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Angry Chair: Layne Staley’s Insight into Rehab

When you look at Alice in Chains’ finest album, Dirt, there is a chain of songs, all in a row, dealing with heroin and being an addict. Now, all the lyrics for those tracks (“Junkhead”, “Dirt”, “God Smack”, “Hate to Feel” and “Angry Chair”) were written by Layne Staley and they ultimately tell the tale of getting into heroin, becoming addicted, then trying to kick it.
While many addicted rock stars shy away from publicly talking about their drug use, Staley did it as a warning for people to stay away from smack.

And, ultimately, “Angry Chair” is about being in rehab and Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

Staley composed both the music and lyrics for “Angry Chair”, a great song which has a very cool vibe with lots of echo and reverb, as he tells the tale of being right in rehab, dealing with being dopesick and the messages he’s getting from counsellors at NA.

When you examine the lyrics from that point of view, Staley gives listeners insight into exactly what he’s going through as he sits in an angry chair (a metaphor for rehab), feeling claustrophobic as his stomach hurts with the pain of withdrawal, but he doesn’t care. Feeling apathetic is part of the withdrawal process, according to those who have been through it.

Then come the hallucinations as moderate to severe withdrawal sets in, as he sees himself across the way, moulded in clay. It seems real, so he’s afraid as the face changes shape.

Following that, withdrawal gets worse as he goes through hell, “Burning on the angry chair”. People going through withdrawal from heroin and other opiates say it’s like going through hell.

Pink Cloud Has Now Turned to Grey

Then he realizes that “little boy made a mistake” as he knows the full consequences of getting into smack.

Then comes the “pink cloud” reference, which is a term used in NA to describe being sober, but it turns to grey as the withdrawal exerts its hold on him. But all he wants is to keep doing it, yet they tell him to get on his knees and pray, – another nod to NA, which often brings spirituality into the process to kick drugs – explaining why so many former addicts are born-again Christians.

Field of Pain is Where I Graze

Then Staley talks of being lonely in the the field of pain where he grazes. Of note here is he says “serenity is far away”. Serenity is apparently a mantra of NA, but for him, it’s far away.

Another reference, when he says “weight of my heart, not the size” is about an addict’s heart actually swells up the more they use and can kill them. Interestingly, a person who’s good has a big heart, but Staley turns it around to say it’s the weight, not the size, meaning drugs have made him bad.

But even while he’s trying to kick, Staley’s not buying what NA is selling as he says “feed me your lies, open wide” and the line “So I’m strung out anyway” kind of says it’s no big deal being an addict. Then the chorus of “lost my mind, yeah. I don’t mind. Can’t find it anywhere, I don’t mind” is almost like Staley is saying he ultimately doesn’t care about rehab.

In David de Sola’s book “Alice in Chains – The Untold Story” Staley’s mom estimated her son had been to rehab “12 or 13 times”.

Check out more of Cam Maxwell’s Rock ‘N Roll Insight.

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