“What’s my drug of choice?” We are “Junkheads” for Stone Temple Pilots’ Core and Alice in Chains’ Dirt. These masterpieces were both released on September 29th, 1992. Core and Dirt are two of the greatest albums in the history of metal. Likewise, their authors have surmounted the obstacle of creating their magna opera early to become two of rock n’ roll’s most influential bands. Alice in Chains and Stone Temple Pilots respectively followed up with Jar of Flies (1994) and Purple (1994). Although some fans even prefer these next works, Core and Dirt remain Stone Temple Pilots’ and Alice In Chains best-selling albums.
Today, we celebrate how Core and Dirt not only enriched the music world but continue to touch so many listeners. To quote STP’s later song “And So I Know,” Core and Dirt will transport you on a hallucinatory, virtual reality trip of, “… whirlwinds and rollercoasters… disappearing floating graves… [after which you will] never be the same.” We will examine the genesis of STP and AiC, the demos for Core and Dirt, and these monumental albums themselves.
During the recording sessions for Core and Dirt, both bands boasted their original lineups. Stone Temple Pilots’ roster was composed of the late frontman Scott Weiland, the DeLeo brothers — bassist Robert and guitarist Dean, and drummer Eric Kretz. While at Edison High School in Orange County, CA, Scott — a choir boy dubbed “Wyner” by his classmates — was invited by his friend guitarist Corey Hickock to front his band. They called themselves Soi-Disant and covered songs like Wild Cherry’s “Play that Funky Music” while also experimenting their own material. The events leading up to STP’s formation really initiated when Scott and his Corey decided to reimagine their band Soi-Disant. In October, 1987, the pair changed the name of their group to Swing. Scott and Robert, who worked at a guitar store, met through their love of music at a Black Flag show. They bonded after discovering that they were dating the same woman. Swing quickly recruited Eric Kretz and moved from San Diego to Los Angeles. Once Dean, a successful businessman and Led Zeppelin fan, was persuaded to take Corey’s place, the band’s chemistry was perfected. Dean, however, put his foot down: “I refuse to be in a band called Swing.” Therefore, this incarnated called itself Mighty Joe Young In order to avoid conflict with a blues band that had already taken that name, the San Diego-based collective soon became Stone Temple Pilots. As it turns out, Scott had always been fascinated with the STP oil logo. STP is also similar to SST — the record label founded by Greg Ginn of Black Flag.
AiC’s guitarist Jerry Cantrell first met their late vocalist, Layne Staley, at a house party. Jerry had watched Layne perform about two months earlier. Jerry was in awe of Layne’s talent. Layne invited his new acquaintance to stay with him at the Music Bank rehearsal studio. While the two worked together at the studio, Jerry was on the lookout for replacement bandmates. Jerry had played in a band called Diamond Lie, which had a song called “Chain Love.” Layne was too busy to sing for Jerry, but he remembered meeting drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Starr one or two years prior. Their cockiness had made an impression on Layne. Mike had been on a motorcycle and was wearing a bathrobe, a cowboy hat, and cowboy boots. Layne connected Jerry with Sean. Jerry recalls telling Sean that he was looking for a bassist like Mike Starr, with whom he played for a couple of weeks in an outfit called Gypsy Rose. Sean responded: “He’s my best friend, and I'm dating his sister [Melinda], so I'll bring him down too.” Mike had been an original Gypsy Rose member, but coincidentally he had left the band shortly after Jerry exited, due to an argument over a woman. As a tactic, Jerry, Sean, and Mike and the gang began trying out singers in Staley’s room. After auditioning a series of bad singers, one of whom was probably a male stripper, the gang finally wrangled Layne into the group. They would call themselves Mothra and FUCK, then Diamond Lie like Jerry’s old ensemble, before settling on Alice in Chains. As FUCK, the band would give away free band-titled condoms.
Headbangers will recall that in many ways the ’90s were a bleak era for metal. However, the year Core and Dirt debuted actually ushered in many exciting developments. Nirvana’s Nevermind (1991) may have reached the top of the charts by January 11th, 1992, but Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power hit stores on February 25th to save the day for “Fucking Hostile” metalheads. Darkthrone’s A Blaze in the Northern Sky premiered within the next 24 hours! What more could a person hope for? Manowar, GWAR, Iron Maiden, Carcass, Sodom, Napalm Death, Megadeth, and Yngwie Malmsteen all had new material. Even Amorphis, an absolute staple of Finnish metal, released their first studio album, The Karelian Isthmus. “Amorphous” is the operative word to describe the rock scene at the time. A week before Core and Dirt premiered, Cannibal Corpse’s Tomb of the Mutilated kicked off with the classics “Hammer Smashed Face” and “I Cum Blood!” That same day, AiC’s friends, the Los Angeles alternative band Blind Melon, put out their self-titled album. Although Blind Melon’s music approached the grunge category, they remained distinct from the Seattle grunge scene. Layne Staley was always ahead of the curve in monitoring the latest trends from L.A.
Considering all that was happening, it is truly amazing that Alice in Chains was able to become one of the first grunge bands to sign with a major label. AiC partnered with Columbia in 1989 based on a set of demos known as The Treehouse Tapes (1989). Soundgarden had signed with A&M Records in 1988. Mark Lanegan, whose first deal with Screaming Trees was with SST, called AiC, "… the first Seattle band to hit it big." (Weiland was such a fan of Lanegan's that upon meeting him, he literally knocked him off his feet with kisses.) AiC’s Facelift (1990) was the first grunge album not only to earn recognition on the mainstream charts at #42 but also to be certified gold. AiC earned this honor 30 years ago on September 11th, 1991.
Facelift’s “Man in the Box” remained on the Billboard Rock chart for 20 weeks. This would be the song that paved the way for Alice in Chains’ future triumphs. The sleeper hit was played on a guitar that Jerry Cantrell had made in middle school. “Man in the Box” was partially inspired by how veal calves are raised in boxes, although Jerry explains the song as relating to how “… the media… build you into a box… and it's just about breaking out of that box…” Layne originally wanted the music video to show a baby with his eyes sewn shut. Layne compromised on the grown man and savior figure that director Paul Rachman suggested as an alternative. Rachman first contacted Alice in Chains after watching them perform on Halloween of 1990 at NYC’s Cat Club. Considering that Layne claimed that he directed this video as well as Dirt’s “Angry Chair,” his artistic input must have been significant. The séance-like “Angry Chair” was Layne’s favorite AiC music video. Layne Staley adored Metallica growing up, but soon Metallica would name “Man in the Box” as their favorite music video. Many radio stations initially turned the song down because they believed that Layne’s voice wasn’t fashionable. The radio was dominated by high voices like Axl Rose’s at that time. The idea to use the song’s famous voice box came from producer Dave Jerden after hearing a Bon Jovi song. Dirt would later spawn five singles of its own.
Even rock aficionados who are not inclined towards grunge can appreciate Core and Dirt, which transcend labels. Although grunge was hugely influenced by metal, many of its founders and adherents were reluctant to admit this. Scott was not part of the Seattle crowd. He was an all-American boy from California and Ohio. The DeLeo brothers grew up on the Jersey Shore, whereas Eric Kretz was born in San Jose like Weiland. These local vibes permeate much of STP’s retro-inspired music. Like Layne, Scott was known as a “chameleon, with an uncanny ability to imitate. However, Layne’s voice on Dirt represents what you will hear throughout his vocal career with AiC, whereas Weiland experimented with so many different styles that it can be hard to identify many of his songs as having originated from the same vocalist. Core is definitely STP’s most “metal” album. Core is replete with youthful angst and morbid lust. You can feel that these songs are the work of a former high-school quarterback. This infectious and energizing album makes you alternately makes you want to dance and pump iron.
Stone Temple Pilots and Alice in Chains adopted different attitudes toward “metal.” Stone Temple Pilots did not see themselves as metal and initially took a derogatory attitude towards Pantera. Nevertheless, both bands toured together as openers for Megadeth in 1992. Vinnie Paul attended a Stone Temple Pilots show shortly before his death. Alice in Chains’ members have always palled along with Pantera, seeing as both bands were fabled for their bizarre admixture of hospitality, congeniality, and prankster antics. Before he found his path, Jerry spent some time working in Texas where he first met Pantera. Dimebag Darrell became one of Jerry’s best friends. Rex and Jerry have even appeared together as extras on Deadwood (TV 2006, film 2019).
On Dirt, AiC welcomed their friend Tom Araya from Slayer to feature on “Iron Gland,” which was created from a riff that agitated AiC’s other band members. Metal Blade’s Brian Slagel remembers: “… Layne Staley — who was one of the loveliest guys you could ever meet — was a monster metalhead. Strangely, he always reminded me of John Bush. Funny enough, a video appeared on YouTube years later of Layne’s high school band covering some Armored Saint songs.” Slagel witnessed his second AiC concert when the band was on the Clash of Titans Tour. He recollects a humorous story that captures Layne’s love of metal: “When we were hanging out backstage, Layne came up and whispered in my ear, ‘Would it be OK if I got an autograph from the Fates Warning guys? I’m a huge fan!’ I told him they’d be honored, but it was funny how he felt he had to be quiet about it!” The beauty of AiC is that even when their music may not sound like the heaviest, their lyrics are arguably as brutal as any, granted in a less on-the-nose way.
Listeners will hear Alice in Chains’ many inspirations on Dirt. It is easy to discern how AiC carried threatened elements of rock n’ roll through a trying time. Producer Dave Jerden has explained that AiC reminded him of Black Sabbath, whom Layne loved and covered as a teen along with bands like Anthrax, Lizzy Borden, Panic, Iron Maiden, W.A.S.P., Motley Crüe, Twisted Sister, Scorpions, and Van Halen — Eddie later gave Jerry a garage-full of his gear and played stage pranks on AiC. Jerry enjoyed hard rock and British metal, although he participated in choir and plays like South Pacific as a teen. Jerry, who is distinguished by his sweet voice, still sounds like a choir boy at times. Sean Kinney continues to bring his passion for the Beatles. Dave Jerden admired AiC’s blues influence. He noted that AiC slowed down the pace of metal from what bands like Metallica were bringing to the table. Jerry placed overall harmony above showing off with guitar solos. That said, Jerry kept musical genius alive at a time when a lot of other guitarists sounded quite dull. AiC restored a machine-like intensity and drive to metal. AiC was wild, whacky, and all over the place musically when Jerden first heard them. In their own way, Weiland’s STP ventured all over the musical spectrum.
Layne’s musical journey started early. He decided that he wanted to become a musician in the fourth grade. He picked up the drums at 12. Then, he began dabbling with the trumpet, like Ronnie James Dio, and the coronet. Layne was drumming in a cover band when he resolved that he wanted to switch to singing at 15 years old. Layne was accepted as the singer of a band called Sleze in 1984. Although Layne’s stepbrother Ken recommended him for the position, Ken didn’t actually think that Layne had a good voice. With Staley, Sleze morphed into Alice N’ Chains in 1986 — not to be confused with Alice in Chains. — Again, AiC was the second coming of Diamond Lie. — Alice N’ Chains can be seen in a Seattle public access movie Father Rock (1986). They take the stage in a church, although the music is a prerecorded Gypsy Rose track. Alice N’ Chains was possibly a nod to the very new Guns N’ Roses. AiC and N’ Roses have always shared certain links. Jerry met the girlfriend who inspired “Down in a Hole” at a G N’ R show where Axl threw away his demo tape. Jerry has recently teamed up with G N’ R’s Duff McKagan, just as Weiland played with Duff, Slash, and Matt Sorum in Velvet Revolver.
Speaking further on the topic of AiC’s melting pot roots, Layne invited Jerry to play in a funk band started by a musician named Ron Holt called Forty Years of Hate. Ron Holt believes that elements of “Man in the Box” were appropriated from one of his songs. Jerry has described Forty Years of Hate as “… Dead or Alive kind of stuff, kind of glammy goth, kind of dance stuff or whatever, but still with some heavy guitars.” Layne had goth friends, which is of note when considering Dirt’s lyrics. In the early days, AiC even covered groups like Hanoi Rocks. Alice in Chains, like Alice N’ Chains, began as an outfit with a heavy glam metal leaning. AiC’s “Fat Girls” demo is a great example of Layne singing with a higher voice and in a different style. Gypsy Rose’s vocalist, Tim Branom, coached Layne based on what he knew from the David Kyle — the instructor of Queensrÿche’s Geoff Tate, Chris Cornell, and Heart’s Ann Wilson — with whom Layne would later study. Even after Alice in Chains dropped the spandex and frills and opted for a “Holy Fool” edge, they didn’t belittle other types of music.
Philip H. Anselmo has remarked of AiC: “They brought the beauty of the 1960s into the sneering 1990s.” AiC certainly evoked nostalgia with their vintage clothes and nuances. Concurrently, insofar as AiC’s music imparts a sense of impending doom, it sounds eerily like a call from the future. Philip’s heartfelt rendition of “Would?” with AiC is truly moving. In the old days, Pantera and Jerry have jammed together on the likes of “Walk” and “Man in a Box.” Fans can watch Jerry Cantrell play “Sex Type Thing” and AiC's "Got me Wrong" with STP and Weiland sing “Angry Chair” with AiC. Just as many mimic Weiland — sometimes to the point of impersonation, Layne has inspired generations of singers. Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda revealed that even Chester Bennington tried to copy Layne in his early days. AiC continues to unite the rock world through the immense outpouring of tributes in their honor by their contemporaries, heroes, and musical descendants. AiC have opened on tour for Kiss in 1996 and later paid tribute to their heroes by putting on Kiss makeup in a 2009 regrouping campaign, but it has even been said that Kiss’ Carnival of Souls (1997) betrays its AiC influence.
Unlike Dirt, Core was Stone Temple Pilots first studio album. STP began work on Core after receiving the invitation of Atlantic Records. Unfortunately, many critics refused to seriously consider the endeavor’s artistic merits upon its release. Stone Temple Pilots was deemed a Pearl Jam rip-off band. Despite the critical scorn, Core climbed to #3 on Billboard 200. It is true, for example, that on “Creep,” Weiland sounds eerily like Kurt Cobain, but he was going for country flare. — Jerry Cantrell is also a fan of country music, and its mark can be felt in some of AiC’s material. — Scott Weiland later covered Nirvana’s “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” in 1993. Scott possessed the rare ability to break out of or fit into any mold. He has performed with Crystal Method, Limp Bizkit, Art of Anarchy, and even The Wondergirls. Nevertheless, Scott really never shed the bias that the media held against him from the outset. Throughout his lengthy career, Weiland could hardly catch a break from sharp-tongued opponents. Even when Weiland recorded the solo single “Barbarella” with the clear intention of paying homage to his idol David Bowie, the writer and television personality Kurt Loder accused him of stealing. Scott’s witty 1998 response has been immortalized by an MTV. AiC also covered David Bowie while they were still called Diamond Lie. You can find a video online of these pretty boys playing “Suffragette City,” which they would record years later on the Unchained demos (1994).
Layne's voice sounds great on the “I Can’t Have You Blues” with Diamond Lie in 1988. A video also exists of the same “Big Four” performing the song on his 22nd birthday as Alice in Chains.
Regarding STP's struggle to cement their own identity, it is true, for example, that on “Creep,” Weiland sounds eerily like Kurt Cobain, but he was going for country flare. — Jerry Cantrell is also a fan of country music, and its mark can be felt in some of AiC’s material. — Scott Weiland later covered Nirvana’s “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” in 1993. Scott possessed the rare ability to break out of or fit into any mold. He has performed with Crystal Method, Limp Bizkit, Art of Anarchy, and even The Wondergirls.
Although Alice in Chains had also suffered backlash, Dirt was the watershed moment when AiC finally proved themselves. Although Facelift and the EP Sap (1992) are of the highest caliber, AiC still faced many haters as proven by their wretched treatment when opening for Slayer. AiC had also been pelted with objects when they first performed the acoustic music from Sap at a benefit concert. There was no such adverse reaction when STP performed many of Core’s content on MTV Unplugged. The band’s audience was more mellow. Nonetheless, Scott felt disappointed that the type of people who would have beat him up represented his fanbase.
Before Dirt, it had not been fair when critics likened AiC to their peers in Soundgarden and labeled them “Kindergarten.” The Seattle music scene was a tight-knit group that shared spaces, money, and resources. Jerry Cantrell had crashed in Chris Cornell’s basement, just as Chris Cornell and Mother Love Bone’s prodigy Andrew Wood had been roommates. Wood not only inspired “Say Hello 2 Heaven” and “Reach Down,” but taught Chris Cornell about songwriting by example. Cantrell has also been basement “roommates” with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder in manager Kelly Curtis’ basement. Although Mother Love Bone is credited as a pioneer of grunge, the group was more glam and even invokes Ronnie James Dio.
For reference, we will lay out the track listings of Core and Dirt.
Core: “Dead & Bloated,” “Sex Type Thing,” “Wicked Garden,” “No Memory,” “Sin,” “Naked Sunday,” “Creep,” “Piece of Pie,” “Plush,” “Wet My Bed,” “Crackerman,” “Where the River Goes.”
Dirt: “Them Bones,” “Dam that River,” “Rain When I Die,” “Down in a Hole,” “Sickman,” “Rooster,” “Junkhead,” “Dirt,” “God Smack,” “Iron Gland” — sometimes listed as “Intro (Dream Sequence)” or “Untitled,” Hate to Feel,” “Angry Chair,” “Would?”
The demos for Core are mesmerizing. Many of Core's demos have been published on disc 2 of the 25th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition. The curated collection begins with “Only Dying,” a song that goes back to when STP was called Mighty Joe Young. “Only Dying” was set to appear on the soundtrack to Alex Proyas’ movie The Crow (1994). After Brandon Lee’s tragic death, however, the film team believed that continuing with “Only Dying” would seem disrespectful.
“Plush” and “Creep” are clear standouts from the Core demos. The lyrics to these remarkably chilling and intimate songs are different from, yet close to the album versions. In this stage in the lyrical evolution of “Plush,” there is neither a “mask” to be found, nor “dogs” to find the song’s female subject. Although Scott was notoriously difficult to understand, his enunciation during the verses for “Creep” takes mumbling to a whole new level.
Although it has not been officially recirculated by STP, fans can find another unusual Mighty Joe Young and Swing demo called “Piece of Pie.” This song was recorded with Dean on the 4-track Swing 2 or Swing's Demo Tape 2 (1989). Yet, by the time the band distributed Swing 2, they did so under Mighty Joe Young. This was the only Dean’s sole contribution to the tape. Piece of Pie” shows the band finding their new sound with Dean. The track bears little relation to the song by the same name on Core, but it contains some slight lyrical similarities to “Where the River Goes.” “Piece of Pie” later made its way onto the 11-track Mighty Joe Young (1990) demo tape with the aforementioned “Only Dying” and early versions of Core's “Naked Sunday” “Wicked Garden.” We are glad that STP evolved into what Core became, because we are more than a little befuddled by this early appearance featuring Scott yelling “Hey Oh” in his underwear:
The “Dirt demo album” comes together into a compact 40 minutes. Yet, what the collection referred to as the Dirt demos denote a set of recordings made in Seattle in 1991 when Alice in Chains recorded “Would?” for Cameron Crowe’s film Singles (1992). After Andrew Wood’s death at 24 years old, Crowe expressed his desire to work with AiC. —What fans may not know is that Andrew Wood had been sick before his overdose, due to a damaged liver. His story is tightly linked to that of AiC. Mike Starr had driven Andrew Wood home right before his death. The band mourned Wood with Chris Cornell at the hospital. — AiC presented Crowe with an inflated budget for “Would?” That is how one track in Andy’s honor funded nine more.
The arrangement with Crowe is why Sap’s first three tracks appear on this tape. These songs are “Got Me Wrong,” about ending a relationship; “Right Turn,” listed as created by Mudgarden, due to the participation of Chris Cornell and Mark Arm; and “Brother,” about Jerry’s younger brother. We like that Layne seems to get in the last word at the end of this mix of “Right Turn.” — Sap would also include Layne’s “Am I Inside?” and the improvised “Love Song,” largely thanks to Sean Kinney, who also came up with the EP’s title. Heart’s Ann Wilson contributed to these two tracks as well as “Brother.” — In addition to “Would?” Cameron Crowe would use Alice in Chain’s “It Ain’t Like That” from Facelift.
The tracks of the 6 songs that made it onto the 13-track Dirt sound surprisingly polished for demos. The same applies to the entire tape. To appropriate the words of “Down in a Hole,” which would not be first recorded until the following year, AiC had already “… put all the stones in their place,” for success. We enjoy the small dissimilarities between these versions and the 1992 album. The layering of vocals on “Junkhead” makes for an especially spooky, drugged-out treasure of a composition.
The order of the included Dirt songs is obviously different in this album. Whereas the album buries its title track at #8, the demos bury “Would?” at #4. The demos begin with “Dirt” and end with “Rooster,” which takes its title from Jerry Cantrell’s father’s nickname. — Jerry’s father, Jerry Cantrell Sr., had been an army sergeant in Vietnam as well as a prison guard. This song brought Jerry closer to his father, who was filmed in the music video. Jerry Cantrell Sr. enjoys watching his son perform. “Gloria sent me pictures of my boy [Jerry Jr.].” Facelift was dedicated to the memory of Jerry’s mother, Gloria Jean Krumpos. Gloria had been played the organ and clarinet and wanted to be a professional musician, so Dirt carries on her legacy as well.
“Lying Season” is the second track on the demo tape. Alice in Chains would not release “Lying Season” until Music Bank (1999), on which the “Fear the Voices” outtake would also see the light of day. “Fear the Voices” was co-written by Mike Starr and recorded during the actual Dirt sessions with Dave Jerden. AiC’s members dubbed this song “Mike’s Dead Mouse,” because they believed it to be a dud. Mike Starr was incensed that Jerry and Sean decided that this anti-censorship song did not fit thematically or stylistically with Dirt. Layne initially supported Mike. Although Jerry and Sean were right, “Fear the Voices” is still a fun song. “Hush,” Tool’s first music video, from Opiate (1992) also tackles the topic of censorship, considering its timeliness in that era. — Tool and Layne would take the stage together for memorable performances of “Opiate” in 1993 and 1994. — Rock fans will recall Dee Snider’s 1985 speech before the Senate, in which he opposed the introduction of a parental warning system for music. Watch a very young, Sleze-era Layne speak out against censorship that same year:
During the internal conflict over “Fear the Voices,” Layne reportedly gave Mike his first snorted dose of heroin while in the studio bathroom. Eventually, even Layne blew up when Mike asked him to re-record the song. Mike had other tracks that he wanted to be included on Dirt as well. Mike was fired from the band, despite the early claim that his departure was voluntary. After Mike’s last concert with AiC, he asked Layne and then Kurt Cobain to inject him with heroin. Starr then asked Layne for even more heroin. The immediate result was that Mike died for 11 minutes, and Layne revived him on his birthday. Layne and Starr remained close until Layne’s death. Starr had been the only member of AiC to have been born outside of Washington State in Hawaii.
Mike Inez replaced Starr. When Inez first brought up the opportunity in conversation with Ozzy Osbourne, with whom he was working, Ozzy told Inez that if he didn’t jump on AiC’s offer, he would wind up in the hospital. “Why?” Ozzy responded with one of his favorite comebacks: “Because it’s gonna take them about a week to get my foot out of your ass!” Inez appears in the “Down in a Hole” music video, even though the bass is Starr’s. Do you love the “Down in a Hole” music video? We bet you didn’t know that it was filmed by Nigel Dick, the same director who shot Nickelback’s “Photograph” as well as top hits by Britney Spears and Guns N’ Roses.
The studio album version of Core captured a transient moment in time when Scott was a hopeful and fresh-faced 24-year-old. — Scott was 25 when the album was finally released and wrote many of the songs at 23. — Core may not have been the achievement of which Scott Weiland was most proud, but it is STP’s tightest album. Core is the band’s most charismatic, buoyant, and cohesive undertaking. The great thing about Core is that the music jives with whatever mood the listener may be experiencing. Scott explained its title as indicative of the band’s attempt to get to, “… the core of our music.” Core, like Dirt, is a concept album that tells a story. One cannot ignore the Edenic significance of the title, given that the album re-enacts the Fall through “Sin” — (“…sin make me strong!”) — and its various manifestations in each song. Core explores transgression through various character perspectives, which blend seamlessly to into one essence.
“Dead & Bloated” may be one of the most underrated song in metal history. “Dead & Bloated” commences with Scott’s famous megaphone opening: “I am smellin’ like the rose that somebody gave me on my birthday deathbed… ’Cause I’m dead and bloated.” Scott’s voice is robust and exudes health: “I run through the world thinkin’ ‘bout tomorrow, thinkin’ ‘bout tomorrow.” The sense of momentum initiated in “Dead & Bloated” miraculously carries through to the rest of the album. Don’t let Core’s brilliant humor pass you by: “I feel I’ve come of age. When she peeks/peaks I start to run. You can’t swallow what I’m thinkin’.” — “Fast As I Can,” not to be confused with the Stone Temple Pilots (2010) song is the title of another MJY demo: “Just trying to live my life as fast as I can.”— Core is the musical equivalent of a wayward Bildungsroman, coming-of-age novel. No matter for whom Scott was singing, his fellow musicians have always marveled at his ability to create melodies on the spot. Scott first began singing “Dead & Bloated” over dollar margaritas while with Eric Kretz at a Mexican restaurant. Layne was also known to burst into song randomly, such when he began singing “We Die Young” like Ethel Merman while out to dinner.
“Sex Type Thing” is one of STP’s most invigorating tracks. “Sex Type Thing” begins with, “I am, I am, I am,” which would later be inverted in “Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart” — “I am, I am, I said I’m not myself…” The “Sex Type Thing” video depicts Scott, and a dancer separately, swinging on a chain among other images. The woman with long satin gloves slightly reminds one of “No More Tears” (1991). Because people erroneously interpreted the rape component of the song to reflect the band’s actual perspective, Scott has performed this song while dressed in drag. Scott supported feminist causes and was quick to butt in when he heard men disrespecting women. Scott later revealed that he been the victim of rape at a young age. At the time of Core, this memory was still suppressed.
Alice in Chains was similarly accused of misogyny for their name. Layne Staley’s mother was among those to express her displeasure. The Dirt and Core covers both feature women. They share many visual similarities from the cracks in the earth to the mountains in the background. Rocky Schenck’s portrait of Mariah O’Brien, whom Rocky also used for Spinal Tap’s Bitch School, on Dirt may be metal’s greatest album cover. Schenck had been generous in his relationship with AiC. He was willing to fulfill the band’s whimsical requests despite inadequate funding. Nevertheless, Layne’s fiancée, Demri Parrott, was upset that people confused her and Mariah. When Dirt and Core catapulted their creators into fame, both bands and their families experienced varying levels of shock and discomfort. Of course, AiC and STP enjoyed aspects of the spotlight as well: “I had a great time riding around in limos and eating lobster and getting laid.”\
Returning to the topic of Core’s music, “Wicked Garden,” is the the album’s third track. “Wicked Garden” may be viewed as the actual Fall that results in a sense of expulsion on the album. We love “Wicked Garden’s” heat: “Burn your wicked garden down.” Scott was as far from burned out here as possible. This song makes use of biblical themes. “Can you see like a child?” for example, comes from Matthew 18:3: “And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” This largely interrogative, yet amusingly callous song juxtaposes numbness with vigor like the rest of Core: “But I’m alive so alive now.” “Can you see without eyes?” Scott would answer this question after the diluvial “No Memory” instrumental interlude. “No Memory” provides a much-needed phase of to recharge and transition into “Sin.” “My sins have made me blind. Sink into the holes in my eyes.” These lines summarize Core’s essence: “Dead by dreaming, sleep you steal, mine. Pools of cold sweat hatred burns me. Still shackled to the shadow, still shackled to the shadow. That followed you.”
The title of the beatnik “Naked Sunday” is a play on William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (1959). Layne Staley enjoyed the work of William Burroughs as well. “Naked Sunday” shakes things up on Core and changes the tempo. It is followed by the slower pace of “Creep.” Robert helped Scott write the lyrics. The dawn that fades to gray in “Creep,” finds its parallel in the the NA/AA pink cloud that turns to gray in “Angry Chair.” The “crown of apathy” metaphor in “Piece of Pie” could have served as the album’s title, which was dedicated, “… to you, dead and bloated nation of sleepwalkers, so content to drown in your own rancid apathy…” In “Piece of Pie,” the speaker exalts himself through his own exclusion.
Core has a too cool for art school feel, which is exactly what Scott was — a liberal arts drop-out. By this time, Weiland had also already broken up with his real-life “Art School Girlfriend” Mary Ann, who was actually from California and torched his car. Around the time of Core, STP covered David Bowie’s “Andy Warhol.” Andy Warhol’s advice to Iggy Pop, with whom AiC toured, had been to try to write a song in response to a newspaper article. Although “Plush” was based on a newspaper article about a kidnapped and murdered woman, we have already seen that the original demo functioned without this added analogy for a bad relationship. “When the [police search] dogs do find her…” Eric Kretz explains his fondness of dogs. — Although Layne also loved dogs, it has been rumored that during the recording of Dirt, Layne set up an alter in his recording booth with a dead puppy in a jar, a Last Supper picture, and candles. After all, a dog bit Layne on the throat when he was a baby.
“Where ya goin’ with the mask I found? According to Eric, the “mask” was inspired by the Day of the Dead. The mask symbolizes the adoption of another persona and can equally be envisioned as a bedroom accessory for a dissolute, flighty woman. “And I see, that these are the eyes of disarray.” Around STP believes that “Plush” was just a word that Scott had liked and thrown around as a possible album title. It leaves the song open-ended by raising the question of whether the adjective can be applied to the dogs and the scenario is imagined by a lush of a narrator. The rumor is correct that one writing session for “Plush” occurred between Kretz and Weiland in a hot tub. Ultimately, unlike Dirt, Core hid “Plush,” its most commercially successful track, at #7 out of 10.
“Wet My Bed” resulted from a stream of consciousness improvisation between Scott and Robert DeLeo. The song mentions Scott’s future first wife, Mary, before their relationship had become intimate. Producer Brendon O’Brien’s interjection, “All right, now what?” provides the segue into the highly fueled “Crackerman”: “Roamin’, roamin’ roamin’.”The song’s mention of, “… a boy, his name was Sue,” is wink to Johnny Cash. The “Crackerman” title comes from the chosen nickname of a homeless man, whom Scott befriended and regularly fed.
The album concludes with the desire for knowledge on “Where the River Goes.” The riff for “Where the River Goes” was created the first time Scott and Dean DeLeo jammed. This may have been the first song that MJY demoed, possibly making it the oldest STP song. “I wish I could live in the dream that I fly on the tarred and feathered wings…” This song, like AiC’s “Down in a Hole,” also states the desire to fly in the chorus. In “Where the River Goes,” the narrative moves beyond blind passion and comes full circle: “I wanna know what the rent’s like in Heaven. I wanna know where the river goes.” In the album’s notes, the band hilariously thanks “God, Jesus Christ,” and their families. Scott Weiland maintained a quiet faith throughout his life, although his ex-wife, Mary Forsberg, has alleged that he became an atheist after he remarried.
Dirt was rehearsed in a rented Malibu house. The recording began on April 27th, 1992. This was two days before the L.A. riots. Some accounts state that Dirt was started on the 29th. Accordingly, AiC escaped to Joshua Tree for a few days, but even riots couldn’t stop Layne from purchasing drugs on the streets. Dirt was recorded not only in Los Angeles but also in Burbank and Seattle. “Dirt” and “Rooster” may be AiC’s oldest songs in terms of when they were created. “Rooster” was partially composed on a bus and also written in Chris Cornell’s basement. Much of Dirt’s material dates back 1 1/2 to 2 years prior to when the band entered the studio to make the actual album. AiC composed some of these songs during their extensive touring period following Facelift. The other half of the album was created in the month leading up to entering the studio.
Dirt is the best depiction of addiction you will ever find. By contrast, Scott claimed that he was sober while recording Core. Scott would not snort heroin until the record’s tour. The creators of Dirt seem like much older, more world-weary souls than the Pilots who invented Core. This is strange, because all members of AiC’s and STP were born in 1966; except for Weiland and Staley (both b. 1967); and Dean DeLeo (b. 1961). Whereas Core seems to relate to the fleshly realm, Dirt feels disembodied and shines with a spectral luminosity. In Dirt, even the sense of longing has undergone abstraction. Dirt is the work of souls made cavernous and deep by the chiseling effect of suffering. “Down in a Hole” eulogizes: “I’ve eaten the sun, so my tongue will be burned of the taste. I have been guilty of kicking myself in the teeth. I will speak no more of my feelings beneath.”
Dirt plays out like a bedridden horror story: “I can feel the wheel, but I can’t steer. When my thoughts become my biggest fear.” The apathy on the trippy “Sickman” offers a realistic glimpse of the substance abuser’s reality: “Ah, what’s the difference, I’ll die.” Like Core, Dirt begins with a hyped, yet ossified mantra of death: “I believe them bones are me.” Surprisingly, “Them Bones” stemmed from Jerry’s phobia of death. Although the song is not without sarcasm, it packs a mean punch: “Dust rise right on over my time. Empty fossil of the new scene… Toll due, bad dream come true. I lie dead gone under red sky.” This song showcases Jerry’s brilliance as a writer. Layne came up with the idea for the screams at beginning of the song while in the studio.
Core and Dirt both end with a question mark. However, the outcome is a matter of life and death in Dirt. “If I would, could you?” The final version of “Would?” was remixed by the late Rakesh “Rick” Parashar, who had mixed the demo and Sap. — You have probably heard Rick playing the organ and percussion instruments on Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy.” — Jerry Cantrell had been unhappy with Dave Jerden’s mix. Layne and Jerden clashed on Dirt over Staley’s drug use, which would be the cause of their infamous final rupture in their relationship years later. Dave did not appreciate Layne bringing his dealer into the studio, for example. Manager Susan Silver was quick to ask Dave to be more lenient towards Staley, who truly could not help himself. Over the years, Layne spent time at many facilities. He even braved a perilous stay at the Exodus Recovery Center, from which Cobain fled only to kill himself days later. Layne had been emotionally injured and extorted by “sponsors.” The wrong type of “help” can do more harm than good, and Layne’s substance abuse had deep roots. Layne, whose mother and stepfather were teetotalers, first experimented with drugs around the age of 13 or 14. When Layne first tried alcohol, he remarked: “So this is why some people go around with smiles on their faces all the time…”
Dirt it is rife with biting humor. “Hate to Feel” is a song about relapsing into drugs like one’s father. The words lay on the irony on thick: “So climb the walls. Thin my blood now. And I crawl, back to bed now…. Aching pain in my chest. Lucky me, now I’m set. Little bug for a pet.” “Hate to Feel” and “Angry Chair” we’re entirely written by Layne. Tom Morello had taught Layne how to play the guitar. Layne’s riffs here are amazing. Regarding the “Hate to Feel” lyrics, Layne’s father, Phil Staley, had been an abusive husband and an addict. Phil filed for divorce from Nancy when Layne was nearing 8 years old. It has been claimed that Phil disappeared from the family at about that time, however, it seems that he kept up visits for about a year or so afterward. One day, Layne’s family received a phone call to say that his father had been found alive at a body bag dump. Paternal rejection and bullying increased Layne’s reticence. When Layne’s mother attended his high school reunion, many of his classmates had no idea that the quiet Layne Elmer turned into Layne Staley. (Elmer was the surname of Layne’s stepfather.) Despite the bitterness latent in "Hate to Feel" as well as songs like "Sunshine," Mark Lanegan described Phil Staley, "… as sweet, funny, and smart as his son, as well as his physical mirror image." On one particular occasion, Lanegan worried for Layne when he expressed fear of drug-induced spiders that lasted for days. When Layne finally snapped out of his psychosis, he used words similar to the "Angry Chair" chorus: "I lost my fucking mind, didn't I?"
There are numerous levels of interpretation on which “Angry Chair” operates. Based on the previously mentioned “pink cloud,” a “serenity” reference, and the command at the end of the song, which is meant to come from an external point-of-view, it is safe to suggest that the speaker is at a candlelight NA/AA meeting. “Feed me your lies, open wide. Weight of my heart, not the size.” The “Angry Chair” is his punishment chair. We are invited to also imagine it as existing in one’s private hell or as a child’s naughty corner. This brooding monster of a track contains 16 tracks of vocals. There is a reason why “Would?” follows a song as pessimistic as “Angry Chair.”
“God Smack” recreates the jarring feeling of addiction and makes use of “horse-,” a.k.a. heroin-, themed metaphors. “God Smack” delivers an anti-drug message, which is effective because the song is so tongue-in-cheek that it makes one think of AiC’s later hit “A Little Bitter.” “So be yearning all your life. Twisting, turning like a knife. Now you know the reasons why. You can’t get high, or you will die.” Fans remember that Layne could even rock while on crutches. Like Ozzy, Layne was also injured in an ATV accident. Later on, due to addiction, Layne’s legs would become atrophied. See Layne sing “God Smack” in 1992 while in a wheelchair with a broken foot. He is wearing Andrew Wood’s iconic orange shirt from the “Would?” video:
For all of its stoical acceptance, Dirt also contains a lot of amusing denial on the character’s road to humility in “Would?” “Junkhead” is an armful of opiates and truth in one prick: “You can’t understand a user’s mind. But try with your books and degrees. If you let yourself go and opened your mind, I’ll bet you’d be doing like me. And it ain’t so bad.” Sean Kinney improvised the exclamation “junk fuck.” The lyrics to “Junkhead,” like “Sickman,” were written by Layne while in rehab. As Dave Jerden revealed in David de Sola’s Alice in Chains: The Untold Story: “They’re songs that are written totally from somebody who’s crawled through two miles of rusty razor blades.” To borrow Weiland’s words from Velvet Revolver’s “Slither,” these songs will make you “smell the poppies,” only to steer you away from them.
Layne Staley’s lyrics to match Jerry Cantrell’s music for “Dirt” are of the highest caliber. They are figuratively and literally mind-blowing. Jerry asked for something dark, and Layne surpassed expectations. As a prank, another band once poured dirt on AiC before they hit the stage.
For good reason, a lot of AiC fans will tell you that “Rain When I Die” is one of their favorite tracks. As a small child (2-5), Layne worked his way into a pre-school rhythm band with a recitation of his favorite song, “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.”
Exactly 17 years after Dirt, Alice in Chains released their tasteful comeback album, Black Gives Way to Blue (2009). Layne Staley tragically passed away on August 22nd, 2002. Black Gives Way to Blue pays a beautiful tribute to his legacy. If you have not heard the title track, it will blow you away. Alice in Chains’ members have not lost their brilliance, despite their many years at the forefront and all that they have been through. They even look the same. On “Black Gives Way to Blue,” Sir Elton John accompanies Jerry on the piano. The song is a slow, heart-rending masterpiece. “Fading out by design. Consciously avoiding changes. Curtain’s drawn, now it’s done. Silencing all tomorrows, forcing a goodbye.” In 2019, Elton John gave Alice in Chains a shout-out at the Tacoma Dome in Washington. He mentioned their collaboration, stated his love for the band, and called them some of the nicest people he has encountered. The first concert that Layne ever attended was an Elton John show.
Black Gives Way to Blue is bursting with great songs like “Check My Brain,” which centers on Jerry’s disorienting move from Washington to Los Angeles in 2003. Jerry has since moved back to Washington State, where the avid sports fan fishes, plays with his cats, and engages in other wholesome activities. “A Looking View” sounds like it could have come from Jerry’s Degradation Trip (2002). — Explore this solo album, on which Metallica’s Robert Trujillo participated, for fantastic tracks like “Anger Rising” and “Angel Eyes.” — “Your Decision” is a Black Gives Way to Blue highlight. The music video is one of the most memorable of this century in rock. Towards the beginning of the video, a business card reads: “Corinthians 1023 Drive.” This is a reference to 1 Corinthians 10:23: “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient… all things edify not." “Your Decision” strikes the delicate balance of gently imparting a message without moralizing.
Frontman William DuVall does not try to imitate Layne, but rather brings his own personality, which settles nicely into the overall whole. DuVall is not so much a “replacement” vocalist as another voice. The day before Layne's funeral, Jerry and DuVall performed "Down in a Hole" together among other songs. Layne’s presence still makes itself felt in the band. Since Black Gives Way to Blue, DuVall has recorded two more studio albums and toured extensively with the group.
Stone Temple Pilots carries on. However, Weiland and the band parted ways for the final time in 2013. The break up was not amicable. Weiland tragically passed away on December 3rd, 2015. We think that the best tribute to Weiland is his own music.
Layne famously stated: “My bad habits aren't my title. My strengths and my talents are my title.” When asked what he wanted his tombstone to read, Scott Weiland’s response ended: “… [he] never ceased to pick himself up off the ground.” Neither Scott, nor Layne reveled in the dirt. Their music epitomizes resilience and cuts to the core.
In recap, as we go about our weeks let’s all take some time to rediscover Black Gives Way to Blue, Core, Dirt, and… Burt. Alice in Chains would like you to remember the mustachioed silver screen legend. When Burt Reynolds passed away in 2018, Alice in Chains posted the following tribute. We think that this is very appropriate because only someone of the magnitude of Burt could possibly do Dirt justice. We believe that Dirt is every bit as iconic as the late sex symbol.