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How ‘Black Gives Way to Blue’ Helped Alice in Chains Say Goodbye to Layne Staley

Frank Micelotta Archive, Getty Images
Frank Micelotta Archive, Getty Images

In 2009, seven years after original lead singer Layne Staley died, the surviving members of Alice in Chains reunited, with new vocalist William DuVall, for Black Gives Way to Blue. Its title track and closing song deals with Staley’s death, and, in a new interview, guitarist Jerry Cantrell says that the song was necessary in order to proceed with the reunion.

“That song really set it in stone, because we had to properly address Layne’s death and say goodbye to our friend,” he told Metal Hammer. “We had done it privately, but if we were going to do this, we had to do it publicly. It’s a beautiful song and it’s still really tough for me to listen to.”

The song, which features Elton John on piano, doesn’t specifically mention Staley, but it’s not hard to make the connection to him, particularly with the last verse. “Curtains drawn, now it’s done / Silencing all tomorrows / Forcing a goodbye.”

Staley died of a fatal mixture of heroin and cocaine on April 5, 2002. His body was discovered two weeks later in his Seattle apartment that was littered with drugs and drug paraphernalia. In his hand was a syringe with another dose of heroin. Although Alice in Chains had not broken up, they had been mostly inactive since they opened up for Kiss in July 1996, with a couple of songs recorded in 1998 as Staley’s last sessions with the band.

At the time of his death, Staley weighed only 86 pounds. Coincidentally, it was eight years to the day that the biggest star of the Seattle alternative scene of the early ’90s, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, died of a self-inflicted shotgun blast.

Released in September 2009, Black Gives Way to Blue peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and was certified gold. The album received Grammy nominations in consecutive years, both in the Best Hard Rock Performance category, for “Check My Brain” (2010) and “A Looking in View” (2011).

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