This article is where Perry Farrell debunks the rumor that his birth name was Simon Bernstein. This article was also quoted on the promo version of the album Good God’s Urge.
A Conversation with Space Alien Perry Farrell
By Lorraine Ali – Photos by Laura Byrnes
“There’s such a strong imbalance of male energy on this planet,” says Perry Farrell, looking extra skinny today in baggy surf shorts, a big T-shirt and sandals. “We need more of the female stuff.” Farrell is sitting on a velvet couch in the living room of his Venice, California, home, fidgeting as though his skin were an itchy wool suit. He pulls his boney knees to his chest, cracks his back, and rocks from side to side while shooting out spontaneous ideas like thought-missiles. Farrell’s deep-set blue eyes shift as he bounces from topic to topic: flashing pure enthusiasm when he talks about his band Porno For Pyros’ new album, Good God’s Urge; glazing into a faraway spaciness as he ponders contact with UFOs; and focusing with scheming intelligence as he explains how to put his wild theories in practice.
Farrell’s nasal voice echoes off the high walls of his spacious living room, when life-size dolls – the ones of the cover of Jane’s Addiction’s Ritual de lo Habitual – stare down from a shelf in the corner. A stained-glass window sheds colorful light over the small kitchen and mismatched living room furniture. A huge, old wood surfboard hangs like a trophy over a home movie screen. As he chats away, Farrell seems to be in a constant state of discovery, uncovering new angles on old subjects such as music, drugs, space aliens and his relationship with his dad – or simply trying to figure out who slashed the tires on his green Lexus last night. It’s this short stream-of-conscious outlook that has made Farrell everyone’s favorite freak; an anomaly who’s always expected to produce the unexpected.
Good God’s Urge, Porno’s second album, is no exception. It swirls with warm, hallucinatory bliss, incorporating dub bass, experimental electronics, jazz-inspired guitar squiggles and folky melodies. Whereas on the first Porno album, Farrell continued the hard-rock aesthetic of his groundbreaking former band Jane’s Addiction, he now sings dreamily of ancient spirits and the exotica of Bali. Bassist Mike Watt, one of several guests on the album, calls it “island music.” It’s a sonic landscape that falls somewhere among the ‘60s psychedelia of Jefferson Airplane, the ‘90s ambience of the Orb, and the gentler, opiated folk-blues of Led Zeppelin. As with Jane’s Addiction, Good God’s Urge finds Farrell once again going against the grain. In a time when most rockers desperately want to shock, he makes a truly radical move – and delivers nothing shocking.
The album marks a re-resurgence for a man who has popped up only sporadically over the four years since Porno’s debut album; an occasional appearance at Lollapalooza, or an outing with ‘60s luminaries Timothy Leary and Yoko Ono. Now that Farrell, 37, claims to have put drugs on the back burner, he’s looking for new thrills. Some of his latest plans include a festival that will go “beyond Lollapalooza,” a Web site called “Teeth,” and – oh yeah – putting the out-of-whack planet earth back on track. Right now, though, Perry is busy in his kitchen planning his next move: making a smoothie.
Streams of Consciousness
What are you putting in that blender? Carrots?
No, just fruit and stuff. This juicer is super though… I gotta stop using the word “super.” There’s a bunch of bands with the word “super” in their name, and it makes me suspicious. It’s like they use the word “super” to cover up some other shortcoming.
So what are your plans new that Good God’s Urge is all done?
I have taken it upon myself to get the planet adjusted properly within eight years. If it happens to be 12, I’ll be satisfied, but we have to get things going right.
That’s a huge amount of responsibility for one person, don’t you think?
Well, I’ll have help.
Like an Adjust-the-World staff?
Let me explain. If I were to tell you I’d come to your house and I would make it beautiful, make it small good, make great music for you, give you a facial, a massage and good food; I’ll give you peace, whatever you want, I can make you happier – wouldn’t you want me around?
Well, that’s how I feel. Everybody likes me if I do good things for people, and that includes spirits. I have a lot of people on my side, because I make a lot of people happy. I’m not alone at all, and there’re a lot of spirits around who want good for the planet – like John Lennon. His essence is somewhere, and he probably things this is a good idea. Believe me, though, these are just funny fantasies I have. I’m not gonna tell you I speak to John Lennon – I’m not that weird. But you would not believe the things I get away with, and I know it’s got to be more than I was just lucky.
I often wonder how you get so much eccentric ideas through all the corporate machinery and out to the public fairly unscathed. Lollapalooza, and even the albums you’ve made, are great examples.
My record company has never let me have an easy time of it. They’re actually pretty mild now, like a little kid kicking me in the shin who wants attention. But, overall, all I do is think to myself, “I won’t fail if my intentions are good.” I keep angling like that. It’s a process for me, I get better ideas now than I have before. I really feel friction in certain areas, but there’s gotta be a rub, ‘cause you’re constantly leaving things behind, and no one wants to be left behind. I picture these streams – not tangible ones, but streams of consciousness. They flow next to each other. Some are going very fast and sparkle like jewels. I wanna picture myself hopping into those different streams.
People are suspicious of fast movement and change, and also a little jaded at this point, so if you could get through to them beyond just a sensory level, that would be an amazing feat.
I know, that’s why I say I’m gonna turn this planet around it eight years. It’s funny, I’m not really going to, we’re all gonna do it, but no one ever says stuff like that. So until someone does, no one will ever do it. People need someone to follow.
Are you planning to do a lot of your world-turn-around work through your Web site?
I am investing time and ideas in it, and trying to make it very communal. I want people to be attracted to it, like magnetized to it form everywhere. The coolest part is this ongoing film we’re working on: anybody who wants to can get on-line and change the direction of it. It’s interactive. So what I’m hoping is that it makes people understand what they can do together, and actually work on something together around the world, on something simultaneously, then perhaps come to the consciousness that we can do anything together.
Are you computer literate?
No, but I’ve never been stopped by not knowing what to do. It’s like this: there are so many things to know in this world, and the most important thing is to know your own spirituality, your own evolution. Everything else is tools and vehicles. If there is life after death – reincarnation – then that means everything is eternal, and this life is just a very slow process of gaining more information. That’s what I’m most concerned about. Everything else is just fun or incidental. So the computer is like any other kind of art I get involved with – the technical stuff is something you can get out of a book or out of a friend.
You’ve been through so much; more than a decade of band life, drug addiction, and fighting to keep Lollapalooza credible. How do you be even more optimistic now than when you started?
I know people thing there has to be bad for there to be good, but I’m starting to believe it is possible to have constant pleasure – meaning you don’t feel guilty about it. I’m talking constant ecstasy. I just think maybe we’re kidding ourselves that pain is necessary. I hope there will be a time when you won’t have to prove how cool you are by how many times you’ve O.D.’ed.
That’s that rock’n’roll credibility thing.
I’m tired of all the abusiveness, though. I’m really into the thought of non-abusiveness these days.
It that the mindset behind the more serene feel of Good God’s Urge?
Yeah, there’s a lot more female energy there. I know some people can’t take it, but the people who like this female energy are the ones I’m interested in. I feel we have to start our own little family of people who are sensitive enough to understand other things. The people who don’t get it… well, there’s gonna be a lot of them. That’s something I’m not supposed to be mad about.
What do you mean you’re not supposed to be mad about that?
It’s like, you can’t be mad at a person who’s only in first grade. Everybody’s at a different point of evolution, and I’m not saying that I’m way up there, but I think, for instance, that murderers truly can’t help themselves. Maybe one day they’ll evolve to regret it, but maybe not. Everyone truly is doing the best they can.
That’s a pretty forgiving philosophy.
I look at things divided by innocence, ignorance and then arrogance. You’re allowed innocence and ignorance, but after arrogance you’re not allowed a second chance. That’s how I see it.
Some of the music you’ve don in the past, like with Jane’s Addiction, was far more aggressive than what you’re doing now. Are you concerned that the aggressiveness of that music played some part of rock’s current make-centric atmosphere?
Yeah, I don’t want to perpetuate that abusiveness anymore. I think the death rock movement is done. It’s been terminated. The frequency of music can hurt people or help people or even confuse them – it can do many things. I want to be involved in raising the frequency, then everybody gets smarter and it’s a big party. That’s why it’s very important to me to listen to music that’s being made now and see how it’s affecting people. I’m not saying I don’t love energy, it’s just how is it gonna leave a person? I don’t want to leave people wanting to abuse each other. That’s where I’m at. That’s what my intention on the new record was.
Over the last few years, you’ve become friends with Tim Leary. How did it make you feel when you found out he was diagnosed with terminal cancer?
Well, of course, I feel like I’m losing one of the brightest people I ever met. I just can’t tell you how much I look up to that guy, the quality of his life. That whole LSD thing means a lot less to me than just the man in a room with a glass of wine and a joint. Hanging with him like that is just the best. Therefore, I’d like him to come back as my kid or be my guide. I think his greatest work might come in his death. He wants to die and have a party, so I’m gonna ask him today if I can plan it. And, you know, I’m good at planning parties [laughs].
Do you feel it’s harder to find people to look up to these days?
Yes. There were people I really respected, and now when I look at them it’s just sad – like Mick Jagger. Really, Tim and Yoko Ono are the only people I look up to now.
Timothy Leary, like you, is somebody who’s always just gone out and done what he’s wanted to.
Leary has also proved that he means well. People say things about him pro and con, so it’s not like I just walked in and met him thinking, “Oh, you’re Tim Leary, the LSD guru.” I was very watchful to see if he was for real or not. But then I though, “Who am I to talk?”
What do you mean?
I know that I’m a liar. I may be a sweet person, but in my head there’s things that nobody knows I think. I recently became very happy with myself when I decided that everything I think is a simple, DNA encoding that we’ve all been given. Evil will exist all of a sudden, but it will swing back. These are very ancient thoughts, so the fun is trying to get rid of them. [pauses] I don’t know, these are just funny things in my head. I don’t really know anything.
It sounds like you get frustrated with being held back, not only by the people around you, but by yourself as well.
I’ve gotten good use out of my life so far, and now I have access to take chances. I’m the only one left who would be restricting myself. I can simply turn my back on people I feel are moving too slowly to get myself off the ground. I’m turning my back on Lollapalooza, and trying to do something that is more important. This Web site I’m starting is very exciting. The frustration, it stays there though. If I hadn’t gotten this far, I don’t know how I’d feel. It took me a couple of years of frustration with Lollapalooza. I was so frustrated – so frustrated!
Do you plan to have anything to do with future Lollapaloozas?
I’m not gonna work on it anymore. I’m planning to do another festival-type thing, maybe not every year, but great shows.
Well, lets do ‘em on Indian reservations. Let’s do ‘em in Sedona or Taos. Let’s not put a number on how many go. Let’s eat together and eat better food. Let’s not be greedy. And let’s do something where the world could get involved, like projecting crop circles and gaining contact with extraterrestrials. Like I say, it’s the concept, not the money, that interests me. I’m very interested in decking out this planet. It’ll be fun.
What dose your dad think about all the stuff you’ve achieved and been involved with over the past decade?
I love my dad. I don’t see him a lot, only when I go down to Miami for Christmas. He’s so funny, kind of in the odd way I am – like he doesn’t know he’s funny, but people think he is. I don’t know if I’m distressed or excited about the fact that he gave me that type of personality. Anyways, when I initially would tell him what I was doing, he didn’t have the faith. And I have held that against him for the longest time. It’s like, now that I’m doing well, he wants to be my pal. But as I get older I could argue to myself that it’s probably ‘case he just wanted to feel proud of me then, but he couldn’t tell his friends, “He’s a lawyer! A jeweler!” I didn’t do the Jewish family thing – a doctor or a lawyer – and if you did anything else, it better be your own business. When I came out here, I didn’t leave on good terms at all. Maybe as a parent I would expect my child to revolt. It shows he’s got a strong chin.
What is your father’s biggest complaint about you?
Mainly that I wouldn’t work for him. He used to call me “schver Arbeiter.” It’s a Yiddish term that means “hard worker,” but he was kidding. He used to insult me by calling me the hard worker. He didn’t think I was worth shit. Se, I was shaping surfboards, or making skateboards, or drawing like crazy. But to him I wasn’t doing shit, ‘cause I wasn’t working for him for nothing.
What did he do?
You know the diamond district in New York, where there’s sales people who ware suits and they’ve got a really nice display window? My dad wasn’t one of those guys. He was a goldsmith – the guy in the back with the buffer who had rouge up his nose. He could stick a drill in his finger and it would take him a minute before he felt it ‘cause his fingers were so callused. He’d hold hot gold in his hand and not even feel it, which is weird to me new because I believe the greatest treasures of this planet are in its gold and precious stones. There’s a lot more than we realize, and something tells me excavation of these minerals is something that’s very attractive to extraterrestrials.
Your mom died when you were pretty young. Do you want to talk about her – what she meant to you, how she may have influenced you?
I don’t want to talk a whole lot more about my family, ‘cause it gets too personal, but I will say this: there’s a book going around some guy wrote about my family and myself [Perry Farrell: The Saga of a Hypster, by Dave Thompson]. He’s absolutely off. I wish this guy would just shut up. He’s called me Simon Bernstein. My last name was Bernstein, but I’m not Simon! [Farrell’s real name is Perry.] I don’t know where he gets it from. How could he write a book and not even know my name? I guess he just grabbed a bunch of articles to make a quick buck. Now I walk through crowds of kids and people say, ‘Simon, Simon! Can I have your autograph?’
Yoko Ono recently asked you to mix a single from her new record. Where you scared to work on a Yoko Ono song? I mean, she’s legendary!
You’re not kidding! But really, if Yoko and Sean [Lennon, her son with John] weren’t so warm, I would get scared. Otherwise, I would fee like, “Jesus Christ, I hope I don’t fuck up!” There are moments I when I think to myself, “Her concepts are sooo advanced.”
I think most people get the sense that you’re a daring figure who would dive into any given project with no fear.
No! With this Yoko song, I was really respectful. I also realized everybody needs company. You’d be surprised at the people who offered me their company because they were lonely. I am a very lonely person from moment to moment. I don’t even have a girlfriend. On one hand, I can’t get enough time to myself, but as the pendulum swings, I feel like I’m practically gonna cry on my hands and knees from loneliness. So sad, so sad [laughs].
Into the Neutral Zone
You had to isolate yourself in a house in Malibu to make the new Porno album, but I also heard you wrote a lot of the songs in Thailand?
No, it was in Sumatra. The ideas and concepts that come out of there are refreshing as opposed to staying in the city and talking about chicks. That’s all right, and I’m not saying that’s wrong, but I already did that. My inspirations are changing constantly, and right now I am very interested in things outside cement, because its a very big, beautiful world. Some of the funniest things – like bugs – are cool.
Environment aside, do you feel it’s necessary to continue changing your outlook and philosophy to survive? Like moving from one musical style to another, from a more aggressive stance to a laid -back one.
I always think I better get on it and keep moving. I’m not gonna be fooled by these people that wanna keep me down. Everybody likes to be in a room of losers if you’re a loser, but I figure, “Who am I hurting by myself if I stick around that?” They don’t really care how I do, and probably even feel good if I slip back. That’s why I’m not gonna stick around to make a lot of money for people who couldn’t give a shit about me or anyone else. I’m finding you can get along fine on this planet by having good friends and really caring about yourself.
Do you think most people care about themselves?
I thin if you ask most people, “Do you love yourself?” they’d reluctantly mumble, “Of course I do.” It’s so powerful, and potentially dangerous, for others if you love yourself. It keeps people down not to love themselves. It’s painful and it takes work to love yourself. To love yourself and others is stronger than to be abusive and beat people up. It’s a dangerous thing to say, “I’m gonna grow to be a very thin, feminine person.” I know.
How big a role do drugs play in your life now?
I was innocent and ignorant, but I won’t be arrogant. I’ve been thinking, “Why is it I love drugs so much, but why is it they ruing things for me, including my body?” I want to know why there is a love to do them, and why we can’t stay in love? I’ve come to the conclusion that the people who make drugs accessible brought them here through a stream of misery, pain and murder. Crack, a process build on a beautiful, once-natural coca leaf – comes to us though a path of fear. You’re smoking that fear. Just like when you eat meat, you eat the cow’s fear.
Do you still like drugs?
I do. Tim Leary tells me there are receptors in the brain made for cocaine, so our body is set up to love cocaine, but because of the way it’s been processed, I can’t do it. I’ve found another way to get the same feeling, and it’s through sex.
Do you ever regret doing drugs?
Cocaine served a purpose. It taught me about some terrible, terrible things, and made me want to educate myself. I have to abstain from it. I try it even once in a while but keep getting the same bad results. Heroin I gave up altogether. Whenever I can love other things as much as heroin and coke, I’ll do ‘em again, but until I can get my balance…
It’s interesting because most of the philosophies floating around regarding chemical addiction dictate complete sobriety.
Yeah, but to totally abstain is also imbalance. So I don’t trust them either.
It’s that balance thing again.
Neutrality is the big word now. It’s gonna spread like wild-fire. People thing, “I don’t want to be neutral because it’s a bore,” but neutrality is the toughest thing because it means balance. It’s too easy to sit on the left or the right, because that’s just falling – falling for whatever’s there. It takes concentration to be neutral, and that is something I’m working on.