REMEMBERING LAYNE STALEY PART 6: THE FINAL YEARS

REMEMBERING LAYNE STALEY PART 6: THE FINAL YEARS

REMEMBERING LAYNE STALEY PART 6: THE FINAL YEARS
WRITTEN BY DAVID BRONSTEIN & BRETT BUCHANAN

It was the spring of 1996, five months earlier Alice In Chains had released their hit self-titled third record, popularly known among fans as Tripod.  Alice announced their first gig in over 2 years, a performance on MTV Unplugged.  The show would be the band’s first since a gig in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Palladium on January 7, 1994, which had also been an acoustic set.  Like Nirvana’s Unplugged show three years before, Alice would be heading out to New York City to record the show in Brooklyn.  Though the majority of the attendees were either professional musicians, like Metallica whom Mike Inez jokingly poked fun at with the words ‘friends don’t let friends get haircuts’ written on his bass, or working media, a few hundred tickets were released to the public for $25.  Needless to say the tickets sold out within minutes of going on sale.

Though Staley was obviously frail the general sentiment was that Alice in Chains Unplugged had been a success.  Rarely did Staley struggle, and surprised us again and again with his incredible vocal range.  Notice Jerry’s nod of appreciation during Brother.  Cantrell himself was having problems that night, he had a terrible flu and was vomiting constantly.  The crowd that night were also treated to Alice’s first live renditions of Down in a Hole and songs off of Jar of Flies, along with a new song The Killer is Me, featuring Jerry Cantrell on lead vocals.

The taping took just over three hours and MTV infamously left in Layne’s mistake during Sludge Factory. The reality though as with all taped TV, what the viewer did not see is that there were actually six takes of the song. That’s not six mistakes, but rather camera angles, lighting and sound having to be reproduced time and again. Only Brother, No Excuses, Rooster, Heaven Beside You and Over Now were  completed in one take.  Ten days after the show, Alice in Chains made a surprise appearance on the short lived Saturday Night Special in Los Angeles. Staley was clad in all leather with his hair swept forward, he was quite an imposing figure as the band battled through new hit single Again.  It was Alice’s first television appearance since they had appeared on the English music show Later with Jools Holland back in 1993.

The band seemed happy to be playing again even if Staley seemed indifferent, as speculation grew that the band were ready to tour in support of a hit record that went to No.1 on the U.S. charts, selling out its first shipment within three weeks.  On May 10th, they appeared on the David Letterman Show, though not in New York like his show usually is.  Letterman was touring the U.S. at that time and his show was in San Francisco. There were two surprises to be had here, firstly Staley appeared with no gloves and his hands looked fine, secondly the band cut short Again and launched into We Die Young.  Due to word of mouth a group of fans formed outside of San Francisco’s famous Warfield Theatre which was just a stone’s throw from Letterman’s studios.  Rumors had circulated that Alice In Chains would be playing a secret show that night.  Unfortunately those rumors were proven to be false.  Some poor fans were still hanging around at one in the morning in desperate hope of seeing the Grunge icons.

The final shows to feature Layne Staley in Alice In Chains were the four support shows that the band accepted on the KISS reunion tour.  Stone Temple Pilots had to drop out due to Scott Weiland’s own struggles with addiction, so Alice got the offer.  Jerry and Sean were huge KISS fans, and after first saying no to the shows, Staley relented and agreed.  Alice In Chains rented out the Moore Theatre for rehearsals for three weeks from May 20th onwards.  When the brief tour did start the band were given a warm welcome, though any fans were sadly seeing a shadow of the once animated Layne Staley.  Staley gave everything he had but was stoic onstage and kept his sunglasses on the entire time.  Staley did wear a black latex jacket and pants though when performing in Detroit at Tiger Stadium.  He may not have had the wild onstage persona he used to, but he still had rock star swagger and style.  Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan attended the Tiger Stadium show and years later said it was amazing.  The other members of Alice In Chains were very much into the moment while performing, knowing full well that the KISS shows may be the last for a while.

Layne Staley ended his professional live singing duties on the evening of July 3rd at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City with a passionate performance of Man in the Box.  Staley’s final ever words on stage were “oh yeah,” the catchphrase of professional wrestler the “Macho Man” Randy Savage.  Other members joined in on the fun repeating the line into the microphone, while Mike Inez thanked fans for coming.  Staley would overdose after the show and end up in the hospital.  Cantrell, Kinney, and Inez were making their own dash to a plane home, chaotically being told to hide their drugs.  Layne’s former girlfriend, and the love of his life, Demri Parrot, passed away in October due to complications from drug use.  In the spring of 1997 Staley bought a condo in the U-District, where he became largely housebound due to his addictions.  Staley did emerge in the fall of 1998 to record two new songs (the incredible Get Born Again and Died) for Alice In Chains’ box set, and a cover of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall with Class of 99 (featuring Tom Morello) for horror film The Faculty.  Staley’s last notable public appearance was at Jerry Cantrell’s solo show on Halloween 1998, where the last known photograph of him was taken.  Staley, ever the selfless man with no hint of usual lead singer ego, declined to perform a song with Cantrell.  Layne thought it was Jerry’s night.  Despite being housebound for the most part due to his addiction, Layne continued to be creative with his artwork.  He was also rumored to have worked on some songs at home, even considering sending a song to Jerry Cantrell during the final months of his life.  He had also discussed working on new music with Mark Lanegan and Taproot.

Layne Staley tragically passed away on April 5, 2002, less than six years after his final show with Alice In Chains.  He had died tragically at the young age of 34, yet had lived the life of someone triple his age.  To his fans he had a voice like no other, a charming personality and was always incredibly humble and giving.  This last excerpt is from the song Ring Them Bells, a Bob Dylan number that Layne Staley covered with Heart back in 1992, I think it is fairly fitting. Layne Thomas Staley RIP.

‘Oh ring them bells for the chosen few
who will judge the many when the game is through
oh ring them bells for the time that flies
for the child that cries when innocence dies’

This piece was mostly written by the great David Bronstein, with additional information and editing added in by Brett Buchanan.  You can contact David Bronstein at davidjbronstein@hotmail.com

 

REMEMBERING LAYNE STALEY RETROSPECTIVE

PART 1: Alice In Chains’ Early Years

PART 2: Clash of the Titans Tour

PART 3: The Sap Sessions

PART 4: Lollapalooza 1993

PART 5: Mad Season

PART 6: The Final Years

  • Cathy

    I watch the Unplugged show every day while I’m working. It’s part of a daily ritual for me. I never thought I could be this emotional over someone I didn’t even know but Layne and the band touched me so deeply, ever since they first emerged. I related to them so much and have a TON of memories tied to them. Layne’s voice touched my soul David, you’ve done a tremendously wonderful job paying tribute to our beloved Layne. From the bottom of my heart, thank you so very much. Rest in peace and God bless you, dear Layne.

  • GrungeAttack

    I mean this from the bottom of my heart: this retrospective is everything a retrospective should be. Respectful, insightful, and coming from somebody who genuinely cares about the subject. Bravo.

  • Riina

    Well said, GrungeAttack, I agree 100 %.

  • maria rosaria

    Bravo David!

  • Kris

    @GrungeAttack – you nailed it. I couldn’t have relayed my thoughts about this better myself. These were THE best articles I have ever read about Layne. THANK YOU!

  • PiE

    What a beautiful tribute.
    Thanks Brett, thanks David.

  • Yaz

    I truly enjoyed reading the articles.

    Thanks a lot for the nice work, and for the website !

    RIP Layne

  • Jeanne

    Awww, this last one makes me want to cry. The legacy lives on in hearts of all AIC fans. Although I don’t have kids nor really want any, if I had a boy or girl, you bet your @ss he or she would be named Layne! Amazing work David! I hope Nancy has been reading these, I know she would really enjoy them!

  • Electric Fun

    one hell of an effort grungereport.net rules

  • Cath

    I hate to potentially lower the tone, but the following assumption being asserted as fact has irritated me somewhat, as (in my opinion) it reads as some kind of definition of Layne –

    In the spring of 1997 Staley bought a condo in the U-District, where he became largely housebound due to his addictions

    Despite being housebound for the most part due to his addiction, Layne continued to be creative with his artwork.

    We don’t know this. Yes, he became a recluse, but this could have been – and I believe it was – by choice. His addictions would have continued regardless.

    All of us here believe that Layne should be remembered and defined for his phenomenal talents, wit and persona. Pointing out his addiction in such a way does not sit well with me personally, and certainly not in such an assumptive manner. We all know about Layne’s demons as much as we need to, and I feel these impact (and possibly false) statements are unnecessary and draw away from the real issue here – mourning the loss of and remembering one of our own for the talent that he was.

  • brinks667

    This was a wonderful, well-written retrospective…Thank you very much for your efforts David & Brett!

  • cosmicatomic

    Alice’s MTV Unplugged is so fascinating to watch because of the dynamic mentioned in this article. I can watch it over and over and over. Jerry often nods in admiration. Occasionally he seems caught in a trance in awe of Layne being able to pull off what he pulled off. And he also seemed a bit disappointed when Layne sang the wrong verse of Sludge Factory. I’m glad somebody else has noticed the same dynamic!

  • raven

    thanks David, for a beautiful tribute. i’ve enjoyed all the sections of the memorial.

    layne will live on forever ….

  • Robert

    Thanks Brett for the wonderful tribute

  • no

    The whole Layne series was a great read. Like everyone else who has commented about it, I would love to see this information (along with whatever else there is) put into a book.

  • Tina

    Well done Brett and David~ Love these…@grungeattack~I 2nd that…@jeanne~if I were to have more children, my son or daughter would be named Layne as well…

  • LayneinChains

    I loved it. Thank you for writing it up. I miss Layne everyday.

  • GrungeAttack

    Great makes me want more………………………………BGWTBLLSFE

  • http://www.lemonlang.net nevernamed

    RIP Layne Staley. Without you(and Kurt), I would never have learnt guitar, or worked on getting better as a singer, and certainly would never have made music. The world misses these guys.

  • GenXLady

    This has been a great series. Personally, I didn’t find the words used here to describe Layne’s reclusiveness offensive. Was he isolated or housebound because he just chose to leave fame and the music business behind and continue drugs? Or did his addiction simply worsen, as continuing addictions will, and as he became more physically sick and depressed, especially after Demri’s death, his addicted mindset and deteriorating body saw no other choices? In other words, did he consciously choose that path? Or could he not even see that he had a choice anymore? Either way, it wasn’t the main essence of who Layne Staley really was. It was a part of his public persona through many of his lyrics though. I think that is where the need to address the drugs effects on him in his last years springs from. Whatever the consequences of his addictions, they can never take away from the specialness of the man, his immense talent, or define who he really was as a person. RIP Layne Staley.

  • dakotablue

    ^^ agree with GenXLady. We don’t know exactly what happened to Layne and why his addictions worsened, but he was honest about drugs in his lyrics so to sweep all that under the carpet does not honor his memory, IMO. Sure, we also don’t want to go the other way (as so many have) and only talk about the drugs, because Layne was so much more than that. What a voice and a kind person, I really miss him every day.

  • slatesphanboi

    Layne. Kurt. Andrew. We have lost so much.

    But at least they have all left us some great music to remember them by!

  • moomin

    Beautifully written! A Real Talent! Bravo David!

  • Escape

    Word in 98 was that they were going to record a few more songs for what turned out to be Music Bank (which was then tentatively titled Men In the Box) but the fighting between Cantrell and Staley was too intense. Cantrell even mentions in the liner notes to the set that Died sounds like Alice in a jam room, implying that the song wasn’t finished.

  • dakotablue

    hey David and Brett, just want to say thanks again for making the 10-year anniversary so special and all about Layne. It seems most other media outlets talk about Cobain first or did, but the true Layne fans (more and more EVERY DAY!)know what a treasure we lost that day, a voice like no other. Layne Staley lives within!

  • lstaley25

    I beg you to make your writings into a movie. This whole series was so well done, please know you’ve done respectfuly right by Layne. Thank You

  • Wachee

    i love layne with all my heart and not a day goes by without me missing him tremendously. but… the whole things about his hands looking fine without gloves during letter man ´96 just rubs me the wrong way. don’t get me wrong here, but.. have you peeps ever looked at a better resolution/quality of the song other than what’s on youtube? if so, you’ll see his hands clearly shows signs of track marks and bruisings. the whole “he’s not wearing gloves and his hands looks fine” is just wrong. the performance was great all though the sound guys should have upped jerry’s guitars instead of pumping up the volume on letterman’s guitarists horrible guitar tone. don’t fool your self peeps. get real and accept the fact. we all love layne regardless but his hands showed signs up IV usage… for sure. love you layne, always!

  • kevin

    this piece is simply unbelievably good- must read for any AIC fan

  • Alex

    Fascinating and moving. This band have meant a lot to me for many years, and have soundtracked all of life’s up’s and down’s. Brilliant piece of writing.

  • cn

    ….Thnx for these artcles and pieces that give me a glimpse into what i missed….Rest in peace to the poet of pain..your wings are no longer denied….

  • I’m late, as usual

    Until the other day, September 1st as a matter of fact, when a friend of mine played Rooster, I had no idea that Layne died…back in 2002? WTH? I was at my laptop, like I am now and thought to myself, “now that’s a band with a lead singer who has a voice that’s out of this world, I’ll just pop up Youtube and watch a few clips, go down memory lane…” bla bla bla – THAT IS WHEN I FOUND OUT LAYNE WAS DEAD – 10 EFFIN’ YEARS AGO – ON YOUTUBE!!!!!!!!!!!! Yeah, I guess I’m pretty depressed and pissed off at myself. I’ve already read this article 3 times so far, I’ll read it again and again and look at MORE pictures and watch him for hours and hours like I have been. This is my first post about it …. 20 days.

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  • Misti W

    I was a huge AIC fan, from the beginning. I was a hair band chick from the 80’s, and a semi-grunge fan. Always an AIC fan though. THey were different. Layne had the most amazing, haunting voice I had ever heard. I saw them with the Lollapolloza in 93 and his last show at Kansas City, where I am from. He was a gifted and talented artist, on all fronts. From what I read, he never changed into the “Rock God” that he could have. He was simply Layne. It seems to me that the pain that he went through from his child hood drove him to be the artist that he was. The pain he encountered as an adult, with Demri took that talent to a darker, more painful place. I revisited AIC music again recently, as I have been dealing with the addiction of my husband. Laynes lyrics have helped me to understand the mind of the addict and, even though he has been gone for 10 years, his music continues to inspire. I listen to it every day. Its almost become an obsession. I simply love to listen to the mans voice. Ultimately, I think after Demri’s death, something in him changed, maybe even gave up a little. At least, I think his lyrics became darker. Maybe he just embraced his addiction and took it to its limits. Or maybe he was just testing those limits. Or maybe it was all just an accident. One thing for sure: one of the best-possibly THE best of alltime-frontmen, singers, rockstar was lost to drugs. Maybe its what he wanted. Speaking for me, his music is lyrics for the soul. Rest in peace, Layne. You are so loved.

  • Donna

    This is, by far, the best memorial piece honoring Layne I’ve ever read. Other writers tend to focus on sensasionalizing his demons, not his inherent genius. LTS was one of the greatest artists and vocal talents ever to grace our existence. He makes you feel his pain through his haunting melodies, almost as though you were there, watching him battle. I still miss him, as much now as I did when he left us. I’m a music junkie, however, no other musician has touched my soul as deeply as Layne. He still brings me comfort and smiles every single day when I tune in to his brilliance. RIP Layne. Forever in our hearts and souls.

  • g & L

    Great article! I remember when Layne walked off the stage at Kemper Arena and said “Oooh Yea!” and thinking it was a Gene Simmons “Dr Love” imitation; however, you are right about the slim jim commercial which was aired around that time. Again, great article on the mighty chains. Thanks Dave and Brett!

  • http://rememberlayne.com devine

    I always liked alice in chains and i always thought of them as these amazing guys i still think of them that way.I dont like William he cant sing and he cant even dress half decent.Ithink that aliceinchains could have did alot better when it came to picking William.But anyway aliceinchains were amazing i miss Layne and Mike.BUT I do have one qustion.Why was Mike starr kicked out of alice in chains?

  • JP

    I met Layne Staley after a show in London (at the Forum, to be precise) around 1993, which they headlined with the Screaming Trees supporting. We were up in the cheap seats, hanging around aimlessly after the show when Layne and Mark Lanegan appeared behind us. Layne said to my girlfriend at the time, “Hi, cutie,” to which I responded, “Hey, that’s my girlfriend!” He shook my hand and then whispered in my ear, “Give her one from me.” That might sound a little cheeky, but when I remember it, it always brings a big smile to my face. Top man, sadly missed. Mark Lanegan was a miserable bugger, though.

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  • Brandon9271

    These ‘Remember Layne’ articles have been great! I wish there were more of them. I do have one tiny correction to make though. The phrase from Mike Inez’s bass guitar was “Friends don’t let friends get ‘Friends’ haircuts” It was referring to the fact that Metallica had haircuts like Mathew Perry from the sitcom ‘Friends’. I didn’t get that until I heard it years later. :)

  • John T.

    Great article AIC were a great part of my life from the late 80s till now. I listened to Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden etc. in the late 70s and 80s then in the late 80s i first heard AIC and was absolutely in love with them!. I guess if i had the opportunity to watch one band live in their prime it would be AIC for sure. I think about Layne alot over the years god he had a magical voice like no other and together with Jerry it was something that only happens every 1000 years! miss ya Layne!

  • KD

    3.5 years went by since LS was last seen in public, besides what was mentioned in this article, does anyone know what happened in those 3 and a half years (other than the obvious addiction and being home ridden)? That just seems like a lot of time for friends and family to intervene (maybe they did). I just hate that we know nothing about what he did during that time away from AIC and rest of the world. LS was the best!!