Alice in Chains: the untold story – Book Review

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve reviewed books on Amazon and Goodreads, but I’ve never reviewed one on this blog. I don’t know why. Maybe I felt it would be redundant. Or maybe I just never found the inspiration to do so. But today that changes. Why?

Over the years, I’ve searched for information on Layne Staley and Alice in Chains. I wanted to understand who they were – the geniuses behind the music. It’s what I do when someone’s music or writing or life resonates with me. I’ve read numerous bios on my bands, my writers, and people who accomplish greatness regardless of their personal hells. As for AIC, I could never find anything of substance until recently.

Several months ago, I made a pre-order purchase on Amazon of David de Sola’s biography of the band entitled Alice in Chains, the untold story. I’d read de Sola’s blog Ice Picks and Nukes, and found him to be a reputable journalist, so I couldn’t wait to read his book because so much mystery has always surrounded the band. Finally, the biography was released in August, but it has taken me this long to put into words how I feel about it.

I gave it five stars, by the way. De Sola’s well-documented research is evident in the countless details he gives about the band, their history, who they were before Alice. He cites his many sources in the endnotes and gives credit to the sources who agreed to be named. I even looked up a number of the video interviews and such that he mentions in the notes – brings the band back to life, as though maybe they’re all still here.

De Sola treats the band respectfully as he delves into their lives – from their inception as musicians, through their addictions, to the surviving members’ regrouping with William DuVall. And what I appreciated most was his undogged dedication to documenting history from multiple sources – in order to portray the most accurate depiction possible of such a private band. He also does not gloss over the dark side of their lives – drug addiction. However, he writes of a very sensitive subject with the utmost respect for Layne, Mike, and others who succumbed to their addictions. They were human beings – flawed, as we all are – and the least they deserve is to be treated as such in spite of their fallability, or perhaps because of it. I hate it when people refer to them as junkies. They were so much more than that, and their music is evidence of this.

It was an emotional read – especially when reading of Layne’s “black” years. The reclusive years. The mysterious years. The years where you know he was hopeless, and you understand because you don’t have to be an addict to understand despair. I think this is why AIC’s music resonates with so many disparate people. Layne may have been singing about the effect of drugs on his life, but sometimes those feelings don’t come from external forces – they come from within. Yet, that leaves one unanswered question: Was Layne’s despair borne from addiction, or was the addiction a result of despair? I suppose only Layne knows, and in the end, it doesn’t really make a difference. But his music makes a difference.

There’s one more thing. This book is one of those books. The ones where you know how the story ends, but you still hope for a different – happier – ending.  And when it doesn’t – you feel the pain all over again – of losing him, his voice, his words. Be prepared for this if you still mourn him.

In spite of its ending, my only regret is that Jerry, Sean, and Nancy had not commented. This is their story, too, and the world needs to know it. The universe is a more tolerable place with AIC’s music. They should have been eager to share their part of the story.

Thanks to David de Sola for shedding light on this very influential band. He did them – and us – a great service in telling this story.