The year was 1994. I was 8 years old, and I had just started learning how to play bass guitar. My father was my teacher and a good one. But while I was starting to be able to hear the “dun d-dun, d-dun, d-dun” of Dusty Hill’s bass lines on whichever ZZ Top cassette was being used for my tutelage, I couldn’t shake the notion that maybe I might be happier behind a drum set. After all, when I told my other 3rd grade friends that I was learning bass, I usually had to explain to them what exactly that meant.
Luckily for me, it was the peak of the early ’90s alternative rock movement: Nirvana still ruled the airwaves (although Kurt Cobain had already passed by this time) and along with the major label feeding frenzy that accompanied that breakthrough, we were introduced to bands like Primus, Soundgarden, White Zombie and Alice in Chains – even in the small Southern Maryland town where I lived at the time. Our introduction to these bands was further facilitated by a pair of teenage brothers (Shaun and Jason) from our judo class who my father had taken a shine to. So they would come over occasionally, bringing with them whatever cassette they happened to be listening to that day. My family hadn’t yet acquired a CD player.
Fast forward to Christmas ‘94. Our uncle gifted us our first CD player, and along with the $25 apiece we had received from our grandmother, my mission statement was clear: go out and procure some of the music Shaun and Jay had been playing. The day after Christmas, my family went to K-Mart, and I headed straight for the CDs. A sense of destiny permeated everything around me.
I was immediately drawn to a particularly spooky-looking reddish-orange album cover with what looked like the ghost of a little girl lying in a desert, and the band name and album was not unknown to me: Alice in Chains’ Dirt. There are fewer choices in life that I’ve been as confident about. I picked it up, took it to the counter and bought it (along with a cassette copy of Counting Crows’ August and Everything After, but it’s clear to see now which album had greater bearing on my musical style). Somehow I knew that it was going to be my favorite record for a long time.
We went home, my dad instantly put it into the CD player, and it scared the shit out of me. The first “AH!” from Layne Stayley on “Them Bones”, at a level of volume I was not expecting, shook me – visibly – my eyes were wide and my jaw dropped. But I stuck by my decision. I was still too in shock to differentiate which instrument was playing which part for quite some time, but we listened to the whole record, and when the closer, “Would?” started playing, there it was! A bass! Playing by itself, and it sounded good… so good! Crisp, deep, full…and DARK. Maybe there was more to my decision to play bass than I thought to begin with.
I was hooked. I CONSUMED THAT RECORD. And I was consumed by it. I used to lip sync “Rain When I Die” in front of a mirror in our kitchen. When my grandmother was babysitting us later on, I cut the volume every time Stayley said the word “dam” in “Dam That River”. My vernacular hadn’t reached the point where I could understand that it wasn’t a bad word. She wasn’t paying attention anyway. I think “Wheel of Fortune” was on. I read every word in the liner notes: “Buttnugget Music”, and I was set on a path that would influence me greatly to this very day: Dirt is still in my top 5 favorite records of all time, and far and wide what I consider to be the most important record to my musical influence as far as when and where I was at the time I discovered it and how it helped to shape my imagination and understanding of what music could be.
In retrospect, the fact that it had been two years since the album’s release, and there were about 20 fuckin’ copies of this record for sale in the Prince Frederick, MD K-Mart really gives me insight as to just how huge the whole movement was. People used to buy the shit out of music in those days.
1. Them Bones
2. Dam That River
3. Rain When I Die
8. God Smack
9. Intro (Dream Sequence)/Iron Gland
10. Hate To Feel
11. Angry Chair
12. Down In A Hole
Alice in Chains are:
Layne Staley – lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Jerry Cantrell – guitars, backing vocals
Sean Kinney – drums
Mike Starr – bass