Did you ever have one of those friends who compelled you in such a way to do things you normally wouldn’t, and then you regretted those actions afterwards? I had one, and even though we drifted apart, I fondly reminisce about her. To preserve her anonymity, I will just refer to her as ‘C’. C wanted to try most things at least once; I did not. Don’t get me wrong; I am a very curious sort. However, I am a calculated risk-taker, usually. She did not blithely venture into uncharted territory, mind you, but her carpe diem approach to life could be intoxicating. I trust you know what could happen under that influence.
We drove halfway across the country with maxed-out credit cards and no itinerary. I was given a CO2 handgun (no license needed at the time) for protection. I tried to fire it in a roadside motel room, but thankfully, the canister blew into a cloud of cool gas instead. I don’t know if there were any long-term effects of inhaling what the weapon expelled. Guns freak me out, but I felt empowered around my friend, C.
Another time, we turned an uneventful evening into a festival of firsts for her. Well, two firsts, to be precise. After consuming sugary cocktails and Pop-tarts, she dyed her dark, blonde hair red with a box of henna I had encouraged her to purchase earlier. We then ambled over to the nearest tattoo parlor, picked a unicorn off the wall, and spent the next hour getting it inked on her outer calf. She squeezed my hand the whole time; that girl had quite a grip. The artist was a dragger instead of a tapper, and that is a sensitive area, so I appreciated the pain she endured. Okay, I did not get a tattoo. I do have my limits. As an artist, I would only mark up my body with my own designs. Oh wait, I didn’t know I could draw at the time. I probably didn’t have the money. Yep, that’s it. I did put henna into my hair one time. Remember that episode of the Brady Bunch? Just picture Greg with waist-length hair and that show would have reached a new level of melodrama. Now you know why my risks are usually well thought-out. I can’t take complete credit for controlling her destiny that night. She was a doer to my thinker. She encouraged me to think about taking risks, and I thought really hard so that she would believe I was the mastermind of that evening. For the most part, though, I experienced her risk-taking ventures that night vicariously.
It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that a night spent at an Alice in Chains concert back in ‘93 would not end for us after the curtain dropped. I have always been a big fan of the band, but C had never heard of them until I asked her to go with me. During the course of the evening, she developed a huge crush on Jerry Cantrell. I can certainly see the appeal. Even now—years later—he looks like Greg Allman’s hotter, younger brother. However, I never cared for long hair on men. My older sister and I agreed on many things, but our paths diverged when the conversation turned to the hotness factor of Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon versus Tequila Sunrise. No contest there, in my opinion. Now, no hairstyle can redeem that man, but I digress. Anyway, despite Cantrell really being the creative force behind Alice in Chains, I was all about Layne Staley at the time. Apparently, I was into scrawny grunge rockers in my early twenties. There was something seductive about that dude, the voice, those intense eyes, and sultry lips. Picture Paul Newman on crack, and perhaps you will understand the allure there. I can’t stand cigarette smoking—he was a heavy smoker—but in my fantasies, he abstained while he sang his trademark growl into my ear. Sigh.
It was a great show, and their performance of Rooster did not disappoint. I also got a souvenir that will remind me of this evening, whether I want it to or not.
I did not have to wrestle anyone for it. One of the crowd control guys was giving it to me as another hand reached for it. He pulled it away until I was ready to take it. As the crowd started clearing out, I passed by him and thanked him for the token. “You know I was giving that to you, right?” he asked with a lascivious smile. Eww. I played dumb, “Yep! Thanks again.” I made a hasty exit before he could go all Indian giver on me. I was a bit insulted. My body was worth a Hell of a lot more than a cracked drumstick. I was an Accountant, damn it. How dare he assume I was just some tawdry, cheap fan-girl? Puh!
We were hanging out in my car after the show, wondering what trouble we could get into, considering the night was still young. At one point, I entertained C with my Layne Staley impersonation singing Rooster and Man in a Box—spot-on, in my humble opinion. The topic turned to some key “what if” questions. What if . . . Jerry Cantrell came onto you right now, even though you are engaged? I had carte blanche if Mr. Staley propositioned me, as I wasn’t dating anyone at the time. The whole time in the car, we had a clear view of their tour bus, and were sitting there waiting for a glimpse of any of the band members. Layne was not to be seen, but there was a flash of long, blonde hair at one point.
After about an hour, the bus started moving. We straightened up in our seats as we exchanged tentative, yet eager glances. “Let’s follow them!” Do I have to indicate who said that? So, onward I drove as I followed them through the back streets. I thought the fun was in the dare, and it would peter out and end there. The burning, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach I get only when venturing out of my comfort zone came on full-force as we careened into the entrance to I-94N—heading towards Chicago. “Oh my god, we are really doing this!” she exclaimed. “I can’t believe we are doing this!” I screamed. “This is so awesome,” as we giggled like schoolgirls. I pushed hard on the gas pedal, lest I lose sight of their big-ass, black tour bus. This was really happening!
So, we get to the hotel they were staying at. We happened upon a couple of other grou . . . er, fans, who happened to know the floor, and even room numbers, the band were in. I don’t recall how they came upon that intel, but there it was. As we debated what to do next, Mike Inez—the bassist—sauntered through the lobby. He politely stopped for a photo. He really wasn’t on my radar, but who was I to pass up that opportunity. The guy had a great smile and crazy hair. The amicability of one member gave us the courage to seek out the others.
As we stood in the elevator, C and I exchanged looks that could pass for either excitement or an urgent need to pee. As it dinged our arrival, we hesitated briefly before exiting onto the floor. Like automatons, we proceeded to their group of rooms at the end of the hall. Did we have a game plan? Of course not. We stopped in mid-stride as we happened upon an open room. We peeked into the door. Inside was a man who appeared to be their security guard, lounging in a chair and inactively watching porn. I say that because he wasn’t more “engaged,” but he was distracted enough that we could zip past his room unnoticed, like a couple of ninja groupies. Yes, admittedly, we ceased being just fans at that point. We heard voices behind door number two. Without thinking, I knocked. Then, the folly of our ways hit me, amongst other things that shone a light on our unbecoming behavior. I turned to make a hasty exit, abandoning C, and was stopped by the security dude. Dang, he was huge. “What are you doing?” he asked threateningly. Looking for inspiration, I just stared back at C. As we stalled to think up something clever, the door opened.
That sinking feeling in my stomach came again as I stood mere feet from Layne Staley. The first thing that came to mind was, “Shit, that is one tiny dude.” He seemed larger than life on stage, but I could eat a meal off his head, and try to share it with him so he could gain a few pounds. He looked accusingly at his security guard as he asked us what we were doing there. I was ready to apologize that we made a mistake, when C held out a piece of paper and pen, and asked for his autograph. Oh, I wanted to be Down in a Hole at that point. His sexy blues looked at her hands with disdain. He then became physically agitated, held out the bottom of his shirt, and said, “Guys, I gotta get dressed.” SLAM! I guess he told us. I think, not sure. We waited briefly just in case he planned to come back out after indeed getting dressed, even though he was fully clothed already. The disappointment welled up in me as I realized we had been dismissed. I didn’t even get to share my impersonation of him. Surely, along with my cuteness, I would have risen above the ranks of his typical mindless fan. This is not how my encounter with him played out in my dreams.
I turned my head wearily to gaze up at Mr. Horny and he looked down at me patronizingly, “See, now look what you did. Are you proud of yourself?” Umm, no, quite frankly. The ignominy sunk in hard and fast. I was mortified at what we did. Why did he direct that question at me? I didn’t ask for his autograph. I was trying to get out of there. It was all C’s fault! That’s what I told myself. I also considered that the guard was shitting his pants, because he should have stopped us from getting that close to the “talent.” He would be even in more trouble if they saw the adult movie on the bill. While his employers were snuffing the Rooster, he was choking his chicken. How irresponsible of him.
My head was literally hanging low as we slinked back to the elevator. As it made its descent, my hot and heavy imaginary love affair with the troubled rocker cooled precipitously. “What the Hell did we just do? This is horrible. I can’t believe we would do that to someone,” I said between long-suffering sighs. C didn’t see it that way. “What an asshole. Did you see how he looked at my pen and paper like I was offering him a plate of shit or something?” She might have said that, I don’t remember. I was too overwhelmed with shame and regret. She, naturally, had a great time and would do it again, despite his “rudeness.”
But he’s long dead, more than 10 years now.
Yes, when Mr. Staley’s bloated corpse was found alone in his apartment, dead weeks earlier from an overdose, I thought back to what we did. What demons was he unable to exorcise? Did his obsessed fans smother him, or was he drowning in a Sea of Sorrow of his own making? My guess is that it was a combination of both, evidenced by his self-portrait in the Mad Season CD-jacket as being crucified while he sang into a microphone. His respectful, appreciative fans could not shine a bright enough light on his dark soul, so he self-medicated to his demise.
Despite all my cognitive dissonance in what we did, I can set that aside as I tell this tale in my usual jocular, self-deprecating fashion. Levity is the best psychotropic.