The Man In The Box-Won’t You Save Me?

28 Jan

David Bowie. Glen Frey. Lemmy. Scott Weiland. The sudden deaths of some of the most beloved musicians hit pretty hard and I wonder if these artists knew how much they’d impacted our lives.

For me, this last month has been a bittersweet reminder of a brilliant musician who received virtually zero mention at the time of his death.

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Most people have no idea that Alice In Chains’ front man, Layne Staley, died around the same time Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes did. The press covered her passing extensively. Every channel, paper and radio station mentioned Lopes, while running TLC video clips and songs 24/7.  Of course, Lisa died from a sudden auto accident while Layne died the typical rock star death at age 34 from a mixture of heroin and cocaine.

I’m not sure how many are aware that Layne Staley was dead for two weeks before anyone realized it.

Two weeks.

When I learned of this, my heart broke. How is it possible that someone who touched so many could have gone unnoticed for so long?

 

I wish I could just hug you all, but I’m not gonna.” –Layne Staley

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Alice In Chains has been a profound and unique grunge rock band, instantly recognizable largely due to Staley’s voice more than their overall sound. When you hear a song by Tool, it’s obvious it’s Tool by their uniquely defined musical style. With AIC, it was more about Staley’s lilting vocals. 

ebd7d75c4c1a975caa0123700cd73151Alice In Chains (and Layne himself) was the true leader of the Seattle Sound grunge movement. They were Sleze in 1984, which morphed into AIC and later became the super-group Mad Season. They influenced and opened doors for Nirvana, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees and Pearl Jam.

Unlike much of what came out of Seattle, AIC was inclined towards rock in addition to alternative in genre. Their heavier sound, array of styles and soulful lyrics struck a chord within me, and I’ve never wavered in my love for them.

 

“Man In The Box”

I’m the man in the box
Buried in my shit
Won’t you come and save me, save me

Feed my eyes, can you sew them shut?
Jesus Christ, deny your maker
He who tries, will be wasted
Feed my eyes now you’ve sewn them shut

I’m the dog who gets beat
Shove my nose in shit
Won’t you come and save me, save me…

 

What I know about Layne’s death is two things: Layne had two families; his blood ties and his band members. He was also a drug user and recluse with a mental disorder.

Anyone who has had to deal with a person struggling with any or all of these issues knows the tendency for that person to alienate everyone who loves them, which is often a harsh reality. We are hard to love.

I am speaking from experience, as an entertainer and someone who has experience in living with mental disorders. My father had one. I’ve inherited it. I’ve seen both sides of this kind of damage.

f4bda0790eaf737aa29ede9017b743cbThe fact that not one single person from his life noticed he was gone for two weeks shatters me.

Even if he’d told everyone to fuck off, just die, leave him alone – did no one love him enough to swing by and check on him? Bring him a meal? Pick up some groceries?

Nothing? Nothing at all?

 

“We started this band as kids, and as time has gone on, we’ve grown and are learning to accommodate each others’ differences.” – Layne Staley

 

There are lessons to be gleaned from losing Layne Staley. Instead of sitting back and judging the situation; blaming drugs, calling him a fuck-up, writing it off to “just another classic rock star death” or practicing Schadenfreude, we should view it as an opportunity to save someone else.

 

“When everyone goes home, you’re stuck with yourself. People have a right to ask questions and dig deep when you’re hurting them and things around you.” – Layne Staley

 

288050e9f560257bcdc70d7ae5ad397fDying alone and forgotten are valid human fears. Alice In Chains sold over eleven MILLION albums. Layne Staley touched an innumerable mass of people from all over the world. If this can happen to someone as known and beloved as Layne, it could happen to anyone.

 

“There are lasting consequences for using drugs. I’ll still be paying for my prior use.” – Layne Staley

 

Layne was introduced to what would ultimately be his cause of death by his own father at the age of twenty.  His father was an opiate addict and used with his son. This is a harsh lesson to wrap one’s head around.

But my main reason for writing this is to make people aware.

Bandmate and best friend Mike Starr bore the brunt of the guilt regarding Layne’s death before he passed in 2011 from a prescription drug overdose. He was the last person to see Staley alive and the two had argued, with Starr storming out and Layne calling after him, “Not like this. Don’t leave like this.”

Reportedly, they argued over Starr insisting on calling 911for help and Layne threatening to sever their friendship if he did. 

 

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When someone we love pushes us away, perhaps there’s more to it and we’re unable to see what’s really going on. Maybe we shouldn’t LET them have their space.

People often push away as a test – to see if you’ll push back, to see if you care. It’s common for many to feel unworthy of love. It’s especially common for those with a mental disorder, since we tend to hurt those around us the most. We simply don’t feel deserving. We need you to push back.

Talk is cheap.  Anyone can say, “I love you, you mean the world to me.” But can you show it? Will you do what needs to be done?

6558bdd586384b723d48edb309a40391In Layne’s case, no one pushed back. He is dead now because of this fact.

It’s pretty fucking simple. If someone had physically removed drugs and needles from his living area, watched over him, fed him – he would be alive. He clearly wasn’t able to take care of himself. It was no surprise how sick he was to those around him. Mike Starr tried. But in these situations, effort doesn’t mean shit. Only results count. If he’d had cancer, there would have been help. But he had a mental illness where he turned to “self-medicating”, which is why Layne was cast away.  

Kurt Cobain, who admitted he was manic-depressive (which is now called bipolar disorder), died in a not dissimilar way. His suicide note stated that his baby daughter would be better off without him in her life. “For her life will be so much happier without me.”

“God Am”
Dear God, how have you been then?
I’m not fine, fuck pretending
All of this death your sending
Best throw some free heart mending
Invite you in my heart, then
When done, my sins forgiven?
This God of mine relaxes
World dies I still pay taxes.

A lot of things aren’t understood about mental illness and suicide, but I can tell you one thing for certain; No one wants to die. They simply don’t want to live in the state they are in any longer. There is a vast difference between wanting to die and not wanting to live. When someone is suffering from something that goes with them no matter where they are and affects everyone around them badly, sometimes they hold on to a belief that the only way out is death.

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Layne’s death is extremely sad on so many levels. Wasted talent, wasted youth, but mostly it’s a constant reminder that our society doesn’t seem to care about the mentally ill. It’s felt we are disposable, to be shamed and anything that happens to us, it’s likely deserved. I’ve seen this attitude in everything from drug overdoses to police beatings.

No matter what we give to the world, it really doesn’t matter.

Or does it?

Push back. Prove me wrong.

 

“Every article I see (about myself) is dope this, junkie that, whiskey this – that ain’t my title. I don’t do much else but stay in my hotel room. Music is the doorway that has led me to drawing, photography, and writing. Music is the career I’m lucky enough to get paid for, but I have other desires and passions.” –Layne Staley

 

 

My hope for whoever is reading this is to have you recognize signs. When someone we care for is ‘acting out’ or being reclusive, maybe we shouldn’t take it so personally, get so angry or give up so quickly.  Think of the bigger picture; that you love this person. Despite what they’re doing, saying or how they’re acting, they need you.

Staley’s last interview: http://www.mtv.com/news/1470138/late-alice-in-chains-singer-layne-staleys-last-interview-revealed-in-new-book/

 

Thank you to Hubert O’Hearn, Brett Schwan & Joe Mays for taking the time to edit. Time is valuable.

 

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Layne Staley: August 22, 1967 – April 5, 2002. NOT FORGOTTEN. 

 

 

                                                    

 

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12 Responses to “The Man In The Box-Won’t You Save Me?”

  1. wardemon1313 January 29, 2016 at 2:26 am #

    April you don’t know how much you described me but without the drugs. I push people away with self hate and so far no one dared pushed back. You pushed back for a while but you stopped you went Mike Starr on me.

    • themuseherself January 29, 2016 at 5:26 pm #

      Ah. Well, the difference is, Mike Starr was family and loved Layne. I don’t personally know you and went out of my way to help you simply because I tried and felt for you. You’re not my responsibility. You need to reach out to your family and friends for that part. I have my own stuff to deal with, and it’s not right of you to assume I can take on your problems when I have plenty around me to deal with—and am collapsing at times under the weight of them. The people who love you are your support network. Go to them.

  2. ajk201 January 31, 2016 at 3:14 am #

    I think I’ve talked about this before, but man does this piece remind me so much of my mom….she gambles twice a day (lottery numbers for evening and midday) 7 days a week, sometimes even more than that if there’s mega million or powerball jackpot drawings, or if/when she buys scratch tickets, spending a decent amount of change in the process as you may imagine (was to the point where she at one time years back spent so much she couldn’t afford to live in her own house and had to move back home here with my grandma(and grandpa then when he was still alive), and was dipping into money my dad gave her for child support) as well as being a big alcohol drinker, diet soda drinker, and just overall very depressed person, and everyone in my family knows it, but really no one does a lot about it to stop it and it pisses me off.

    I feel at times I’m the only one that really cares enough to tell her no, my grandma lets her buy beer by the case and store it in the fridge (her (my mom’s) money course but still), watches lottery numbers for her (this in particular bothers me) and just overall I feel enables her in a lot of ways (as I tend to think my whole family does honestly in this way), even fully knowing what my mom is doing to herself day in and day out. And then of course if I stand up to her, by refusing to get her beers when she wanted one (hasn’t come up as much now but it used to), or not enabling her with the lottery (one day over the Christmas holiday she forced me to change the channel in the living room of something I was watching just so she could get her fix/see her numbers) I become the bad person, I get yelled at. It’s just really really frustrating, and the whole thing makes it hard for me to get close to either my mom, or others in the family even, so I tend to retreat into myself a lot for it all cause the whole environment is just so damn toxic you know?

    She won’t help herself, and no one else seems to wanna do anything to help her either (even though it is up to her in the end of it more than anyone else but nonetheless), and it just is not a very good situation to be living around. Not to mention my own issues I deal with day in and day out, either dealing with them (aka not getting the respect I deserve from them on multiple levels, and this applies to when I see my dad at times as well not just here at home, though that’s gotten a little better I guess but the relationship is still tough at times) or dealing with myself internally. It’s just really rough.

    And you’re right too, most of the time when a person gets so down they do want to be pushed, even if just on a subconscious level. When I get so down/pull away from people and life, I know I can’t stay that way forever. Sometimes I do need time to myself to kinda breathe on my own a bit and such (like I do as of late on a social media level) we all need that, but after a while you do need to kinda get back with the world, and times away like that are a bit different than just checking out totally. When it gets to that latter level, you do need people to pull you back. One close online (and perhaps soon real life) friend/girlfriend has often served that for me….pulling me back in when I’ve felt suicidal (moreso in the past on that) making sure I eat, trying to find ways to make me smile and laugh to distract my mind, etc etc, you need that sometimes even when you may not truly want it at the time, you do need it.

    I’m glad you wrote this, mental health is no joke at all and needs to be talked about a lot more than it is (not just one day a year on those bell let’s talk days), and it needs to understood that the people that succumb aren’t weak really, they just didn’t get the help that they needed….when they needed it. It’s a sad thing. It’s easy to judge them, but unless you knew them, you really can’t.

    • themuseherself January 31, 2016 at 2:45 pm #

      Hi-I think that’s a whole ‘nother blog in itself…or several…the “you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” problem. There are a couple of approaches on that one, but the main approach is to kind of love and help, but also realize it is what it is and know reality. If you don’t hope for something that’s not realistic (a cure or her being normal), then you won’t constantly be let down. There’s a fine line between helping and doing our best to make someone see they need medical help (and it’s OK and nothing to be ashamed about…which is another reason the stigma needs to go) and having such high hopes that continually get crushed. We eventually give up in anger and frustration.
      It’s hard.It’s hard to sit back and and watch someone keep fucking up their lives–and those around them. It IS toxic. You’re spot on.
      You have to do what you can to maintain your own sanity…and stay arms distance from her…but still be there. Know that she’s ill – and that’s part of who she is. Accepting that will help you manage a bit better, maybe.
      It’s a literal fucking balancing act. BUT…if anything were to happen, you will know you did everything you could.
      Forgive me for speaking freely. My dad was the same way to some degree.

      • ajk201 February 1, 2016 at 3:26 am #

        No need to ask for that, you know I value honesty and free speaking on whatever the topic may be. May I ask if you’re willing to speak on it more/if there is more to be said on it, how you dealt with your dad? Curious what your own experience(s) woulda been with him.

  3. Sean Rhodes February 17, 2016 at 10:47 pm #

    April, I have always been a huge fan of yours but after reading this it just grew tremendously. This was incredible and beautifully written. I am not a drug addict, never have been but I too struggle with the self hate. I have battled depression my entire life. Two divorces, getting kicked out of a church, never feeling like I was good enough for anyone or anything led me into a world where depression grew, contemplating suicide was a daily battle. I still have days but they are less and less frequent and one of the ways I have overcome and continue to overcome is knowing that there are people like you who do care. So thank you April, you’re the best!

    • themuseherself February 18, 2016 at 2:52 am #

      Thank you. I totally understand…been there. We need those around us to ‘get us’. Just be as good to those whom you love as possible and hopefully, they’ll be good to you. If not…then do something creative. Find a hobby you love and do THAT. Or, both. Hang in there.

  4. Ryan April 29, 2016 at 12:25 am #

    Thank you for this article. I am a big AIC fan and it’s especially because of Layne, his lyrics, voice, and soul. His words have saved me a few times when I was spiraling out of control. I haven’t had an easy life and Laynes music has helped me keep my strength and carry on. I even named my only son “Layne” as a constant reminder that there are beautiful people in this world and they need help.

  5. Tiziana December 27, 2016 at 2:45 am #

    Hi April, thanks for your article.

    I agree with you that Layne’s death was unnecessary, sad and a waste in so many ways. However, from what I understand, many people really tried to help him. They phoned and came to his house many times, but he didn’t pick up the phone and rarely opened his door. He threatened to cut anyone off if they even just spoke of rehab. He refused all help. Like somebody said in the comments above, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. What could people have done? He was an adult. You say people should have just taken all the drugs and syringes away from him, but do you think that would have worked in the long run? If somebody doesn’t want to be helped, then this makes it very, very difficult for the people who do want to help. Layne unfortunately made this choice for himself, and many say that after Demri’s death he just didn’t want to live any longer. When we’re in the depth of so much suffering, we still have choices. We either self-destruct, or we reach out for help.

    Like you, I think it is beyond words that Layne wasn’t found for two weeks after he died. And I also think, if only, instead of heroin, he had found something else to soothe his pain. Meditation. Therapy. Anything, instead of this numbing and self-destruction. But sadly, this was his path, and we can just hope that it deters others from taking the same journey.

    May he rest in peace. He is missed and kept alive in our hearts.

  6. Tiziana Stupia December 27, 2016 at 2:47 am #

    Hi April, thanks for your article.

    I agree with you that Layne’s death was unnecessary, sad and a waste in so many ways. However, from what I understand, many people really tried to help him. They phoned and came to his house many times, but he didn’t pick up the phone and rarely opened his door. He threatened to cut anyone off if they even just spoke of rehab. He refused all help. Like somebody said in the comments above, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. What could people have done? He was an adult. You say people should have just taken all the drugs and syringes away from him, but do you think that would have worked in the long run? If somebody doesn’t want to be helped, then this makes it very, very difficult for the people who do want to help. Layne unfortunately made this choice for himself, and many say that after Demri’s death he just didn’t want to live any longer. When we’re in the depth of so much suffering, we still have choices. We either self-destruct, or we reach out for help.

    Like you, I think it is beyond words that Layne wasn’t found for two weeks after he died. And I also think, if only, instead of heroin, he had found something else to soothe his pain. Meditation. Therapy. Anything, instead of this numbing and self-destruction. But sadly, this was his path, and we can just hope that it deters others from taking the same journey.

    May he rest in peace. He is missed and kept alive in our hearts.

    • themuseherself December 27, 2016 at 4:09 pm #

      Hi,
      Thank you for the comment. I agree with you. When I wrote this, I was in a different state of mind. I now realize that you are (mostly) correct. As a wrestler, I live in a world full of drugs, mostly pain pills and sleeping aids. We lose people far too often and on a regular basis. It’s gutting to get several texts a year about it. (It’s also annoying to see people STILL blaming steroids when all the Ms. & Mr. Olympia’s are still alive, but the rock stars are dead.)

      I get ultra frustrated when someone who gives so much dies too young. Layne’s music, for me, is what got me through a lot. I don’t know if you read other blogs, but I’m bipolar and much of the varying sound, lyrics…they just resonated with me. There’s nothing more frustrating than wasted talent and I guess I mourn him for strictly selfish reasons. Or not. I just was angry that someone wouldn’t physically yank him out of his place, drag him to a safe place and stay with him for a few months. Then get him on the path you suggest, a better way. Unorthodox, I realize, but maybe he’d be alive. I’ve had it done to me. That’s why I’m here today. You can’t MAKE a horse drink, but sometimes you can talk sense into the horse and make it realize it’s thirsty as fuck.

      Anyway…thank you for reading and your insightful and extremely thoughtful comment.
      April

      • Tiziana Stupia December 27, 2016 at 8:55 pm #

        Hi again,

        thanks for sharing your thoughts around this issue. There is an additional factor, as you point out, and that is environment. I worked as a music journalist for Kerrang! magazine in London during the time Alice In Chains and all the Grunge bands were around, so I met many of them personally. As you know yourself being in the industry you are in, drug use is very much celebrated and even encouraged in those circles. Everyone thought people like Layne, Kurt Cobain, Pete Steele etc were mega cool for self-destructing. I’ve watched so many young, talented musicians go down the same road, very much encouraged by their record labels, promoters, managers, fellow musicians and hangers-on. It’s tragic, and useless.

        But, as Layne’s mother herself said, the Universe sometimes has a different plan, and we can’t always see the big picture. Layne’s horrific death has raised much awareness around the non-glamorous side of drug abuse and his mother is now running the layne-staley.com charity, helping others to recover from drug abuse. And if you have ever been around heroin addicts, you will know how difficult it is to help them and how resistant ‘they’ (or rather the entity of heroin) often are to any help offered to them.And yes, I hear you. It would have been wonderful if somebody had just gone in there, taken him forcefully to a place with no drugs and kept him there for months until he could see sense. And it’s a shame that nobody did.

        Like you, I mourn the loss of Layne. His music meant a great deal to me when I was still in a place of suffering myself. I sincerely wish he could have found soothing for the root cause of his pain, which seemed to be the trauma of abandonment when his father left the family, and then repeated itself when Demri ‘abandoned’ him as well. We have to face our demons and go to the root of our pain if we ever want to be healed. Unfortunately, many of us numb with drugs instead because the pain seems too much to bear.

        Thanks again for your writings, I actually thought your blog was one of the best ones about Layne, just because it is real and written from the heart. I had a look at your bio and you have an interesting story. Many blessings on your journey. I am an author and wrote a book about my healing journey of going to the root of my trauma. Perhaps you’d find it interesting, it’s called ‘Meeting Shiva – Falling and Rising in Love in the Indian Himalayas’ and you can read a review about it here:

        http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/meeting-shiva/

        Take care!

        Tiziana

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