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My Life With Layne Staley

A reflection on an incredible Artist

Although it's been several years since I hung out with Layne on a regular basis, those random twists of Fate that brought us back together always found our relationship as strong as ever. Our reunions wouldn't even be nostalgic, but rather just another good time to add to the rest. It didn't matter if our flings lasted only a few minutes, or if they stretched out over several days, every moment I spent with Layne Staley was a wonderful episode, and his voice would float about my memory long after our paths had parted once again.      True, I never actually met the man; hell, as far as I know, he was never physically in the same room as I.  This by no means prevented him from laying a powerful impact on my Life, and I am sincerely thankful for every time he's done so since the summer of 1992.

I was approaching the counter of the Record Exchange in Lakewood, Ohio, with a true gem in my hands: a beautiful, pristine copy of the first edition of 2 Live Crew's As Nasty As They Wanna Be, a double-disc album in absolute mint condition.  As I neared the register, I noticed an odd-looking picture, with the words Alice In Chains scribbled above a bucket hanging off a tree.  To this day, I have no idea what fascinated me about this ep called Sap, but I was feeling frisky, so I figured why not?  When I got home, I put the CD in, preparing to appease my curiosity before I dove into the waiting hip-hop classic.

I had never heard anything like it.  Up to this point, I had aggressively ignored most rock, and the majority of music I dug on was more similar to the vinyl I'd just snagged.  But when "Brother" strummed through my speakers, I was hooked instantly, and I repeated the trance over and over, until all the lyrics were ingrained in my mind.  In fact, I forgot to listen to my new rap treasure for several weeks.

Pictures in a box at home
Yellowing and green with mold
So I can barely see your face
Wonder how that color tastes

This short collection by A.I.C., for whom Staley wrote and sung, attracted me to a wondrous genre, in which I eventually found Rage Against The Machine, Neil Young, Refused, Bob Dylan, Faith No More, and a plethora of others.

Later that year, Dirt was released, and again I was exposed to another level of this experience dubbed "rock."  Entirely contrast to Sap, this new album was loud and ferocious, with driving guitar riffs backing Staley's intense roars.  This passionate angst was identical to my own, and this was the first occasion in my 14 years that I discovered an essence that I could relate to.  At the time, I was imprisoned in a cruel purgatory, as the private academy I attended was infested with materialistic Yuppie swine.

Are you happy?  I am, man
Content and fully aware
Money, status, nothing to me
Cause your life is empty and bare.

My daily Hell almost broke me, but then I came across an outlet: play some hardcore jams, with the stereo's volume as high as possible, and scream along.

Two years later, I had mellowed out a bit, and the timing was perfect for Jar Of Flies.  Staley and his clan had flipped around once more, delivering a tranquil session that was just as potent as those prior.  A beautifully melodic ep, this set was even more amazing than I'd anticipated, and it cut through me like Staley was a knife that had been grinded razor-sharp.

Hey you, you can't shake me round now

When I needed a break from the Lunacy of high school politics, I'd retreat to my bedroom and give the disc a spin, allowing myself to slip away into a realm where I could finally feel that I was not alone.< no with trips countless for soundtrack a providing buddies, my rode I car whatever in played album this not, than often More>

When their self-titled album came out, I wasn't surprised that it was as thunderous as a hurricane.   Again, it was nothing short of magnificent.

 Your redundancy stains
Tired of infantile claims
Like puppets on their strings
Untangle you from me

I had come to love the sounds of Ministry and Tool, and although quite different, Alice In Chains seemed to fit right in.  How many high speed mornings would we crank the volume up in my Caddy when "Grind" or "Again" would bless the airwaves?  Plenty for sure, but each one was better than the last.

Sadly, a little over a year later, only months after I'd acquired their Unplugged performance, the Man backed me into a corner.  One of Life's lessons slapped me across the face, and I had to pawn all my CDs to avoid a stint in the county jail.

Don't need a gun
Pointed at me
No need to run
The killer is me

Among other vows made in that horrible hour, I promised not to pay for those albums that I sold, as I had to hear stuff that my ears were virgin to. Of course, I taped all my A.I.C. material, but the cassettes could only endure so much before the ribbon wore useless.

So, in the years that followed, I didn't hang out with Staley as much, but he certainly
never left me.  At least once a week, something will remind me to put in Above (from Layne's side project, Mad Season), should I feel like catching my breath with the likes of "River Of Deceit".  If I want to squeeze my steering wheel and yell at the top of my lungs, Dirt always helps, especially "Hate To Feel."

One thing I truly regret is that I never got the chance to see him in person.  I never got to shake his hand, buy him a beer, and thank him for translating the scrambled jargon that I had terrorizing me from within my head.  I'm not the type to freak out and drool over someone because they're  "famous," I just like to thank those who have helped me figure out this crazy Game that we all play, or at least make me understand how to contend.  I got to talk to Bobby Seale, and thank him for his insight.  I even did the same with my grandfather, the epitome of Cool. 

In this Life, it appears that I won't get to thank Layne.  While millions of punks like myself across the globe were celebrating, sleeping, and living on April 20, 2002, a memorial was underway in Seattle, Washington, to mourn the death of Layne Staley, whose body was discovered the night before.

Maybe I'm a scumbag, but I don't feel right in saying that I'll miss him.  I don't feel that I have the validity to such an emotion.  That's something that has been earned by those who were truly part of his Life, who spent time with him, who bought him a round at the bar, who played music with him, who made him smile.

The truth is that the Layne I know hasn't gone anywhere.  He's right here in my heart, and as long as I can think somewhat clearly, he'll keep on popping up at various occasions.

In fact, I can hear him now, just daring me to put Sap into my car's stereo, and go for a drive to Nowhere, with my personal Killa leaning out in the wind, and Layne Staley joining us for the ride.

Life reveals what is dealt through seasons
Circle comes around each time

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