My bad habits aren’t my title. My strengths and my talent are my title.
This sentence sums up Layne Staley as both a human being and an artist. A tortured soul who was aware of his own flaws, demons, battles and who tried to do anything in his power to survive and come out stronger. Yet, judged for his addiction and crucified even more by the media who constantly disrespected his depth due to his drug use. Contrary to popular belief, Staley was never an arrogant rock star who encouraged his listeners and fans to use, promoting heroin as a part of the creative process. Aware of his pain, he always remained careful as to warn us of the destructive path hard core drugs can lead one to.
Eighteen years after his tragic passing in 2002, Layne Staley and Alice In Chains are still important music legends whose creation still affect many of us, including me. I can not realise that I will be celebrating my 30th birthday in 2021, next year. I was twenty a decade ago and without even noticing it, I saw a part of my life go away and a new generation was born. As I observe life around me, me being more reclusive than before by choice, I do feel a lot of sadness for the new 20ers of this decade. Modern pop music truly lacks spiritual dimension today. This generation does not even have a revolutionary song to define their decade. They are already too grown and do not dream anymore about a bright future like we would do. Sex, social media and the obsession of money seem to dominate everything. As pop music dumbs down the youth, I reminisce of my post-grunge teenhood and the deep legacy many rock musicians left us back then.
Layne Staley was a part of them. He did not sing for the perfect but for us. He described the pain of the marginalized like no one else. The ugly pain no one born on the right side dares to acknowledge. The pain of an isolated soul, addicted soul, tormented soul, broken man struggling to fit in. I will never truly know what led Staley to go through such depression and sadness but his music echoes with the terrible times we are going through now more than ever.
The Western sphere may possess everything, may be the richest, the most powerful on earth right now, with or without Covid19 but it is more than important to recall that the very same region is plagued by a human crisis. Not a humanitarian crisis but a soul, spiritual crisis. No one knows who they are anymore. The uber industralization, the ultra-promotion of capitalism have contributed to the devaluation of the human being who, without a job or money is not valued, respected and loved as long as he/she does not benefit from capitalism and thus success. Our hospitals can cure the worst diseases but none of them can heal the souls. And most of us need surgery inside. Songs like Man In The Box or Get Born Again illustrate our point. Many of us are disgusted by organized religions which do not even heal or ease the pain left by our inner scars. The religious authorities spiritually abuse more than they protect and guide. The disillusion could have also been a key factor in Layne’s depression. Back in the early 90s, when American society still promoted morals, the young generation to which Staley and the other members of AIC belonged to was already disappointed and angry at institutions which were unable to take care of them in the spirit. The crisis was already there but thirty years later, it has now become more public and yet, it is ignored more than ever. Worst. Denied.
There is an on-going crisis of opioids and hard core drugs as people try to fill a void, asking questions no one dares to answer. The ongoing drug issue-which has always existed and never really left- reveals that our vision of “success” is outdated and can not complete us anymore. The model of “stability” isolates us more than it helps us settle. From a very young age we were taught to respect our parents, never question their authority- even when it is toxic and prevents us from growing-, to go to school, graduate, get a job, a wife/husband, make babies and die.
Throughout this journey, many of us failed to stick to that path and were thrown away as failures of the system. How many future men and women in their 30s do carry degrees, have successful careers or know how to make money and still do not know anything about their own identity and who they are? How many of us truly know what they want? How many of us are still afraid of the critics, of failure? How many of us fear rejection? How many of us? Capitalism promised freedom yet it crushed the beauty of the spirit as it can not be capitalized, for it does not respond to rationality.
Staley’s lyrics were the testament of his time, of the marginalized of the 90s who never fit in anywhere and turned to drugs to escape the harsh reality of forced isolation. Music and success could not spare him as he sings in Nutshell.
The desire to escape through drugs symbolizes the failure of a system whose members remain unable to value the depth of human beings. It’s a pain that Layne Staley has probably felt in his youth when he walked the earth. The feeling of being blamed for the torture of the soul, for being misunderstood and unable to fight against his demons on his own. The suicide of Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell in the past few years does not help either and reveal how, even the most famous celebrities do not escape from this pain.
Acknowledging the social hurt millions of us are going through would sign the end of capitalism and the Western world as money can never fulfill the true desires and needs of one human being. Alice In Chains’ music, with and without Staley, fills in a void within and brings comfort to the doubters and sad souls like us who never feel like they can belong anywhere.
Overshadowed by the overrated band Nirvana, Layne Staley was often asked about his drug addiction and not about the content of his deep lyrics. We will never know what led Layne to go through such difficult path but one thing comes to my mind. Why hasn’t anything changed in a matter of thirty years? Why do mental health is still looked down upon and thrown under the bus, and treated with disdain, as if the patients were the ones who invent, nurture their own sadness and hurt? Are opioids a rentable way for the big pharma lobbies to make more money on the backs of patients who need adequate treatment? Probably.
As Staley never managed to overcome his addiction, his music gives me hope in life. It made me realise how it is more than important to hold onto the smallest manifestation of joy and positivity to carry on and move forward. The Western world has become a nightmare and it has now become difficult to even be able to smile and find the beauty in any form. Joy is a wealth, a treasure that Staley never got to feel by the end of his life. His mother, Nancy McCallum was courageous enough to carry on her son’s legacy by protesting against the opioid crisis in the United States. In reality, Ms McCallum had been campaigning since the 1990s, fighting hard to find a treatment for her son. In vain.
Staley was more than a simple rock star. He was a good human being who taught us through his music. The death of these beloved grunge musicians should also force us, the fans to change our perception of them. We must be too demanding. And why? We simply need to escape a reality we do not want to face anymore. This world does not satisfy us anymore and the sadness we experiment hurts us more than anything. We always need to project ourselves through any other entity so as to survive. And maybe, we are the problem. We probably make them feel even more excluded than loved. Why would we despise ourselves and our strengths so much for the sake of foreign subject? Why can’t we learn how to find the beauty within our selves? Probably because we’ve been shown how to exploit what we have for the sake of others while the elite is careful of their well-beings and make sure to transmit their spiritual wealth to one another.
His music makes me wonder when, at which point did we consider human life and soul to be less valuable than work? When did we proceed to assert that life could be led without the well-being of the spirit? We are going through a human-soul crisis and there’s no one to sing for us this time.
For any issue related to drugs, if you are an addict, please contact Twelve Steps Program and call this number: 1–800–662–4357. It is never too late.