REMEMBERING LAYNEY STALEY: “RIVER OF DECEIT”
Layne Staley only recorded six studio albums in five years — and yet his inimitable voice influenced an entire generation of singers. To commemorate his death ten years ago, members of the MetalSucks staff will be discussing their favorite Staley performances throughout the day.
I’m part of that last gasping generation that considered what was on the radio a fundamental part of the music-listening experience. Following the activities of our favorite artists required obsessively poring over magazines for clues and logging considerable time with the dial of a home or car stereo, enduring commercial after repetitive commercial for a chance to hear something new between breaks. So in January of 1995, when Pearl Jam “took over” several alt rock stations, it was a bit of an event. I sat in my bedroom like any cluelessly angst-ridden teen, attentively listening to (and tape-recording) the four-hour long combination of live performance, goofing off, and disc-jockeying that comprised this so-called Self-Pollution Radio.
Amidst the barely-controlled chaos and Frogs worship, a momentous mini-set unfolded from the veritable supergroup Mad Season, which consisted of Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees), Mike McCready (Pearl Jam), John Baker Saunders (The Walkabouts), and frontman Layne Staley. Decidedly more bluesy and in harmony with Americana than the manic metallic desperation of Alice In Chains, the two tracks unveiled on the program, “Lifeless Dead” and “I Don’t Know Anything,” would later appear on their sole LP, entitled Above. Yet the real gem of this lost classic came in the form of “River Of Deceit,” a unique spiritual ballad that fulfilled a promise hinted at on the exquisite acoustic Jar Of Flies EP.
Distinct from anything else on the air at the time, “River Of Deceit” cast a melancholic pallor over the airwaves. It’s too tempting as both a critic and a sympathetic sort not to read into the lyrics. Deep in drug addiction, Staley had evidently been reading Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, its influence undoubtedly present. “My pain is self-chosen / At least I believe it to be.” Depending on how you read or hear that, it is either a marker of pre-enlightenment self-awareness or a damning acknowledgement of an inability to escape a destructive cycle. We know how it played out here.