With the passing of Layne Staley, those who knew him best remember him as deeply troubled yet immensely talented.
Described as a caring person, he made great strides to elevate an underground genre to the mainstream. In the early ’90s, Alice in Chains, along with Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, were directly behind Nirvana on the grunge wave that began in Seattle and cascaded throughout the country.
The singer’s Alice in Chains bandmates – guitarist Jerry Cantrell, bassist Mike Inez, drummer Sean Kinney and former bassist Mike Starr – their manager and Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell gathered Saturday, a day after police discovered Staley’s body in his home to pay tribute to their friend and fellow musician with a candlelight vigil at the Seattle Center, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. There, at the same location used to eulogize Kurt Cobain eight years ago this month, they shared feelings with friends and family members.
On Sunday, Alice in Chains issued a statement to express their loss. “It’s good to be with friends and family as we struggle to deal with this immense loss… and try to celebrate this immense life,” the collective sentiment read. “We are looking for all the usual things: comfort, purpose, answers, something to hold on to, a way to let him go in peace.
“Mostly, we are feeling heartbroken over the death of our beautiful friend. He was a sweet man with a keen sense of humor and a deep sense of humanity. He was an amazing musician, an inspiration, and a comfort to so many. He made great music and gifted it to the world. We are proud to have known him, to be his friend, and to create music with him.
“For the past decade, Layne struggled greatly – we can only hope that he has at last found some peace.
“We love you, Layne. Dearly. And we will miss you… endlessly.”
Colleagues, peers, young bands and fans alike were shocked and saddened by the passing of a friend, idol and influence.
Tom Morello, who met Staley nine years ago and collaborated with him on a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” in 1999 for the soundtrack to “The Faculty,” remembered testing his metal mettle with the good-humored singer after his band, Rage Against the Machine, shared a Lollapalooza stage with Alice in Chains.
“Layne and I became good friends on the 1993 Lollapalooza tour,” he said in a statement. “I will always remember him as the bright, funny and amazingly talented singer who got up there every hot summer day in a gorgeous suit and sang like an angry angel. We would laugh until we split our sides arguing about who was ‘more metal.’ I hope now he is at peace.”
Although Staley never collaborated with him, the late singer had a fan in Billy Corgan, whose Smashing Pumpkins enjoyed similar mainstream recognition at roughly the same time as Alice in Chains.
“Layne had an amazing voice that had such a beautiful, sad, haunting quality about it,” Corgan’s statement read. “He was different because his heaviness was in that voice. I saw Alice in Chains at one of their final performances, opening for Kiss at Tiger Stadium. They played outside in the sunshine, and they were awesome. I think that’s a good way to remember someone who has and will be missed.”
“Everybody in the band got teary-eyed when we heard,” Adema guitarist Mike Ransom said in a statement. “Layne was what got me started in rock music. He’s one of the greatest singers ever. It’s so sad to hear about someone with such a beautiful voice suffer such a horrible tragedy. We’ve started playing ‘Nutshell’ [from 1994’s Jar of Flies EP] in tribute.”
“Part of my teenage years just passed away in the form of a rock icon, a man who inspired me to start a band and who influenced its sound,” wrote 24-year-old Drew in MTVNews.com’s “You Tell Us”. “I was so crushed to learn of Layne’s death. I had deluded myself with the idea that he would grow healthy, overcome drugs, and do what he did best, sing. No man deserves to die alone at the hands of his own vice, especially when that man is a special part of one boy’s artistic shaping and childhood. I miss you greatly, Layne. May they celebrate your life the way all legends deserve to be celebrated.”
Not everyone’s memories were as rose-colored. To many who knew Staley, thinking of him meant also lamenting over his longtime problem with heroin abuse. In the years after Alice in Chains’ final album, 1995’s eponymous LP, Staley was something of a recluse and hadn’t been seen around Seattle’s closely knit music scene in years. According to some residents, Seattle took a subdued, accepting approach to news of another seminal son gone before his time. While saddened, the collective mood seemed unfazed, considering the downward spiral that resulted from Staley’s failed attempts at getting clean.
“He was never going to kick it, so in some respects, he’s in a better place,” said one Seattle music-industry professional.
“Layne wore his soul on the outside,” wrote Heart’s Ann Wilson, who contributed backing vocals to 1992’s Sap EP. “He was luminous,… too tender for this world. We are all very sad to lose him, but happy that he’s not sick anymore. He’s free on his own journey.”
Others chose not to guise their memories of his problem so poetically. Fellow Seattleite Mark Arm of Mudhoney hung with Staley in the early ’90s, though he said the two hadn’t kept company in six years or so. The last time he did see Layne, the picture wasn’t pretty.
“I remember seeing him in ’95,… he turned up and was totally green, and my stomach turned at that point – watching somebody on a track that they couldn’t get off. At that point I was dealing with my own sh-, so I was trying to put distance between myself and other people who kept indulging in a lifestyle that I was no longer comfortable dealing with.
“The thing that seems really weird to me,” he continued, “is that these people were not complete idiots. They knew what they were doing and kept going. I don’t know if you can even really call it a tragedy, because it wasn’t out of the blue. The news isn’t all that surprising, unfortunately.
“He was really into what he did, and his heart was in the right place in terms of that. He had a fairly solid idea of who he was; [he] came from a cheesy metal background and totally transcended that. He just lost the plot somewhere along the way.”
Staley’s family asked fans and the media to honor their privacy as they mourn their loss. Contributions can be made in Layne’s name to Eastside Recovery Center; 1412 140th Place NE; Bellevue, WA 98007.