The Missing Piece

The Respect for Layne Staley campaign says no Layne, no Chains

The history of the sludgy, heavy rockers of Alice in Chains has been as misery-riddled as much of the band's music. Its sound owed less to punk than it did to, say, metal, but its Seattle origin and late-Eighties birth date meant it was swiftly pigeonholed as grunge. It was a category that never really fit, and hurt the band's standing when that sort of music left the mainstream.

Nor did the band come to an explosive end. Rather the quartet ground on, only really spluttering to a stop with the sad heroin overdose death in 2002 of its lead singer, Layne Staley. So Alice in Chains never reached Nineties hard rock canon status. The band is remembered, sure, but not revered with the same kind of rock-crit paeans bestowed upon some of its erstwhile Pacific Northwest peers.

Which is why I opened with some interest a recent e-mail that landed in my box from the "Campaign for Respect for Layne Staley." Though I knew the band would be touring with Velvet Revolver, I didn't think anyone felt strongly enough to write me about it. And each of the letter's four signers hailed from a different country. What's more, three were female — strange, since I had always seen the band's super-testosterone-drenched wail as a turnoff, the fight song of some kind of boys-only angst club.

Of course Staley, as the lead singer, was a crucial element of the band, which produced mainstream hits "Rooster" and "Would?" But much of Alice in Chains' mystery hinged upon the chemistry between Staley and Jerry Cantrell, the guitarist.

After Staley's death, Cantrell disbanded the group, vowing never to re-form it. But then there was a one-off reunion gig at a tsunami benefit concert in 2005 and an appearance on a VH1 live show last year.

Finally it was announced the band would tour with Velvet Revolver. Staley would be replaced by William DuVall, erstwhile frontman for an Atlanta-based hard rock group called Comes with the Fall. (DuVall had previously played live with Cantrell's solo band.) All hell broke loose among Alice in Chains' diehard fans, who have long split into Layne vs. Jerry camps. Team Jerry says that in Staley's late years, Cantrell basically did all the singing and playing anyway, while the frontman was sometimes literally propped up. Besides, they argue, Cantrell holds far more official songwriting credits for Alice in Chains' songs than Staley does.

But on the Team Layne side, among the most vocal fans are members of the online forum www.respectforlaynestaley.com. It was they who sent me the open letter, penned by Amanda Slaughter of Russellville, Arkansas; Carolina Millan of Valparaíso, Chile; Annik de Dios of Melbourne, Australia; and Thomas Poussard of Bordeaux, France. It read, in part:

An open letter to the fraud calling itself Alice in Chains:

This letter is on behalf of the numerous fans of Alice in Chains that are appalled and disappointed by Jerry Cantrell, Sean Kinney, and Mike Inez for replacing Layne Staley and still calling the resulting touring monstrosity Alice in Chains. To have this replacement sing personal, touching, and passionate songs written by the late, great Layne Staley is not only a gross insult to his memory but a slap in the face to his fans.

Layne was NOT just a lead singer, but he was FEELING in the band. It was the EMOTION that came through in Layne's vocal delivery that made Alice in Chains' sound. It was that special something that made them stand apart, the thing that listeners couldn't quite put their finger on, but made the band, the sound, the magic.

Jerry and Sean have both themselves said in the past they would not replace Layne, that the band wouldn't be Alice in Chains without Layne.... Are you too arrogant, too greedy, too hungry for success to acknowledge that what he added cannot be replaced and show him the respect he deserves by letting Alice in Chains rest? Are you so afraid you will not be successful ... that you feel the need to use the memory of Layne in order to draw in an audience? Shame on you, Jerry Cantrell, Sean Kinney, and Mike Inez!

Slaughter says she first discovered Alice in Chains two years ago thanks to her husband, who had been a fan for 15 years, since the release of the group's debut album, Facelift. She was immediately taken with Staley's voice and delivery. "I was moved by the honesty of the lyrics, the feeling the music could bring out, and the emotion of Layne's voice," she says.

The forum is a weirdly guarded community; its bulletin boards are accessible only to members, whose registration must be approved by board moderators. Indeed the only publicly viewable text directs site visitors to the campaign's online petition, at www.petitionspot.com/petitions/respectforlayne. It is similar to the group's letter: "Layne was not all of AIC, but he was part of it.... Do not let it appear as though all he contributed can be replaced with another."

So far 214 people have signed, including the supposed spirit of Shannon Hoon, the late singer of Blind Melon (another band that has, sadly, recently reunited). "Could you imagine the Beatles without John Lennon?" asks one signer. Others are more direct: "Stop this horrific circus freak act, douchebag Cuntrell!"

The campaign is superorganized and incredibly thorough. Its missive has been delivered to every radio station, newspaper, fanzine, and Website across the metropolitan area of each stop of the band's tour. Locals even photocopy it onto flyers and post them at music stores, Slaughter says. The Layne-lovers are surprisingly media-savvy, too, allowing for plenty of advance notice — the first e-mail arrived in my box in August, almost a month and a half before the band's stop this Sunday at Sound Advice Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach.

But the idea is nevertheless easy to dismiss. Lead singers do not necessarily make a band. Take the current so-called Guns N' Roses, whose live shows are an excruciating excursion through Axl Rose's karaoke versions of the real, original band's hits. It's clear from GNR's example that for certain bands, greatness comes from the interplay of multiple sources. Check the public ridicule heaped upon Rose's traveling circus, versus the ever-rising star of Velvet Revolver, which features the rest of the original GNR lineup.

Or take the sacred cow of the Fab Four: Paul McCartney and company rightly never tried to play as the Beatles after John Lennon's death. The Allman Brothers Band flailed about after Duane's fatal motorcycle accident, but then correctly called it quits. Hell, even Creedence Clearwater Revival, sans John Fogerty, has the decency to at least tour as Creedence Clearwater Revisited. And plenty of solo acts perform their bands' old hits; fans know they'll hear their favorites, but nobody is under the wrong impression about who exactly is playing them.

More recently, in the fall of 2004, I caught a New York date of British group the Libertines. It was their last U.S. tour. They were light years away from Alice in Chains in sound and ethos, but what the bands had in common was the creative tension generated by two strong-willed dudes. (In the Libs' case, it was Carl Barat and the now-infamous Pete Doherty.) Doherty was alive but had gotten the boot; the tour was still going on. Although the rest of the band remained intact and Barat sounded good, he looked tired and deflated. Watching him harmonize with a fake Doherty stand-in was simply depressing. Soon after that, Barat pulled the plug on the Libertines moniker. It was the right decision.

Sure, Jerry Cantrell, Sean Kinney, and Mike Inez have every right to play together and play old Alice in Chains songs. And fans have every right to pay to see them do so. But it's like getting a generic diet soda when you're a diehard Diet Coke drinker — same overall idea, but with a different formula and a taste that seems generally off. Sometimes the name really is the thing.

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2 comments
bradthegreat7
bradthegreat7

This is ridiculous as is Staley's mom's lawsuit toward the current living band members. It's a disgrace for the fans who side with either one and not both. This isn't Guns n roses for crying out loud. The facts are simple: 1. Jerry Cantrell wrote nearly all the, 'music' back then and with these 2 new albums. 2. Staley was a fabulous frontman, but had a serious addiction which cost him his life way too early in life. 3. Cantrell and Staley were best friends and Alice in Chains not releasing albums in the late 90s to staley's death wasn't because of a band breakup, but because Layne Staley wasn't fit to perform AiC music. Sure he did Mad Season, but that was Alice style music. More public appearances would have been needed for Alice in chains music. 4. For me Alice in Chains were a nearly rock n roll hall of fame inductee and that push came up short to layne's overdose. Was his overdose Cantrell's fault? Was it Inez or Kinn's fault? Was it anyone's fault? No. That was on him. I'm not blaming him bc I know it's a disease. But we are talking music here. Not life. It wasn't Jerry's nor new singer/guitarist's fault. 6. If Staley were still alive and became sober do you not think he wouldnt be on stage with Jerry Cantrell? You're a fool if u think not. They had a love for one another as friends and as family. 6. The whole reason for Cantrell doing these new Alice albums is simple. He wants alice in chains to go down as they deserve to go down and that it rock royalty. If Alice in chains achieve and are hoisted up on rock's mantle do you not think Layne Staley's face and name will be plastered with the other band members? Of course it will. He was a great vocalist and will always be a part of the Alice family. Just remember his legacy and fame only go as far as Alice in chains go. I feel Jerry is doing everything possible to get this band in the hall of fame and that means staley getting in as well. In the end it's all Layne Staley had was Alice in chains. Jerry Cantrell will always be a top 100 guitarist. If he cared only for himself he'd continued solo or formed a new super band. But he cares for Alice in chains and that means Layne Staley too. Give it a rest. AC/DC did it and now Alice in chains are doing it. I love their old and new stuff. This wasn't a Beatles breakup, but a great band with a tragedy with Layne's death. Does that mean the rest can't try to seal the bands fate in history? When you are talking about the tone and sound of Alice in chains you are talking Cantrell and his guitar. We don't have any right making those claims. He does and he is. Leave it alone. He wrote not than half the lyrics and 98% of the

Music. He has every right and he doesn't have Ill intentions towards staley. He loves his former singer/band mate/friend. But idk where you get Alice wasn't popular?!?!?? Since 1999 their music from dirt, facelift, and the rest of their albums are main stream rock n roll as in playing all the time and even when they were recording those albums. I think you should consider writing about rap and their drama instead of creating some for metal bands.

danelle777
danelle777

@bradthegreat7

I am not trying to be an ass here...And I am not angry with you at all, I am just replying with some facts (and my feelings)...I love both Layne and Jerry...


I just went thru all my original cd's (not BS posted online ALD) (yes...after Layne's death :)) I just might see if I can get 'ALD' into the IM dictionary, what can I say...I love that man) It appears that AIC's lyrics were written pretty much 50/50 with Layne actually writing a few more...From reading other posts about Layne, It just seems like some people (not saying you) seem to believe that Jerry did everything cuz "Layne was a useless junkie"...PLEASE!!! Layne wrote about half of AIC's lyrics, as well as 'Hate To Feel' and 'Angry Chair' All Lyrics and music written by one sweet man, a man who didn't write music. Not a junkie...A human being...You can also tell the difference between Layne or Jerry inspired lyrics if you truly listen.


So here is AIC with Layne: 1992-1995 (Only 3 years mind you! With Layne, AIC was truly magical, no disrespect to Duvall, as this has nada to do with that young man, he is fabulous on his own and a hottie to boot) Layne is, was and always will be magical...Remember Only 3 years here.


1x Silver

2x Platinum

(4) 2x Platinum

(1) 3x Platinum

(2) 4x Platinum

(5) GOLD!!!!!

All 4 DVD's - GOLD


LAYNE without Jerry - MAD SEASON/GOLD! Immediate GOLD! Like almost overnight GOLD (no they were not AIC-ish, they were pure yummy, raw - grunge!) Nothing like the slow, smokey, rock, blues, country, whatever that was...delicious grooves of AIC that made you feel like they wrote everything just for you...But beautiful none-the-less!


JERRY without Layne - Boggy Depot/FLOP -

Degradation Trip & Degradation Trip Volumes 1 & 2/FLOP (not even 100k copies sold)


The anticipation and extreme excitement for AIC fans who had gone without any new music from them since 1995, (that was 14 long awaited years) then suffering with the knowledge that we not only lost one of the truly great voices and human beings of all time in April of 2002...(As well as one of the most gorgeous men to ever grace this planet, gee whiz!) We indeed realized that we would never, ever hold a fresh new CD from AIC with that beautiful, moving and powerful voice, mixed with those sexy, slow & smokey grooves in our dirty little hands ever again...The magic was gone...


This anticipation and all the AIC fans wanting to pay respect to Layne, is the only reason that "Black Gives Way To Blue" went Gold...As you can obviously see from the following CD released (without Layne, of course)...only selling 120,000 copies...From Gold to a dash ---! That should tell you something. The magic Layne & Jerry shared on stage is not easily duplicated, it was a once in a lifetime gift of perfection.


As for the Layne addiction BS... Kurt, Jim, Janis & Jimmy are some of my very favorite people!!!! Meaning Cobain, Morrison, Joplin & Hendrix...Kurt committed suicide, the other incredible humans overdose's and well, pretty much overdosed (Jimi) ...Elvis - drug intoxication induced heart attack...All of these amazing people created something so very special it should never, ever be allowed to be stomped on or disregarded, just because they had drug addictions or other issues in their private lives...These people are extremely gifted, they all went out on a limb to share their amazing gifts with the rest of us and that is not an easy task...hoping that their gift to society would be respected and not judged, and picked apart...maybe even make a sweet living on their amazing talents.


I know Jerry loves Layne...no doubt in my mind...how could you not! As far as I can tell from interviews, the feeling was mutual...I am standing up for a man I never crossed paths with, but, none-the-less a man who has helped me a great deal with my life without ever knowing it. I just feel he deserves more respect. He did, after all, accomplish more than most humans here on earth in a very, very, very short time! I could live to be 500 and never accomplish what that man accomplished. So everyone who is on his ass for not being a perfect little robot...piss off already! I still love you all...but stop being so critical and appreciate who they were together and be grateful for it...


Kurt is gone, we are no longer Nirvana...We are now the Foo Fighters... That, my friends, is how you pay respect! Appreciate & respect those who can do what you cannot or have not.

 
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