The Lasting Legacy of Alice in Chains' Downer Masterpiece 'Dirt' | Revolver

The Lasting Legacy of Alice in Chains' Downer Masterpiece 'Dirt'

How the grunge classic has followed me around since I was a kid
Nicky Palermo nothing 2017 HUBBARD, Jimmy Hubbard
Nothing's Domenic Palermo
photograph by Jimmy Hubbard

I bought Alice in Chains' Dirt when it came out. My brother was bummed out that I liked that record. He made fun of me whenever I listened to any popular bands back then. It was weird that bands like Alice in Chains attained pop status, but it made sense that punks hated it. For me, it was hard not to like that record. At that point, I was mostly listening to a lot of hardcore stuff — NYHC and youth crew, and Oi! stuff, a lot of skinhead music. So I was completely against the grain of heroin-addicted long-hair hippies. Dirt was the complete opposite of what my brother was trying to mold me into.

In the Nineties, Philly was the heroin capitol of the country. I was watching a lot of family, friends and people around the neighborhood fall into it, and I learned at an early age what it's ugly potential was. So it was strange to me that all of a sudden it was so mainstream in music.

The first song I heard from Dirt was "Would?" which was also on the Singles soundtrack. I heard that song and was like, "Holy fucking shit." It's crazy that after a million listens and 25 years later, when you hear that bass line coming, it's just like, "Oh my god." Actually, I play that "Would?" riff every time we soundcheck. Pretty much the only time I touch a bass is to play that.

It was only a couple of years after Dirt came out that I started going down the drain and started getting fucked up. I've always been into the lyrical side of songwriting and I could really tell from "Down in a Hole" that Layne wasn't playing a role. These words were a really intricate series of SOS's.

I was on tour with Hatebreed for a little while, riding the bus when they were doing the Ozzfest thing. The bus driver was the driver for Alice in Chains during that last round of dates. He was telling me crazy stories about them all, but the darkest was about Layne Staley. Apparently, Layne Staley wore gloves on stage because he couldn't shoot into his arms or feet anymore because they were fucking rotted away. So he's wearing those black gloves in the Unplugged video to hide the track marks on his hands. He said Layne Staley was wheeled around from show to show during that time because he wouldn't stop performing even though he was in such terrible shape. "Down in a Hole." What a life.

I go back to Dirt at least once a year, or maybe once a tour. It definitely always gets put in the rotation. Me and Kyle (Nothing's drummer), we get sucked into everything from Mad Season to the rest of the AIC catalog trying to find hidden gems. I fuck with all of it, even some of the post-Layne stuff. And as far as Nothing goes, there's definitely been times where I'd listen to Dirt and try to rip it off without getting caught.

Dirt has been following me around since I was a kid and it still just reaches me no matter where I am. It's timeless and has affected me in many different ways at many different points of my life. It's a special record.

Domenic Palermo is the singer, guitarist and founder of the band Nothing. The group is currently in the studio working on the follow-up to its acclaimed second album, 2016's Tired of Tomorrow.