Hardly a Plain Jane
Viewing life with open eyes is the sensibility that fuels Los Angeles art rocker Perry Farrell and his group, Jane’s Addiction
by Michael Goldberg
“Hands up!” Out in the alley, a black crack dealer and two white high-school boys who just copped off him are being busted. “Out of the car!” shouts a cop.
“Holy shit!” exclaims Perry Farrell. The singer-songwriter for and mastermind behind the band Jane’s Addiction is watching through the window of a video-editing studio in Venice, California, as a policeman aims his revolver at the boys’ heads.
Like a rock & roll ambulance chaser, Farrell is out the door and on the street in a flash to view the action up close. After Farrell gets his fill of the scene, he and the other three members of the band regroup inside. “I’m glad those cops got to grow up and fulfill their life’s ambition to be cowboys,” says Farrell, as he settles his wiry body onto a folding chair.
Farrell looks like some kind of punk-psychedelic shaman: his head is a mass of Jamaican-style dreadlocks, and he wears ghoulish makeup, junk-store clothing and a fish earring. He has an odd tattoo next to his left eye. Oh, yeah, and the gold nose ring. “I just decided one day I wanted it,” he says, “I liked reading National Geographic.”
Ever outrageous, Farrell, 29, is intent on getting a reaction. From his family, his audience, whomever. During an interview, he causally mentions the times he was “fried on acid,” his former job as a male prostitute, the drug addict he once shared a house with (and based a song, called “Jane Says,” on) and the Charles Manson album he thinks is “as good as the Velvet Underground.”
He likes life “in your face,” as he often puts it, whatever the consequences, which is why the view of the crack bust from the studio window just wasn’t enough. “Look, don’t look away,” he says, voicing the unflinching sensibility that fuels Jane’s Addiction. “If you’re sitting on one of those tables that they cart you in on in the emergency room and you have a chance to look at people being stitched and stuff, I always try to soak that stuff up. I always try to keep my eyes open and look and see what’s going on.” Even his assumed name, Perry Farrell, is a pun on peripheral.
“Pain is so momentary,” Farrell continues, warming up to a favorite topic. It’s impossible to tell if he’s serious or pulling a nearby leg. “Pain validates your life. Whenever anything painful happens too me, I feel like nobody can tell me that I shouldn’t be alive. I feel like ‘Hey, fuck you!’ I’ve experienced enough pain that I deserve to have lived. Pain is like paying your dues.”
“There are too few of those markers in life,” says bassist Eric Avery, 23, who also subscribes to Farrell’s Philosophy of Pain.
Guitarist David Navarro, 21, adjusts a break dancer’s black cap, complete with Egyptian-style earflaps. “People who haven’t experienced pain are really boring to me,” Navarro chimes in.
Drummer Stephen Perkins, 21, sits silently, a bemused grin on his face.
Though the group’s music is a collaborative effort, Jane’s Addiction is Farrell’s vision. Following in the footsteps of such flamboyant yet punky shock-rock outfits as the Stooges, the Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls and, of course, the Sex Pistols, Jane’s Addiction is merely the latest to combine arty aesthetics with sex, drugs, violence and rock & roll, emerging from the laboratory with a strange but addictive brew of image and sound as intense as a horrific nightmare, beautiful as a heavenly dream, calculated to both endear and offend. And get the band some attention, natch.
The group’s music ranges from a hair-raising roar of metallic white nowise (“Ocean Size”) to delicate new-folk rock (“Jane Says”). Nothing’s Shocking, the groups acclaimed recent album, was banded by some of the biggest record retailers in the country, thanks to the cover photograph of a Farrell-created sculpture, which shows off the naked breasts of his girlfriend, Casey Niccoli. The band’s first video, “Mountain Song.” includes just enough nude footage of Niccoli too keep it off MTV. Predictably, Farrell refuse to let an MTV-suitable edit to be made of the video. “I’m not working for MTV,” he says.
Farrell considers himself an artist and Jane’s Addiction his art project. He says he’s been dabbling in art since those days back in grade school when he would “take the school newspaper and alter it so the principal had horns, or was giving someone a blow job.
“Yes,” he adds with a laugh, “I’ve been involved in art all my life.”
Naming the album Nothing’s Shocking was Farrell’s way of pointing out how blasé and numb people have become in the Eighties. The point, of course, is that there is plenty we should be shocked about. And Farrell seems intent – though his music, his appearance, his big mouth, his life – on doing his damnedest too wake the dead. Sometimes, however, he just seems to be fucking around.
A recent tour opening for Iggy Pop found Farrell and his buddies getting into trouble on and off the stage. Navarro got his nose broken by some rednecks in the bathroom of a Denny’s in Newark, Delaware, and Farrell was thrown out of the Stone Pony, in Astbuy Park, New Jersey, for slam dancing during Iggy’s set. It was also at the Stone Pony that Farrell decided he didn’t care if a member of the audience who was standing right in front of the stage, so he changed a line in his song “Had a Dad” to “Suck my dick” and directed it at the offensive party. That didn’t send the dude out of the club. So Farrell picked up a bottle of red wine he’d been drinking and poured some on his head and the rest on the guy in the crowd.
In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a Cuban gang member saw Farrell and shouted out, “Here’s Boy George.” When Farrell return the compliment with a loud “Suck my dick,” the gang members were not pleased. “The whole street opened up like a gangland-style war,” says Farrell, who seems to relish such altercations. “People getting whaled left and right. Cracked my friend’s fucking head on the sidewalk. It’s almost like bulls – they go toward the color red. Like I’m just ripe to look over at and go, ‘Hey, hey, hey.’ In a weird way, I’m happy when it happens. I thrive on it.”
The other three take off to buy Navarro a new guitar, but Farrell remains too talk a little longer. The subject changes to his parents, and he abruptly turns defensive. “I don’t care what my parents think,” he says. “If I wasn’t a success, if I was a failure doing the same thing, my dad would think my life was a dismal failure. All parents really care about is that you’re safe and sound. As far as they’re concerned, I’m safe. I haven’t fallen out of the nest and into the gutter. But if I was in the gutter, I wouldn’t feel that I was any less a success.”