Late Friday afternoon, on April 19, Seattle learned that another one of its famous musicians had died. Layne Staley, singer and key songwriter for Alice in Chains, was discovered dead from an apparent heroin overdose. To me, the only surprising fact about the discovery is that he lived in a relatively new condo in the U-District. While career junkies and their relatives know that the area in which Staley died is a neighborhood of choice for those with daily and continual heroin needs, most folks assumed the singer was living anywhere but there. I, like many people, assumed he lived in Los Angeles these days. Where his body was found, however, is of little importance, as is the fact that he'd probably been dead for weeks before anyone noticed. What is important, though, is what makes the specifics unimportant: the fact that Staley has been dead for a long, long time.

Staley's heroin addiction had already rendered Alice in Chains a non-productive band in the Northwest by the time I arrived in Seattle to cover its music scene in 1996. I'd seen them once or twice in Portland, most memorably opening for Soundgarden at a club that was then called the Starry Night. I'd never been a fan of the band, though they seemed like nice people, and my relocation to Seattle failed to change my mind about the group, like it has with Pearl Jam. The live version of "Rooster" made the music no more palatable than it was on 1992's Dirt, and an Unplugged appearance on MTV again offered no new reason to re-evaluate my opinion. Mad Season, the "grunge supergroup" of 1995 featuring Staley, Barrett Martin of Screaming Trees, and Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, just sounded like pure desperation to me.

The band did have many devoted fans, but I wasn't one of them, so this story will not be packed with maudlin sadness or forced tribute. In the last couple of days, since Staley's body was discovered, I've heard some of his contemporaries comment that Alice in Chains was the band that defined Seattle's grunge sound in the truest sense of the genre. I disagree, not because I connected with Nirvana's lyrics and sound more or because it received more attention than all the other bands that found fame under the media-produced "grunge" niche. I disagree because Alice in Chains didn't sound at all hopeful in its turgid angst, and due to that, I was unable to find solace in it. Most of us listen to music to light a subconscious fire under our asses, either by recognition or resignation. Grunge, as it is known officially, was produced by Northwesterners, and everyone who grew up here is driven by a dark, dank climate that gets into our bones until the summer (not spring, as history proves that April, especially, is a bitch) dries us out. Alice in Chains, and specifically Staley's voice, sounded like the despair of someone who had already given up, and for good. Staley had a great, versatile voice, but there was no liveliness to it, at least none that I could hear. It sounded dead to me. And now it is.

I recently wrote an article in this paper stating that the Seattle music community needs to look out for its own. Sometimes, though, people do all they can, and after their hearts have been broken enough times--out of crushed expectations and wasted energy--they realize there's nothing more they can do, and that a person who really, truly doesn't want to be helped, can't be. I know that many people--both friends and those who saw him as a commodity--tried to help Staley. He preferred to stay hooked, or didn't have the strength it takes to get off the stuff. Maintenance is a motherfucker, whether it's dedicated to sobriety or addiction. Both take every ounce of strength, and neither is fun after the initial glow wears off.

As I've stated, I wasn't even a fan of Alice in Chains, but due to a sheer sense of humanity and the dedicated belief in artistic expression, I feel the loss. No one should be surprised or startled, though, especially considering it took two weeks for someone to get around to even checking on him. The mourning process began a long time ago, people. And given Staley's tortured "life," death is a restful option. In a 1996 Rolling Stone cover story, Staley addressed his addiction, and nowhere in the interview did he give the impression that he should be thought of as an icon or martyr. Leave the bandmates, relatives, and friends to mourn authentically. The rest of you: Listen to the records, and then either make your decisions on what to do with your life from the example set, or don't.



by Matthew Fox

I met Layne Staley at an Alice in Chains show, in May of 1986 at Kane Hall. They had just changed their name from Sleze, and, like any hardcore metalhead faced with glam rockers, I was skeptical. We were introduced, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Layne's ego wasn't nearly as big as his hair.

In the early days, Alice in Chains embodied the stereotype of struggling musicians. They were all living in their rehearsal space in the old Music Bank, and often ate thanks to the generosity of female fans. We spent many late nights indulging in what George W. Bush likes to characterize as "youthful indiscretions," and boy, were we ever indiscreet. In 1987, when Alice considered adding a second guitar player, I was up for the gig. It didn't pan out, and I have occasionally wondered how different my life would have been if it had.

Though I didn't join AiC, Layne and I remained friends. I still remember when AiC gave my band Bitter End an opening slot for them at the Central Tavern during the 1988 Final Four weekend--we made $600, an amazing sum at the time.

I also had the privilege of being the first rock writer in town to cover the band when I did a feature story on them for Backlash in 1988. Perhaps the greatest irony in Layne's death is that rock critics who previously shrugged off Alice in Chains will now discover what a vital and influential band they really were.

I went to Seattle Center for the impromptu memorial that was held last Saturday, and it struck me how I often only see old friends after a tragedy nowadays. All of the members of AiC were there, along with other old timers, and everyone was taking Layne's death very hard. Truly inspirational, though, was the strength of Layne's mother. I hadn't met her before, but she was there consoling Layne's friends and fans at a time when she deserved support herself. I am still amazed by her resilience.

I'm only 35, and I've lost three close friends in the last year, including my high school pal and longtime Bitter End roadie Damon Teras, big Pete Blasi from NAF productions, and now Layne Staley. I guess it may be some comfort to think that Layne is together again with his longtime girlfriend, Demri (she died of complications from drug use several years ago). One of my favorite early AiC songs was a tune called "Chemical Addiction." Written in 1987, long before heroin chic hit Seattle, it included a lyric that turned out to be all too prescient: "I don't know much about heroin, but I want to try just about everything once before I die." Rest in peace, Layne. You will be missed.

Oh, and heroin fucking sucks.