13 July 2008

Staley in Chains

Recently, I rented the Alice in Chains episode of Unplugged. This 1996 concert was their first performance as a group in nearly 3 years. It was, in a sense, the end of the third movement of Layne Staley's symphony of self-destruction. (The fourth movement started when his girlfrield died and ended, of course, with his own death.) This is a remarkable performance. The music is good, but it is the other layers of the performance that really gripped me.

Staley himself is obviously in desperately bad shape. He is thin, pale, stoned or just plain out of it, missing teeth. He has trouble sitting upright at times and at times forgets the words to the songs. There are moments, though, when he loses himself inside one of the songs and goes to a place away from his present pains. It's a sad comment on his life that immersing himself in songs about drug abuse, depression, and suicide could make him feel better. It was sad to see, but it also made me think about the effort it had taken him to get onto that stage and how much the music meant to him.

A few feet to Staley's left is Jerry Cantrell, who had been Layne Staley's friend and musical partner for a long time. It is obvious that he is very happy to be on the stage with his friend playing their music together again. He seems to be so proud of Staley. There is clearly a lot of love between them. That makes it heartbreaking to see Cantrell pull out of the music time and again to watch Staley as if he is afraid to see him fall off the stool or as if he thinks it might be the last time they play together.

I have been the person watching a beloved friend destroy himself slowly. I know what it is like to see one of the good days after you have learned that they are only bright interludes in a dark slide. I don't think I have ever seen this complex bundle of feelings captured on film so well.

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