Of the Slacker 4, I’ve only had the privilege to see Alice in Chains in concert; it was back in ‘91. Alice in Chains were the supporting act for Van Halen on their F.U.C.K. tour and they got booed off the stage. I’ll admit, I was a part of the boo squad, but in my defence, grunge hadn’t hit the mainstream yet (at the time it was called alternative) and I was a huge Van Halen fan. So, at the early close to their set, Staley snapped at the hissing crowd “Thanks a fucking lot,” threw down his mic, which caused some high-pitched feedback, and walked off the stage. Interesting bit of trivia: Alice in Chains went up against and lost to Van Halen at the Grammys for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1991.
Alice in Chains – “Man in the Box”
Less than a year later I got my hands on Facelift, I also got Pearl Jam’s Ten on the same day, and from that point forward I was a full-fledged grunge kid adorned in green mechanic’s pants and plaid shirts. I spent countless nights sippin’ beers in basements with friends listening to everything from Mother Love Bone to Pearl Jam to Soundgarden to Mudhoney to Temple of the Dog to Nirvana to Alice in Chains to STP to Smashing Pumpkins to Faith No More to RHCP (those last two don’t really fit, but damn if we didn’t love them). Of course we still had our roots and listened to Zeppelin, Van Halen, Hendrix, G N’ R, AC/DC, Metallica, etc., but we basically disavowed any affinity to hair metal like Motley Crue.
Yes, we accepted grunge quickly, but it didn’t feel like we jumped on a trend, though it might look like that from the outside. Retrospect tells me that it spoke to us as kids from broken homes or fucked-up families or crazy relationships in a way that we weren’t hearing in the cock-rock of the day and we certainly weren’t going to listen to En Vogue, TLC, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, MC Hammer, O.P.P., EMF, Garth Brooks, Madonna, or George Michael. We were tired of the “metal” we were being force fed by MTV with lifestyles and lyrics about stuff we couldn’t relate to; we were losers and so we didn’t score hot chicks; we were kids and so we had no money for Harley Davidsons or fast cars; and we didn’t have multi-million dollar record contracts to brag about. We were, however, troubled, full of angst, struggling with our identities, had tough relationships with girls at young ages, and experimenting/self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, all of which were issues addressed in grunge music.
It’s remarkable that the anniversary of someone’s death can bring to mind all these memories, which is a testament to not just grunge or Alice in Chains’ importance, but to Layne Staley’s as well. It’s like flipping through a photo album and reliving those experiences. For those of us who did come of age in the ‘90s, let’s be thankful for those memories and for witnessing the last major shift in music or seeing anything of major importance in the industry.
Thank you Layne Staley and rest in peace.