I Loved Layne and I Still Miss Him
I cried the day I learned Layne died. It really did hit me. Not in the same way that the loss of a loved one impacts you. But I was struck all the same. Layne died in 2002, about two years before I was truly converted to Christ. However, even in my years as a false convert I was always touched by the way Layne’s lyrics always presented his struggles with the God of Creation. But maybe it was because of my unconverted state I could relate to Layne. There was this constant pleading of sorts. Sometimes a pleading for peace, and at other times a pleading for distance from God.
The Man in the Box Pleading for Distance
Apparently Layne was raised in Christian Science home. This, in-and-of-itself would be enough to drive any person away from God. But it appears to have had a very profound impact on Layne and by all accounts he grew up into a cynical young man.
In what I consider to be the second most profound song that Layne had a hand in writing you can hear his anger at God and with his experience of the Christian religion. “Man in the Box”(warning there is some coarse language) is brief and to the point. However, no part of the song itself is more poignant than this line:
“Feed my eyes. Can you sew them shut?
Jesus Christ deny your Maker
He who tries will be wasted.
Feed my eyes. Now you’ve sewn them shut.”
This chorus, if you will, is returned to several times in the short song. Even more powerful is the guttural and painful wailing voice Layne implements as he recoils from the God who made Him. This powerful pleading to have some other hand intervene and sew his eyes shut describes the abject terror Layne felt. Conversely, stating that denying God will lead to a wasted state and pleading at the same time to be blinded so he would not have to acknowledge God. All in the same pain laden breath.
Layne Pleading for Peace Shortly Before He Dies
Layne was a drug addict. Musical success and stardom could not pull Layne out of the downward spiral he was trapped in. The more success he found the worse his heroin use became. The more his heroin use increased the less productive he was. Eventually, Layne would slink off into obscurity for long stretches. Apparently, he was not just attempting to hide from God, but also from anyone that cared about him.
A dear friend of Layne’s, Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, pulled Layne into the super-group Mad Season, in hopes of lifting Layne up out of the shadows of his addiction. One of the most profound songs of that project “River of Deceit” put Layne’s lyrical pleading on full display:
“My pain is self-chosen
At least, so the prophet says
I could either burn Or cut off my pride and buy some time
A head full of lies is the weight, tied to my waist”
But Layne wasn’t done pleading. In what is maybe the most profound song of his career, Layne shares the depth of his spiritual suffering in “Wake Up”:
“The cracks and lines from where you gave up
They make an easy man to read
Oh or all the times You let them bleed you
For little peace from God you plead
And they For little peace from God you plead Oh…”
When Despondency Gives Way to Death
That was 1994. Layne would not be on the earth much longer. In 2002 Layne stopped pleading with God. He stopped arguing with and denying God and gave in to the heroin laden needle and shuffled off his mortal coil.
By all accounts his last words on earth to another human being were painful and deeply profound. Mike Starr, a dear friend of Layne’s, was with him the day before his death. Mike and Layne argued, and Mike stormed out. Layne called after him, “Not like this. Don’t leave like this…”
Layne’s words may have been as much directed at himself as at Mike. Layne knew he was leaving. He knew what he had been saying for years. Layne had been raising his fist at God for years and he knew that even his pursuit of heroin was an attempt to deaden the voice of God.
Heroin was not Layne’s problem. God was Layne’s problem. Moreover, like Layne, if you are shaking your fist at God and denying Him, your problem isn’t your addiction or your secret sin. Your problem is that you are hiding from God and running from Him. Your problem is the God of Creation. The One who gave you life. Who by his mercy causes your heart to beat despite your rebellion.
I would echo Layne’s words to his friend.
Not like this!
Don’t leave like this!
So, yes, I wept when Layne died, even though I never knew him.
I would weep over you if you die not knowing God…