The final recorded output of Layne Staley of Alice In Chains
For me personally, Alice In Chains has always been my favorite among the various grunge bands. Yet there are some holes in my Alice In Chains knowledge, which I realized during a recent tribute show of Jar Of Flies (the ultimate AIC experience) that I attended. Yesterday I found myself researching the end of Alice In Chains and the final years of troubled singer Layne Staley, more specifically the final recorded history of Layne Staley as a singer. If you’re a die-hard AIC fan, you may be aware of the final songs already, but if you weren’t paying careful attention in 1998-1999 you may have missed the details. With that in mind, here are the three final released performances of Layne Staley.
The first song, “Get Born Again” by Alice In Chains, is the most well-known of the three. “Get Born Again” was initially written by Jerry Cantrell for inclusion on his second solo album Degradation Trip. Cantrell took the song to Layne Staley and then Layne wrote his own lyrics about “religious hypocrisy”. The song was recorded in 1998 as a one-off recording session for the Music Bank box set. The initial recording session was in Los Angeles with producer Dave Jerden and engineer Bryan Carlstrom. Expectations were high, as this was the first time the band would be working with Jerden since Facelift and Dirt.
Layne reportedly showed up late on the first night, however, and the band got into a shouting match. According to a Rolling Stones account of the time, Jerden claimed the dispute was over whether the band was going to use lyrics by Cantrell or Staley. The band claimed the problem was that Jerden simply didn’t have time in his schedule for the session and that they needed to pull an all-nighter in order to finish the song before Layne returned to Seattle for his sister’s wedding, a commitment which had been previously conveyed to Jerden. The recording at any rate was not completed that night and instead the recording and production was finished in Seattle with longtime AIC producer Toby Wright. As a result, “Get Born Again” has production credits for both Jerden and Wright. In the liner notes for Music Box Cantrell had the following to say:
We tried to work with Dave Jerden again and that didn’t work out for various uncomfortable reasons. We had tracked with him in L.A., and then we went up to Seattle with Toby Wright. So considering it was done in different states with different producers, I think it turned out to be pretty classic Alice.
Here, then is the official video for “Get Born Again”. Footage of Cantrell, Staley and drummer Sean Kinney was pulled from the “Sea of Sorrow” video. Bassist Mike Inez’s footage was taken from the video for “What The Hell Have I”.
The other song from this same session, which you may not have heard, is “Died”. “Died” is in fact the last Alice In Chains song ever recorded. Like “Get Born Again” is has a mixed production credit of Jerden/Wright and was recorded under the same circumstances. One thing to note is that Layne was already in very fragile health by this point in time and that it’s conceivable, maybe even likely, that the music suffered as a result. By many accounts Layne had lost many of his teeth and was very underweight and malnourished. I won’t link to it, but if you do a Google search for “Layne Staley 1998” you can see how sickly he looked. To me, “Died” does sound like less of an Alice In Chains song and perhaps more like Cantrell’s solo material. In the liner notes for Music Box, Cantrell said:
I wish we’d have got a bit more work on that one. It’s more “Alice In A Jam Room”, it’s not as finished as “Born Again”. It’s vicious, it’s got teeth, it doesn’t have many overdubs and it’s maybe a purer, rawer form of what Alice is. It isn’t pretty and that’s not a bad thing at all.
“Died” is also interesting in that it’s pointedly about the death of Layne’s one-time fiancé Demri Lara Parrott, who died in 1996 from bacterial endocarditis related to drug use. Below is an unofficial video of the song, for preview purposes.
As it turns out, though, Layne wasn’t quite ready to quit music. He had one last recording session in 1998, this time with super-group Class Of ’99 to cover the classic Pink Floyd song “Another Brick In The Wall (Parts 1 & 2)” for inclusion on the soundtrack to teen horror flick The Faculty. Class Of ’99 consisted of Layne on vocals, Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine) on guitar, Stephen Perkins (Jane’s Addiction) on drums and Martyn LeNoble (Porno For Pyros) on bass. The group recorded two versions of the Pink Floyd song: part one is instrumental, part two features Layne’s vocals.
Of the three final songs from Layne, this one is the least interesting to me. The music is great overall, but there’s very little originality with the vocals. Layne stays in the same register throughout with little variation and it’s just not a very interesting vocal performance. However, with this type of project cobbled together for a film soundtrack there could be any number of reasons why the result was less than spectacular. The soundtrack is still definitely worth picking up for the Class Of ’99 songs alone, but there are other good alternative songs on there as well, a snapshot of the music popular at that time. The film and the soundtrack were both commercial disappointments, however. That genre of teen horror was becoming less relevant and grunge itself was also in a state of hibernation. Below is the official video for “Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)”. You’ll see that again the footage of Layne Staley was not current (due to his failing health), but in this case was taken from a 1995 concert of the band Mad Season.
Layne Staley was found dead in his University District condo in Seattle on April 19, 2002. He is estimated to have died on April 5, eight years to the day after Kurt Cobain’s death.
If you’d like purchase any of the songs mentioned in this article, please see the below information.
- “Get Born Again” is available on the Music Bank box set, on the compilation The Essential Alice In Chains and on Nothing Safe.
- “Died” is available on the Music Bank box set and on the compilation The Essential Alice In Chains.
- “Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)” is available on The Faculty Soundtrack.
- Bonus: pick up Jerry Cantrell’s Degradation Trip Volumes 1 & 2 for more excellent music from this same time-frame. I recommend the double-disc version instead of the single disc.
For more grunge-related articles, please see the following:
- EMP Museum’s ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses’
- Jar Of Flies (Alice In Chains tribute) live in Lynnwood, WA
- New Sub Pop Airport Store open for business
- Soundgarden – ‘Screaming Life/FOPP Reissue’
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