The date is April 5th, a date that has passed mainly in peace for many years, but also a date that would be the untimely end for two of the greatest lead singers of my generation. No one would find these fallen luminaries until days after their self-inflicted demise, almost as if they didn’t really die, but they were just taken from this world. I won’t go much further into the deaths at this moment, but those who gravitate around music, especially rock music of the 90s cannot deny the brilliance that came out of Seattle, the two troubled stars that burned so brightly that they melted their wax too quickly; Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley.
It has been a yearly ritual of mine to listen to the music of these men on this day, not as a way of honoring their DEATH, but a way of still celebrating the LIFE that they gave through their music. As I was only 10 and not as deep into music at the time, I do not remember much of the passing of Kurt. In a way I am glad that it did not take his death to kick-start my love of music, to introduce me to his lyrics and his band’s sound. Quite simply, I was not ready for it. I would like to think that I would have been so inspired that I would have bought a guitar and started my own grunge band, but I highly doubt that would be the case. I would probably have just enjoyed the music, quickly digested it and put it back down, moving on to the next batch of songs. I needed that extra time to grow and when I finally found that musical seedling and it started to blossom, Nirvana was there, waiting to be one of the cornerstones of my musical foundation.
As far as Layne Staley’s passing? I remember that I heard it on the morning of April 20, 2002. Why do I remember it so vividly? Well, I was on a school bus with my baseball team in my senior year of high school. I can’t remember where we were going, but I remember that we were listening to 93x (the local radio station) and they were playing the entire catalog of Alice In Chains, since the news of Layne’s passing was made public the day before. I was shocked! A huge rock-star, gone. Just like that, one of the biggest bands of the 90s looked like they were finished. I new Alice In Chains’ big hits, since I listened to the radio quite often, but I did not have their albums. When I heard Layne’s voice for a good half an hour, on songs I wasn’t familiar with, it became quite evident that I was missing out. So of the two major Seattle grunge singers, it was Layne Staley’s passing that drove me deeper into his bands music, and as I got familiar with Alice In Chains, it was that band that drove me further into music in general.
As sad as it was to lose these men, I know that no amount of sadness can bring them back; so my growing love of music being somewhat rooted in the passing of these two men does not have to be shameful. I would like to think that both Layne and Kurt would be thrilled that another kid (as I was only in high school at the time) was being turned on to music and over time that love of music would grow and turn into a love of mankind. Yes, it is corny, but listening to their poetic lyrics – albeit dark poetry – really almost forces you to not only try to understand the author (Layne/Kurt), but understanding people in general. Their lyrics were not solely tied to their personal suffering, but the suffering that is felt throughout humankind. I could really go on about this, and I may wind up circling around to it later, but I will stop here in order to get on with my thoughts.
I mentioned that I listen to this great duo on each April 5th, so why not list my favorite songs?
- About A Girl (Bleach)
- Territorial Pissings (Nevermind)
- Aneurysm (Incesticide)
- Pennyroyal Tea (In Utero)
- Scentless Apprentice (In Utero)
- Milk It (In Utero)
- tourette’s (In Utero)
- Mrs. Butterworth (With the Lights Out)
- I Hate Myself And Want to Die (With the Lights Out)
- Beans (With the Lights Out)
- Sappy (With the Lights Out)
- Moist Vagina (All Apologies/Rape Me single)
- Curmudgeon (Lithium single)
- Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Will Flow Through the Strip (With the Lights Out)
- You Know You’re Right (Nirvana)
- Am I Inside (Sap)
- Junkhead (Dirt)
- Angry Chair (Dirt)
- Rotten Apple (Jar of Flies)
- I Stay Away (Jar of Flies)
- Nutshell (Jar of Flies)
- Shame In You (Alice In Chains)
- Sludge Factory (Alice In Chains)
- Frogs (Alice In Chains)
- Queen of the Rodeo (Live)
- Get Born Again (Music Bank)
- Wake Up (Mad Season – Above)
- X-Ray Mind (Mad Season – Above)
- All Alone (Mad Season – Above)
- Long Gone Day (Mad Season – Above)
*All songs for Layne Staley are with Alice In chains, unless noted as Mad Season.*
*I only included songs written and performed by these men, not covers, or in in the case of Layne, lyrics written by Jerry Cantrell.*
I think it’s easy to deduce which albums I would recommend spinning, but I’ll make that list, too. Do yourself a favor, listen to this group in its entirety at least once. Hopefully it gives you half the amount of joy it gives me!
Nirvana – In Utero
Nirvana – MTV Unplugged
Nirvana – Nirvana (best of)
Alice In Chains – Alice In Chains
Alice In Chains – Jar of Flies (EP)
Alice In Chains – MTV Unplugged
Mad Season – Above
After listening to this batch of albums today, I realized how much I WISH that I could write like them, let alone be able to sing/play music like either of them. I am not a skilled musician, in fact, I am not even a musician. Kurt sloppy and dirty guitars combined with that voice, Layne with that simple rhythm guitar on Angry Chair and those haunting and at times timid voice; I fill with
Lastly, I will leave with two of my greatest takeaways on the knowledge I have been taught by these Seattle heroes.
- Pain – It’s easy to see, hear, and feel the pain that each man went through by just listening to their voices, let alone their lyrics. Sure, it was largely a personal pain, as each man had his own demons and tried to slay them by changing their brain chemistry with drugs. That personal pain can be transposed (purposefully, because both were brilliant this way) and related to others’ personal problems and to social issues. Kurt and Layne were not only in tune with their bodies and minds, but with the feelings of those around them, and the issues that we all face. We all have our dark times, we all faces struggles, and both men used this darkness to bring in the light. It’s as if they constantly say, “Here is the worst, it can only be better.” I firmly believe that Kurt and Layne cared for humanity so much that their personal pain was compounded by the pain everyone else felt. (It’s almost fitting that I am watching Lincoln as i type this. Not saying either man should be compared to such an obvious hero, but I don’t see either straying from the ideals that Lincoln gave us.)
- Humor – Yep, this is the thing that most people on the outside do not see. Layne, in many of the videos “behind the scenes”, seems to always have a smile, and either cracking up or trying to make someone else crack up. Kurt was somewhat similar, but the biggest thing that I saw was using sarcasm and dry humor in interviews. He was sick of the same questions (who wouldn’t be?!), so he had some fun; plus it probably doesn’t hurt to have Krist and Dave around – those guys are positive and hilarious. In both cases, if you look deeper into the lyrics, if you strip away the pain, there are many examples of humor/sarcasm. Since both men had the reputation for being depressed and dark, their lyrics were almost always taken as serious and never as a double entendre.
I will not ramble on much further. The whole purpose of this entry was to share some of the joy I get from these songs, and to thank both Kurt and Layne for helping shape my life. What started as a love of a few songs, turned into a love of music. That love of music has helped me gain a better understanding of myself and of others, and that is the greatest gift that any musician has given me.