Alice In Chains: Junkhead Meaning
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A new friend turned me on to an old favorite
Nothing better than a dealer who’s high
Be high, convince them to buy
What’s my drug of choice?
Well, what have you got?
I don’t go broke
And I do it a...
pizzacrime Sep 22nd, 2007 9:24pm report
As a recovering heroin addict with 3 years sobriety, of course I can identify with Layne Staley's point of view on this song
There is no doubt in my mind that this song is Staley's statement to the section of our population that automatically labels drug use (especially heroin) as criminal, disgusting, or sick ("Seems so SICK to the hypocrite norm"), while having absolutely no clue as to how aware and functional someone is on heroin. The mere fact that it is illegal to possess or use it, makes blind followers of government policies think someone who is high is no doubt a bad and evil person. The fact of that matter is: People who use drugs are not "criminal" minded. They are not evil or bad, and they're not on a mission to break the law or cause anyone any trouble at all. Layne Staley knows this all too well, for he was a user. He knew that when he was high, he functioned fine and was "Content and fully aware". A far cry from what good old Aunt Gertrude down the street was told repetedly over the course of her life, and anyone else like her who never happened to be close to someone who used drugs.
I think Staley has a mocking tone in the lyrics, like a over-confident cockyness about him. Right off the bat he writes about fooling his new dealer into paying for the partying that night by convincing him to stay high. That's BALLS right there! When you are in a band known world-wide, knowing millions will read these lyrics, and you talk about how high you're trying to get by outwitting a drug dealer, that's cocky in my book. He doesn't just hint at getting high like bands have been doing for years, he comes right and explicitly tells it like it is in the very first verse.
Not only does he tell it like it is without any fear of someone criticizing him, He brags as well. He talks about how he'll take anything ("What's my drug of choice? Well, what have you got?"), and brags that he also gets high a hell of a lot without breaking his bank ("I don't go broke, And I do it a lot"). And that is a HUGE statement right there - "I don't go broke"...... most drug users actually go broke because first of all, drugs are so expensive being an illegal black-market commodity, and secondly, it feels so good for a while at first that the user chooses to buy more and more drugs while slowly (but SURELY) they start taking the rent and bill money to stay high all the time. Staley is laughing in the face of whoever he is talking to (I believe the mis-informed public on drug usage) by saying he can do what 99 out of 100 people can't: stay high and stay rich. Of course, 'tis MUCH easier to stay high and not go broke when you sell millions upon millions of records and collect large sums of cash when touring. So he really didn't have the mental strength in my opinion to limit his drug use so he didn't go broke like other drug users, he just had money coming out the wazoo at a steady pace. He could blow every penny on coke and heroin one week, and the next week he would have tens of thousands of dollars again from radio-play royalties and CD sales. It's one thing to boast about having self control - if in fact one has it, but it's another to brag about one's self control when in reality it was unlimited funds, not self control.
Those words - "I don't go broke, And I do it a lot" - turned out to be the deciding factor in his death. Because he was so rich, because he never went without his drugs like any normal addict, because the non-stop usage brought his tolerance to heroin so fucking high, he had to shoot massive amounts in his veins to actually feel the drug. I know first hand how this works, my tolerance increased 3 times that of what I first started shooting - in three weeks. I went from needing 3 dime-bags to feel it, to 9 or 10 dime-bags to feel it all within 3 weeks. My tolerance sort of leveled off later on, but nevr stop rising evn if it was one bag more every 3 months. The longer I used the more my tolerance went up (never down or stayed the same) untill eventually I could not afford to get high any more! I went into treatment and got clean (thank God, I was a fucking mess). This is where tolerance killed Layne, because he could afford it, he never got serious enough to quit. He simply neede to use more than his body could finally handle. From what I hear, he locked himself in a hotel room fr days and days, no one knowing where he was, doing massive amounts. It was so bad folks, that when he got an abscess on his hand from sn infection cause by an in-sterile needle, it turned to gangrene and he LOST A COUPLE OF FINGERS without ever leaving that hotel and seeing a doctor. He just laid there and got super-high for days, looked at his gangrenous hand with missing fingers, and was too hight to make a rational decision. WAY TOO HIGH. Then he died. Cantrell was looking for him for days before his death but could not find him. He wanted to start playing together again.
This is the problem with drug use, because of it's illegality, people hide and sneek and feel like outcasts, eventually driving them completely underground without any positive relationships like family for instance. That turns to behavior that is harmful to one's self. Alcohol, the legal drug, is more lethal, mind altering, and mood changing than heroin, cocaine, and crystal-meth COMBINED. But because of its legalness, people don't have that label stuck to them like heroin users have. That "criminal" label. Therefore drunks don't have to hide, they don't have to pay top dollar, their drug is always 100% of the time pure and safe (relatively speaking!), and they aren't cast out by family and friends for using something that is legal (for the most part). A drunk will be many times more likely to get help from others in a crisis than a druggie would. They are looked upon as nice, law-abiding citizens with a problem of liking booze way too much.
All this hypocritical behavior by most of the mis-informed public that I'm writing about is how Layne Staley felt as well. Not so much "felt" but KNEW. It's a fact: drug addicts are unfairly labeled to be bad or stupid or both. And if the criminal stigma attached to drug use was taken away, heroin users would be considered much more stable and respon The fact is, while high on heroin one can function quite well, be able to think clearly, work hard, and act very polite and mature in social situations. Not so with an alcoholic.
Layne wrote this song to poke fun at the utterly rediculous views some people have about drugs. He is somewhat obnoxious about it because I feel he was aggravated by having to live the dual life necessary when being addicted to heroin. It gets old fast. No one like to hide and be looked at as a criminal. He was lashing out, giving the finger to a society that just does not understand how ignorant they are, while being hypocritical at the same time. Also in the song he pokes fun at society's obsession with status and money. He taunts and intimidates them, letting them know they won't even get close to understanding about drugs in school ("You can’t understand a user’s mind But try, with your books and degrees"). He lets everybody know how to learn what it's all about ("If you let yourself go and opened your mind -
I’ll bet you’d be doing like me - And it ain’t so bad")and I just know deep down that he had a shit-eating grin when he wrote those last 3 lines.
The lesson to be learned by the things this song brings up, is that drug use simply does not pay in this day and age. It killed Layne Staley way too early in life, at the prime of his career. Maybe in another time, another place, he would have lived. Maybe he wouldn't have tried to stash himself away like that and drug himself to death if our country had different views on what we decide to put in our own bodies. We might never know. How many over-doses do we have to hear about in the news, in the papers, IN OUR OWN IMMEDIATE OR EXTENDED FAMILIES. We all know someone who was or is an active user. Don't turn your backs on them when times get rough, you just might save their life.
AnthonyElite Nov 12th, 2006 11:14am report
I'd have to disagree with the above interpretation though I do think its an interesting take...
I view this song as an attack on the average society that is completely misinformed about drugs. People view it especially at the time of the songs creation as dirty, scummy, and low life behavior. No one quite understands the pain he has been through, and his need for drugs to escape reality for a beautiful few moments.
He attacks the norm society, exposing their boring lives, so typical and unimaginative. When you delve into the world of drugs you realize what a shady underground life has to offer.
anonymous Jul 25th, 7:09pm report
Great song !!! I feel his pain in addition
you will never understand unless you’ve been there
he’s not bragging.
anonymous Feb 18th, 2020 2:11am report
Sorry but for starters, he lived and died in his Condo and most people knew where he lived but he'd never answer to them..unless they were fellow users like Mike Starr who was the last person to see him alive and left after an argument. Also, he did NOT have gangrene or lose any fingers. How he "lay there stoned and looking at his gangrenous hand" is total bullshit. He wasn't cocky or bragging either.
I've been struggling with heroin addiction for over 20 years and been on methadone almost as long so Layne's lyrics really speak to me. I agree with the interpretation to a point..but I never took it as him bragging.
The whole Dirt album is the descent into addiction. Down In A Hole is an excellent second last song because that's exactly how it feels.. like you're in deep and can't get out. Cantrell actually wrote it after his girlfriend died but, to me, it's well fitting.
anonymous Jul 16th, 2019 7:27am report
So much bloviating..
I'm 46, been don w AIC since forever. Dirt is like top 5 all time records for me.i first snorted heroin at age 16. Did it recreationally, sporadically for years. Did not even know what dope sick was. Moved to midwest had kids friendly break with the mrs, we all moved back east after ~10 years in midwest. Did zero dope in that time. After coming back east, eventually started occasional opiate fun, mostly oc80s as this was early to mid 2000s, the springtime of the opiate tsunami. Developed a mild habit, no biggie. Just made for occasional slightly tougher day of work. Once oc got pulled/scarce/retarded overpriced I dabbled with 30s (blueberries!) But found them lacking. Absolutely stumbled upon a reasonable dope dealer, no street bs, house delivery scene.("bout to be there!")
Instant huge savings. Bang for buck 10x increase.
NOW I had a good and proper habit. Doooooope motherfukkin sick without. This operation got rumbled, I almost immediately got turned onto a new eager startup, Miguel. I was like his 3rd customer.
Stayed with him 100%exclusively for 7-8 years eventually getting 5g/$200 discrete deliver to home or work once a week. Or twice. Always str8 NYC dope, quality potency etc redicilous consistent. Then one day, no more miguel. I assumed he got popped again (3rd time) but couple years later his dumb fuck cousin told me no. Either way, after looking around and seeing nothing even close to the deals/accomodation/trust/credit I was used to I decided to ride that shit wave and kick. And I did. That was 5ish years ago. After a solid year clean I wanted to know if my will would hold. It did. And still does. I can blast a nice bump or three, as long as I keep in contained in a ~24 hour time period I can get good and fucked and wake up next day and feel zero sick, zero 'pull', zero temptation to go back. Fuck that. I know the AA types will puke at this, but I fukkin beat that shit and made it my bitch 100% solo. Never once had jail, rehab, detox, OD, hospital etc shut me down. I shut it down on my own just like I started it. Not saying this is for everyone, I'm well aware I'm an exception. But its certainly valuable to be aware and acknowledge that the exception exists. FWIW, I had a fairly parallel track with meth while in the midwest.
I'm now in same place with it.
Never going back
Ain't scared of it.
Everything is a choice.
Thank you be well be strong be master of you. Fuck AA
anonymous Oct 17th, 2017 10:13am report
Do not take a musician lyrics as wisdom or advice, songs are just points in time in the artist life. The beauty of most of the rock music lyrics is that they are kinda abstract and could mean anything to the listeners.
anonymous Oct 1st, 2015 10:21pm report
I think the whole album was a desperate last cry for help. while they all partied together..jerry cantrell didnt party like layne or Mike star. they needed him to be on drugs to the levels he was on. That was Alice In Chains sound. Remember, Jerry Cantrell was a musician that wanted fame, & felt like Layne was ruining that..even though Jerry would have never seen the fame, w/out Laynes' influence, and Voice. Anyone can play like him, and he just copied Laynes' style(w/out success) They signed to a record label that was gonna give them the fame some of them craved. I think Layne didn't handle fame well, especially the control being placed on his creative side by the label and other 'one upper' band members. They used Laynes' disposition and drug use for their gain.. And once Layne Staley isolated, lost bout 60 lbs,some teeth, and partial liver function the label eventually was forcing Layne to basically Hand the band over to Jerry. Layne Staley should have gone to rehab for a year the first time. They made him unconstitutionally able to quit w a reg rehabilitation program by not calling it like it was earlier on.
They kept the name of a band that's lead singer died a terrible & slow death. Who the F does that?? riding coat tales, selling their boy out
Sorry, i can relate to every song on Dirt, & just grew up on A.I.C. RIP Layne Staley
RIP Mike Star
Yes, Layne is saying that he learned a new angle in the drug selling / purchasing game, which has the dealer getting the prospective purchaser high so that the purchaser will be more easily convinced to buy once he is high. Layne thinks this is a pretty cool angle and likes it.
He then goes on to not so much justify as ally himself with and reveal the thinking of the junkie, "Seems so sick to the hypocrite norm /Running their boring drills / But we are an elite race of our own / The stoners, junkies, and freaks."
He also states the perceived reward of the drug use, "Are you happy? I am, man. /
Content and fully aware / Money, status, nothing to me / 'Cause your life is empty and bare."
Finally, Layne takes a shot at 'normal' people's rejection of junkies saying that they don't really understand the junkie "You can't understand a user's mind /
But try, with your books and degrees" and that 'normal' people shouldn't therefore judge junkies because "If you let yourself go and opened your mind / I'll bet you'd be doing like me."
And you have to love that final shot, "And it ain't so bad" which seems to be a declaration of allegiance to the drug use and satisfaction with it no matter the rejection, compromises or consequences. Very insightful, revealing, expressive and creative. And sung by Layne's snarling voice, it comes across as beautiful tortured insanity and seems to elicit our great empathy for him.
This is one of Alice in Chains top four or five songs. It paints a picture like no other. It is horrible and wonderful. It is disgusting and brilliant. It is heartbreaking and hilarious. It is revolting and embracing. You hate it and you love it.
Most of all, you love it.
R.I.P Layne Staley
anonymous Jan 11th, 2013 1:40am report
He died at home! Not in a hotel! Jerry had not spoken to layne for two years. You don't have a clue!
anonymous Oct 7th, 2012 10:08pm report
I always felt that Junkhead was totally an anti-drug song and that Layne wanted it to be an anti-drug song and was shocked and horrified that people didn't get it. If anything, Layne's phrasing and oily ominous vocal inflections are HUGE red flags as to what he's trying to convey. That, as a junkie, he (Layne) can mock and appear superior to anti-drug critics or people who do not take drugs, but in fact the superior mocking junkie (Layne) is dead - in spirit, lost and empty. Layne knew this, knew he would die young and knew that heroin would break your spirit and probably destroy you.
Yeau, I've seen myself how Layne would apply that boyish charm and talent to deflect anger, but what was he doing except buying time. For what? Doing the best he could until he finally OD'd. He paid the price and did his time. Let the poor man rest in peace. I still say that heroin put AIC on the map as Layne put them on the map and Layne had been on heroin since he was a teen.
anonymous Aug 7th, 2011 8:58pm report
Wow, you guys seem to be way off on some random tangents. "just never start drugs."? Man you not only 'sound like an ass' but your an ignorant little twat living a sheltered life. Kids don't ask god if they can go to Earth and have a fucked up life and end up on heroin. And drugs aren't bad, people are bad (or good).
And here we got Mr. AA full of himself, projecting his entire life onto this song. Then this crap about Jerry Cantrell, who's just whining cos he's butthurt that he can't sing like Layne.
Look, the whole band did drugs, that's why Mike Starr is dead as well. They get wasted and jam together, whatever. This song isn't even about heroin, it's just written from the point of view of a person that uses drugs including heroin.
This song has one meaning, regardless of all the B.S. you leech on to it: "I'm a junkhead, I'll do whatever this dealer has, And I don't give a fuck..."
This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway
anonymous Jan 31st, 2011 1:14am report
Yeah these people have part of it but i disagree on some of the takes people come up with.
"A good night,the best in a long time, A new friend turned me on to an old favorite,nothing better than a dealer who is high, Be high, convince them to buy" he is not talking about himself at the moment he is talking about the DEALER being all high to convince other people to buy the product. It's not that hard of a concept just say I'm selling you food but I won't eat the stuff myself. You're probably not gonna eat or but the food from me right ok cool glad we got that strait just wanted to add that part.
anonymous Mar 15th, 2007 3:48pm report
I had the opportunity to speak with Jerry Cantrell. This song is very clear. Layne is talking about a drug dealer they just met and turns them on to heroin. Then after their high it's easy to convince them too buy, then in defense of using he attacks drug counselors and people in society that don't understand users. I love a.i.c. So I say this with confidence and first knowledge having spoke with Jerry for over an hour about Layne and the music looking closely at a.i.c. lyrics you can easily see the hypocrisy in Layne's lyrics. He goes from loving it, to hating it, to wishing he'd just die. That's really just typical of a drug addicted persons mind hypocrosy what they hate. They become.
I love Layne Staley's voice but, I didn't have to deal with him as a fellow band mate, and what he put them through all the no shows and lies time after time. So it would be easy to think how great it would be if they continued. In reality they were through long before he died. Jerry was considering writing a song about how Layne would shoot dope in the studio because he couldn't go more than 2 hours without it, then nod off for 30 or 40 minutes, then try to record some and often do it over because of the slurring or out of key singing, then laugh it off as some kind of joke.
"You can’t understand a user’s mind
But try, with your books and degrees
If you let yourself go and opened your mind
I’ll bet you’d be doing like me
And it ain’t so bad"
After reading the other interpretations, I had to go and see for myself. Personally, I think Staley is trying to call out everyone who criticizes drug use, and users. He's taking a defensive position for junkies against society. Under the text I see "If you knew what I knew, you'd do it too". In these lyrics:
"Are you happy? I am, man.
Content and fully aware
Money, status, nothing to me
’cause your life is empty and bare"
it seems that he is saying 'Even though you have money, and acceptance in some social hierarchy, I'm happier than you doing what I do'.
Perhaps he's also relating to his problems with drugs, and how people have treated him because of it.
anonymous Dec 26th, 2006 12:02pm report
I agree with the above interpretation. The Dirt album, in my opinion, is full of references both good and bad regarding drug use, and I believe this is a "positive" interpretation in their eyes.
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