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Nothing's Shocking: Meet L.A.'s Wildest New Band Jane's Addiction

Perry Farrell and Co aren't always on speaking terms, but they've produced a unique blend of punk, metal and funk that's landed them in the top twenty

February 7, 1991 12:00 AM ET

Below is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in RS 597 from February 7, 1991. This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via Rolling Stone Plus, Rolling Stone's premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full story . Not a member? Click here to learn more about All Access .

Attention in the compound, attention in the den," crackle the speakers throughout the Jane's Addiction tour bus. "We have a cop right behind us, so please refrain from smoking in the rear window."

Though there's hash aboard that must be consumed or discarded before the border crossing between the Netherlands and Germany, this broadcast warning causes hardly a ripple among the four band members — who are sitting as far apart from one another as a bus will allow.

Both bassist Eric A., up front beside the driver, and guitarist Dave Navarro, in his bunk, are currently wrestling with drug recovery and are abstaining; drummer Steve Perkins, though lounging in the back in full view of the police, is simply grooving to a tape of last night's concert. Only lead singer Perry Farrell is partaking, and he's sequestered in the lavatory cubicle, using a pipe fashioned out of a soda can.

The mischievous Farrell was recently rumored to be a candidate for rehab himself, but he prefers the occasional self-cleansing with herbal teas. Last year, when the band split from manager Gary Kurfirst, he sued, contending that drugs had clouded the band's judgment. Kurfirst's replacement, Lippman Kahane Entertainment, tried to make Farrell take a urine test, causing Farrell to retort — between two songs on the band's recent album Ritual de lo Habitual — "Get your fucking piss cup out of my fucking face." And Lippman Kahane, too, was soon gone.

Ironically, when the band formed in 1986, its name had nothing to do with drugs. Jane was a prostitute who supported the band in its early days; depending on his mood, Farrell would identify her addiction as anything from "wrapping herself in wet blankets" or "life's violent strobes and erotic colors" to, most convincingly, music.

And it was Jane's Addiction's glam-gloom music, a wondrous fusion of funk, metal, punk and pretty acoustics, that created a hallucinatory major-label bidding war, landing the band a juicy deal at Warner Bros. and initiating the recent feeding frenzy for alternative bands. But the signing brought with it the classic rock & roll drama: the pressure, the management changes, the funds squandered on experimentation both in the studio and out.

Even as his band mates were getting clean, Farrell was informing the trade publication Hits that heroin is "great" "I don't think it's anybody's business if I want to sit there and bang myself on the head with a board," Farrell said. Asked if the drug was dangerous, he replied, "So's driving … You take your chances."

In its short life, Jane's Addiction has made taking chances an art form, poking at slumbering, flabby, middle-aged rock music, trying to revive the intensity and personal passion that used to beat at its core. In this era of Just Say No, lip-syncing and power ballads, the only other band that comes close is fellow L.A. export Guns n' Roses, but as Farrell has said: "There's a lot of bands like Guns n' Roses. There's not a lot of bands like us."

In a business most comfortable with categories, however, Jane's often falls through the cracks. Eric A., for Avery, says: "An interviewer in Amsterdam told us that intellectuals and art students there totally overlook us, view us as some stupid metal band. I sometimes worry about that when I see the bruisers who come backstage."

Despite the self-consciously attitudinal presentation — Farrell recently cavorted onstage in a black S&M vinyl bodysuit, Perkins often wears skirts, and Navarro and Avery sport tangled, neon dreadlocks — Jane's isn't a band of dopey posers. Avery absently quotes authors like Lawrence Durrell and Sylvia Plath; though Navarro sports a tattoo, it's of Hope II, the portrait of a pregnant woman by the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. Navarro had it done in memory of his mother, who was brutally murdered by her former boyfriend.

Farrell, too, experienced violence at home; his mother killed herself when he was four. In Ritual's "Then She Did…," his multitracked, old man's voice sings to an ex-lover who overdosed, "Will you say hello to my ma? … She was an artist, just as you were … She was unhappy, just as you were." The eight-minute song builds, Zepstyle, from quiet meditation to transcendent yowl.

"Our music is an escape, a journey," says Perkins. "And it represents drug-ridden, fucked-up people — whether we are or not. I like when people are inspired by the music, not just going to see some industry band out to sell records. We might make choices that are harmful to us moneywise, but I don't want to see a bunch of bored old fellas playing just like the record."

The choices are usually initiated by the control freak Farrell, 31, an inveterate extremist who is one of rock's only true multimedia artists. Well before Madonna warranted an episode of Nightline to justify her video, Farrell had codirected with his longtime girlfriend, Casey Niccoli, a riveting R-rated clip for "Mountain Song" and refused to cut it for MTV, which initially banned it. His arresting nude sculptures adorning the album covers for both Nothing's Shocking and Ritual were at first refused by several record-store chains. To film the Ritual videos, including the irresistible shoplifting romp for "Been Caught Stealing," Farrell got Warner Bros. to fund a $250,000, hour-long movie, called Gift, to be released as a home video. And then, for the first single off Ritual, the band audaciously released its ten-minute-plus ménage à trois epic "Three Days," which radio adamantly rejected.

Even without the airplay, Ritual still broke Billboard's Top Twenty and went gold, yet Farrell was soon quoted announcing: "This is going to be my last record, and then I'm out of here.... I don't want to be a rock star."

Although Ritual is ballsier, more personal and more ambitious than its predecessors (the band also released an independent live album), all but two of its songs were written before the band was signed to Warner Bros., and Farrell says, "I don't think I'll better Ritual; the songs I'm working on I plan to save for other projects."

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