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“If I would, could you?”
I read a piece on Pitchfork recently that re-reviewed Alice In Chains’ seminal second album, “Dirt.” Apart from the personally stunning realization that the album came out over thirty years ago (1992), the review and subsequent discoveries over the years has caused me to re-examine this band and others that came out of the Seattle grunge scene in the 1990s.
I was just getting in to music in the early 1990s. The mainstream adult pop station in Cleveland was still infatuated with Michael Bolton. Michael Jackson was about as edgy as that station got. I’d just gotten my first CD player and with it CDs from U2 and Peter Gabriel. I found the new alternative rock station in town at the end of the radio dial — 107.9 “The End” (WENZ). That station’s playlist caused the legendary station in town (“The Buzzard” WMMS) to revamp their playlist to make it more up to date. The upshot was that both stations played similar, but not exact, playlists that touched heavily on grunge and the nascent alternative rock movement. I ate up every second. The radio was essential listening for me.
I was a big video gamer at the time, and would always turned down the sound in the game so that I could listen to the radio while I played video games. Whenever someone waxes poetic about a specific video game soundtrack, I rarely have the same reference point. I was listening the radio the entire time I was playing video games.
Alice In Chains was one of those bands that both stations played. “Would?” and “Rooster” — both from “Dirt” — were huge songs that still get played on the radio today. They followed it up with strings of radio hits and albums in subsequent years.
To teenage me, they seemed like this mythical band that released hit record after hit record. Their songs were a little harder and darker than my typical choices, but I thought most of it was great. Maybe they toured, but I don’t remember hearing that they were playing my area (Cleveland) much. I certainly never saw them play live.
The reality was much different than my perception — the lead singer, Layne Staley, was hooked on hard drugs for a long period of time. It resulted in the band basically being a studio and radio act for many years. They literally couldn’t perform live for any stretch of time because of Staley’s addiction. Alice in Chains’ lyrics and music are a window into almost complete darkness.
When I look back now on the reverence I had for Alice and Chains and other bands that came out of the Seattle scene at the time, my general feeling is that the music was great, but many of the people making the music were struggling. And it wasn’t really obvious at the time. The world was different. Tours were cancelled because of “health problems,” and social media wasn’t around to stoke the flames of rumor and innuendo. And I personally had no frame of reference for what addiction meant. The struggles led to the demise of many during the 1990s — Kurt Cobain and Andrew Wood — and even after the decade ended — Layne Staley and Chris Cornell.
People change. That’s an inevitable part of life. But when people change, you don’t always need to change with them. When people change, it naturally causes us to revaluate our own relationship with them. Everyone’s perspective changes as they get older and learn from the numerous experiences life has to offer us. This change in perspective naturally causes relationships to evolve, and sometimes end. Relationships are not static. They are not a state of permanence. We can respect someone on something in the moment, but that doesn’t always mean we support that in perpetuity.
Alice In Chains — “Would?”
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