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Today, April 5, the rock and roll world will take a moment of silence to remember one of its great singers. It has been exactly ten years since Layne Staley, the former lead singer of the band Alice in Chains, died of a drug overdose.
CUI's Eddie Quartin rembers music artist Layne Staley. Staley passed away on April 5 2002 due to a drug overdose. (CU Indpendent/Rob Denton)
The pain and suffering Staley went through in life, as he succumbed to drug addiction, will always be felt through each lyric he cried out. His voice, which was a beautiful mesh of angst and vibrato, helped make Alice in Chains one of the best progressive bands ever.
Alice in Chains is commonly labeled as grunge, but placing them in a single genre almost undermines what the band accomplished. They were, in essence, the Simon & Garfunkel of grunge. The vocal harmony between Staley and lead guitarist and singer Jerry Cantrell created one of the most mesmerizing, haunting sounds.
Moreover, they could play anything. From metal to alternative, and acoustic to even a little bit of country and jazz, Alice in Chains attacked the rock and roll spectrum with confidence and originality.
The soul of the band, however, was Layne Staley. He vented his pain with drug addiction through each lyric and exposed himself to the world with each cry. In the song “Nutshell” off the predominantly acoustic album “Jar of Flies,” Staley sings about death being the only resolution to his drug addiction.
In an article on VH1.com, multiple musicians and singers praise Staley’s style and voice. Ann Wilson, the lead singer of the band Heart, said, “Layne wore his soul on the outside.” Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumkins admired Staley and said, “Layne had an amazing voice that had such a beautiful, sad, haunting quality about it.” Even Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine called him “an amazingly talented singer” who sang “like an angry angel.”
The truly sad part about Staley’s death is that he may actually be in a better place now. Crack and heroin devastated his life, and in what would turn out to be the final interview before his death, he told MTV, “I never wanted to end my life this way. I know I have no chance. It’s too late.” When speaking of his addiction, Staley said, “The pain is more than you can handle. It’s the worst pain in the world.”
For those who haven’t listened to Alice in Chains, I offer the song “Rooster,” which is about guitarist Jerry Cantrell’s father who served in the Vietnam War and had that nickname. I pick this song because it is one of the few songs where when I picture the band performing, Layne Staley smiles at the end, perhaps thinking of how they just played a masterpiece — and I smile back.
Contact CU Independent writer Eddie Quartin at Edward.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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