Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction Interview from Spin Magazine August 1991
FOR THE MOSQUITOS
GONNA KICK TOMORROW
Jane’s Addiction spawned their own cult of sexual freedom and ended up sticking a fat monkey on our backs. They got us jonesin’ so hard we’d slog through a storm of Jesse Helm’s flunkies in order to get straight.
DEAN KUIPERS gets his fix in L.A.
“Stop the car.” As the sun plops into the Pacific off Venice Beach, California, the four of us are sitting in a rented car at the corner of Rose and Main. The corner is deserted. Perry Farrell, singer and overjuiced conceptualist behind Janes’ Addiction, is staring up at the sky.
“You’ll need a 40-foot extension ladder to even get near that thing.” murmurs mark, one half of Perry’s hired film crew.
“And I’ll need more powerful lights for the camera,” adds Aaron, the other half of the movie team.
Perry wants this caper for The Movie. Towering above us, on the prow of a spanking new hipster cafe, lurk,s a two-story mutant clown cast in fiberglass. The horror has the skirt-clad body of a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader but the head of a male clown, its facce twisted in a demented grin. Straight out of The Attack of the Killer Clowns. The thing holds a water’s tray. Its leg kicks absently in the moonlight.
“I’m going to need rope and maybe some kind of harness,” says Perry to himself. Then, to the clown: “You are going down, motherfucker. I don’t want people to come here and think that the artists in my community are gonna stand for this.”
As far as freedom of expression and the First Amendment are concerned, it’s been a frustrating year for Jane’s Addiction. For Perry, it’s almost enough to make him go into filmmaking full time-where nudity is encouraged and drugs make great scripts.
He lays out the plan: Position lights so that Perry will show up on hand-held video as he scales the thing, 25 feet in the air. Then, when the coast is clear, dash around the corner with a ladder, hit the lights, clamber up and paint “KILL ME” across its breasts. Then jump down and avoid the cops.
“I need more lights first,” repeats Aaron.
“Okay. It’s in the budget,” assures Perry. Silence.
Then he adds: “Hey, you guys got a bottle of rubber cement? ‘Cause if you do, I’m gonna set that clown’s head on fire.”
We are all in Perry Farrell’s movie. He has been rewriting it and funding it and getting his head stuck in it for a long time–perhaps since he fled Brooklyn and his family on a west-bound jet 15 years ago to become a homeless runaway; a nervous kid who slept on the beach at Santa Monica. Tattered pages of poetry and snatches of dialogue from actual brain-kiss conversations have never really congealed into a decent script for his short feature film, but to Perry these dislocated scenes are more real than the fictional plots we saw in Beatles movies. Mark and Aaron, the film crew, don’t know exactly what Perry has in mind, but all three of them have gone into training.
Jane’s Addiction is the future of Los Angeles, scrawled onto a cryptic, 4-D road warrior soulmap that no one can read yet. But a lot of you are already guided by their map. Their latest LP, Ritual de lo Habitual, building on 1988’s Nothing’s Shocking, hits like the nighttime shrieking of a boy who suddenly knows the savage power or his own desire and his own poetry. Jane’s Addiction has swallowed a world of shit to make us feel Art–and make it meaningful again.
Jane’s Addiction is Perry’s concept. But it’s not his band. Perry’s poetry and style are simple the vehicle that best fit the hulking visual feel of Janes’ pwerplant: bassist Eric Avery, drummer Stephen Perkins, and anti-blues wah wah magician Dave Navarro. Once the happy subjects of an industry bidding war that Warner Bros. evetually won, these L.A. surfers are frolicking like pigs in zen.. With Ritual, they’ve finally wrought their eccentric amalgam of Duke Ellington soul, abstract poetry, and introspection into a rock’n’roll sledgehammer.
Searching among the stubby palms and sandchoked grass, Perry, Mark, Aaron, and I cruise the norhtern end of the boardwalk at Venicce. We’ve just come from seeing a potential studio for The Movie, located by a couple of professional film location men. Warner Bros., it seems, has put up a decent budget for Perry to work with–enout to hire people to do this kind of work.
The boys are making their daily visit to a homeless friend, a guy who peddles stuff he finds in the street. Some of the local men and women recognize the three boys and crinkle their incredible brown-leather faces into a quick smile. A hundred yards away the breakers thud on the beach with a soft implosion. We spend an hour chattering with homeless folks up and down the boardwalk, most of them huddled in jackets under the blazing sun, but we don’t find the old man.
Perry and Mark are pawing through a tableful of crystals for some stones to place int their jewelry when suddenly Perry jumps. “Cool! This guy’s got to be in my movie,” he says, pointing down the beach.
A tall Rastafarian rolls toward us on spanking new Rollerblades, clad in flowing, brilliant white togs and a tall white turban. He’s wearing hockey shinpads and has a white Stratocaster slung around his neck painted with concentric red circles and emblazoned with an Alice Cooper bumper sticker. As he rolls closer to the table, his tweety-bird amp is emitting a haunting tune that lilts somewhere between the Residents’ Eskimo and James Bond theme music. The glazed, fiery look in his eye tells me he’s on a mission, like a street-corner evangelist.
“They are alien intruders from another time,” he warns sharply, looking me in the eye as he sings.
“David Bowie got everything he knows about space music from this guy,” says Perry. “He’s serious. Too much ultraviolet out here.”
As the skating black Goliath pesters Mark for money, Perry mentions that he has just decided to add a surfing scene to his movie, somewhere off the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Helicopter footage. His short white-boy dreads swing about his head as he talks about the logistics of the trip. A wedding first, to his lover Casey Niccoli with whom he’s lived for six years, in some quiet spot in a Mexican village. Then surfing.
“Why not?” shrugs Mark, shooting a big grin and shelling out coins to the original Ziggy Stardust. “It’s in the budget.”
“I’m just going to take her down to Mexico, man, and I’m going to marry her. But it’s going to be by Santerian brujos. It’s this religion down there…
“That’s my show of love for her. She is a woman that wants to be married and I’m a man who doesn’t, so my combination is I’ll marry her by, you know, Santerian brujos. It’s like, I’ll mime how much I love her, but I don’t want a legal thing to be made about it; it should just be a symbol, a ritual. It’s a love mime.”
“So you’ve worked out the movie’s plot, or will it be loose like your first long video, ‘Soul Kiss’?” I ask.
“You never know what’ll happen because a lot of the way I like to film is spontaneity, so–let’s just say an earthquake hits. I’m going to be filming that and if it fits in the movie, you know, in it goes. Most people make films about things that have already happened. I’t kind of neat to make films about things that are gonna happen.”
“Is that what Casey does, makes films?
“Yeah. That fucking bugs me.”
Indeed, a wedding in Mexico is the most conservative setting Perry has yet to propose.
The word was that Jane’s Addiction were throwing a wild, sensual wedding ceremony to be celebrated in the Amazon headlands of the Peruvian rainforest. Rumor had it that the band would be performing on camera in the jungle. Light camera gear, instruments, and acres of raw celluloid would be trucked or backpacked into some remote locale amongst the supposedly friendly Andean mountain folks. (Perry hoped the farmers and villagers would join in the festivities.) Who gives a shit if nobody speaks Spanish decent enough to get the whole point of this ritual across to the locals? As pulque and the coke began to flow in abundance, the weirdness of this spectacle would be fodder enough for the camera.
My editors were going to have me parachute in on that one, since we weren’t really invited. But the logistics proved too overwhelming and the idea was scrapped. About a month later, after Jane’s made a management change and instituted a total media blackout, I got a late-night call regarding the radical new plan.
A secret desert camping party, hosted by Jane’s Addiction for the winners of some radio station trivia contest. The winners were going to have to know a lot about American pop art of 1940’s applicances or some such thing. Definitely not as juicy a the rainforest, but this locale held more potential for American-style mayhem. Youth gone wild. The lucky winners were gonna be loaded into buses with blacked-out windows in downtown Hollywood–maybe the rock’n’roll Denny’s or the Guitar Institute of Technology–and then blindfolded and trucked over the San Gabriel Mountains and into the desert to a secret hideaway where Jane’s Addiction would rock their hot little heads from the back of a flatbed truck. And all the while, Perry’s henchmen would run amok and burn through a Coppola-epic in celluloid.
I’m still waiting for a second phone call on that one, telling me where the bus will be picking us up.
For now, Perry and the film crew are in the pool at Mark’s place, 200 yards from the ocean’s edge, getting in shape for a surfing wedding in Mexico.
Their first manager was a music-loving prostitute. The band loved her dearly, but she too left town and has not been heard from since. Some of their greatest shows were financed by her. The fans were greeted at the box office by manager number one, who insisted on going topless–honest. Inside, bands played to their sweaty friends, and occasionally dealt with their inner most feelings, watching a transsexual dance troupe.
–from the official biography, Bred and Spread From Los Angeles, CA: The Mighty Jane’s Addiction
Did I mention yet that Jane’s Addiction sound like a fiery Watts street riot, entire neighborhoods babbling drunken verses from Whitman and trying to hurl themselves from the planet with the grace and drama of perfect rock’n’roll negation? They do. They are a band of moments–careening about the stage on the lyrical language of Dave Navarro’s heroic guitar, plowing into the tail end of the future with naked, sweating, Rollins intesity, but willing to build a subtle moment around the Perfect Word. Writer Dave Carpenter once called it “martial bebop.” They understand drama as well as any band, ever, without performing gross rock anthems. Ever.
Probably for that very reason, lots of critics have dubbed them Art Rock, or have at least set them up as being arty. What the fuck–they are. Athletic aesthetes trying to find a way out of thie skin. But just knowing something about the art of music or sculpture or history doesn’t automatically send one tumbling into sheets of esoterica. Yeah, Perry sometimes goes onstage in a gridle or bloomers or even a clown suit, and yeah, they’ve all been known to wear skirts or flood the stage with dry-ice fog. But they couldn’t come off so street-level righteous–in person or on vinyl–if any of this were really calculated pretense.
“I wouldn’t fight it,” says Stephen. “I’d rather be an art band, then”
“Yeah, I prefer that to puffy hair,” nods Eric.
Drummer Stephen Perkins surveys the conference room up at Jensen Communicatinsm, plops down into a chair and runs his hands through his incredible curly mane.
Stephine is so sunny and healthy I can hardly stand it. His side of the room is vibrating. You know you’re in the room with a health freak. Since he got enough money to rent a 24-hr lock-out drum studio, he says he jams about 15 hours a day. then he gets on his mountain bike and heads out for some light hillclimbing. Shit, put Stephen and Perry on a treadmill and they’d light the entire valley.
“Here, Stephen, have some Oreos,” I say.
On a quieter note, Eric pads into the room, accompanied by an aura of calm. Eric puts his thoughts together in a stream of literate, endearing prose. The two of them explain that Navarro has gone on vacation for an indeterminate time. Not satisfied with spouting off more of my own theories about what makes Jane’s tick, I ask them to elucidate.
ERIC: You brought up the word libido. People’s libidos–who we are–is a lot more complex than what’s been portrayed. I know that, like, in terms of, well, sexual fantasies and stuff, nobody just likes girls lying on Porsches. You knowm, no one wants to just fuck girls lying on Porsches.
SPIN: And you thrive on the resistance to that idea?
STEPHEN: We’ll be in a place full of fucking cowboys going. “What the hell, Jane’s Addiction?” And that night will turn into fucking craziness–we’ll play the hardest, meanest songs we got and Perry will just say, “Fuck your mother, fuck your sister, and fuck ’em all in the ass.” I think it was when we were opening up for Iggy and it was just like that.
ERIC: That’s the place where David got hassled in the bathroom…for being a fag. It was a bunch of, like, jarhead, wife-beater, if-you’re-different-you’re-a-fag type guys.
STEPHEN: And “you’re going to die if you’re a fag in this city.”
ERIC: Or, “I’ll beat you up cause you’re gay because when I masturbate I’m a fag.”
STEPHEN: The next two weeks you’re going, “Dude, that was the fucking greatest. We had the best time that night.” As opposed to your normal San Diego State show when, you know, 15,000 kids are there to have fun and you go home and it’s nothing really special.
ERIC: But those kinds of things are markers. One of the main things that we’re about is just anti that kind of thinking–scumbag, redneck, closed-minded, shithead, you know. I mean, that prevailing closed-minded fascist kind of thing is so opposite of what we’re about, and it’s nice to be reminded that we’re doing stuff that upsets those assholes.
STEPHEN: And it’s funny to be in the middle of their club and they’re all sitting there and it’s just us four and maybe a couple roadies and we’re just like the guys they all hate: ” We hate those four guys.”
ERIC: Yeah, cause if those people immediately accepted us then I’m in the wrong band. There’s a gray area, like–a darkiness–to our music that is intangible.
What does that mean? Are Jane’s Addiction inherently political?
STEPHEN: I think the lyrics can be and our presence as a band inh this industry is completely political, but it’s not our fault.
My sex and my drugs and my reock and roll…they’re the only things that keep me here. So get your fuckin’ piss cup out my fuckin’ face;. My sex and my drugs and my rock and roll are my fuckin’ own business…
-Jane’s Addiction, Ritual de lo Habitual
In early 1988, when Nothing’s Shocking–Jane’s Addiction’s second LP and their first release for Warner Bros.–lay on the desks of the nation’s major distribution chains, eight refused to carry it. The cover featured a sculpture, painstakingly crafted by Perry, of Casey as Siamese twins. She is nude and sitting demurely in a unique two-person rocking chair. The sculpture’s heads were set aflame for the black-and-white photograph; there is a look of calm acceptance, both harrowing and comical, on Casey’s faces. Under the flaming figures ran the title; Nothing’s Shocking.
I mean, it’s a sculpture, for chrissake. By the fall of ’88, all but two distributors weakened, under righteous pressure from Warner Bros., and agreed to put it out. Now, like most such victories for the First Amendment and freedom of expression, debate concerning the album has petered out. But the experience politicized the Jane’s approach and put them on the defensive.
“The chains totally flipped over–from “We can’t use this’ to ‘Yeah, we love it,'” grumbles Stephen. “But they gave us trouble–and then we won best record cover or something. Some CMJ award. Stupid shit that really don’t matter after we went through hell to get on the racks.”
Enter 1990 and the new Jane’s album, Ritual de lo Habitual. The climate of fear and art censorship has hardly mellowed with the general debunking of Senator Helms and the total physical decay of former Attorney General Edwin Meese. The National Endowment for the Arts is still being investigated for granting money for allegedly “obscene” art. Miami rappers 2 Live Crew are arrested for inviting girls onstage to suck cock.
Almost all of Warner’s usual distributors allegedly balked at Perry’s proposed cover for Ritual, so Jane’s Addiction’s newest album will be released with two covers–one featuring the Perry Farrell original and one totally white. that seems to have appeased the more anal distributors, though they are almost certain to lose sales with the unappealing white cover.
The fetish Perry created to grace the cover of Ritual now covers an entire wall of his living room. On it are three life-size figures resembling Perry, Casey, and another woman, curled together in harmony on an old box spring. The figures are at least partially nude. They are surrounded by a field of found objects: painted, re-dressed plastic dolls; candelabra holding burning candles; scattered Tarot cards; housefold appliances; photographs; cheesy paintings. Best of all, the three figures’ heads are fitted with gold rays like a trio of medieval Christs.
Perry refuses to comment on the piece. “Let ’em guess. If you can’t figure it out, you’ve not lived,” Perry quips. “I’m not exactly sure what it is about the fetish that offends the powers that be. It may be nudity, it may be the three-way ideas. It may be the ritualistic way in which the objects are arranged. Who the fuck knows.”
Those albums arriving at record stores with a plain white jacket will carry a message inside that Perry scrawled for the occasion, It’s lengthy and rambling, like his conversation, but hits the right buttons. it begins:
To the Mosquitos,
We have more influence over your children than you do, but we love your children…Nature did right in tying the infant to the female…I understand why they want to protect their children, but for their own good, let me point out that though you may have to explain subjects to your children that you perceive as wrong, it is better to have the freedom to explain it in your own words than be silenced under a government that has the power to squash anyone who opposes their views.”
As far as feedom of expression and the First Amendment are concerned, it’s been a frustrating year for Jane’s Addiction. Just before this controversy busted out about the cover art, the boys found themselves confronted with a management team who wanted piss-tests for drugs. the band told the guy to go fuck himself. Warner jumped in and has since smoothed things out, but, for Perry, it’s almost enough to make him go into filmmaking full time–where nudity is encouraged and drugs make great scripts.
Perry and I are sitting inside a shady cafe on the Venice boardwalk with the film crew. Perry keeps cracking us up with his account of how he first got Navarro to bust out of his blues tradition, painting a portrait of endless studio hours where he kept asking Dave to restructure his thinking–blues and then anti-blues. “now he’s a guitar hero to millions and everybody is trying to play in this signature, fucked-up, frustrated, freaked style,” he muses. “All over the place. Amorphous.”
The Movie has forced Perry to confront some of his own idiosyncracies. For one thing, he’s taken to toting a schedule book around with him. At age 31, he might even think about going back to Queens, New York, to see his family. For the first time since he was 16.
“I don’t know. I called my old man today,” he says, “for the first time in years. I talked to my sister and she said he was goin’ down fast. I didn’t want him to die with that on my chest. He had a heart attack on the day I ran away. Then, years later, I called my dad and my new stepmother and we got into a big fight and I told them both to fuck off–that I never wanted to see them again or speak to them–and he had his second heart attack.
“When I was 16 I was making surfboards. I came out to California just to go surfing. Had a bunch of art supplies.
…I just knew that I hated my life,. I mean, I’ve lived out here–actually on the beach–for months at a time.
Later, Perry offers up a more sobering perspective:
“Sometimes I think we were all put here to learn a lesson, and sonmetimes I think, ‘No, life absolutely is the most amazing place you could think of. ‘It’s got every situation imaginable, from the most beautiful, tender, sweet, loving, caring–to the most debauched, disgusting, sick, lowlife, degrading situations imaginable. And the way people love each other is so amazing. What one person deems is disgusting another falls in love with–men with elephantitis of the face who get married to interesting women, A guy who’s good-looking and falls in love with a 90-year-old-lady. And it’s real. Every time I think about bailing out on life, I think, ‘Your time will come very soon and don’t worry about a thing. Everybody gets the brass ring.’ You know?”
SPIN magazine August, 1991
Daniel Shams’ Heliotricity Reviews
“Visionary and timeless music…from a unique and talented singer/songwriter at a crucial point in his continually unfolding artistic development…”