Perhaps the label's most valuable contribution was providing the group with a touring bus. During 1990 and 1991, Alice opened for everyone from Iggy Pop and Van Halen to Extreme and Poison, as well as slogging through a bottom-billed slot on the infamous Clash of the Titans package with Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth. "That tour was a real challenge, because we're not a speed-metal band," says Kinney. "During our set the entire crowd would chant, 'Slayer, Slayer, Slayer.' But we figured, hey, if we could play for a Slayer crowd and not get killed, we had it made."
All the hard work eventually paid off – in September 1991, thirteen months after Facelift was released, the album was certified gold for selling a half-million copies, making Alice the most successful new Seattle band – until Nirvana exploded. Ironically, when the full-scale media blitz hit western Washington earlier this year, Alice in Chains was virtually lost in the shuffle. "Once it got really big with Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, there wasn't much mentioned about us," says Staley. "All those bands put out records around the same time, and we hadn't put one out in two years. I don't think it hurt us, though. I'm glad we didn't get lumped together with them, because we're not those other bands."
For all the album's out-of-the-box success, the making of Dirt was plagued by bad luck. Traveling down to Los Angeles to be near Jerden, the band began recording in April. When the riots broke out, various band members fled to the safer environs of Joshua Tree and Tijuana, bringing work on the album to a halt. A more personal downer for the band was Staley's drug abuse, which led the singer to a failed rehab visit and, finally, a cold-turkey kick of his own while reading The Bad Place, by horror novelist Dean R. Koontz.
Staley is reluctant at first to discuss his heroin problems, especially in light of a recent Rolling Stone article about the drug's revival, which mentioned him. The article, he says, caused his family and friends much grief. But he also welcomes the chance to clear up any rumors and gossip.
"The facts are that I was shooting a lot of dope, and that's nobody's business but mine," he says, resting on the tour bus before opening for Osbourne in Dallas. "I'm not shooting dope now, and I haven't for a while.... I took a fucking long, hard walk through hell. I decided to stop because I was miserable doing it. The drug didn't work for me anymore. In the beginning I got high, and it felt great; by the end it was strictly maintenance, like food I needed to survive. Since I quit doing it, I tried it a couple of times to see if I could recapture the feeling I once got off it, but I don't. Nothing attracts me to it anymore. It was boring."
Aside from his busted foot, Staley appears to be in fine shape these days. He's gained some weight, the color has returned to his skin, and a muscleman on tour keeps an eye on him in case the old urges return. Staley says he deals with those feelings now through his music, especially Dirt tracks like "Angry Chair" and "Sickman," as well as more overt tunes such as "Junk-head." More than anything, he's upset by comments that suggest the music advocates drug use: "From song to song, the album changes from glorifying drugs to being completely miserable and questioning what I thought once worked for me. By the end of the album, it's pretty obvious it didn't work out as well as I thought it would."
Staley also expresses his current sentiments onstage, introducing one grim number as "a song about a hopeless fucking junkie."
When Alice hits the stage in Dallas, the audience eagerly embraces the group, with the entire front section standing on its feet, waving outstretched fists, flicking cigarette lighters during every song. After the gig, the band briefly mingles backstage with fans and Columbia executives before scattering. Starr goes off to nuzzle his girlfriend, Kinney heads elsewhere, and Cantrell makes his way down to a tattoo and body-piercing emporium.
"As you can see," Cantrell says, "I'm into some twisted shit." Indeed, he endures a four-hour-plus session, getting a strange array of gruesome faces inked onto his arm, reaching from the wrist all the way up to the crook of his elbow. The tattoo parlor is cluttered with designs of skulls, gargoyles, dragons and other Goth images. A lurid T-shirt hangs on the wall, picturing an EC Comics-type cannibal and the motto Jeffrey Dahmer says, "Remember Kids…Tattoos Taste Great!" Some twisted shit indeed.
And Staley? Well, the Alice in Chains singer decided to make a return trip to the Basement. Although it's the night after Sadistic Sunday, Staley is having a grand time. There are beers all around, a bevy of exotic dancers smother him with affection, and – listen closely – they've even got "Man in the Box" playing on the club's speakers. For a young rock singer enjoying the first moments of celebrity, things can't get much better.
But despite the fun times and early commercial success of Dirt, Staley won't be singing any upbeat ditties in the near future. For the time being, he is intent on making music that can purge his pain. "We don't stuff our personal demons inside us, we get them out," Staley says. "It's therapeutic. I'm sure I'll never be completely 100 percent at peace with myself and the world. I'll always be bitching and moaning about something."
This story is from the November 26th, 1992 issue of Rolling Stone.
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