Chris Cornell On Layne Staley’s Death: ‘It’s Harder To Find A Silver Lining’

Chris Cornell discussed Mad Season and how listening to Above in preparation for his performance with the band’s surviving members earlier this year at Benayora Hall in January.  Read the quote below from an interview with WMMR, as transcribed by Alternative Nation.

“When I was asked to do that, what came next was listening to the original recordings, which was listening to Layne sing in headphones over and over to learn it, and feel like I really knew it. That was kind of unexpected, I don’t want to say dark, but it was tough, because I hadn’t really done that. Listening to his voice intimately, and sing those words and sing those songs, it definitely sort of forced me to reckon with what happened in his life, and the fact that he’s not around anymore. I think that’s tough for everybody that knew him, as it is for anyone that loses someone who is a friend that is young, or that affects your life, just fans of his even.

I think that sometimes almost the bigger tragedy in a weird way is all of the future imagined creative projects that could have happened that didn’t. I feel the same way about lots of brilliant people who die young, kind of senselessly especially. If it’s an accident you feel like it’s an act of God, but if you feel like they did it somehow, it’s sort of harder to reconcile. It’s hard to find a silver lining, but it doesn’t change what he did at all.”

He was also asked if he would do more with Mad Season after the Benayora Hall performance earlier this year. “It’s not really something that we talked about, no. We might do something else some day (laughs), who knows?”

  • Felonious Punk

    He’s right though, there is something intimate and disconcerting about Layne’s words on the Mad Season stuff. Maybe because the lyrical responsibility fell entirely on Layne, since there was no Jerry in Mad Season. You can notice immediately that the songs on Above are much more personal than the ones he wrote at the same time for Alice’s S/T record.

    • Corndog

      After one run through recently the only songs i liked were the ones where Lanegan sang. I plan to give it another listen though, see if it grows on me.

      • halcyon

        I doubt it will if it hasn’t already. I guess that they either strike a chord or they don’t.

        • Corndog

          I don’t know. I often find that the music I come to love most is the stuff that really doesn’t grab me first time around, so you never know.

      • Felonious Punk

        It takes some time to sink in. I naturally gravitate towards the Lanegan songs as well, but that’s just because I like him better as a singer. But I don’t think Layne ever got as personal on record as he did on the Mad Season stuff.

    • halcyon

      I think that some of Layne’s songs on that album are very personal, such as Frogs, God Am, Shame in you, Again, Sludge Factory, but they do have a slightly different mood to them and were written from a slightly different perspective reflecting rather (but not entirely) Layne’s existence in the band than him as an individual outside of this context. At least, that’s my take on it.

      • Felonious Punk

        I generally agree. That’s why I think Jerry had the most influence over AIC, as opposed to MS being a supergroup collaborative effort.

        Shame In You is one of my favorite AIC songs on self-titled, but that song and the others Layne wrote for that record wouldn’t have jived with the stuff he wrote for Above if they were all on the same album.

        • halcyon

          He definitely had. I even think Layne was not entirely happy about it and would have preferred a bit different direction in music. I think it’s telling that Layne said that Above was the record he was most proud of.

          Yes, I agree.

        • dakotablue

          Jerry had the most influence over AIC? Don’t think so. Without Layne the Chains would’ve been a good band, even a great one, but Layne’s vocals, lyrics and presence made them extraordinary.
          Look at them now with Duvall if you don’t believe me (nothing against Duvall–he’s very good, but he doesn’t lift them to the heights like Layne.)

          • Felonious Punk

            I disagree with you completely here.

            Jerry was always the engine behind that band. He wrote the lion’s share of the songs, he came up with the riffs, he kept the band afloat when Layne and the others were spiraling off into drug addiction.

            I honestly think Layne’s role in AIC was overrated. Yes, he was a great singer and yes, he wrote a handful of great songs with them, but without Jerry, they wouldn’t have been anywhere near as great.

            I also think a lot of the criticisms leveled against William are unfair. He’s not up there trying to be Layne or replace Layne’s legacy. He’s up there playing with friends, helping a band he’s known and loved for years continue to release music. Have you ever seen him live? Dude is a powerhouse up there, vocally and professionally. I think those last two albums AIC released were every bit as good and as true as the stuff they did with Layne in the 90s.

            If the shoe were on the other foot, and William had been the original singer who died and Layne had been the one who stepped in later, people would be savaging Layne’s voice compared to William’s in the context of AIC. It’s just what people know and have grown with.

          • halcyon

            I do agree with the second and fourth paragraph, but I totally disagree that Layne was overrated.
            I also agree that, without Jerry, AIC wouldn’t have been anywhere near as great, but the same is, IMHO, true of Layne. I like Jerry’s solo records, but that’s it, I like it. They are not as captivating as his work with Layne. I wonder what Layne’s solo album would have been like, had he released it. Maybe I wouldn’t have found it as good as his work with AIC (or Mad Season). I think their collaboration is what made the band great and it’s impossible to tell whose contribution was bigger or more valuable.

            As regards the last paragraph, I don’t think so for the reasons mentioned in my response to dakotablue. People wouldn’t be so passionate about William, as they are for Layne, because Layne had the ability to convey his emotions in a way which people find easy to relate to and identify with.
            The way I see it, William is more rational, whereas Layne was more emotional and people who listen to music in order to have an emotional experience (of any kind) will not find William that interesting. Of course, there are people who listen to music for different reasons, but they do not tend to be that passionate about musicians. I don’t think that the whole polemic about William concerns his technical skills or how his voice sounds (i.e. his timbre) but his ability to instill feelings in his audience.
            Besides, does William’s original band has a strong following? I’m not being sarcastic, I simply don’t know.
            And my impression is that Jerry’s solo records were not that successful as any AIC album with Layne or Above, so I guess this might suggest that there actually is a certain (“objectively quantifiable”) magnetism about Layne which is not that easy to replicate.

          • dakotablue

            I agree with your disagreement that Layne was overrated!

          • dakotablue

            I certainly did not savage William, if you read what I said. And yes, I’ve seen him live so does that make me more credible to comment on him?
            Layne wrote way more than a handful of great songs with AIC–I’ve enumerated on this before on this site so won’t do it again, look it up.
            I think Jer’s a great guitarist, riff writer and harmony vocalist. But if he was the engine and kept the band afloat, why was there no new great music while Layne was absent (I mean still alive, though)? Unless by “afloat” you mean he kept them playing the old hits.

          • Felonious Punk

            I never said *you* particularly were savaging William, DB. I was talking about the conglomerate of “fans” out there who think that AIC suck and have no right to continue just because Layne is gone.

            And yes, if you’ve seen William perform live, then you DO have more of a leg to stand on when saying “he’s not as good as Layne” because at least you’ve seen him perform and know how good he can sound, even if you still like Layne better. That’s your opinion and at least its an informed one, as opposed to countless others who just go “No Layne? Who’s this new guy?? Fuck AIC!”

            As far as AIC being stagnant in Layne’s last five years…how would it have been received if Jerry and Mike and Sean had pulled an STP and said “You know what? Fuck this guy, we’re moving on with a new singer.”? But they never did that. They waited for Layne to clean up, even tried to go into the studio with him for the Music Bank boxset to record new songs, then waited seven years after he passed before they would even approach the idea of making music together again. Sounds to me like they were honoring a friend and continue to do so to this day, William included.

            But imagine *if* the other three had moved on without Layne in 1998 or so. What would it have sounded like? Probably exactly like the last two albums they’ve released, because they changed very little about themselves even after Layne was gone. For a band of their stature, you couldn’t ask for much more when it comes to integrity.

          • halcyon

            I do think that Jerry had the most influence over AIC (in terms of who controlled their musical direction, not in terms of who contributed most to the music they wrote), but, at the same time, I agree totally with you that, without Layne, they wouldn’t have been extraordinary and wouldn’t have become the band they are. I like the records with William and he’s obviously a great singer, but, at least from my point of view, William lacks the charisma Layne had. He also writes music from a different perspective which is, in my opinion, harder to relate to than Layne’s music and is less personal. People don’t get so passionate about William – other than in connection with the fact that he replaced Layne, but he doesn’t get the same (sometimes overly) emotional response Layne gets and I haven’t noticed anyone commenting any of William’s songs as having been deeply touched by it, which, of course, doesn’t make him any worse as a musician (in “technical” terms), but this is, in my opinion, the reason why the band wouldn’t have had such a strong following (or, their fan base would have been a bit or completely different), had William been their singer from the very beginning. I might be wrong, obviously.

          • dakotablue

            To be fair, I don’t think William has really had a chance to show what he can do songwriting-wise. I look forward to hearing him.

          • Felonious Punk

            I know you don’t much care for “newer” AIC, but have you spent some time with their last album? William upped his songwriting game considerably on TDPDH. His songs are some of the most interesting of the bunch.

            I know a lot of people had gripes with that album, but to me, it’s every bit as epic as stuff like Dirt and S/T.

          • dakotablue

            I probably need to give that Dinosaurs album another listen. First impression was it wasn’t too special, but like Corndog I often change my mind (for the better) after hearing songs several times. Although more often I love something immediately and then play it to death.
            Not caring for the newer AIC? I spent a wad of my hard-earned cash to see them not too long ago, so that’s not true. The concert was great, but Duvall didn’t really step out at all.

          • Felonious Punk

            Dinosaurs takes some warming up to, because it’s so long, monstrous and dense. But once you begin to familiarize yourself with the songs, it reveals itself as this epic statement in their discography. And like I said, William’s songs are top-notch on that album.

    • Billy

      i like the fact that he acknowledges that Layne`s death was avoidable so it`s harder to reconcile.
      The lyrics of Mad Season seemed more like Help me, i`m fucked up vs the lyrics for self titled AIC record were more defiant about being written off as a junkie.

      • halcyon

        Was it, really? Some people are troubled so deeply that virtually nothing can divert them from their self-destructive path. I don’t know if this was Layne’s case but I’m not sure about what Chris says, either.
        X-Ray Mind or I’m Above are not that topically different from his other defiant songs on AIC records. I don’t see the message of the songs on Above as being: “Help me, I’m fucked up.” More like: “I fucked up and I’ve come to realize there’s not much I can do about it.”
        “Asking (God – interestingly enough) for help” is rather a part of his introspective process, IMHO.

        • Billy

          1)wake up- Slow suicide’s no way to go Wake up
          2)artifical- Is this the way I spend my days In recovery of a fatal disease
          3) river of deciet- My pain… is self-chosen

          AIC Self titled-
          1) Grind- In the darkest hole, you’d be well advised. Not to plan my funeral ‘fore the body dies
          2) Head creeps- Time to call the doggies off, Tired of the shadowin’
          3) Sludge factory-Look in my eyes deep and watch the clouds change with time 20 hours won’t print my picture milk carton size

          idk, to me it seems pretty clear of the different mind set for the lyrics. AIC it’s like screw you, i ain’t done yet, whereas in mad season it’s like man, i’m struggling.

          • halcyon

            I guess it strongly depends on how you choose to interpret the lyrics of those songs, you can find similar songs on AIC S/T – IMHO, there’s the same resignation, pessimism, loss of willpower and pain as on Above:
            1) Frogs:
            Next week I’ll be 28…

            I’m still young, it’ll be me…

            Off the wall I scrape… you…

            I can’t wake, I gotta wake…

            To cause this wake, I gotta wake no more..
            2) Shame in you:
            When I waken, and I’m achin’, time for sleepin, yeah (…)
            When I’m layin, I’m still tryin, concentrating on dyin’, yeah
            3) Brush Away:
            I could use some time to curl away (…)
            I try to get away, and yet I stick around

            1) Grind is Jerry’s song.
            2) This line in Head creeps clearly refers to his issues with fame, journalists looking for scandals – doggies shadowing him (crazed fans probably as well) – X-ray Mind and I’m Above are about the same thing
            3) Sludge factory is about Layne dealing with the people from their record company. This line is, in my opinion, about Layne getting high with another person (probably the hypocritical record company guy who is high as well but criticizes Layne for using drugs), forgetting about time, claiming that the police will only be contacted (i.e. that his picture may only be printed on a milk carton, if he’s legally classed as missing) if he’s absent for at least 24 hours – so missing for 20 hours is still “ok”
            Overall, it’s about the pressure of songwriting, the record company guy calls him up urging him to work on a song, giving him an absurd deadline, asking him to deliver his best – “There’s no pressure besides brilliance let’s say by day 9”
            Actually, this line: “Call me up congratulations ain’t the real why” – refers to a moment, when a guy from the record company called him up to congratulate him on the fact that Above had been certified gold and prompted him to work on the Tripod album

            All in all, I don’t see much of the “screw you” attitude on the Tripod album, but, then again, it’s only my interpretation. I think that it was already on their second album where Layne fully admitted that he was struggling (however, there were some hints on Facelift, too), even though the defiance in those songs was definitely more apparent (particularly in Junkhead).

          • Billy

            It’s totally about interpretation and i can see what u mean as well. Maybe it’s also the in your face nature of the AIC music that makes it seem more defiant/defensive lol

          • halcyon

            Probably. I also think that the perception of his music depends on the perception of Layne’s personality. I most likely tend to see him a bit differently but I appreciate your opinion.

          • dakotablue

            Yeah, but in the middle of that defiance/defensiveness there are many moments of great longing and sadness.

          • Billy

            tons of it. This was a tortured man and he wasn’t shy about writing about his feelings

  • Bilbo

    I still get the creeps every time I listen to Frogs…

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  • dakotablue

    There is no silver lining.
    Only tears for what is gone and what was lost.