The day I wrote this piece many months ago, I had finally had enough. Perhaps it was one of those crap ass days where everything in the world bugged me and I needed to go on the war path, a public venting session if you will...but on this day I chose to take it out on the negative rantings I had been reading over the ‘newly’ rebirthed Alice in Chains. Of course I could have borne this grudge and frustration upon other people just as deserving...but this had been roiling around in my head for some time as I too, rejoiced and celebrated the return of one of my favorite groups from the 90’s.
But It was their music that always tore me asunder whenever I heard it, then and now. It's like someone piercing my heart and bleeding out the pain, even if it wasn’t always my own pain. I got it! After a certain point, I couldn’t even watch the videos because it was just too much of an emotional ass whooping at certain moments in my life, seeing Layne Staley post-mortem and all that came with it.
Between the power and pain and utter honest soul in Layne's voice or the unique guttural sound of Jerry Cantrell’s guitar, somehow their music translated beyond mental or auditory stimulation into a visceral one. And I think most everyone who got hit by it, felt the same.
In late 2009, AIC put out their first album in 14 years, a reformation of their old selves plus a new good-old friend to complete their group and everything about them has become a buzz of controversy, evocations and emotions for many. Something has been stirred in the modern waters of music, personal tragedy and commercial culture. The world of rock, has taken notice. Their new album has gone beyond what many groups are putting out today, as it did then but even further: it’s truly honestly real, vulnerable even. And in today's times, that's unique. No hype, no bullshit, no glitz but stripped and bared raw, brought to one's knees.....and with a lot less corporate crap than many well known groups and commercial ‘artists’, said loosely, are spewing today because their hearts are so obviously in it all the way. It’s clear that THEY are a big part of the driving force behind THEM coming back, not just some financially motivated impetus that turns decent art into more crap for the masses!
Great word crap, so enjoy it. :)
Commenta you might be thinking, then what’s got you so riled up? Well it’s all the OTHER AIC fans who are not stoked, thrilled or moved to tears about them pulling themselves up from the rubble, and to paraphrase them, ‘organically’ coming back together and seeing where it goes’. Believe it or not, there are people who waste time and energy hating and complaining saying because Layne is not in the band, therefore AIC suck or therefore they are not Alice in Chains and so on, etc.…or worse sentiments (you’ll have to find them yourselves but it’s gotten downright ugly). These people have spent so much time bemoaning this return that in a small way they are mucking up the waters of this homecoming for some of the rest of us. Maybe even for the band at times, in between small moments of fatigue or self-doubt as they truck down the road on their journey. And it’s starting to piss me off, and thus...I am addressing it.
Ok, I admit it, I peruse things like Facebook and other such ‘communities’ of modern fancy( I like false quotes too ;), hold on while I swallow my barf. Ok I’m good. I read online and listen in concert lines where people are ‘chatting’ about this and that regarding the band as they blossom yet again. I hear all kinds of stuff, and most of it is very kind, filled with a teenage enthusiasm that I haven’t been a part of for a very LONGGG time. People are thrilled beyond belief and also very excited for the band members themselves! But I’ve also noticed another odd thing cropping up like a fungus, an outbreak of something sadder: the naysayers. People filled with venomous loathing and vitriol towards the band themselves for picking up the pieces and rebuilding their lives and their music in a truly honorable and quality fashion.
Now I get the whole cautious loyalty to Layne thing, I really do. And I was there for a minute myself. When I first saw them in 2009, I was a little hesitant to go inside the small concert hall, a show to alert us of what was to come with their upcoming tour. I too was skeptical about the new singer singing older AIC songs, simply because as I realized later on in a weird way that seeing the new singer, William Duvall, meant that AIC had morphed from how we knew them into something that we had to adapt to; That as long time fans, time had come and gone in our lives and here we were at another important juncture of musical history that forced us all to remember our youth, our younger days for better or worse and that they were now gone. And as I return to the world of music again, naturally both good and bad memories resurface. But mostly it really meant having to say goodbye in some ways to a character in our musical memories that no matter how large or small a role he played, had a profound affect on many of our hearts, even painfully at times. And that was uncomfortable for a moment.
I understand the skepticism about any band losing a member to any kind of circumstances and then reforming into something else and calling it by the same name when they created their original sound with that original lineup. I’m human I get it! Believe me I never could move over to Van Hagar!
I too worried it would be strange and awkward and whatever…let’s just say I was there for a minute! But not angrily, as if they owed me something? And too many of these people are. Too many are acting as if the band is betraying them personally and owe them something. I was willing to give the new guy a chance knowing the band was still, the band.
Once inside of this intimate venue, those reticent feelings of uncertainty lasted about 2 seconds, long enough for me to catch my breath at the top of the stairway entry and throw my fucking hands in the air when I felt the pounding familiarity of Alice in Chains music wash over me and wipe away any seeds of doubt. Walking into this smoke filled, glowing venue as if I was being drawn into a trance I was taken aback and thrown into something utterly pleasurable and it just felt right. I figured what’s the point in holding on forever? This feels GOOD!!!! They’ve healed and moved onto new things, so can I.
In fact, it was damn time!
A lot of people bring up loyalty as if they totally understand and know the band personally. I don’t but I’ll take a stab because I like to be a bulldog on paper sometimes if it gets the point across...hehe. But really, no one but the members of AIC know what really happened. And at a point, we just have to hear what they're saying and accept it or move on. People ranting under the cloak of online anonymity (ahem..) about the current lineup not being loyal to Layne or moving on with the name Alice in Chains without Layne as some kind of betrayal has grown old. They are different yes, but not entirely and it's not a betrayal. It’s not possible folks. Um..er, sorry if this sounds horrible and no disrespect to Layne, but he’s passed on so let’s be real and stop being silly here…there’s been no betrayal going on here as if Layne is sitting around in some bus station waiting to be picked up because he has no money because he was betrayed by his fucking friends in a band they all played in? Rrrrr….(sound of a buzzer going off)…Wrong! It’s not as if AIC just jumped up a month after his passing and said, ‘Oh crap, we gotta find another singer dudes...let’s get on it!’ Or, choke...audition singers?! Somehow that sentence seems familiar so if I've paraphrased anyone in the band or elsewhere forgive me...but it's true and it works ;D
They crashed, landed and did the best they could but got to walk away alive. And that’s something. Especially if you’ve ever lived and floundered, playing hard in the world of drugs, booze and music. Whooo...it’s crazy fierce when it’s not fun! The down side of up folks! We've all seen it end horribly in the entertainment industry so if you can come out charging and upright, it's something better than sweet.
They went on with their lives, continued playing music alone or with other bands but allowed themselves the miserable process of grieving over the loss of a best friend. And I know from personal experience, it can truly kick your ass. You can’t speed up the process for others or for appearance’s sake. You have to fall apart sputtering into pieces to allow the whole process to happen so you can rebuild, and that takes time.
So here they are again, on their own terms in their own sweet time, they’ve returned from the ashes stronger and in some ways better than ever. Relax, those of you who just got your sphincter’s all wound up, better in a different way.
There is something really special about this new album, in part because we know their story to some extent. We’ve been a small part of their history or rather, they have ours and amidst the album lining
(I’m old so I still talk in vinyl terms) are the words telling us what a journey it’s been for them, namely Jerry. And if you listen to the group speak in interviews, they’re not disharmonious as a group or in what they went through or where they stand, or where the album is coming from. There is so clearly and tangibly a brotherhood that has formed over the years that no matter who you are or how hardened you’ve become, it’s moving.
And what’s more is that the band is still really really good! So there is no need to poo poo things stone doubters. Scouts honor folks~! The 3 original members still have what they had then but have another 10+ years of playing music and living life to bring to their craft. That’s laudable!
And the new guy, William Duvall, holds no punches. It’s like watching a bear thwack another bear. You almost have to duck yourself! He is able to meld and match with Jerry’s voice beautifully for older Alice work but can move into an entirely different direction when he opens up. Sheer heart and power. I imagine he has to pull away from the mic so as not to blow our ears out at times! Kind of like Ann Wilson of Heart…have you heard her live? Holy crap! She fills the room like an opera diva and the poor sound guy, he’s probably scrambling to keep up. Well, William has that potential and on a few songs like 'Looking in View' and 'Last of My Kind', he gives us a taste of that expansive and powerful range.
And dare I say it, oh...I can just see the die hard toughened fans cringing, as I almost do myself, but hear me out folks, as a band they’ve matured. I know I know…it sounds stuffy, trite. But think about it, their early early music was rough and raw, young with pure viscera…really good but really crunchy raw. And it was a raucous good time even with the pained notes and words behind it. Now add all that and a lot more years to fine tune their skills PLUS the years of heartache and joy to help flesh out the heart they put behind the notes and lyrics, and this is what you have now. A sort of refinement has occurred to their music: not of the hoi poloi kind but of the ‘having gone through a storm, come out naked but at least you got your muddy boots on and are still walking upright’ kind. Surviving your own life.
There is still so much angst, pain and bold honesty poignantly spelled in Jerry Cantrell’s lyrics and in the beautiful yet sad groans that emit from the way he lays out guitar riffs that still echo strong. But like some diver that couldn’t stop the depths to which he swam, he’s now gone even deeper than before and continues to share it with those who listen. Like a slow leak it seeps into your soul and moves things around.
With solid backbone support from Inez and Kinney, it's all there as it's ever been, pounding away at your heart and ears! This is old AIC and new AIC in some crazy confluence, a merging of time to become another intense version of auditory catharsis. But the… crap, I’m not a musicologist so I can’t speak music-Bare with me…The clarity and musicianship that was put into this album speaks volumes more than I could, believe it or not. And no I'm not in love with all of the songs on the album but I don't know if I ever have been with any artist or any album, not possible I'm thinking? Nevertheless, in 23 years they are better, differently. Again not a dis' against the old stuff fool hearties just an observation and an appreciation of what has become. A recognition of change. Because I do love me some bones and rivers! ;)
As I embark deeper into them and their music, what they’ve produced, their story, I have gleaned inspiration that has then had an affect upon my own story. I could go on about the personal affect it has had on me but no one needs to hear that. It’s probably happened to a lot of people. Suffice it to say having gone through a few storms myself, gotten banged around and lost too many friends along the way, and somehow come out the other end standing in my muddy boots naked staring a blank field that once was a life, I really really relate to the lyrics and to their journey of renewal. Painfully relate. So like some bitter medicine that takes me one step further in purging these ghosts from my soul, I embrace this new change they have unfurled upon their listeners: the music and story of AIC continues on as they were and how they’ve become. And it’s fucking awesome!~ Haha..but I digress.
So I wrote this for everyone who cares about them old or new, but especially those who are still in doubt. No one has forgotten Layne for Chrissakes! No one is betraying him or his memory. In fact, in an odd way by keeping AIC alive, it honors Layne's contribution too! Duh!
Everyone who loves and listens to AIC and I imagine the band too, lives with Layne in shadow, in spirit constantly. But remember, there are still 3 of the original band members left making music. And focusing only on Layne as if he was the ONLY one creating, forging and performing in AIC, and holding this tragedy against the remaining members, is just plain cruel and inaccurate. It negates their efforts, work and contributions that directly made them who they were and are. And that’s just stupid, really! Remember Sean and Jerry were there from the very beginning and Jerry has been one of the main writers and composers. Mike Inez has been with the band say uh…since 1993! That’s overall give or take oh shit...math...Uh..@20 years? Supposedly they never broke up, they just broke.
Anyhow…being that my mood is only slightly improved by writing this I could go on forever about things people do to perpetuate pointless stupidity, esp. in the face of coming back to life and the beauty of surviving your own life intact. For all of you naysayers, for five seconds…no wait, five minutes stop and actually think about what they might have gone through and what it means to return the way they have, triumphantly! I’ll wait…pause......Put yourself there and imagine those days, your own youth for that matter. They were all partying, creating and coping with life in whatever ways young artists do. Hell, all young people do! And I’m not saying it was all good, 'cause I know you ain’t stupid! Obviously Layne was carrying the weight of some pretty heavy wounds to the point where drugs became a respite, a break that built upon it’s own momentum becoming instead of something that provided a moment’s peace in his mind, to something that ultimately lead to his demise. Insight here: If every time you gain clarity, each time you are sober it means hitting that murky bottom and it only gets darker every time you wake up, then it's understandable how drugs could become something you do more frequently to the point of becoming consumed by them. Then imagine how everyone around you feels? For all we know the rest of the guys could have been almost as in bad a shape and yet somehow, they came out alive and stronger. So naysayers, be happy about that. Be thankful! I can understand about being sad about changes. I go there to :( But try and embrace the people still alive and rockin’.
And if you can’t then by all means stop torturing yourselves and others with this hostile resistance and retarded banter about AIC not being AIC now without Layne and the other retarded stuff you’re saying about the remaining members! You’re only avoiding something that is really amazing and could take you a step further in life’s journey. Your own journey in fact.
And if that nicety didn’t work, then just shut up! Let us who are able to move on and yet still remember Layne but embrace the present, enjoy what is here now: Alice in Chains as they are.
I for one am.
Written ©3/13/10 by Danya Mosgofian including *photograph/graphic design ©5/10.
*Photo taken on the way to NOLA after leaving Birmingham, AL seeing AiC at the Crawfish boil. Never something more apropos was this sign: AiC released their album 14 years since last recording one.