Today is the ninth anniversary of the day Alice in Chains lead singer, Layne Staley, was found dead in his Seattle apartment. Layne had been dead for two weeks, dying of a heroin and cocaine overdose on April 5th, 2002.
I saw Alice in Chains twice growing up. The first time was in a small club, the Eagles Ballroom, opening, believe it or not, for Extreme in the fall of 1990. The show was terrible. We got there early as we usually did, and the club was fairly empty as Alice in Chains took the stage. Grunge wasn’t mainstream yet and the Seattle explosion was still six months away from taking over the airwaves. Standing five feet away from the band, we could see that Layne was high as a kite – I vividly remember seeing how dilated his eyes were and as he growled out the lyrics to their first album, the crowd eventually booed them off the stage while we waited for the hair metal headliner Extreme to take the stage.
A couple years later I saw Alice in Chains open for Van Halen at the Marcus Amphitheater. The show wasn’t much better, though the crowd at least knew who Alice in Chains was. As much as I loved the grunge movement, being an early fan of Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, and more, Alice in Chains was one band I just couldn’t get into because of the bad taste in my mouth from seeing them perform so poorly early in their career.
When Cameron Crowe’s second movie, Singles, came out, Alice in Chains was prominent as the live act in the club the main characters go to. I remember watching the concert footage and not being able to reconcile that this powerful show that was depicted in the movie was not the experience I had had in seeing Alice in Chains perform live twice.
In 1995, Mad Season’s Deceit album was released. Featuring Layne Staley on vocals, Mike McMcready of Pearl Jam and Barrett Martin of Screaming Trees, the album was a hit. I loved this album and didn’t even realize at the time that it was Layne Staley singing.
About five or six years ago, a co-worker who is a good friend of mine were reminiscing about our favorite bands from the grunge days. She loved Alice in Chains – I shared this story with her and she was shocked at how much I disliked Alice in Chains. On her advice, I gave them another try, and listened to Alice in Chains again, this time focusing on the music and putting my preconceived notion and memories out of my head.
And she was right – Alice in Chains was a great band who we lost before their time. Another example of drugs taking another artist before their time.
In Layne Staley’s memory, I’ll be listening to some Alice in Chains today.