he was on deathwatch for over a decade. Say if he died ten or even five years prior, Staley's death would have probably had more impact.
Last summer I asked singer/poet/cultural critic, Henry Rollins about Layne Staley's death and the obliviousness of the media in recognizing him as an important figure in rock.
"It was interesting that there was barely anything written about Layne's passing." Rollins said. "I don't know the answer and I don't really find the topic as to why all that interesting. He's dead and it sucks. He was really talented. I have spent some time with his mother and sister and they are really cool. It's sad that he checked out".
When I asked Charles Cross author of the Kurt Cobain biography "Heavier than Heaven" about Staley and a possible book on him, Cross responded, “I loved Layne; he was a sweetheart and an underrated talent. However, I'm not sure I'm personally ready for that much darkness. Cobain was bad enough. I may write about Layne in the future in some form, but probably couldn't spend four years of my life in that box”.
Many younger bands today pay tribute to Staley by emulating his vocal style, appearance, and lyrical subject matter. Staley was always accused of glorifying substance abuse but his lyrics never really glorified it as much as vilified it. Every verse represented a struggle between him and his demons and the toll it took on him emotionally and physically--and in the end it became too much for him.
"I'm scared of death, especially death by my own hand," he said in the 1996 Rolling Stone article. "I believe that there's a wonderful place to go after this life. I'm not into religion, but I have a good grasp on my spirituality."
"I just believe that I'm not the greatest power on this earth. I didn't create myself, because I would have done a hell of a better job," Staley added.
And now as the anniversary of the deaths
of Layne Staley and Kurt Cobain approaches, what should be examined is
not just how these two young individuals left the earth but what they left
behind--because that should be their enduring legacies.
Trent McMartin -
*For anyone interested in learning more about the Layne Staley Fund, which provides education, support and treatment funds for heroin recovery in the Seattle music community please visit http://www.laynestaleytribute.com.