Alice in Chains has always been a tough interview. In fact, the band's late lead singer, Layne Staley, infamously refused to talk to the media nearly a decade after a Rolling Stone reporter, Jon Wiederhorn, wrote about his hideously track-marked hands.
It wasn't all Staley, either. The band's guitarist/songwriter/motivator/brain Jerry Cantrell (it was his dad who was The Rooster, not Staley's) has always kept a tight lid on things, enforcing an admirable code of silence:
"We don't say anything about each other. That's a trust among ourselves. With all the rumor and innuendo, it's something we just won't respond to. What we do is make music and [the private stuff] is nobody's business. Even if we've written a lot of personal things about life in our music, that's where it belongs. It doesn't belong in magazines," he once said.
I can respect all that. I find it harder, however, to respect a journalist who gets totally snookered by Cantrell's publicity machine. A puff piece in the Arizona Republic advancing Wednesday's Alice in Chains show at Dodge Theatre seems to suggest former longtime New Times freelancer Dominic Salerno (he employed the pen name "Serene Dominic" at NT) got taken for the proverbial ride.
The story makes a lot of cliché claims that strike me as vaguely disingenuous, notions that appear to be created or supported by quotes from the band's bassist, Mike Inez, whom the Rep interviewed.
"But the surviving members -- Sean Kinney, Jerry Cantrell, and Mike Inez -- showed a lot of class by not replacing Staley when he was still alive and his drug demons became unmanageable."
Now, I really hate to debate what people should do when dealing with dangerously self-destructive friends -- we all have our methods, sometimes they don't work -- but does a rock band really deserve credit for allowing a singer to record just about as much as he needs to feed his habit while everyone knows his death is just a matter of "when" and not "if"?
Certainly, the band knew Staley was heading for destruction -- a reporter for an alternative bi-weekly covering the scene has said he had Staley's obituary on file and ready to run.
"It's like one of the world's longest suicides," drummer Sean Kinney told Rolling Stone. "I'd been expecting the call for a long time -- for seven years, in fact. But it was still shocking, and I'm surprised at how devastated I am."
Furthermore, Kinney, like Jerry Cantrell, who struck out solo long before Staley's body was found, had not talked to his drug-addicted friend in two years. Was not replacing him the "classy" thing to do? Perhaps, but I'd argue the facts we have make it seem much more the "practical" thing to do.
"After Staley's death, they chose not to perform together out of respect for his memory and the Alice in Chains name, reuniting only when Kinney suggested a benefit show for victims of the 2004 tsunami, with several singers filling in for Staley."
Staley died in April 2002 (at least, that's when he was found). Cantrell had started promoting his second solo record a month earlier. He didn't do anything to stall that. Actually, as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported, he didn't cancel a single solo show.
"The shows I played between the time I got the word about Layne and Layne's funeral were very important to me in terms of being able to continue on. It's one of those things where if you take a break and allow things to settle in, it might be harder to get up again," he told the P-I.
Cantrell's 2002 tours, by the way, were with Nickelback and Creed. If that doesn't make you especially annoyed at jackasses like this PopMatters writer who took a cheap shot at Left Eye, who died within a week of Staley, in his blowjobby Alice in Chains Q&A, nothing will.
"They've reaped the respect of old fans by pulling off the unthinkable -- a new chapter that builds on the legacy instead of dragging it through the mud to sell some T-shirts."
Other than the late Staley, AIC is a business-oriented band. No question about it. Just look at the quotes Cantrell gave PopMatters about that Creed tour, beginning with his intentionally vague rant about having sold too many records to open for them and continuing through the fact that he makes it clear he'll do whatever his management tells him to . . .
"Creed was a weird tour. I mean, it's kind of strange touring with both of them from a personal standpoint of where I come from and what I've accomplished in my life. It's something I can't control; two bands that are doing pretty well for themselves and they requested us, and it was okay to do, but it wasn't my first choice," he said. "I would've probably rather done something on my own, but it was with a new label and new management so it was an opportunity, and we took advantage of it -- for better and worse."
"Q: You pretty much knew right away that William DuVall was your guy, right?
A: We selected William because he just made it his own kind of thing. He didn't try to be a Layne Staley clone. He's been playing with Jerry for 10 years so it was a natural thing. We never set out to replace Layne Staley. He's irreplaceable. He was our family member and one of our best friends."
Both Dominic and Inez, the bassist, seem interested in furthering the fiction that DuVall was "selected" by the band as someone totally different from the "irreplaceable" Staley. As previously discussed, the dudes in the band had not talked to Staley in two years, though the drummer claims to have stalked him with thrice-weekly phone calls ("Three times a week, like clockwork, I'd call him, but he'd never answer. Every time I was in the area, I was up in front of his place yelling for him," he told Rolling Stone.)
The fact of the matter is that DuVall is "Cantrell's go-to man." Cantrell has used him as a surrogate voice for years, just as he did Staley ("I knew that voice was the guy I wanted to be playing with. It sounded like it came out of a 350-pound biker rather than skinny little Layne. I considered his voice to be my voice," Cantrell once said of his late singer.) I'd seriously doubt the other members of the band were in any position to complain when Cantrell called to say the band was re-uniting under the old name with his buddy Will at the mic.
"Q: Did you do much socializing after Layne's death, or was it painful to see each other?
A: It wasn't like we hated each other or anybody was sleeping with anybody's wife. We just couldn't function the way we were functioning before."
As previously discussed, these dudes had not talked to the "singer" of their "band" in two years. The only thing they had to "function" on was the cashing of royalty checks.
"Q: Was there always an idea that you would at some point get Alice in Chains back together?
A: Oh, we never ever thought we would come back together in any capacity. If you would've asked us two years ago if we were ever gonna do another record, the answer would've probably been no, even after the world tour"
Actually, someone did ask Jerry Cantrell that about two years ago. This is what he said:
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"PopMatters: In the future, and there's been an inundation of some of the compilations in the last couple years, is there going to be any more Alice In Chains released? Rare tracks, demos, live?
JC: No. That chapter closed when Layne died. It's done."
Well, he meant "done" for a few years, at least. Then, when his solo career slows down, and Nickelback and Creed aren't touring, maybe he'll get the old band together with a new lead singer like every other band other than Nirvana and The Beatles, who have way too much money to care.
Anyway, I'm sure all music journalists (myself included) have been snookered like Dominic and that's okay. People will never stop taking what artists, junkies, and artistic junkies have to say seriously, it seems. But when the real story of Alice In Chains is written, let's hope it has a little more truth in it than this interview.