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 email@example.com
REMEMBERING LAYNE STALEY RETROSPECTIVE