As twilight falls over a hot Saturday in late June, I'm careening down Crescent Heights Boulevard In Los Angeles in a trash-filled Saturn with two friends, blasting toward Culver City, where Jane's Addiction is about to play a special 'secret” concert at its rehearsal space. Folded up in the backseat, trying vainly to keep the dog hair off my cheap finery, I focus on an intense discussion developing in the front.
'Jane's Addiction is my favorite band,' pipes our terminally distracted driver. Let's just call her Hot Wheels. She's 25, has never seen the group live, and is so excited she's been squealing 'Jane's Addiction!' at regular intervals. 'But on every album they make,' she says, 'there's at least one track where you go, 'Perry, what made you think that was a song?'
'Like on Ritual, it's 'Of Course,'' Hot Wheels says, lurching her green car toward Culver Studios, where leader Perry Farrell's re-resurrected quartet-including original guitarist Dave Navarro and drummer Stephen Perkins, plus new, permanent bassist Chris Chaney-has been rehearsing setups and material from its new album, Strays, for its headlining slot on the concurrently revived Lollapalooza tour. 'It's just this weird, freaky shit you'd hear if you were in Marrakesh,' she continues. 'It's seven minutes long. There's this one part where Perry's like, 'la-la, la-la.' It's like, what the fuck? It's just so very strange.'
'Is that the third one after 'Been Caught Stealing'?' asks Ms. Shotgun, who's 31 and loves Jane's, too. But she isn't quite as giddy about tonight, having seen the band on Lollapalooza's 1991 debut, when Jane's Addiction was self-destructing at the height of its popularity.
'Yeah, that's the one,' Hot Wheels confirms.
'Oh, I kinda like that song!' says Ms. Shotgun.
Aghast, Hot Wheels lets her disapproval rip. 'I've never met anybody who said they liked that song before,' she scoffs. 'So you're the first.'
Thankfully unable to come to blows in the speeding vehicle, they start speculating instead about what Jane's might play during the concert. They're hoping for 'Three Days,' ambivalent about 'Jane Says,' and indifferent to 'Been Caught Stealing,' which Hot Wheels describes as the litmus test for whether someone is a 'real' Jane's fan or not. (i.e., if the group's biggest radio hit is your favorite Jane's tune, you're not a real fan. These chicks are harsh.) They're interested in hearing the new songs, but a little apprehensive-afraid, perhaps, that any sub-par new offerings will tarnish the memory of the pioneering blend of psychedelic, Zeppelin-esque bombast, nimble alternative rock, warped funk, art-rock dementia, disarming romanticism, and blissful decadence on its 1990 breakthrough Ritual de lo Habitual, its 1989 major-label debut Nothing's Shocking, or 1988's live document Jane's Addiction.
Their concerns are understandable. After all, Farrell has never duplicated Jane's early influence and success, not with his and Perkins's subsequent group Porno for Pyros, nor with his electronica-tinged 2001 solo album, Song Yet to Be Sung. (Hot Wheels: 'He shouldn't be allowed to cross the street by himself, let alone make a solo album.' See? Harsh.) And when it comes to keeping the Jane's name alive, Farrell has half-stepped it before. The band's 1997 'Relapse' tour was hung on the slight Kettle Whistle, a collection of largely superfluous 'rarities' and a mere four new songs. Jane's Addiction's 2001 'Jubilee' tour-inspired by a Jewish celebration of emancipation that comes every 50 years-was a typically grand Farrell concept, but the material was strictly nostalgia.
Indeed, even two songs on Strays-'Suffer Some' and 'Everybody's Friend'-date back to Jane's early days, but this album is no warmed-over mishmash. It's a real attempt by Farrell, Navarro, and Perkins to bring Jane's Addiction back to full power. Produced by veteran Bob Ezrin, who helmed Navarro's favorite album, Pink Floyd's The Wall-along with collections by Alice Cooper, KISS, Lou Reed, and on and on-it reins in the band's expansive tendencies and focuses its strengths to breathlessly epic effect. Rock's current generation of critical darlings (White Stripes, et al.) has come outta the garage with a stark intensity that recalls early punk, making the beeg-rawk feel of Strays even more classic rock-esque, but, really, what's wrong with that?
'Rock is a major art form that needs to be celebrated and promoted,' says Ezrin. 'And they're a great rock band that can make great rock music. The plan was to make this record as tight as it could be from a writing, playing and singing point of view, without sacrificing the sense of adventure, drama and art.' A longtime Jane's fan, the producer says he first became enamored during Ritual, which served as the soundtrack for an Ezrin family vacation. 'We wanted the album to be satisfactory to diehard Jane's fans,' he continues, 'and at the same time accessible to an entire generation of kids who don't know anything but succinct, direct, straight-ahead rock songs.'
Hmmm, well, the single 'Just Because'-a typically throbbing call to hedonism that's screwed down tight and undulates with soaring power-is in the Top 10 on both the Billboard modern and mainstream rock charts. And an informal poll of longtime fans, as well as those of us who never gave a shit about a boring junkie band back in the day (please pass the Pixies and Camper Van Beethoven), have declared Strays the best Jane's album ever. So maybe this is the beginning of a new era.
It's never going to be like old times, anyway, because Eric Avery-whose basslines were as distinct a hallmark of the band as Farrell's squeaky voice and libertine poetry-has declined, as always, to rejoin. But actually hiring a new bass player-rather than tapping anyone from Flea to Mike Watt as temporary stand-ins-is as good an indicator as any that, this time, they're serious about giving Jane's another whirl.
History tells us Jane's Addiction split up in 1991 due to much-discussed internal tensions, out-of-control drug use, and various other travails. But, during a fleeting solo interview a few days before the Culver Studios show, Farrell also blames the 'whole vibe' of that time. 'I mean, I was a punk-rock kid,' he says, twisting a ring on one finger. 'And I didn't like the whole idea of people that were quote-unquote famous [in] pop culture. I just thought they were wankers.'
Yet the band was famous, and it did leave its mark on pop culture. Locally, it provided a much more artful brand of sonic pleasure-seeking than the plague of Sunset Strip hair bands ruled by Guns N' Roses. Nationally, its success helped light the fuse on the alternative-rock explosion. Also, Farrell and his Lollapalooza co-founders, booker Marc Geiger and ex-tour manager Ted Gardner, essentially invented the postmodern rock festival, a concept that's been repurposed for every demographic, from Lilith Fair to Ozzfest to the Warped Tour.
And the vision has always been Farrell's. Even now, Perkins describes the group as providing 'support' for any given concept the singer-songwriter dreams up. Where that once meant instrumentally howling along as Farrell screeched 'Sex is violence! Sex is violent!' over and over in 'Ted, Just Admit It,' nowadays it means sounding sufficiently buoyant, yet crunching, to back up Strays' themes of rediscovering one's power, grabbing for the brass ring, and celebrating love.
Even if Strays is wildly successful, it can't have the same impact as Jane's early work. But that doesn't mean the band is doomed to become the alt-rock version of the Rolling Stones, gamely making new albums for fans who care most about the old stuff. Still, Chaney tentatively ventures that he once considered Jane's 'the alternative [Grateful] Dead,' explaining, 'I think of their fan base as sort of like that, a real hardcore following' that spans a range of generations.
Hardcore, indeed. Fan reaction to Strays has ranged from 'This is their best album ever!' to 'Well, it's nice, but it's not really doin' it for me' to 'Fuck that.' Diehards have complained bitterly that the cover art is disappointing, with its 'rock star' portrait that doesn't do justice to the memory of the arresting images Farrell came up with in Jane's heyday. Yet Strays is compelling-the songs still muscular and fey, but extremely fluid and better sequenced, with the sweeping force of such numbers as 'True Nature' and 'Hypersonic' tempered by quieter, reflective moments such as 'Everybody's Friend.' There's certainly nothing to make Hot Wheels ask Perry what made him think that was a song.
The vibe of Strays reflects the inevitable: Jane's is notably older, wiser, and cleaner (if not exactly 12-stepped). The album has humor, but it's also serious as a heart attack, as intense as a last chance should feel. All the drugs and decadence made Jane's Addiction what it was, but the band can't go back there. Besides, the players are perfectly happy to have walked into the light, together.
'I was a very self-destructive person in [the old] days,' Farrell says. 'And what I found was that I really loved living, I really loved life, and I really see a way that you can use the power of music and be successful, but not be a wanker,' he says. Well, we'll see about that. 'You can do some real good and have a lot of fun-not just personally, but you can spread a lot of fun and have sexy, wild times, and set that up for people,' he says.
Indeed, in person, during an interview at a Culver Studios bungalow office, the players come across much like they sound on the album. Farrell, his vocal quirks all but tamed, rides higher than ever on the group's mercurial tsunami. Navarro is in grand spirits, like he's found a part of himself again, and his guitar churns and wriggles seductively, playfully. Perkins is exuberantly rock-steady, and Chaney serves as the confident propeller. They laugh a lot, often talk at once, get serious when necessary, and bristle only briefly, when asked why Avery hasn't returned. 'Ask him!' snaps Farrell, and a tense moment ensues. Then Navarro laughs and says, 'We're getting so defensive.'
In the old days, Navarro says, it got to the point where 'we were only together because we had the work, you know? And now, that's still true, but'-he laughs at his own joke-'we hang out together outside of work. And it's awesome, and I've never been closer to these guys. I've certainly never been closer to this guy,' he says, indicating Farrell.
Oh? What was the tension between you?
'Tension?' Farrell queries. He is taut in both physique and bearing, with a watchfulness that seems to subtly affect the other members. 'I wouldn't even call it tension. It was-if you're calling it a rope of tension, there was no tension, because the rope was severed.' He and Navarro laugh.
Navarro sobers a bit and reflects, 'You know what, I don't know if there was tension, or if it was just, you know, I can only speak for myself, but I was just delusional. I didn't know who my friends were. My friends were people that wanted to have sex with me, or who had drugs.'
Farrell's eyes gleam mischievously. He looks at Navarro. 'Hey! We had some of the same friends!'
The laughter dies down.
'It's funny, and it's fun, to look back on what we did,' Perkins says. 'But it's also great to know we all survived.'
Everyone agrees that having families and loved ones-basically, lives outside the band-makes a difference. Chaney's married and has a second kid on the way, while Navarro is often photographed snuggling with his fiancée, Carmen Electra. Farrell's wife, Etty, is one of the Jane's Addiction dancers, and they have a two-year-old son, Hezron. (He also has an older boy, Yobel, from his relationship with Christine Cagle.)
'We're an entertainment family,' Farrell says. 'It's nice. She knows what it feels like to work, and go through the process of performing. I love having her around, because I don't get to miss her. One of the worst feelings is being on the road and missing someone you love.'
Indeed, when Farrell co-hosted The Jimmy Kimmel Show last month-on which the band balanced nostalgia with preview, offering the vintage 'Stop!' along with 'Just Because'-he and Etty celebrated their son's birthday on camera, complete with cake and candle.
This sense of family camaraderie apparently extends to band members. Chaney may not have been featured on the Spin magazine cover, seemingly because the article focused on the bad old days, but during the group interview the thoughtful, grounded bassist-who's played with Alanis Morissette, Andrew W.K., Michelle Branch, Rob Zombie, and more-seems fully integrated into Jane's inner circle.
'He brings stuff to this band that we've never had. Like actual musicianship,' deadpans Navarro, who likes to psych out the gullible interviewer with deadpan in-jokes, but, once he's fooled me, quickly cops to it with a benign 'No, I'm just kidding.' In some ways he recalls the teenager he was when he hooked up with Jane's-friendly as a puppy, and so happy you can almost see his tail wagging. 'But we all look for a personality almost more than a bass player, and we got one,' Navarro adds. 'I mean, I've seen everything in this band, but when this cat joined...,' he trails off, and everyone chortles.
That's because, a few minutes earlier, the band members had been discussing a box of sample-size hempseed and hemp oil products Chaney parked on the small coffee table. He casually told Farrell that a friend who swears by the health benefits of the stuff likes to down a small bottle of it, like a shot. Intrigued, Farrell picked one up while explaining why the album title was changed from Hypersonic to Strays.
'It's kind of leading with politics, which is not really our way,' he said. 'We don't come through the door at a party and go, 'Hey, how ya doin'? Whattaya think about alternative energy?' We come to a party, and we say, 'We're sexy motherfuckers! Where's a drink?' You know? And then, 'How are you?' and give big hugs,' he added, uncapping the bottle. 'And then, when it's 2 o'clock, when you're a little drunk, and you're sitting on the couch-' He threw the contents of the vial down his throat, made a horrid face, then bellowed 'OH MY GOD!!!'
The room erupted with laughter. 'How is it, Perry?' asked Perkins, cackling.
'Oh my gawd, that was like drinking oil, pure oil!' Farrell yelped, gulping from his Starbucks cup. 'I felt like I just threw back Crisco oil. A shot of it.' Amid more ewwws, joking, and laughter, however, Farrell quickly regained control. 'It's heavy,' he assessed more clinically. 'I mean, I could throw that in a salad.' He read from the label. 'It says it has a gourmet, nutty flavor. 'Use for salad dressings'!' He looked mock-accusingly at Chaney.
The bassist's gaze betrayed nothing but somewhat amused innocence.
'[My friend] told me when I asked him, he said, 'Aw, you just drink it.''
PRICE I PAY
It's somehow reassuring to see Farrell still exercising that Alice-in-Wonderland tendency to plunge down the rabbit hole, although it's a much mellower impulse than in the days of celebrating heroin use and unprotected sex.
'When you're a junkie,' he says, 'you don't go out much and socialize. We started socializing when we were the Scream local house band,' he says, referring to Dayle Gloria's polymorphously perverse '80s nightclub in downtown L.A. 'And then when [the drug use] got worse and worse, you couldn't find me anywhere.'
'I'll vouch for that,' laughs Perkins, the only member of the original quartet who didn't use hard drugs.
'And now, it's more social,' Farrell continues. 'It's exciting to go out and rub up against the nightlife again, and do great things like what we're doing this summer,' he says, meaning Lollapalooza. He really seems to believe in this idea of an egalitarian swirl of activity, which is something Jane's aimed for, and which his various, less successful live spectacles (remember ENIT?) have emphasized. But he's a rock star, and-his aspirations to the contrary notwithstanding-rock stars and wanker-ish behavior sometimes go hand-in-glove.
When I arrive at the sound stage for a second interview, a promised 30 minutes solo with Farrell, Navarro greets me cheerfully. But Farrell, after a few minutes, simply turns and looks at me curiously.
'Didn't we speak before?' he asks. Yes.
'What, is this another interview, for a different magazine?' he wonders, seemingly amused at his little joke. Uh, no, we're finishing up the previous interview. He turns back to what he's doing, signing posters and Fender pick guards for some promotion.
A conflict seems to have developed between what Farrell and his wife want to do (which is leave immediately) and the schedule posted on a nearby door, indicating the interview at hand. Finally, it is decided that I may have five minutes, and I actually get 10 because Farrell insists. Lucky moi.
During the actual conversation, Farrell is perfectly pleasant and forthcoming, but he seems slightly overwhelmed by the recent whirlwind of promotional activity. He says he likes 'hanging out,' but prefers a more low-key environment.
'What happens is, [people] focus, and they, even if they think they're not, they're draining. Because questions do that,' Farrell says. 'Sometimes I imagine, like, prisoners of war, they're questioned, questioned and questioned, which eats you alive. And people want, you know, a little piece of something that-' he breaks off, perhaps unwilling to complain or seem put out. 'But, you know, I don't take it too much in, because I've always had this, uh, theory that you can make an orange famous. If you put an orange on television and painted a face on it, and put it in a mall, it doesn't even have to be really the same orange. If you printed the same picture on it, people would gather around an orange.'
(Uh, yeah. Ever hear of the Pet Rock, Perry?)
The conversation is just getting good when his people unceremoniously end the interview. Wanker! Like any cranky journo, I make my displeasure vehemently known to the publicist. A couple of days later, a fragrant white-and-yellow bouquet of roses, lilies, and other flowers arrives with a note reading, 'Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience that our scheduling conflicts may have caused. Hope to see you at the show tomorrow. Love, Perry & Etty Farrell.'
I laugh and sniff the lovely flowers. Obviously, this makes it all better. Not. Debate about sincerity-vs.-damage-control ensues around the office. Many point out that, well, at least they made a conciliatory gesture. Some celebrities wouldn't have bothered to even do that. Others argue that it's way too easy a gesture to mean anything.
Oh, well. Life goes on, and I did enjoy the flowers. (So, thanks, you guys. No hard feelings, 'k?) And I was able to turn the diss into an all-important plus-two for the big Culver Studios show. Thank god! Otherwise, I would've had to watch Hot Wheels and Ms. Shotgun duel to the death to see who got to go with me.
The Culver Studios presentation is streamlined, with merely a hint of the spectacle planned for Lollapalooza-dancers, flashy lights, cool on-stage bridges for cavorting. Yet the crowd, even the KROQ listeners who scored tickets, is strangely subdued. Probably, that's partly due to the lack of booze (liability issues), as well as the fact that half the set is new songs that few have yet heard. 'Stop!' and all the other old tunes get a big reaction, however, and an hour later, my pals express total satisfaction as Hot Wheels jockeys for a position at the t-shirt booth, buying one of every style.
OK, maybe not total satisfaction.
'I'm sooooo bummed that they didn't play 'Three Days'!' whimpers Hot Wheels. 'But did you see, Perry almost whipped out his dick!' (Something he used to do a lot back in the day.)
Damn. No, I missed that. All I saw was him playfully humping one of the slanted dancers' poles at the side of the stage. But Hot Wheels swears it's the truth, and I'm happy to hear it. It means Farrell's mischievous, maddening, and magical impulses are ultimately still controlling Jane's Addiction. Both may be toned down, but neither has really been tamed.