DIRT was one of those unique records where I can vividly remember exactly where I was on the day it was released. It was September 29, 1992, and I was standing in line at the Discount Den in East Lansing, Michigan. I was furious after a lengthy and useless fight with my soon to be ex-girlfriend, and bought the disc to have something distract me on the depressing drive home from Michigan State's campus. By the time the second track, 'Rain When I Die', came on, I was hooked. For life.
For you youngsters out there (cue nostalgic music) enjoying Mp3 players and flash drives, there was a time when a CD player was a heavy, expensive device with one cord that plugged into your car stereo and another into the lighter, if you wanted to listen to CD's while you drove. Hit a bump too hard the CD player would skip. At the time, I drove around in a broken down 79' Oldsmobile Cutlass Brougham with this exact set up and two albums went everywhere with me through the winter of 1992/93: 'Ten' and 'Dirt'.
I was 19, wearing flannel and Doc Martens, drinking Pabst, working for Play It Again Sports, and more of life was ahead than behind. I was still an idealist, with a mind filled with questions and life choices that required impending decision. While it's true that youth is a time of optimism, little responsibility, and freedom, it's not always carefree. I had moved in out of my house, watched all of my friends leave for school, and trying to determine whether it was time do that myself and accept an invitation to attend Olivet college. The world was changing, more rapidly than ever.
Facelift, Alice In Chain's prior album, felt like a newly signed band who couldn't completely shed their heavy metal roots. The clever single 'Man In The Box' was all over MTV, but I just didn't connect with the video and it's late night horror movie feel. Then came a Seattle-based musical revolution and the band was crowned one of the 'big four of grunge' with Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and three guys who referred to themselves as the Indian ideal of 'complete enlightenment'.
Unlike Facelift, every song on DIRT, even the less brilliant endeavors, takes the listener on a journey. A journey through dread, depression, anxiety, and heartache. Albeit, the untitled track 'Iron Gland' is more like a rest stop in hell. This description, I realize, makes DIRT seem as if it would be the same experience as listening to razor blades.
Instead, it's the opposite.
This is a guitar drone grunge epic that wraps your mind around, not only addiction, but the inability to relate with Dad, and the search for one's place in the world.
It was in that way, the album immediately drew me in. Someone else out there in the world, even if it was just on a minute level, saw the world as I did. Had the same questions, the same criticisms. So what if it was a scrawny junkie from Kirkland, Washington, with a death wish and his alcoholic guitarist. It was music that reached across from the pacific northwest and absorbed into a punk kid lost in the everyday midwest.
These songs hold the most meaning for me:
Them Bones (are me).
Whenever I hear that line, I think about the Jonah Hex comic where Jonah is time-traveling around the future and comes across his stuffed corpse on display in a museum. This is a killer lead off with Staley wasting no time in launching into full snarl. No one in the band lets up the entire track.
Dam That River
Jerry says in the Music Bank booklet that this song was written to get back at Sean Kinney for breaking a table over his head. That makes no sense AT all. I hit you over the head with a table, you get me back by writing a song. I always interpreted the song as describing a lone man working against the system. Working against fate and the futility of such efforts.
Already released as part of the soundtrack for the film 'Singles', Would? was a magnificent stroke of marketing genius to build anticipation for the DIRT's release. It's a haunting tribute to Andrew Wood, lead singer of Mother Love Bone, and a friend of Cantrell's who died of a heroin overdose back in 1990. To this day, it's my personal favorite track on DIRT.
Rain When I Die
A close second. Most of the cryptic lyrics are, purposely, left to your interpretation.
Was it something I said, held against me . .?
For me, Rain represented a failed relationship and who doesn't have one circling overhead like hungry crows at that age. Whenever this song comes on my Itunes, I'm instantly transported back in time. I was involved with a gifted young lady who was smart enough to go off to Michigan State and live her life to the fullest, while I stagnated back in Rochester during another Fall at community college.
The fourth and most recognized single released from Dirt. We all know Rooster is about Cantrell's relationship with his Vietnam veteran Father. I use to listen to Rooster on my drive up to East Lansing and imagine the hell that was. It's slow build up to chorus allows you to sit back and drink in the dread and the guitar. And then Layne just completely lets it go. I would sit in the parking lot of the Orchard Ridge campus of Oakland Community College and turn this song up, right before accounting class.
Down In A Hole
Down In A Hole
Another classic. I'd like to reach for more, but my vices and my lifestyle continue to hold me back. I'd turn this on at work, and my boss Mike would instantly contemplate why he hadnt fired me yet.
Dirt is a mood album, where you sit back and let the songs sink in while asking yourself: Is this what I'm supposed to be doing with my life? Am I in the right place? I still get chills when listening to the raw honesty and power on this album. To this day it haunts me, not only with Layne's untimely death, but it takes me back to a time both more and less challenging.
And, it rocks.