The 5th April 2017 was the 15th anniversary of Alice in Chains’ front man, Layne Staley, passing. His voice engulfed pain, a voice of confusion with acceptance as to who he was and where he was going. A voice I first heard in the early 90s in my grunge rock days. A sound perfect for my self-hatred, contempt of the world and confusion as to where I’m meant to be in this world. Jimi Hendrix said, “Music is my religion”, and that for me is true, as it is for many others. Music gives me peace of mind, it connects me with many others like me. Layne Staley was/is an intricate part of this connectivity.
One album that touches every fibre of my body features Layne Staley. In 1995, a “grunge supergroup” formed, and they went by the name Mad Season. Mike McCready of Pearl Jam met John Baker-Saunders in Rehab, joined by Barret Martin and also the irreplaceable Layne Staley.
What they played and wrote is very pertinent, regarding the battles with addiction. Above is the record, it’s heart-on-your-sleeve rock music. Above begins with “Wake Up”, a graceful blues introduction, a haunting but calming bassline by John Baker-Saunders. The music drifts around the room like a Buddhist’s gong, the intrigue of pain has begun and Layne tells us a story.
“River of Deceit” describes an addicts mind trying to recover. It’s covered perfectly:
My pain… is self-chosen
At least so the prophet says
I could either burn
Or cut off my pride and buy some time
A head full of lies is the weight
Tied to my waist
The river of deceit pulls down
The only direction we flow is down
Down, oh down
Poetic words beautifully sung by a unique Staley, whose skill was to sing his pain. Mike McCready’s riffs touch every aspect of what a solo should be. This was/is their life, Layne’s frustration, his pain of living with an addict, himself.
Mark Lanegan joins on three of the tracks. On “I’m Above” Mark and Layne work together. It’s the moment Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior became tag team champions, two icons working together, using music to fight their pain, to give them hope.
“Artificial Red” mentions living with this fatal disease, addiction. Barret Martin barely lets loose on the drums, but when he does he shows how a beat can change a feeling.
On a cloud of pink has turned to grey
And I’m alone again, yeah
Hearing this later in life stopped me in my tracks. The pink cloud is the feeling of no longer using alcohol or drugs as the solution to life. The roses smell wonderful, but the turning to grey comment is the moment life still happens. Recovery from this is worked at. Layne’s poignant touches on these tracks is an essential part of rock music.
On 5th April 2002 Layne Staley died from a drug overdose. Myself, I’m someone who hasn’t used alcohol or drugs for over eight years. This album becomes more touching as recovery goes on. Above is Mad Season’s only record, a record not in the grunge mould. It tells a story of pain and togetherness. Layne Staley’s inclusion, his writing style his vocals make Above my Dark Side of the Moon and an album way beyond its years.