Monday, June 7, 2010

Two by Alice in Chains -- "No Excuses" from the CD EP Jar of Flies and "Would?" from the CD Dirt

Jar of Flies CD coverAlice in Chains Dirt CD cover

If it ever comes to pass that you fall in love with a girl, yet still somehow understand that there are fundamental differences you'll never get past, well, "No Excuses" would be a real good song for the two of you to pick as your own.

When Gravity Fails by Geo Alec Effinger cover by Jim BurnsI've been re-reading an SF classic by the name of When Gravity Fails lately; once upon a time, it taught me the Arabic word Inshallah, meaning, 'if Allah wills.' It is used by speakers of Arabic, if George Alec Effinger is to be believed, as a way to frame their dealings, their actions, and their relationships, in such a way that they can remove the worry and the heartache from them. Many Americans say, "it is what it is" in a less successful attempt to frame things the same way.

Anyhow, when the bad shit goes down as it inevitably must for the two of you, you each can look to "No Excuses" to cut through the lifetime of hatred and bitterness.

It works, sorta.

Amazing that a band most known for its anguished heroin anthems could provide something so . . . utile . . . for damaged hearts and dashed dreams, but there you have it. You're my friend I will defend, even after the whole thing turns to shit.

* * * * * * *

A funny thing about that heroin anthem reputation, too: the band received it because of their addicted and doomed lead singer, Layne Staley. But Staley didn't have a writing credit on everything the band did. "Would?" was about heroin just as surely as most every other Chains song was, but was written by Jerry Cantrell, not Layne Staley.

Not that you can figure it out from the opaque words ("Teach thee on child of love hereafter"), but Cantrell has said that "Would?" is about the death of Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood. But really, I think "Would?" is one of those songs that represents a little stronger if you let the vocals wash over you devoid of meaning; that way you never have to consider the possibility that it's all so much anguished gibberish.

I can't help but think of "Stairway to Heaven," not just for the music's depth but for the way it progresses orderly through its chapters. "Would?" has a real opium den kind of vibe as it begins, intoxicating, Middle Eastern, our friend Marid Audrin invoked once more. Then it speeds up some and gets heavy, then it gets dreamy again, then it speeds up, then it speeds up some more, and then it ends, one of the few songs I can think of where its last note is the heaviest of all.

"Would?" was one of the best songs of the '90's, I'll say it to my grave, produced at that very special time when rock radio was playing better music than college radio was. In thinking about that time, in thinking about Alice in Chains, people invoke the word grunge, but in reality, Alice in Chains did so many things well it's not fair to circumscribe their legacy in such a fashion.

Cantrell--influenced in his youth by Okie country/western, mind you--always refers to AiC as "metal" and never as "grunge." Though his band and many of the Sub Pop groups did have a shared fascination with heroin, I think Cantrell's distinction is an accurate one.

Stevie Guitar MillerI remember an interview with Steve Miller I once read. The interviewer asked Miller some question or the other about Jimi Hendrix, and referred to Hendrix' tragic death or some such. I have never forgotten Miller's response. As our truths have more and more been drowned out by the politically correct niceties, his response was a classic of contrarian plainspokenness. He said that no way was Hendrix' death a tragedy. All it was, was a big waste, and that his (Miller's) primary emotional response to it was anger that such a talent could ever be so stupid as to throw himself, his gift, and all the work he might have done away for no good reason at all.

I don't remember where I was when I heard Layne Staley had died. But I do remember my immediate response, which was: what a fucking idiot, for doing the exact thing everyone had predicted for him. What a fucking loser, with all that ability, to end up dead, and therefore precisely unable to surprise us in our jaded predictions. Like Hendrix, Staley threw it all away for no good fucking reason that I can see. And like Miller, my immediate response is anger.

This anger is, however, mediated somewhat, and you can be sure not by the AiC reunion that's been going on since last year.

In the end, I think that Alice in Chains is best represented not by their best song, which is pretty clearly "Would?" but by their most melancholy one, which at least to my mind is "No Excuses." Layne Staley was incredibly selfish for disrespecting his fans and his talent in such a way. But Cantrell, on consideration, had built forgiveness into the band when he wrote "No Excuses." And if Cantrell can forgive the guy, then I suppose that Layne Staley is equal to at least the same forgiveness his band's song enables me to find for my long-ago love.

Alice In Chains - Jar of Flies - 04 No Excuses.mp3

File under: Surcease

Alice In Chains - Dirt - 13 Would.mp3

These files were removed July 22, 2010. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.

File under: Heroin Rock

1 comment:

Daniel said...

This is a fuckin' great text, man. Congratulations. Loved it.