On this day in 1992, Alice in Chains released Dirt, their critically acclaimed second studio album.
Before the term “grunge” ever existed, Alice in Chains was instrumental in bringing about the genre’s widespread popularity. The first major success came from Nirvana’s 1990 first album Facelift with the song “Man in the Box,” but by the time 1992’s Dirt came along, Nirvana’s Nevermind had completely altered the landscape.
Alice In Chains: With the release of their second full-length, AIC was under the spotlight as a significant figure in this hazy Seattle scene. In addition to being noticeable among the wide variety of bands that were all grouped together as “grunge,” they also stood out among that group. They were unique in the genre due to the metallic edge and, particularly on this album, the gloom they brought to the table. The album Dirt appropriately explored the depths of lead singer Layne Staley‘s sadness, gloom, and heroin addiction. Although songs like “God Smack” and “Junkhead” didn’t exactly hide behind metaphor, the sheer dismal severity and Staley’s unparalleled vocal delivery actually manage to be uplifting.
Even though it’s the band, Alice In Chains’ best work, there are certain things you may not know about Dirt.
1. The band fled to the desert with Slayer frontman Tom Araya when the LA riots kicked off
Alice in Chains relocated from Seattle to Los Angeles in 1992 to record Dirt, but the riots that broke out after the acquittal of the police officers shown on video assaulting Black motorist Rodney King coincided with their arrival.
Alice In Chains: Guitarist Jerry Cantrell said in Grunge Is Dead, “We moved down to LA, began recording the album, and that Rodney King judgment came down… city burned to the ground. We had to make the trip from Studio City to Venice, where we were staying at the Oakwoods, while the whole city was in upheaval. We contacted Slayer’s Tom Araya, and we all met in the desert to wait out the heat. We had to wait till the disturbances calmed down a little. I’ll always associate the album with a special event in my life.
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2. The Araya-enhanced Iron Gland was built on a Layne Staley riff the rest of Alice In Chains hated
Alice In Chains: Iron Gland is a 43-second interlude in which Tom Araya is joined by Slayer vocalist and guitarist Kerry King, who provides his signature scream. Vocalist Layne Staley composed the song’s riff, which is reminiscent of “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath after being bathed in tar and run through a slaughterhouse. The rumor is that the bandmates loathed it, but the singer was allowed to retain it on the record in exchange for a pledge to never play it to them again. The song was released on Dirt without a title, with the title appearing on subsequent anthologies.
3. Staley’s shades in the Rooster vid were covering up his pinprick pupils
Alice In Chains: Fans are aware that Jerry Cantrell, the guitarist, dedicated Rooster to his father, who was known by that moniker and fought in the United States Army during the Vietnam War. Real documentary footage from Vietnam was intercut with brutal depictions of battle and a shady-looking Layne Staley.
The singer wasn’t simply attempting to seem cool and hip, it seems. In Mark Yarm’s grunge history Everybody Loves Our Town, director Mark Pellington recalled, “Layne was fairly high.” The condition of his eyes was really disturbing. In other words, he was completely cornered. I complimented him on how “badass” he looked with his shades. It was then when the phrase “All right, let’s go” was said. Allow me to get a few of the takes.
4. Lane Staley broke his foot touring with Ozzy Osbourne, much to Ozzy’s amusement
Alice In Chains: Their first big tour in promotion of Dirt was with Ozzy Osbourne on his No More Tours trek. After breaking his foot in an accident, Staley had to spend much of the tour on crutches. “I was riding a three-wheel, all-terrain vehicle,” he said in an interview. Without brakes. And I whirled around, intending either to run into a vehicle and break my neck or to attempt to leap off. The bike stomped on my foot, and I couldn’t stop it.
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Later Alice In Chains member and former Ozzy bassist Mike Inez said, “Ozzy was looking from his dressing room window. According to him, it was one of the funniest things he’d ever seen. This poor man shattered his foot. The situation was hysterical.
5. Bassist Mike Starr was fired while on tour in Brazil
Alice In Chains: There was no hiding the fact that at the time of recording Dirt, both Layne Staley and drummer Sean Kinney were struggling with their own drug problems, which were acknowledged openly on the album. However, Mike Starr on bass was let go and replaced with Inez.
Alice In Chains: At the time, Staley explained the split to Rolling Stone as a “change in priorities.” We planned to keep up the hectic schedule of publicity and tours. Mike wanted to get out of there.
In retrospect, the bassist should have said on an episode of Celebrity Rehab that he was truly fired from the band, Alice In Chains because of his increasing drug usage. Less than a decade after Staley’s death, in 2011, Starr also succumbed to an overdose of prescription drugs.
6. The song “Would?” was written after the late Mother Love Bone vocalist Andrew Wood.
Andrew Wood, the main singer of Mother Love Bone, died of a heroin overdose in 1990, and Jerry Cantrell dedicated the song Would? to him. The guitarist spoke of Andy as a “hilarious man, full of life and it was terribly painful to lose him” in the liner notes of the AIC boxset Music Bank. But I despise those who are quick to pass judgment on the choices of others. The target audience, then, included the jurors themselves.
7. Staley’s first full-length compositions and guitar contributions were included on Dirt.
Although Alice In Chains’ primary composer was Cantrell, Staley eventually became an increasingly important contributor, particularly in terms of lyrics. Two songs on Dirt, “Hate to Feel” and “Angry Chair,” were written entirely by the vocalist (who also played guitar on both tracks).
Cantrell described “Angry Chair” as “such a fantastic tune” in the liner notes for the Music Bank compilation. I think Layne did a fantastic job penning it. He has always been encouraging whenever I’ve had to take the lead vocally; here he was taking the lead role on guitar and creating a masterpiece.
8. The singer had a ‘shrine’ including a dead puppy in a jar
David de Sola writes in Alice in Chains: The Untold Story that Staley had a sonic curtain erected around the voice booth at his request so that he could record in perfect silence. Inside the wall, Layne built a shrine with “candles and a picture of the Last Supper, and then a dead dog in a jar,” as Dirt engineer Bryan Carlstrom put it.
Annette Cisneros, the assistant engineer, was quoted by De Sola as saying, “It was terrifying back there.” I avoided going there as much as possible.
9. The cover girl was also used in the Bitch School record by Spinal Tap.
Staley’s ex-girlfriend Demri Parrott was widely assumed to be the lady seen on the record cover for many years.
Years later, photographer Rocky Schenck told Revolver, “I intended this cover to have a pretty ‘Hellish’ feel.” The woman was really Mariah O’Brien, whom Schenck had previously photographed for the cover of Spinal Tap’s less eerie song Bitch School, he said.
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10. There is a planned sequence to the songs on the drug-themed flip side.
Jerry Cantrell has said that although Dirt was not a full-fledged concept album, a substantial portion of it does follow a plot arc. He told RIP magazine at the time, “Those tracks are arranged in order on the second side, those five songs from Junkhead to Angry Chair for a reason: because it tells a tale. At the beginning of Junkhead, the protagonist has a very naïve, childlike outlook; he thinks drugs are cool, sex is cool, and rock ‘n’ roll is cool. The story develops as the protagonists mature and come to understand its central themes. Death is simple; life, on the other hand, is very challenging.