Saturday, April 27, 2024

Daily Jam - I Stay Away

This column was originally published in 2017.

I’ve been immersing myself in a lot of the music I grew up with the last couple of weeks. I suppose that the death of yet another one of my generation’s idols and icons has me feeling reflective. It has me feeling…nostalgic is not the word…wistful maybe, like this kind of yearning for how music made me feel when I was a teenager, the wholeness and everything of it all, the importance and the grandeur. There was this youthful excitement and immediacy to all the wonderful music I was discovering in the early '90s, from grunge to alt-rock to Britpop to industrial, punk, and metal, a cavalcade of sounds that influenced me, opened me up, defined me, and kept me warm. Kept me sane. Made me real. I would lose myself in it all. I’ve been chasing that high ever since, and despite all the new stuff I’ve found and obsessed over through the years, it’s just never been the same, like a steady supply of methadone when what I’m really craving is pure heroin.

Maybe I shouldn’t make a heroin analogy in an article referencing Alice In Chains.

As it turns out, all of that old music is still important to me…even when time has put a lot of distance between us. Chris Cornell’s suicide hit me harder than I would have expected, took me aback, and flooded my heart and soul with sadness and quiet resignation. As my friend and fellow blogger Shawn wrote at the time, it wasn’t necessarily world shattering, like when losing a Bowie or a Prince, but it has had a way of making me contemplate my own mortality. These deaths usually do.

When Layne Staley died in 2002, I remember exactly what I was doing when I heard the news. I had just loaded my car with guitars and amp, and was pulling out of my apartment’s parking lot on my way to band practice when word of the Alice In Chains singer’s overdose came over the radio waves. I had to stop my car right there and take it all in for a moment. I had to process it. Of course he died. Of course it was an overdose. And it only seemed fitting that it had taken a week or more before his body was discovered. It’s like it was always supposed to end that way. But that didn’t make it hurt any less. Another icon gone. Another inspiration turned to dust. So, I pulled my car back into the parking lot and went inside to grab some Alice In Chains to listen to. Once on my way, Dirt just felt like it would be too much, its themes and stories of addiction an all too dire eulogy to symbolically say farewell with. Jar of Flies felt better. It’s a dark and morose piece of work for sure, but it didn’t feel so steeped in an addict’s pain and struggle, a weird and growling glorification of chemical dependency. It’s more somber. Less amusing. And despite its acoustic nature, it feels so much heavier.

“I Stay Away” is the Alice In Chains song I always go back to, either in memoriam and solemnity, or wistful repose. It’s what I wanted to hear after Staley died and what gets me closest to re-feeling that teenage glow, a strange and melancholy melody that breaks apart as ominous undertones rise to the surface. It was kind of haunting back then, and is certainly more so now. Staley and Jerry Cantrell’s harmonies sound eerie and otherworldly atop soothing acoustic guitars and menacing electric ones, strings and synthesizers bubbling beneath, creating a kind of soundtrack for passing through to the other side along a dark and mysterious body of water. It’s spooky and beautiful and wonderful, and at 15 years old, it spoke to me in a way I don’t think I truly understood.

And maybe I still don’t.

But I’m listening to it now, and it’s still making me feel and still making me long for something ultimately unattainable. It’s also making me think that perhaps my generation’s rock stars and aging artists are getting their reunion tours out of the way now, as there’ll be no one left when we’re in our old age. Perish the thought.

“Tears that soak a callous heart.”

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