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592 pages, Hardcover
First published September 6, 2011
...I had a box of T-shirts, some new designs. And I was so excited. Oh my God, I was so excited: 'Hey, guys! I have something to tell you! We got an offer today...to go...on tour...WITH GUNS N' ROSES!'It would be silly to stretch the WSJ's analogy too far. The diffusiveness of the voices here belies the idea that there was some shared ethos that everyone in the scene believed in; also, as many people have noticed, Nirvana and Alice in Chains, for example, just don't really sound all that similar. And yet there was a commonality, aside from the fact that they were all from the same city (most of them, anyway- Screaming Trees were from central Washington, after all, not Seattle)- even if the bands differed from each other stylistically, their music shared a vision of spiritual alienation that contrasted sharply with the superficiality of the hair-metal that was so en vogue in the late 80s.
They [the members of Soundgarden] didn't say a word. After about 30 seconds- it felt like an eternity- one of them said, 'what's in the box?'
We were these young people from southwest Washington, ill-equipped. We didn't have the emotional support and the experience at all to deal with this. And we were just whisked away- whisked...up into it, and it went up and up and up, like the spaceship Challenger. And then it exploded...Dave and I landed, right? But Kurt didn't.Cobain also had serious stomach problems (he mentions his stomach in his suicide note), and became addicted to heroin along with his wife Courtney Love, who never seems to have experienced any ambivalence at all about fame or attention. Years later, she's still bitching that Kurt should've been on the cover of Time, goddammit, instead of Eddie Vedder. They were all riding Kurt's coattails- Kurt wasn't some small-dicked beta male (her words)! At one point she very strongly insinuates that Buzz Osbourne of The Melvins attempted to murder Cobain with an overdose of heroin, and the author gives Osbourne the opportunity to respond: "that is a complete fabrication made by someone who is insane." The more Courtney spoke, and the more apparent it became that she was incapable of telling an anecdote that didn't in some way reflect positively on herself, the more dubious I became of anything she had to say.
Kurt and I were on the bus between Davenport and Chicago, and Kurt said something like, 'I don't know how you do it.' Kurt was just fuckin' loaded on pills, and I said something like, 'You just gotta want to do it bad enough.' What I regret not saying is, 'You need to dump your junkie wife, because you're not going to be able to do this while you're in a partnership with someone who's also an enthusiast.'A number of the interview subjects wrestle with the idea that there was something they should have done or said to help a friend escape addiction. Alice in Chains is my favorite of the Seattle bands, and so it's especially sad to read about Layne Staley and what was essentially his prolonged suicide. He died in '02, but started using heroin in the early 90s with his girlfriend Demri. As a friend named Johnny Bacolas remembers,
Layne and Demri [told] me they started doing dope and how wonderful it was, and right then I knew they were goners. You can just tell [with] certain people...they're lifers. Someone- don't want to say who- brought [Layne] some heroin because they couldn't find any coke. And he tried it, and he said that was the first time he really thanked God. He literally looked up to the sky and said, 'thank you for this feeling.'By most accounts, Staley was a sweet, humble and unassuming guy who really was tortured. Bacolas remembers a night they spent together at Lake Chelan, in Washington:
Layne was trying to kick heroin that weekend, as well. That was really the reason he went on that camping trip, to try to clean up...one night, he drank quite a bit, and him and I are on this beach. We ended up sitting at this little bridge over the lake. He was very, very depressed- it was basically the withdrawals- and he just grabbed me and started crying. And he told me that he wanted to kill himself. He, in my mind, was considering doing it right then and there at that bridge...A few years later, after the band's success is behind them, Nick Pollock runs into Layne, now around 30, in downtown Seattle:
We ended up going to this parking lot, and there's probably 30 cars there, all blasting music. People smoking weed and drinking beer. All teenagers. We had the windows down, we were just parked, smoking cigarettes. Some kids recognized Layne, and they were like, 'Dude, there's Layne Staley!' And the other guys were like, 'no, it's not. He wouldn't be in Lake Chelan.'
And they all came up to the car, probably 15 kids, and they're like, 'If you're Layne Staley, prove it.' And Layne was just looking straight ahead. Sunglasses on, 2 o'clock in the morning, wouldn't even acknowledge them. Finally, one of the guys pulls up in a truck, cranks 'No Excuses', and he goes, 'If you're Layne Staley, sing along!'
And Layne started singing. Verse, chorus. Nailed it, exactly like it sounded on the record. All the kids were like, 'holy shit, it's fuckin' him!'...and then [Layne's] like, 'Let's get out of here!' And then we drove off.'
I was in such shock because he was like a skeleton. His skin was gray. I don't remember him having any teeth. We had a nice conversation- "let's get together", the usual things people say- but this is surreal. This is a nightmare. I don't even know who I'm talking to. My friend, but not my friend.I'd prefer to picture him that night at the lake, though. There were survivors, of course, or provisional survivors. Chris Cornell of Soundgarden had gotten clean and eventually created Audioslave with the former members of Rage Against the Machine- 'Like a Stone' was always nice to hear on the radio in the mid-00s- and had seemed to transition into that phase of life when the days of self-hatred and compulsiveness were behind him, and he'd made it through (or it might have at least seemed that way to younger people like myself, who would like to believe in the existence of such a stage of life). But he hanged himself in a hotel room in Detroit in spring of '17, possibly having taken too much or the wrong mixture of prescribed medications- I still don't really understand what happened, and I'm not sure that anyone does. Less than a year later, Dolores O'Riordan of The Cranberries, whose voice was just as distinctive as Cornell's and puts me just as much in mind of the 90s (more so, actually, even though The Cranberries obviously were not from Seattle, considering that The Rat used to play 'Zombie' and 'Ode to My Family' about 10x as often as 'Outshined' and 'Black Hole Sun'), died in a hotel room in London, drowned in her bathtub while drunk, which seems to have been an accident.
...there was a time when I thought I didn't have any choice in the matter, when I spent almost a year in various 'situations': jail, rehab, halfway house. And just through the sheer fact that I wasn't able to get outside, so to speak- and also because I really just did not want to live that way any longer- for me it wasn't hard. It was the end of a nightmare that had lasted for years and years. I had always hoped that I would be able to stop, but I never was able to. Eventually, I was. A lot of that had to do with changing my way of thinking on a great many things...some battles you just have to give up. I was pretty stubborn, I thought I could do a lot of things myself...[but] the smartest guys I knew are not around anymore, because they thought they could think their way out of an unthinkable situation.Never heard of Mark Lanegan? I hadn't, either. But that's okay. He didn't become especially famous, didn't become the voice of a generation, but he got to stay alive. Or, as an Alice in Chains song goes,
We were these young people from southwest Washington, ill-equipped. We didn't have the emotional support and the experience at all to deal with this. And we were just whisked away - whisked, whisked up into it, and it went up and up and up and up, like the spaceship Challenger. And then it exploded. It's like, Dave and I landed, right? But Kurt didn't.
Tom goes, 'That's fucking Duff!' There's this fucking wanker wearing a bullet belt , with his pants tucked into his cowboy boots. His hair is all teased out and long and crazy. You know, Hollywood butt-rocker guy. 'Duff, what's goin' on? Look at you, man!'
He goes, 'Got this band goin'. It's goin' really well.'
'What's it called?'
He sighs. 'It's the singer's name.' He whispered it: 'It's called Guns 'n' Roses.' Yeah, he was embarrassed. He used to be in a band called The Vains, man. Guns 'n' Roses?! 'The singer is calling himself Axl.'
Guns 'n' Roses. Axl. We're all laughin'. 'Wow, how magnificent!' I go, 'That sounds like fuckin' shit. Good luck with that, you freak.' But he was super good-natured about it.
The band laughed about it for a couple of days. 'Duff's doing metal!'
Then, fuck, two years later: 'Welcome to the jungle!'