In Seattle gloom, fans honor Staley
by Candace Heckman (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter)
Saturday, April 27, 2002
Bedecked in denim and their melancholy, hundreds of Alice in Chains fans gathered last night at the Seattle Center's International Fountain for a second public tribute to the band's late singer, Layne Staley.
Chill and drizzling rain created the typical Seattle atmosphere that spawned the dysphoric lyrics and musical style that came to be known as "grunge" rock.
People paced circles around the fountain's silver dome. Candles created a ring of fire around the ledge as people called out their own eulogies, shouted "Layne, we love you," and spontaneously burst into song.
Staley's parents and sister made trips around the fountain, hugging friends and accepting condolences from loyal supporters.
"Layne was a hell of a guy," said his father, Phil Staley. "I've watched him outside of concerts sign hundreds and hundreds of autographs. I'd say, 'C'mon, let's go already,' but he'd stay for the longest time. He didn't want to turn anybody down." (Editor's Note: This story has been altered since original publication to correct the identification of Phil Staley.)
The family knew Layne Staley had "a demon," his father said. "Believe me, we ached along with him every day."
Authorities found Staley's body a week ago in his condominium in Seattle's University District. His family had asked police to check on the singer after going a long time without hearing from him.
Forensic investigators discovered that he had been dead for about two weeks. They are awaiting toxicology results to help them determine if Staley, 34, died of a heroin overdose as authorities believe.
Since news of his death was broadcast on television and through press services, rock music enthusiasts and critics worldwide have kept Internet chat and forum sites busy with candid discussion about rock musicians, the industry's drug culture and the illusion of "heroin chic."
In the 1990s, when Seattle sailed atop the popularity of its newfound rock phenomenon, heroin deaths within King County tripled, peaking in 1998 with 144 dead. In 2000, state officials estimated nearly 40,000 addicts.
The city's newest stars made no secret of their trouble with drugs. Some of Alice in Chains' most popular lyrics dealt with heroin abuse. Staley's misery revealed itself in woeful vocals that inspired his angst-ridden fans.
"We all hoped for good news that they were out playing somewhere one night and Layne's trouble would be over," said Eliza Polly, a regular contributor to an Alice in Chains Internet message board who helped promote yesterday's vigil. "I can't explain it -- a love for a rock star."
Although the band had been considered on hiatus for at least five years, at times citing Staley's continuing health trouble and guitarist Jerry Cantrell's solo ambitions, Alice in Chains kept a steady following of supporters.
The band played together for MTV and opened a few concerts for KISS in 1996. In 2000, Sony Music released the "Live" album, comprising previously unreleased older material.
But it was clear to many in Seattle's tight music industry that Staley was losing his private battle.
"He had a lot of pain that couldn't be solved by anybody," said Mark Rachuna, who met Staley in the mid-1980s. "I don't think he intended for this to happen to him. Everybody knew it was an eventuality."
Grunge loyalists last night were enthusiastic about the genre's persistent influence on popular rock music today.
Staley's distinctive, hard voice and the alternative sound that burst out of Seattle music clubs is echoed today in alternative rockers with Billboard hits such as Creed, Default and Nickelback.