Jerry Cantrell

“Degradation Trip”: The Window into Jerry Cantrell’s Soul

The eyes might be the window into someone’s soul, but for Alice in Chains guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell, his second solo album Degradation Trip (which was dedicated to Layne Staley) is the window into his soul.

Released in June 2002, just two months after Staley was found dead of an overdose in his Seattle apartment, Degradation Trip is a vivid showcase for what Cantrell was going through emotionally when he wrote it from the fall of 1998 into spring of 1999. Alice in Chains was on its last legs as Staley had been in seclusion for some time.

Holing himself up in seclusion in a house located in Washington’s Cascade Mountains, east of Seattle, Cantrell poured himself out emotionally into 25 songs, writing on an old Les Paul using a four-track recorder.

“I rarely bathed during that period of writing; I sent out for food; I didn’t really venture out of my house in three or four months. It was a hell of an experience,” said Cantrell in his Roadrunner Records bio. “The album is an overview of birth to now. . . Boggy Depot (his first solo record) is like kindergarten compared to this. The massive sonic growth from Boggy Depot to Degradation Trip is comparable to the difference between our work in the Alice in Chains albums Facelift to Dirt, which was also a tremendous leap.”

“I got into a writing session which lasted for three or four months where I just continued to spew and pour all of this shit out of the depths of myself from every level and aspect of my life. I dealt with a lot of issues that aren’t easy for me to verbally get across,” said Cantrell. “I think it’s easier for me to do it in a musical venue. But it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’m glad I did it and I’m glad I went through the experience, but it’s certainly something I don’t ever want to do again.”

Jerry Cantrell Degradation Trip Cover
The album, recorded with Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo and Faith No More Drummer Mike Bordin, was first released as one record consisting of 14 tracks, at the request of Roadrunner Records. Then, five months after that was out, the label put out another version, Degradation Trip Volumes 1 & 2 with all 25 songs, which was the way Cantrell intended.

With more of an Alice in Chains vibe than Boggy Depot, you kind of think Cantrell may have been writing for the band, however that never materialized. But he played two of the songs, “Died” and “Get Born Again” to Staley, who helped finish them. “Get Born Again” appeared on the Nothing’s Safe: Best of the Box album, while “Died” showed up on the Music Bank collection in 1999. It was the last song Staley recorded with the band.

Lyrically, Cantrell opens up about his relationship with Staley, especially on songs like “Bargain Basement Howard Hughes”, which appears to be nod towards Staley’s reclusiveness and the relationship the two had, with Cantrell confessing he broke Staley’s trust in him and stole his dignity when he sings “Dignity I’d steal, now I know how it feel”. It’s that interpersonal turmoil that really comes through on this song.

You Do Your Thing, I’ll Live My Life

Another is “Locked On” with its pretty clear lyrics like “Fallen rock star pushing needle. You don’t know? Well that’s alright. You do your thing, I’ll live my life.”

And to get a sense of Cantrell’s mindset in late 1998, there’s “Psychotic Break”, which was sort of prophetic (“Thinking ’bout my dead friends whose voices ring on”) after Staley died months before the record’s release. Another is “Solitude”, where Cantrell discusses the self-imposed isolation he put himself in and how he had to “take the time to pull the weeds choking flowers in your (his) life”.

Then there’s the track “Spiderbite” (one of the best on the record), which depicts how Cantrell got hooked on cocaine after doing it for the first time at 19 years old in Houston. While the songs “Dying Inside” and “Pro False Idol” take a cynical look at what being a rock star is all about.

Through every dark, visceral track, Cantrell leaves something from his psyche and it certainly makes for great listening and a phenomenal album.

If you’re an Alice in Chains fan and haven’t listened to Degradation Trip, it’s a must.

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

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