April 7, 1998
Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
by Mike Ross
Legend tells of a rainy, faraway kingdom known as 'Seattle', where a powerful magic was conjured from a whiff of teen spirit, a garden of sound and a spoonful of Aunt Pearl's preserves.
Braving a wasteland of 'classic rock', there rose legions of young minstrels, armed only with tattered lumberjack shirts and loud, slightly out-of-tune axes, who vanquished the status quo and attained Nirvana.
And there was much rejoicing.
From throughout the land, the dukes and barons of the 'Music Business' came to sample the new magic, dubbed 'Grunge Rock'. Town criers from Time and Newsweek heralded a new trend, mighty tomes were written and many pretenders tried to copy the formula. Wicked wizards from the 'Media' cast their unwinking eye upon these flannel-clad denizens of 'Generation X', making them squirm with a harsh fame they did not desire.
Then one day, it all vanished.
The young Hamlet of Grunge, Kurt Cobain, had suffered the slings and needles of outrageous fortune long enough and took his own life - four years ago tomorrow. Nirvana was ended. Soundgarden, too, finished its reign. So did the Screaming Trees. The last remaining lords of grunge rock, Pearl Jam, did battle with the evil 'Ticketmaster' and is still reeling from its terrible wounds. They don't even sound like themselves any more. Alice In Chains went 'Unplugged' and became lost in a mysterious haze.
The Kingdom of Seattle was damp and silent once again.
Or was it all just an illusion?
"Listen to those records, dude, and tell me it's an illusion," says Alice In Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell, snapping us back to reality. "It's very real, very powerful and potent, otherwise it wouldn't have gone half as far as it did. But I think it's a good example that you should enjoy things while they happen because nothing lasts forever."
Cantrell is on the phone from Los Angeles - not Seattle (where he laments there isn't sufficient personnel to form a new band) - talking about his new solo album, 'Boggy Depot'. It hits the stores today.
As for the fate of Alice In Chains, he is cagey. He makes no mention of his partner, Layne Staley, Staley's drug problem or anything to do with the future of the band that brought them both such success.
"There's nothing going on with Alice and there probably won't be for quite a long time," Cantrell says. "I really don't think about it too much any more. Just when I think I know what's going on with Alice, I'm proved wrong. We just kind of take it as it goes. We always have."
Besides, he points out, the band has been together for 11 years, "a long time for a raaawk band," he laughs.
'Boggy Depot' does sound somewhat like Alice, no surprise since bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney are both on it. It's got both the hard-driving heavy metal and the rootsy, acoustic sound heard on the 'Jar Of Flies' EP and the 'MTV Unplugged' album. Fans may also recognize the lyrical style. "F---ing dark as hell," as Cantrell puts it. "I don't feel that way all the time. But when I'm feeling good, I'm out skiing or fishing. Generally, I write when something is blocking me. And writing is a way to get through it."
In other words, good therapy. One expects Cantrell to be as brooding and melancholy as his songs, but he turns out to be an easygoing fellow. He's no fool, either. He knows how loyal Alice fans are and how closely they'll be listening to his solo work. That's why he took his time.
Alice In Chains is a hell of a band to live up to," he says. "I didn't want to put something out that was rushed or forced. So I ended up taking quite a long time. That was OK for me, especially stepping up to the mike full time. That was a big step."
Unlike the late Kurt Cobain, Cantrell embraced the attention and success that came to Seattle bands in the early '90s. "That's what you get into this for," he says.
And while that city by the sea might be once again relegated to where it was when bands like Heart struggled for attention because it was so dead, "the music lives on, whether the bands are around or not," Cantrell says. "The fact is, we put our s--- out there and it's still out there. That's the important thing, that people dig it.
"I can't speak for the other bands, but nothing lasts forever, dude. Things change and that's good. In a bigger sense, enjoy life while it's going on. Who knows how long it lasts?"