An interview with Perry Farrell
By Sherri Durell
“I realize what I have to give, I know what my gift is – it’s the ability to create something out of nothing, and affect a lot of people with that simple act.”
Perry Farrell, the hyper-creative, often tormented guiding light of the zero-delic rock entity Jane’s Addiction, has a very clear vision of his place in the overall scheme of things as it relates to his craft. “As an artist, you have to feed only tiny bits and pieces of information to the audience,” he explains. “Even though you might have a concrete message in your head, your presentation of it can’t be too literal. It should be like a puzzle, where the audience feels compelled to put it together. That’s what art, in whatever form, is all about. The audience should feel they’re part of the process in interpreting what’s being said. Even if their interpretation is different from what you intended, that’s what makes it interesting, a challenge. To just spell everything out would be a real bore – for me and them.
This is the reason you’ll never find Perry interpreting the meanings of his songs outright. To do so would ruin the impact of their message and spoil the secret that a chosen few feel they have uncovered for themselves. This has to be considered a motivating force as to why so many people are rushing to get in on the Jane’s phenomenon – they want to feel part of the inner sanctum of those who have been “enlightened.” This new-found popularity, however, is a double-edged sword for Perry and the rest of the band. On the one hand, Perry prefers to shun overt commercial popularity because he feels the “secret” will be diluted and lose its potency. “I’ve made a request that our records never get Top 40 radio airplay, and that the videos don’t get heavy rotation on MTV. I don’t want to see myself sandwiched between Tiffany and Milli Vanilli.” On the other hand, however, this popularity will help give him the financial independence he needs to peruse projects that other financial backers (such as his record company Warner Bros.) might find unsavory. And what else would be new. Perry has done nothing but struggle to flex his creative muscle since the early days of Jane’s Addiction. Whether it’s been retailers refusing to carry his record because of “unsuitable” cover art, or MTV banning his videos due to content, or the government investigating him for what he’s said in concert, Perry has always had to battle because of his refusal to compromise his art.
“It’s really starting to drag me down – and it’s made me think about perusing something other than Jane’s Addiction, says Perry. “It’s almost like I’ve created my own nightmare. I could have easily sold out, just taken my ten million and run – and do my own thing. But no, I had to keep my integrity. I guess it has something to do with a strange belief I have in me. It’s like I have to make these sacrifices in order to feel like I deserve to live. To give in and just sell out – sell my soul – would be like dying. I see pain and suffering as qualifying to have the right to live. I also believe that when you die, at that moment, you get back all the pleasure or pain you’ve given out to others during your life. Hopefully, I’ve given more of the first one.” [What could Perry be preparing for?]
How appropriate that Mr. Farrell will be giving us his greatest gift of all – literally and figuratively – very shortly. All the sacrifice and suffering has culminated in the production of a herculean piece of cinematic artistry – THE GIFT. He had a guarantee Warner Bros. two music videos in order to get the $300,000 needed to finance the film. Yet more sacrifice. It will serve as a feature-length visual counterpart to the album RITUAL DE LO HABITUAL. The theme that runs through some of the songs on the album such as “Three Days” and its apparent sequel “Then She Did” will also run through the film. The cover art that Perry created for the album serves as a hint (a piece in the “puzzle”) as to what this theme is – the sharing of love between three people and the complexities that arise from such a relationship. The life-size, faux-Mexican papier mache sculpture of two women and a man embracing each other which took Perry nearly four months to complete is the embodiment of this theme. One can conjecture who these three are when Perry refers to it.
“It depicts a very personal and intricate part of my life concerning a very old relationship during a certain time. You can say ‘Three Days’ deals with it, and in ‘Then She did,’ the ‘she’ is one of the three involved. But I’m really not giving anything away – it’s all pretty plain in the lyrics.” [Consider the secret kept.]
In the film THE GIFT, Perry and long-time girlfriend / creative collaborator Casey Niccoli act out various rituals of the habitual. Some, as it might be interpreted, include this enigmatic third party. Contrary to what the title of the album might suggest, some of the rituals are neither habitual or mundane. As revealed earlier, Perry has a special, almost mystical view about the order of things. Part of this view stems from his keen interest in the Santeria pagan religion which predominates parts of Mexico, Cuba and the Caribbean. The fact that much of the film was shot in Mexico is no mere coincidence. In one scene, Perry and Casey undergo an actual open-air Santeria wedding ceremony, and slash their wrists as part of the ritual. Hopefully, that’s not an act that is also habitual.
Santeria has gotten some bad press lately because of the Matamoros witch cult murders and its likes to Haitian voodoo. But in reality, Santeria is merely the blend of several religious liturgies, including Roman Catholicism, Pueblo Indian beliefs and African animism. “People get so bent out of shape about it,” complains Perry. “It was the Christian missionaries backed by Spanish armies who invaded Central America and replaced the pagan gods of the native americans with their own gods – the saints – that’s all they are. Now, Santeria is just reversing that.”
If one’s beliefs and convictions affect one’s art, then Perry’s abode in L.A. is a living shrine to that sentiment. Behind his large sculptures (one from the NOTHING’S SHOCKING cover and the new one) are walls ornate with skulls, crucifixes, madonnas and various occultic icons. Aesthetics, however, has as much to do with it as any otherworldly convictions.
Perry does have visions of the future, though. “In a hundred years, I see people communicating telepathically,” he says. As for visions of his own future, he proclaims, “the time of making sacrifices and compromises is over. I’ve put in more than my share of pain. I think Ive earned my right to live and my right to make the kind of art I want to.”
And whether that art continues in the form of Jane’s Addiction or not, what Perry Farrell creates will always be a gift to us all.