Warm Beer, Homelessness, and Alice In Chains
On New Year’s Day 1993 I woke up in my Olds Cutlass on Fitzwater Street in South Philadelphia. As I watched people making their way toward Broad Street to watch the Mummer’s Parade, I cracked one of the warm beers I had and popped a cassette tape of Alice In Chains SAP ep into the player. I looked to my right and saw my buddy’s apartment that I had been staying with. When I’d gotten to his place earlier that morning, he’d slammed the door in my face. Something about $100 that went missing from his room. A lot of nerve I had stealing from a guy that was letting me crash at his place after I’d been evicted from my apartment. On top of that, he was the guitar player in my band. So, that was the end of
that. Homeless, bandless, no place to go. I had no idea just how much worse things where about to get. I lit a cigarette and blew smoke across the dashboard. Rubbed my hands together, trying to get some heat moving through my frozen fingers. Looking over at my buddy’s place again, I sang along with the tape.
“Inside, always tryin’ to get back inside. But it’s so hard to penetrate pig-thick skin.”
Cocaine is hell of drug. Some people say that certain smells, colors, textures of clothing, tastes of certain foods, can immediately transport them to a time or a place from their past. That sometimes when they’re upset and can’t identify the reason, it’s because they saw someone wearing a certain color. Or smelled their
perfume, or tasted some food that person had prepared. And their reaction, or overreaction to that person had nothing to do with what was happening in the present, but the memory of some trauma from a long time ago. I guess that’s how powerful our senses are. For me though, it’s always been music. That day on Fitzwater is as alive to me right now as I’m typing this as it was when I stumbled out of my car in my Doc Marten’s looking like the Undertaker. And it was thinking of that song that took me there. It doesn’t have to be bad though. The first time I heard Alice In Chains, my friend Janice and I decided to blow off work one morning in 1991. Made sense, since we hadn’t been to sleep yet. So we called up
another friend and went to her house and sat in the living room passing a joint around. Our other friend put on a VCR tape of some band from Seattle that she was all crazy about. Janice and her friend were always crazy about some lead singer or another, so I prepared to see what I thought was going to be
some pretty dude on the screen. The whole Seattle grunge thing wasn’t my deal, so I didn’t much care to hear the next Pearl Jam clone. But the tape was Alice In Chains’ Live Facelift video. That’s the first time I heard Layne Staley sing, and he was instantly one of my favorite voices. Creepy, dirty, melodic. This was man exorcising a demon in front of a crowd. There was an honesty, and a willingness to lay his soul open in the songs that I couldn’t quite compare to anyone I’d ever heard before. So, when I hear Man In The Box today, I don’t think of the MTV video, but that first live performance I saw with my friends on a Wednesday morning when I was supposed to be at work. I had the pleasure to see Layne perform live a few times and I’ll never forget it. But my favorite memory of seeing Alice In Chains in person happened just a few weeks ago. On October 1st, I got to see them again. This time I wasn’t worried about where my next meal was coming from, or how I was going to explain why I didn’t have a job anymore. I got to see them stone cold sober, with the two very best friends I’ve ever had. I stood in the Florida heat under palm trees and sang the lyrics to every song at the top of my lungs with my brothers in recovery. I sang Layne’s songs, and I sang the new
songs they’ve made with William Duvall. Years from now, when I hear the song Grind, I’ll be transported back that night under the stars with Ben and Scott. Singing, with tears in my eyes. Not a single fuck given. Yesterday is history and tomorrow’s a mystery. Today is a gift, that’s why they call it the present.
That’s a free Dad joke for you. But it’s as real the smile on my face.
Jai Guru Deva