100 Days Project

Ben: 100 Writings / 100 Opening Guitar Hooks

various, random creative expressions / writings, inspired partially by 100 popular songs (songs that somewhat begin with a leading hook of a guitar.)

Day 58:

“Don’t Follow” (1994) by Alice in Chains

“Don’t Follow” (1994) by Alice in Chains

Most of the famous song-writing partnerships have usually consisted of viciousness and visible violence: Lars vs. James; Davies vs. Davies; Louise Post vs. Nina Gordon. Even Varg Vikernes stabbed his guitarist to death! Some musicians just have a tendency to get real physical with their colleagues. However, there’s been only one partnership which was the most passive-aggressive; the most hurtfully silent: Jerry and Layne.

Jerry Cantrell loved his brother, Layne Staley, so much, he obliged to take over singing duties whilst his lead singer simply rotted away into addiction. Jerry could’ve kicked him outta the band long time before, but was blindly loyal to his brother, thinking this rock and roll lifestyle would be best for him; even though Layne derailed ages ago (about the time when Layne’s own father picked up the habit.)

Poor Jerry saved their average ‘Unplugged’ performance; cancelled their 1996 tour; guided Layne through his fiance’s drug-related passing; and even refused to say the band had broken up, even though Layne clearly wasn’t ‘there’. Jerry, forever positive, picked up the crumbs while Layne was spiralling towards the inevitable.

But from these two opposing angles, came some of the greatest songs of the 1990’s. Jerry: optimistic, faithful and leading. Layne: realist, precious and fallen. They were literally the name of their own band. And when they came together, it was something special. Take for instance those beautiful harmonies. Outside RNB and the boy bands, they probably had the greatest synched vocals of that era. Still gives me goosebumps – even whilst I’m writing this, listening to the song above.

I only got into those Seattle bands later in my life (too busy with RNB and Britpop.) And, as usual, I ticked them off in the order they’ve continuously been presented: Nirvana first, then Pearl Jam, then Soundgarden, then Alice. They were always the last wheel on that Grunge vehicle that, regrettably, I discovered Alice far too late. Layne finally succumbed to a heroin overdose in 2002.

But the loss had a strangely unfortunate effect on me. If I discovered them before Layne shuffled, I wouldn’t have known the difference. But from that year on, I assumed every single Alice in Chains song I ever heard was, at least in my mind, either about his oncoming death or his addiction. Even if Jerry would explain that the context of a song was about something else, I somehow instead saw Layne’s coffin or Layne slouching in the corner, in the lyrics.

Has this ruined my appreciation for them? Not one iota!

Though I see morbidity, I also see with it haunting splendour, I see a friendship at its worst and the possibility of a friendship at its most triumphant, I see Layne as Jerry’s muse, I see brothers in arms, I see a dissonant chord, I see a ripping voice, I see a ballad of beauty. I see undying loyalty, I see dying. I see a man not giving up on his mate, I see a premonition of the end but not wanting to, I see innocence in bondage, I see a partnership of love and tragedy, I see white powder bubbling, I see fogged invincibility, I see the shivers, I see lying, I see silence, I see hurting. I see a “Jar of Flies”, I see the three legged dog, I see a “Man in a Box”, I see a man “Down in a Hole”, I see a man who warned his brother not to follow.

I don’t know why they always came fourth. I’ve now heard all discographies of all four bands and by far Alice were the greatest.