When I was 15 I took a vacation to stay with my Uncle and his family. They lived about 30 minutes south of Seattle. Because I didn’t know my uncle, aunt or cousin very well (and because I’m a rather bookish fellow anyway) I spent most of the first in their vast library getting to know John Steinbeck. I remember that very well because Of Mice and Men is still the only book to ever bring tears to my eyes.
That’s not to say David de Sola’s biography of Alice in Chains didn’t come really damn close.
I’m not sure what I was expecting from this book. I knew it would probably be a downer. It’s like the movie Titanic, you know how it’s going to end. It’s not like I thought it would be a laugh-a-minute page turner like Paul Beatty’s The Sellout or a thought provoking satire a la Chuck Pahalniuk, but sometimes you’re just not prepared. Hats off to Mr. de Sola, somebody had to write this book and I’m glad it wasn’t me. I guess I was hoping more of that joyful humor that characterized their interviews and TV appearances would be at the forefront. It’s definitely present, but not enough to offset the darkness.
I don’t think calling it “The Untold Story” is accurate. It is the story that everyone knows, only it goes a little deeper and features credible sources. I was really interested in reading about time spent in the studio and what they did to get their sound. It’s amazing that “Angry Chair” has something like 19 different vocal tracks. I was also surprised to read that Layne didn’t start heroin until after Facelift. I always assumed “Real Thing” was about trying to kick that habit.
I did find it surprising that Mike Starr and Mike Inez usually wrote their own bass lines. I always assumed Jerry Cantrell had a big hand in that because of the similarities between “Rooster” and “No Excuses.” I was also surprised to read that Jerry and Sean Kinney claim to have never taken heroin. I always thought they were guilty by association. The book does talk about Kinney’s alcoholism and Cantrell’s addictions, though it never mentions a drug of choice for him.
My biggest bitch with the book is that it’s more of a biography of Layne Staley than of AIC. I suppose this makes sense because he was the face of the band and the one who put the whole thing together, but I would have liked to learn more about Jerry, Sean and the Mikes. There was a lot more detail on Layne’s longtime girlfriend Demri Parrott (pronounced Pear-o) and Mad Season bassist John Baker Saunders than of his AIC band mates. I understand that the deaths of these people affected Staley in a profound way, and thus affected AIC in a profound way, but I would have liked more info about what the band was doing.
I’m sure this is a must-read for any die hard Alice in Chains fans. And it is worth the time and money as it is greatly researched and nicely written. Casual fans may enjoy it too, but you might want to get a library copy.