James Hetfield’s Unfortunate Joke About Layne Staley

Encountering artists who have dealt with drug problems and songs written about these issues are prevalent in the music world, specifically in the rock and roll scene. Drugs have always gone hand-in-hand with being a wild rock star, although they are not as closely linked to the genre as they once were, especially during the ’70s.

Still, fortunately, notable acts like Mötley Crüe, Metallica, KISS, and the Rolling Stones have cleaned up their deeds to some extent by making efforts to better take care of themselves. However, some past icons like Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, Amy Winehouse, and countless more couldn’t make it and had to say goodbye to the rock scene at a young age.

At some points in their lives, drug issues made it very difficult for them to go on with their personal lives while also impacting their professional careers. For instance, Layne Staley once couldn’t take the stage with Alice In Chains as he was in no shape to tour due to the destructive effect of drugs on him. However, Metallica’s James Hetfield didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation at the time, as he made an unfortunate joke about Staley.

In 1994, Metallica embarked on their extensive Shit Hits the Sheds Tour. In the original plan, Alice In Chains was one of the supporting acts, along with Danzig, Suicidal Tendencies, and Candlebox. However, AIC had to be replaced by Fight since the band backed out of the tour due to their lead singer Layne Staley’s drug troubles.

However, it seems like James Hetfield was not pleased with this last-minute change. So, when Metallica took the stage, the band started to play Alice In Chains’ ‘Man in the Box,’ and Hetfield changed the song’s lyrics to ‘I can’t tour’ to make fun of Layne Staley. Although we can’t really know about his intention, it was definitely an insensitive remark.

Unfortunately, a few years after this incident, Staley withdrew from the rock scene and eventually passed away in 2002 due to a speedball overdose. Following his death, James received adverse reactions from AIC fans, who didn’t forget about his unfortunate joke. Yet, there was no bad blood between the two bands. They actually praised each other on many occasions.

In a 2020 interview with Revolver Magazine, James Hetfield praised AIC’s music and also reflected on Staley’s death. “Those songs are awesome and should be heard, you know? They were so unique, so ahead of their time. And out of all the Seattle stuff, that stuff is the most timeless,” the frontman said, referring to AIC songs.

He then noted, “Unfortunately, Layne just loved the junk too much, man, and that was that. I just read in his lyrics his obsessiveness about it. And he knew where he was goin’! It’s like, in the school of driving, look where you want to go — and that’s what he was doing, it seems like.” Apparently, the singer felt the late star’s pain and struggle in his lyrics as a person who also battled addiction issues in the past.

Metallica vocalist probably felt bad for making fun of Layne Staley since he paid tribute to him in the band’s 2008 album ‘Death Magnetic.’ In a previous interview, James admitted that the record started as a tribute to the late singer and then extended to all those who had lost their lives at a young age due to their drug problems.