Twenty years ago, Alice in Chains scored an unlikely No. 1 hit with the acoustic EP Jar of Flies. A look back at the making of the album:
But more than anything, Jar Of Flies provided a much-needed glimpse into the true personality and talent of Alice In Chains. Considering how Staley left listeners on Dirt, it was nice to hear him still alive and in slightly better spirits. Those days, however, were short-lived. Staley’s habit and unreliability forced the band to drop out of their ensuing summer tour with Metallica along with Woodstock ’94, providing a point of contention among the band members for years. They re-enlisted Wright to record their full-length self-titled follow-up, but the experience would be vastly different.
What causes a great band to fall apart or break up? Melvins frontman Roger “Buzz” Osborne weighs in on his favorite bands, and what they did to (in his view) wreck what they had:
The A.V. Club: Isn’t there something to be said for quitting while you’re ahead?
BO: I think that’s ridiculous. You do this much work, so you should continue doing that much work. I’ve always had the idea that multi-millionaire rock stars should work harder than anyone, because they have the ability to do it. Look at an artist like Andy Warhol. He never stopped working even after he didn’t need to work again. I think when he died he was worth $200 million. He certainly didn’t need to work, but he did. Francis Bacon was a brutal alcoholic, but painted from like 6 a.m. to noon every single day until he died.
Those are the people who inspire me, not someone who is better than ever and decides that this is nothing and they’re going to move on. It’s ridiculous. So that’s why they’re on there. I’m friends with those guys and we went on that tour with them and were like, “You guys are better than ever! I cannot believe you’re breaking up! Why not just take a break?” “No, we’re done!” “Oh, okay.”
The writer reflects on his professional and financial mistakes, and how he’s changed his focus:
“I was still just a guy with one book under his belt. And a book that, despite all the attention it was getting, sold maybe 10,000 copies. It wasn’t some sort of international publishing phenomenon. It was, at best, sort of a moderately successful indie-rock project. So I still had to do stuff like write promotional copy for Weight Watchers to support myself and pay my mortgage, which was relatively small. The year I quit the Reader, I made almost no money. Maybe $30,000. And I thought, ‘Aren’t I supposed to be a famous writer? Is this it? A drafty townhouse in Philadelphia?’ So that pattern established itself for me over the years; I’d have a little success, let it go to my head, and then make some outrageous move to try and capitalize on that, and the move would come crashing down on my head. I would always get a little overexcited.”
The comedy legend revisits his most famous work—and the lessons he learned:
“I would say, for me, that philosophical treatise about having black beginnings and wanting love to compensate for that, wanting audiences and wanting attention—I say, ‘Au contraire.’ Completely opposite. I want the continuation of my mother’s incredible love and attention to me. I was the baby boy. There were four boys. I was 2 years old when my father died, and my mother had to raise four boys. She must be in heaven, because in those days you washed clothes, you washed diapers. There was no income, and she had to take in home work. My Aunt Sadie brought her work that made these bathing suits and stuff, and ladies’ dresses. And my mother would sometimes do bathing-suit sashes all night. She got $5 or $6, and it was a lot. She could feed us, you know? But certainly she’d feed four boys for that day. It was amazing. But she loved me a lot. I don’t think I learned to walk until I was 5, because she always held me. [Laughs.] She’d say, ‘You can do anything, good or bad. You’re the best kid.’ So I say, ‘Au contraire.’ I think my surge forward into show business and getting audiences to love me was to continue gathering that affection and that love. It’s the opposite of a dark place. I came from a lovely, sunny place.”
The make-out game Seven Minutes In Heaven can evoke painful memories of awkwardly fumbling through puberty in a dark closet at a junior high boy-girl party. But Mike O’Brien, a former Chicago performer in his third season as a writer for Saturday Night Live, is slowly helping replace those memories with more enjoyable ones of Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler, and Tracy Morgan hanging out with him in his closet in his new NBC web series, 7 Minutes In Heaven. O’Brien and director Rob Klein place celebrities in a small closet with cameras, suits, ties, hats, and only O’Brien. For a few minutes, they share the tight space with O’Brien as he asks them a barrage of quick-hitting, mostly nonsensical questions, such as “Please talk about ways that you are or are not similar to a horse.”
Even if the hugeness of Hysteria can be plainly seen in statistical terms, wrapping your head around it is difficult nearly 25 years later. We still have hit records, and artists and producers obsessed with discovering the newest ways of making them, but being No. 1 on the charts doesn’t have quite the same significance anymore. If you reach the top of the heap, you’ll be disappointed to find that the heap is much smaller than it used to be, and there are lots of other heaps nearby that are approximately the same size.
Promoter John Scher insisted instead that the ugliness of Woodstock 99 reflected a larger moral chasm in the souls of the attendees. “I think, in some respects, the generation was irresponsible and they gave me and themselves the finger,” Scher told Spin. He wasn’t the only one who felt that Woodstock 99 amounted to a big “fuck you!” from legions of incorrigible kids. More than one writer likened Woodstock 99 to “The Day Of The Locust,” the 1939 Nathanael West novel about wanton sin and alienation in Los Angeles that ends with violent mob violence.
There really is life after death in ’90s rock, provided you can retain enough of your old sound to convince people to move forward with you. But while the surviving members of Alice In Chains made sure to present their band as a newly evolved entity, Sublime’s Bud Gaugh and Eric Wilson are trying to pick up where they were forced to leave off in 1996, when their lead singer, Bradley Nowell, died of a heroin overdose at age 28.
The perils of fame in grunge-era Seattle, and the trouble with avoiding it. “Still, the video for ‘Even Flow’ succeeded in doing for Pearl Jam what the ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ video had done for Def Leppard four summers earlier: It made you wish really hard that Pearl Jam would come somewhere near your town very soon.”
After one of the headiest years in Chicago rock history—a time when the city usurped Seattle as the new alt-rock hotspot, thanks to Smashing Pumpkins going platinum with the colossal guitar symphony “Siamese Dream,” and Liz Phair and Urge Overkill releasing the critically acclaimed and demonstrably cool “Exile In Guyville” and “Saturation”—local music critic Bill Wyman stated an opinion that seems obvious now, but ended up being quite the shit-stirrer when he wrote it.