Led by the flamboyant, outspoken Perry Farrell, Jane's Addiction blended art-rock, punk, metal, funk and glam into music that was ambitious and utterly decadent. The group broke up during its peak of popularity in 1991, just after its appearance at the first Lollapalooza Tour, which Farrell organized. Farrell continued chasing his muse in Porno for Pyros and other projects and ultimately reunited with Jane's Addiction, but he never again reached the critical or commercial success the band had in its prime.
Perry Bernstein spent the early part of his life working for his jeweler father in New York City's diamond district. When he was still a child, his mother committed suicide (Farrell alluded to this later, on "Then She Died..." from Ritual de lo Habitual, singing to a friend who has died of an overdose, "Will you say hello to my ma?...She was an artist, just as you were"). After her death, the Bernsteins moved to Woodmere, Long Island, and then to Miami.
Bernstein attended college briefly in Oceanside, California, but quit after having a nervous breakdown. He then started lip synching and doing exotic dancing in a Newport Beach nightclub, taking the stage name Perry Farrell by adopting his brother's first name as his last (making a pun on peripheral). In 1981 he started the goth-like Psi Com, which released an indie label EP before breaking up in 1985.
A year later Farrell formed Jane's Addiction, which he named after a prostitute friend who introduced him to bandmates Eric Avery and David Navarro. Farrell, reputedly a control freak, became notorious among L.A.'s arty rock scene. Sporting Day-Glo girdles or black vinyl bodysuits, heavy mascara, and neon dreadlocks, he stalked stages singing in his high, mannered voice while the members of his band churned out a foreboding sound often compared to Led Zeppelin. After releasing a self-titled live album on L.A.'s Triple X Records in 1987, a major-label bidding war ensued. Warner Bros. won, putting out Nothing's Shocking the following year. The album featured one of the band's signature songs, "Jane Says" (Number Six, Modern Rock), which mixed lyrics about a heroin addict with an innovative arrangement and steel drum accompaniment.
In 1990, on the strength of a catchy single and video ("Been Caught Stealing"), Ritual de lo Habitual rocketed up the charts, peaking at Number 19 and continued to sell well as the propulsive single "Stop" went to Number One on the Modern Rock charts. The album made the news when some record chains refused to carry it because of its cover, which featured Farrell's own nude sculptures. At the band's request, Warner Bros. issued the album to some stores in a plain white cover with only the text of the First Amendment printed on it.
That same year, Farrell co-directed a film called Gift, a free-form creation that included scenes of Jane's Addiction live in Mexico City and a Santeria wedding. Farrell remained in the limelight throughout 1991: That year, he brought his idea of an alternative-rock traveling circus to life with Lollapalooza, was busted on drug charges in Santa Monica, and disbanded Jane's Addiction.
In 1992 Farrell and drummer Perkins formed Porno for Pyros. The band's self-titled debut album hit Number Three and produced the modern-rock hit "Pets," but got decidedly mixed reviews. Porno returned in 1996 with Good God's Urge, which hit Number 20. That same year, Porno guitarist Peter DiStefano was diagnosed with cancer. Though he survived, the band never returned to action.
Navarro and Avery formed the experimental, short-lived Deconstruction in 1993 before Navarro left to join the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The guitarist was in the Chili Peppers long enough to record One Hot Minute, a disappointment both commercially and critically. Navarro also played on on a variety of influential albums, including Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill and Nine Inch Nails' Further Down the Spiral.
In 1997, Farrell unexpectedly reconvened Jane's Addiction for a six-week national tour, with Chili Peppers bassist Flea sitting in for Avery, who chose not to return. That year the band also released the album Kettle Whistle (Number 21), a collection of outtakes, live recordings, and two new tracks.
When Farrell's partners booked mainstream metal band Metallica to headline Lollapalooza in 1996, he pulled out and created the short-lived ENIT Festival. By 1998, Lollapalooza was shut down indefinitely. Farrell had by then fully embraced the electronic dance movement, and in the late 1990s he could be found working the turntables as DJ Peretz in clubs in L.A. and New York. In 1999 he released Rev, which combined several Jane's Addiction and Porno for Pyros recordings with two new tracks. Farrell also began work on a solo album featuring Dave Navarro and Mad Professor. Song Yet to Be Sung was released in June 2001, as was Navarro's debut solo album, Trust No One.
Another Jane's Addiction reunion, dubbed the Jubilee Tour, commenced in 2001. Once again, Avery declined to participate, this time replaced by Porno For Pyros member Martyn Lenoble. In 2003, the band released Strays (Number Four), its first studio album in thirteen years. (Lenoble had been replaced by Chris Chaney for the album). Produced by hard-rock veteran Bob Ezrin, Strays was a commercial and critical letdown, though it did lend the group one of the most widely heard songs of its career: The dance-rock track "Superhero," which was used as the opening-credits theme of HBO's "Entourage."
Jane's Addiction headlined a newly revitalized Lollapalooza in 2003, but rumors of intra-band tension lingered, and the group once again disintegrated in 2004. Perkins and Navarro went on to form the Panic Channel, while Farrell teamed up with Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt for psych-rock supergroup Satellite Party.
At the NME Awards show in Los Angeles in April of 2008, the original Jane's Addiction lineup of Farrell, Navaro, Perkins and Avery played together for the first time in 17 years. (At the event, the NME also gave the band its Godlike Genius Award). Other performances followed, and in January, 2010, Farrell said the band is working on material for a new album.
Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001). Evan Serpick contributed to this article.