Book Review: Alice In Chains - The Untold Story

An incredibly detailed account of the band and its troubled lead singer

Even those unfamiliar with Seattle’s 90s music scene will most likely know that Alice In Chains were part of a group of bands from that place and era that would reach international stardom.

Quite how these bands and the Seattle scene in general started isn’t exactly shrouded in mystery either but those wanting to know a whole lot more about Alice In Chains in a level of detail that’s not been published before will find ‘Alice In Chains - The Untold Story’ a fascinating read.

Journalist David De Sola goes into a level of detail rarely seen in any biography, blending interviews, first hand accounts and anecdotes into a painstakingly researched account of one of Seattle’s biggest bands and the rise and fall of their troubled singer, Layne Staley.

It is Staley who takes centre stage in the book, his troubles with heroin and many other substances recounted by those who knew him. His issues with substances are well documented but what The Untold Story also does is shine Layne in a different light, as someone with a great sense of humour and a good friend to those around him.

The detail in the book is a little overwhelming on occasion and can be a little tedious earlier on, while the style of writing sometimes reads more like an essay than a story. This is understandable though; De Sola is writing about other people’s experiences and past reports and tying this all together into a coherent story is no mean feat. Members of Alice In Chains, including founding guitarist Jerry Cantrell, didn’t want to take part in the book but De Sola has managed to find and piece together an incredible amount of matching accounts from those around the band at the time to inform the reader of how Cantrell put together the band and how they ascended from humble beginnings to international stardom.

Layne’s descent into his death is a tragic account and the book manages to give us some sense of how the singer of one of Seattle’s most successful bands alienates himself in order to sustain his drug addiction.

“He had a baseball cap on, he had glasses down to the end of his nose, and not very many teeth. It shocked me at first. It looked like death. It was gross.” Randy Biro, Alice in Chains collaborator

Towards the end of his life, Layne was barely recognisable, becoming unimaginably thin and even losing his teeth. The book describes how even those who knew him failed to recognise him as his addiction took full control of his body.

Susan Silver Management organized a Christmas party that year, held at a bar in the U District. Randy Biro, a musician who contributed vocals to the 1994 AIC EP Jar of Flies, went to the party, along with his former roommate Kevin Shuss, who has worked with Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam over the years.

“Hey, Layne wants to see you,” Shuss told Biro at the party.

“Great, where is he?”

“He’s right behind you.”

Biro turned around. “I’m looking past this really skinny, fucked-up looking guy trying to see where Layne is, and it was Layne. I felt really awkward.”

“He had a baseball cap on, he had glasses down to the end of his nose, and not very many teeth. It shocked me at first. It looked like death. It was gross.” Jim Elmer doesn’t know exactly when Layne’s tooth loss started, but thinks it was around 1995 or 1996 and said it was a gradual process.

Layne invited Biro to check out his condo, which was around the corner from the bar. He described Layne as being very proud about his home. Layne had a massive rear-projection TV. “The fucking thing was huge. I’d never seen a TV that big. He had gotten it through the label some way, and all he did was sit there and get high and play video games all day.”

Biro, who was clean, asked, “Wow, have you got anything?” - referring to drugs.

“Yeah, but I’m not gonna give it to you.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’re clean. I’m not gonna be part of this. If you need to go do that, you do it somewhere else. I don’t want to be part of it. I don’t want you to end up like me again.” That was the last time Biro saw him.

Alice In Chains - The Untold Story isn’t quite an ‘untold’ story. There is a plethora of accounts of the grunge scene and Layne Staley but this book tells it through the eyes of those who were there and will be more than enough to satisfy both Alice In Chains and grunge fans alike.

Excerpt from Alice in Chains by David de Sola. Copyright © 2015 by the author.

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