Ten years ago today, Layne Staley's body was found in his apartment by his mother and police. He'd been there for two weeks and weighed 86 pounds.
Unlike nearly every other rock star who dies young, Layne Staley's fatal OD has not locked him into the rock canon. Soundgarden, Nirvana and Pearl Jam still overshadow Alice's best releases, and a media that somehow romanticizes suicide, murder and drowning victims can do nothing for Staley. Maybe that's for the best--Alice in Chains' lifestyles and career choices don't matter when their music is on.
"I Stay Away" and its music video (a claymation story about a circus gone to Hell) will be interpreted as a foreboding statement on Staley's demise, but it's best heard for the loveliest riff that Jerry Cantrell ever recorded. I like how the verses switch acoustic major to electric minor wahs, leading right into an uplifting (!?) chorus. Layne Staley was most alive when he sang about dying.
I barely notice the violins, but I also can't imagine the song without them. How many other grunge bands would attempt something like that?
In 2010 I saw Alice in Chains with their new singer, William DuVall. It's hard to imagine a better replacement for Staley, both as a vocalist and performer. But it also felt like seeing Ronnie James Dio replace Ozzy Osbourne. DuVall has more range, and is surely easier to work with. But he's no Layne Staley.