BAM – June 14, 1991
From the table of contents page:
“Hurry up and wait, that’s what this business is all about,” Jay Blakesberg is explaining to his photo assistant, Helga, an Icelander with an intimidating number of syllables and letters in her last name. Three of us are lounging around in the lobby of the Sacramento Holiday Inn. It’s approaching 8 p.m. and we’ve already spent six hours scouting sights for a since-cancelled photo shoot with Perry Farrell, investigating movies (before Jay decides that he couldn’t relax and enjoy Citizen Kane with all his gear behind in the car), milling about at Tower Books, and picking at Chinese food. The tough part for the photographers is that they’ve been hanging out for no reason, having been assured that the promised photo shoot is off. Instead, they’ll get a half-hour with Jane’s Addiction the next day. Still, since we all drove up together and this is the only opportunity to talk to the force behind the Lollapalooza tour, Jay and Helga patiently hang out. They decide to come along for the interview and Jay brings a camera along – just in case. As soon as Farrell sees the photo bag, he protests that he absolutely will not pose for photos this evening, but at the end of the interview, Jay broaches the subject again, suggesting that perhaps Perry and his mate, Casey Niccoli, might give him just a few minutes together in front of the editing equipment that’s stacked on a nearby table. Surprisingly, they go for it. About 10:30, we’re ushered out of the room by Jane’s Addiction manager Tom Atencio, who’d looked a little perplexed when he returned to the room to find a shoot taking place. The next day, Perry poses for about 15 minutes before the full band gathers for another quarter of an hour. At one point, guitarist Dave Navarro grabs a cookie to munch on and Jay warns him that his chewing could spoil some shots. “I’m eating the cookie because I’m on my time,” Navarro responds a little resentfully. Fair enough. Jay shrugs and keeps shooting at a fast and furious pace. The four musicians grow more restless with each snap while Jay tries to keep them anchored with ongoing assurances that this won’t hurt a bit, it’ll all be over within just a few minutes. “One more roll.” “Twelve last shot.” “Six.” “Three.” “That’s it. Thanks guys.” The band scatters instantly. It’s 6:30; Jane’s Addiction goes on in about three hours and Jay’s being given the rare opportunity to shoot the entire set rather than the traditional three songs. Three more hours to kill. Hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait.
– Steve Stolder
Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell Rages Against The Dying of The Light
By Steve Stolder
Pgs 18, 20, 22, 25-26
It’s been a long and, thus far, wasted day. A 3 p.m. photo shoot with Perry Farrell has been delayed because the Jane’s Addiction frontman has opted to stay holed up in his Sacramento hotel room with his mate, Casey Niccoli, and 30 hours of film footage. An interview, too, has been pushed back. The evening fades into night until, finally, Ted Gardner, Jane’s Addiction’s burly British manager, is prepared to kill a few last minutes by giving background information on various upcoming projects. Perry and Casey are working on Gift, he explains, a film they hope will make it into theaters for limited release before turning up on video. Ore immediately, there’s Lollapalooza, an ambitious summer tour extravaganza.
“The line-up, when it was put to us, was that we’d be the major act,” Gardner explains. “Siouxsie & the Banshees were very anxious to do it, [and] Living Color. [We] looked to try to get younger bands, newer acts. Ice-T, I think, is the definitive rap artist, who’s also gone heavy metal, actually. Butthole Surfers is your underground band that’s changed dramatically from what they used to be. And Henry Rollins, we did some shows with him last year, and we did some more with him this year, and we asked him if he’d be interested and he said ‘Yes.’” (Nine Inch Nails is also on the tour.)
Finally, Gardner checks his watch and decides that Farrell has had sufficient time to “freshen up.” He leads the way down the hall to the singer’s suite. There smoke wafts through the air as the wiry, dark-eyed New Yorker with the well-documented drug habit (“My opinion is this: that drugs can be beneficial and they are necessary”) steps forward a little shakily and offers a hoarse greeting. His hair is trimmed short and boxer shorts crop up above his pants. The next night he’ll brag to the crowd at Sacramento’s Cal Expo, “I’ve barfed five times today and I’m still tougher than any of you,” but this evening he looks anything but rugged as he leads the way back into the suite, where Niccoli, a pretty, soft-spoken woman with green hair, is watching a video monitor. There, he stubs out a joint, takes a quick drink of red wine and falteringly arranges the video screens so they can be viewed from the couch.
Initially, Farrell seems awkward and tentative, but as he grows more comfortable with the conversation, so too does he become more articulate. On paper, his grand proclamations can take on a self-important air, but in person he’s far more vulnerable, appreciative of approval, and, ultimately, more likeable than expected; you find yourself wishing him the best while fearing the worst.
Occasionally, a curious kind of naiveté surfaces. When asked about the apparently imminent and already widely reported breakup of his group, he professes that it’s true, though his record company isn’t aware of that fact yet – as if Warner Bros. is oblivious to all those published reports. Indeed, though co-manager Tom Atencio dismisses the notion of a band split by insisting that “they’ve been breaking up since they got together,” one need only to watch the four of them together to feel the kind of tension that could be diced up with a switchblade. When Farrell is united with guitarist Dave Navarro, bassist Eric Avery, and drummer Stephen Perkins for a photo shoot the next day, not a word is wasted. Avery, who originally hooked up with Farrell to from the band in 1985, now says he doesn’t “talk unnecessarily” to him. Navarro, too, keeps his cool. Only Perkins appears to interact with everyone in the group. This certainly feels like a band whose days are numbered.
Which is sad. Tragic, even. If you love rock ‘n’ roll that’s exotic and daring, in the summer o f’91, Jane’s Addiction may well be the best band in the land. The three instrumentalists take the basic tools of the trade and build a grand temple to metallic psychedelia; Avery and Perkins form an inventive rhythm section of which Navarro waves singular solos and fills. And through the din wails Farrell, whose shorthand, imagistic poetry speaks volumes.
The phone rings and Farrell leaves the room to answer it, leaving Niccoli behind for a moment. She mentions Soul Kiss, an earlier Jane’s Addiction video she helmed. Farrell returns and takes a seat while Niccoli scans for forage of an LA performance of “Three Days,” a song off last year’s Ritual de lo Habitual album. For a moment they squabble like and old married couple over where to find the scene. (Footage of their Mexican Santeria wedding ceremony will likely make its way into Gift.) Niccoli finally finds it, Farrell concedes that she was right, and watches intently for a few moments, explaining, “I would like to watch it while I’m talking.”
You’ve experimented in a number of mediums – music, sculpture, and film. Was there one that was your first interest?
Not in terms of what I enjoy the most, but as far as what I did first, I would say sculpture. My father is a jewelry designer and great craftsman with gold and silver. And I started designing jewelry very, very early. Like that was the first art I got into.
Six or 7 years old.
Did you ever think about that s a conventional career, like your father obviously did?
You know, when I was a little kid, when they asked, “What do you want to be?” I’d say, “Either a jeweler or a lawyer.” Really Jewish s—t. [laughs] I considered it for a while, but as I got older, the idea of it pretty much disappeared by the time I was 12 years old.
Niccoli interrupts to ask what parts of Gift he wishes to screen and he tells her, “Just let it play,” then explains: “Let me tell you, this is very rough. None of the scenes are completed; they’re not in sequence and there’s not any monologue to tie things together. So just take it for what it is. It’s good background stuff.” Room service arrives and Niccoli organizes a bowl f soup and a glass of water but the food remains untouched through the course of the interview. Niccoli sits on the floor in front of the screen as the video continues. A scene in which a gynecologist examines a prone woman begins and Farrell comments, “The guy’s a quack. He peddles dope, but legally. Prescriptions.” Then he returns to the business at hand:
So what was the question?
We were talking about other crafts. Film and music…
Oh yes. What I was doing was… I had a bunch of jewelry equipment. I would just go into town and try to hit up a silver shop – there’s always like a cool silver shop in every town – and try to get work just designing jewelry, … And also, I was doing graphic arts, but I wasn’t trained academically. I just sort of picked it up. I was designing for some magazines. If I could, I’d just go to graphic arts stores and jewelry stores and just… that’s basically how I got to move around. And I worked construction, too. It was good
You lived in Florida for awhile…
New York to Florida to LA?
New York, Florida, LA.
How long did you live in Florida?
About three years.
Did you perform at all as a musician?
No. I didn’t have any idea, to tell you the truth, that I would be a singer. It’s really a surprise that it’s gone this far. Well, I guess, I don’t know. It was just natural, it just came out of nowhere. I never practiced singing when I was younger, or wished to be a singer. You get pushed into going where you belong, and I just kind of went with the flow. I was into the idea of acting and modeling when I was really too stupid to realize how stupid the idea was.
This was in LA now?
Yeah, because I liked the idea of acting. I was hanging out with people that kinda did both. In LA, that happens a lot. Model/actor/whatever is the short terminology for them. I like the idea of modeling because I was really vain. Then waiting in line with guys that were 6-5 and really gorgeous put that out of my head really fast. [laughs]
Did you get any work?
No, but I got a lot of offers to sleep with people. [smiles] Actually, you know, I did. This is the way it happened as far as the first step: I was delivering liquor; I delivered it to this club and I was watching this video of this modeling troupe, and the lady who was the head of this troupe… I kinda bluffed my way in. I told her I was a model and she asked me what else I did. They did all these things. They modeled and they had dancers, and they put on shows. And I told ‘em I did everything. It took me about two weeks and I was doing Frank Sinatra impressions and David Bowie, and it just kind of gave me incentive because people liked it real fast and I felt real comfortable doing it. It was just kind of a natural thing. As I said, it was accidental and I liked it.
Then people started asking me if I had a manager and it just started happening. So I dug it as I went along. I mean, once I decided to really turn myself into this kind of life, ‘cause like I said, it just kind of came on me quite by accident… I did put a lot of hard work into it once I said, “Hey, this is really happening for me. I’m having a great time.” And, you know, I spent a lot of time singing with headphones on in my apartment – didn’t look for a band for a long time – to train myself and mess around with electronics and stuff like that. I spent probably a year just singing alone.
How old were you at this point?
I was about 20 or 21 years old. Like I say, that’s why it kind of came up on me and I went with it. I wish that I would have gotten into it a little bit younger, but I guess that’s just the way things go.
But there are advantages to that.
Yeah, there are. I’ll tell you what they are, too, for me: One, if you would have heard the stuff that I wrote when I first started, you probably wouldn’t be talking to me now.
What was it like?
It was just very innocent. I was an innocent person and I was writing from a very hectic part of my life, which was like being homeless and [this] rich guy stealing my girlfriend from me – finding them sleeping with rich guys for dough, you know. Just a lot of hectic things. It was just real childlike. And I just appreciate my writing a lot more now. Reading the stuff, I like it only because it’s real honest and simple, but I don’t think it’s developed its craft.
When I listen to your lyrics, what strikes me about them is the stuff you leave out. It’s not overly detailed so it leaves room for the imagination.
Thanks. I appreciate that.
Which, I guess, comes from craftsmanship.
Right. Last night, I was writing. I haven’t written in awhile, and I had to quickly try to remember the craft because there’s a lot of things I’ve learned from doing it continuously. I’m sure you know, you stop writing for a little while and you realize what you did learn as they start coming back on you – the little ideas and conclusions that came to you. Like, “Man, I’ve got to keep this up or it’s gonna fall down.” And one of the things I was thinking about is, yeah, it’s got to have that element of room. You’ve got to always follow the story. The strangeness about it all is that many people can think that really they know what’s going on in the story, and they’re wrong. But they could care less; they’re happy with their interpretation. And I am, too; I could care less as long as they’re having a good time with it.
Let’s talk about Lollapalooza for a while. Where did the spark from it come originally?
I’ll tell you how it started. It was not my idea to make a Lollapalooza. My booking agent approached me with doing whatever I wanted with a tour: What would I do with a tour if I could do whatever I wanted? And, for a long time, Casey and myself, back in the beginnings of my career, we would put on the shows ourselves. It was much cooler than doing them at a venue where they’re choosing the bill for you. It’s got some light guy and sound guy who could care less about you, and they’ve got their Monday through Sunday kind of setup, and it doesn’t change a lot. What we would do was get warehouses and find lofts and put together really strange shows. We did that right from the very beginning. And we had some really bizarre shows that we put on. But what happened was, we actually de-evolutionized. We actually went backwards as far as putting on the live shows because, when we got signed and had a booking agency, the idea of putting together all these great things like having motorcycles – all these classic motorcycles – and flame ‘n’ sword swallowers, and snake charmers… you can’t travel with them when you first get signed with a record label – a major. They’re not going to put the money out. When you stop and think about it, you’ve got to put these people up for the night and they have to have transportation and be fed, and then get a salary. So the idea of having them out for as song or two, [we] couldn’t pull it off. So the stage show that we’ve had for years is actually stripped down from how we first started. But now, to continue with the Lollapalooza, we’re once again going to make it multimedia, and much more than just my band [will be] playing. And I love my band – I’m proud of it – but they’re so much more you can do in the course of an evening. And I aim to be the guy to do it.
How did you go about selecting groups for it. I get the impression that this is your baby, as far as the whole tour…
Yeah, yeah. Maybe I didn’t clarify. They came to me and said, “Do whatever you want. We’re giving you the license to do with your tour whatever you want.”
What about your fellow bandmates?
They’re not… they’re going to be playing it, and they’re in Jane’s Addiction. That’s a lot.
Back to selecting the bill. What thought when into that?
Well, there was a lot of though about mixing and making them a multifaceted bill. I wanted to integrate – racially integrate, musically integrate. And I think it’s a good start. I would like to see if I could continue to do these sorts of festivals – the Lollapalooza festivals. And I’m introducing bands that everybody’s heard of, but still they have integrity. [chuckles] Which is a pretty tough thing to do. But eventually I would like to get it even more integrated – I mean globally. It’s a good start, and it will at least introduce the principal.
Ted was telling me that one element is to bring along Greenpeace and similar organizations to that. But also, he said that you’d like to bring along the N.R.A. and [conservative] organizations like that. What’s the idea behind that?
Well, truthfully the angle behind that is I just feel there’s room for progress. I want to be able to have a forum for things that are very… that people are very reluctant to openly discuss them and really give their opinion on them. And as a result, I just think that we could be on the brink of making a very big step in mankind’s history toward peace.
What makes you think that?
Because of the news and the media, and the quickness with which it can be dispersed now to people. Television…
Can be a positive?
I think it can, yes. I just love television. I think everything should be televised. I really do. The point I’m trying to make – I know I’m hedging in what I’m trying to say, but I think that if a man of peace was seen around the world next to a man of war, it would speed up the process of growing as a race.
So I guess using Lollapalooza, for example, what you’re saying is you’d like to expose the man of peace and the man of war next to one another?
Yes, yes. Because I think it’s easy to convert the converted. I mean, I d o have my own opinion. Obviously, we all do. And maybe I’m still giving you my opinion by the way I’m approaching it, but I’m just into the experiment of it. And, also, in the back of my mind, maybe I would like to be enlightened from a man of war. Maybe I am wrong; maybe it’s war that we need. Maybe it’s something that I’m curious to learn, you know. A lot of people really believe that that was what was necessary. I guess the war’s been bugging me a lot.
What was your personal opinion of the war?
Well, I don’t believe in war. At all. So, to me, it’s like people who want to kill look for excuses, and it’s not a matter of borderline at all; it’s a matter of killers. Killers on the planet gravitate toward one another. They’re not from my country, they’re not from Iraq. They’re just simply murders.. And if there was no one to kill – that they rightfully had to kill – they’d end up killing innocent people anyways. They’re lucky that there are other murderers to give them excuses. I don’t care, that’s my argument with it. You can’t convince me that any war is necessary. It simply is not. Its just a matter of people who want to kill will release that thought.
Do you have any personal heroes, on a world scale?
Right now, hmmm. I have to sit and think about it. Well, there’s an organization that right now I’m very interested in – Refuse and Resist. Oh, wait, instead of telling you about them, why don’t I tell you abut a guy by the name of [linguist / social critic] Noam Chomsky… He’s a man that I admire. I think right now, the world could use a man with a lot of brains that is still interested in politics.
It’s been widely reported that Jane’s Addiction is winding down at this point. That Jane’s Addiction will be gone, I guess, a year from now…
No, the Lollapalooza… Actually, I can’t tell you. [pauses] I’ll tell you. I mean, the word is definitely out, it’s just that my record company – I haven’t told them. My band knows and everybody in the management section knows, but the record company doesn’t know. I’m not really sure how to play a record company when it comes to telling them that you want to get out of your band.
What are your plans after Jane’s Addiction?
Well, I would like to take a break from all of this, because I have an idea for another movie and another band – I guess you could call it a band, or an orchestra. And I want to tie that in along with … that stuff I can’t talk about. But there is other stuff that I even want to get into that I would incorporate with the next project. I would like to tell you more about them but I can’t right now. But I don’t want to write it here while I’m working on Jane’s Addiction because I just want to concentrate on Jane’s Addiction, and there’s a lot to do right now, still. To get the Lollapalooza off properly, that’s my short-term goal. But outside of that, I’m going to take probably a year absence, and then I’ll come back with the next metamorphosis of what I’m doing.
Do you consider yourself an ambitious person?
You do seem to be very ambitious an have specific goals. Does it concern you that post-Jane’s Addiction, you might not have the same kind of force? Who knows, you’re taking a chance when you break up a powerful band – one you’ve called “the best band in the world.” And you do risk losing some sway. Does that worry you at all?
No. I mean, if you asked me if it ever, ever, ever worried me, I would say yes. It pops into my head, of course, when you’re weighing things out. But I’ll tell you, that thought lasts for like a blink of an eye or something. Or maybe two blinks of an eye. [laughs] It goes away because I’m at the point, even at this time, at this moment, I’ve already got the clout for that next project to pull off what I want to do.
You know what I think about is the idea. And I’m excited to do it. And the enthusiasm I have for the future makes me zip by and kind of worry. Like I say, the worry is there – as a man, you always worry when you’re going to make such hard turns to the left or to the right… And to tell you the truth, the way I look at it is, if I continue to do good work, I’ll have all the people that I need to come and see it. I don’t need a stadium full of people. I’m glad that I was given such a great life, and I got to see that and experience it. But that’s not even where I’m coming for the next project at all.
How do you envision it?
Well, look at Lollapalooza, I mean, right there, that’s the next project. If you’ve done research on my band, there’s progressions. You can see it progressing, and you can see what I’ve been interested in working on.
OK, to draw conclusions from that, I would say something more culturally and musically diverse? Something multimedia?
Yeah, yeah. But I want you to come to the Lollapalooza, because you’ll see where even Jane’s Addiction has moved to. You’ll see a transformation. Like I say, I’m still in this band and I’m still putting a lot of work into it.
I like the idea of making circus, except I’m not using traditional circus. That’s, I guess, where my love lies in all of this. Do you ever sometimes feel like your mind is like an arrow – you’re just pointing at something? And that’s where the love of it all lies. I love to put on things – big, multimedia things that I can work on a lot of different things just because of the project.
What about film? Do you see yourself as a commercial filmmaker or an artistic filmmaker?
No, I wouldn’t want to get involved with commercial film because, knowing what I know about Hollywood, I don’t want to be that in with the film industry. I refer to stay slightly on the outside – get outside money, if I could. Or keep the budgets very small and not depend on having somebody lay a lot of money down to make a film and try to get well-known actors. That doesn’t really appeal to me that much. I like to experiment with film, and I don’t think that Hollywood works that way. They work off of formulas. And to tell you the truth, Casey is probably going to be a great filmmaker. I mean, she’s already doing a lot of stuff. I could see her getting more into one film after another. I think my films – Hollywood would look at them as crude, because a lot of things I don’t care about, they do. I don’t like to oversanitize the film. There are things that I’m interested about that I want to get out of the film, and I look for them. But Hollywood would sanitize a lot of what I like in a film. Like I’m not so quick to throw something out that’s slightly out of focus if I thought that had the most emotion. I like to film life as it’s going, but the only problem with that is you have to make life exciting enough to be filmed, otherwise you have a bore on your ands. It’s kind of a double-edge sword. I have to kind of push myself to live a certain way sometimes just so I can get a good shot out of it.
Are there filmmakers whom you admire?
I love David Lynch. And Pedro Almodóvar. He’s the guy [who made] Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down. And I like John Huston from the old school. But you probably know more about film that I do. I’m not really an expert on the subject. I wish I knew more.
A lot of your songs address your family in one way or another. Do you mind talking about your family life?
I left my family so many years ago that there’s not a lot of family life.
How many brothers and sisters do you have?
I had six. One died, so I have five now. But, you know the reason I don’t talk about my family much, for one, is my family was so scattered that I don’t really remember having an organized family much.
I was in the middle of it all. And you know what they say: the middle guy gets neglected. Maybe they’re right, because I don’t remember my family being there together. I mean, I know I had the sisters and brothers that I had, and mother and father. But that’s why I don’t talk about it much. I don’t know what I was thinking about, but I sure wasn’t concentrating on my family.
But it does seem to come up in songs. Your brother making you slap yourself in the face and your sister dating a black man…
She married him. Yeah, they were there and stuff, and they were a part of my life, so I wrote about it. But… do you want to know anything else?
On one song you address your mother. She was an artist?
Yeah, kind of like myself. She liked to go through the trash. When people put their trash out, she’d bring stuff back. We’d finish things and put things together. She also liked to refinish antiques.
Do you see your family much?
I see them when I tour. You now, I’ll see the New York side of my family – my brothers and my sisters – when I play there. And when I play in Miami, that’s when I see my father and my stepmother.
How do they respond to your fame?
Well, they’re all very happy for me, of course. It’s hard because I don’t think… well, it’s not exactly their cup of tea. So it’s kind of funny, because they’re happy, but I know what they content is, so it throws me sometimes. Like, shouldn’t somebody be giving me s—t? [laughs] I’m aright with them now. It’s been so long since I lived at home. I’m beginning to understand a little bit more what your parents go through, and you can’t blame your parents for everything they did, because as you get to see yourself get their age, you see that you’re still stupid as well. It’s not like you grow up and all of a sudden there’s a line and then all your choices are correct. They still feel just as dumb. I know how it could happen to them now. I don’t know, how do you feel about your family?
About the same way. You’re 32?
I’m 33. It’s kind of the same way. You stop being as pissed…
Yeah. And also, it helps being a success, because if I had bee a loser, then I would probably hate them more. But it’s hard to be mad at anybody when you get such a lucky break in life. I’m in a good mood most of the time. I keep my sadness to myself. I’m a good friend that way because I don’t come into the room with my sadness.