Biography of a drug-ridden Seattle grunge outfit whose fame peaked in the mid-1990s.
In his nonfiction debut, Georgetown University graduate student de Sola brings a refined sensibility to the tale of Alice in Chains, a band that gained widespread notoriety but lost two of its original members to drug-related causes. The author aptly situates the band’s sound, attitude, and lifestyle in the context of a particular time and place; his subjects were outcast working-class kids growing up bored in the Pacific Northwest, in love with punk and classic rock just as much as 1980s hair metal. Of course, the main focus is on the band’s once-charismatic frontman-turned–heroin casualty, Layne Staley, whose distinctive, brooding style would come to be almost as widely recognized as Kurt Cobain’s banshee wailing. De Sola approaches writing about the band with the sort of genteel orthodoxy one might apply to a master’s thesis. To the author’s credit, though, his staid writing purposefully avoids the usual overheated rock-speak, letting quotes from the band and those operating in their milieu do the necessary dirty work. De Sola also integrates countless interviews with the band members’ surviving friends and family and just about anybody who was ever remotely associated with the band. Unfortunately, though, the book requires more aggressive content editing, as it drags readers along on too many detours detailing the dead-end side projects of the band members, not to mention their onstage (and backstage) high jinks. In the end, just like too many rock bands over the years, Alice in Chains couldn’t transcend the pitfalls of drugs, money, and overnight fame. Along with other bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains helped destroy complacent glam metal, but they also left behind a trail of futility and wasted talent in their wake.
Exhaustively researched but too discursive for its own good.