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Perry Farrell Talks About Sex, Drugs, Karma

Everything but his new band, Porno for Pyros

Perry Farrell

Perry Farrell in Janes' Addiction performing at Madison Square Garden, New York, NY., April 21st, 1991

Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty

A melodrama in three acts

THE CHARACTERS

Perry Farrell, Porno for Pyros vocalist, formerly of Jane’s Addiction. Mastermind behind the highly successful Lollapalooza festival, artistic jack-of-all-trades, surfer, hippie guru, general all-around enigma.
Stephen Perkins, Porno for Pyros drummer, formerly of Jane’s Addiction. Personable, articulate, happy-go-lucky. A terrified interviewer’s best friend.
Martyn Le Noble, Porno for Pyros bassist, formerly of Thelonious Monster. A gaptoothed Dutchman with an engaging accent reminiscent of Christopher Walken doing the Continental on Saturday Night Live.
Pete Distefano, Porno for Pyros guitarist, formerly of the Venice, California, surf band K-38. Diminutive Italian with raging hormones, prone to approaching strange women and announcing, “I come in five seconds, you won’t even know I was there.”
You, the reporter, bravely acting as my surrogate, because once was enough for me.

ACT I: It’s sundown. You arrive at the Clam Shell, a restaurant on the beach in Venice. You’re terribly nervous. This guy Perry is supposed to be brilliant. You wonder if the questions you have prepared are sharp enough. You find the band –— minus Stephen Perkins —– sitting at a corner table in an upstairs room that overlooks the ocean. Perry looks like a skinny Charles Manson. His eyes are heavy-lidded, his head is shaved nearly bald, and he sports a sinister-looking goatee.

As you load your tape recorder, you realize it has become eerily quiet. You look up to find Perry, Martyn and Pete leaning on their elbows, starting at you like a jury. You feel outnumbered and say so, hoping it will break the ice. It seems to. You begin with a tame, generic question: “So you’re starting a tour in May?”

“Yep,” says Pete. “May.”

“Mmmmmm-hmmmmm,” says Perry.

There is a long, awkward silence.

Okay, so it was a dumb question, try again.

You ask how their first shows together were, given the Jane’s Addiction baggage.

“The reviews were pretty good,” Pete begins enthusiastically. “I was actually surprised – I was expecting more negative reaction because of comparisons, but in the Los Angeles Times, they wrote that —”

Perry swoops down like a chicken hawk: “But do you give a shit, Pete?”

“No,” Pete says quickly, “I don’t, that’s the thing. All that matters is what I think about the music.”

“Aside from the rhythms and the production,” you say, “this new record does sound a lot like Jane’s Addiction. I think people are wondering why, out of all the things you could’ve done, you put together a rock band that sounds so similar.”

A pall drops on the table. Perry looks genuinely shocked.

God,” says Perry. “I just like doing music that I enjoy – I’m not tagging it at all.” He pauses. “I guess I’m a little tired or something like that – I just could give a shit what people think.” He giggles, giving you an angelic, oops-I-said-some-thing-naughty smile.

“How do you see Porno for Pyros?” you ask uneasily. “Is it a band that you want to have some longevity, or . . . uh . . .”

Perry’s eyelids flutter closed, and his head begins to droop slowly toward the table. Oh, man, he’s falling asl . . . Nooooooo! . . . Do I act like I don’t notice, or . . . “Or do you see it as a one-album project?” you finish lamely.

“I see it as four new friends, and as long as we like working together, we will,” says Martyn helpfully.

“Let’s talk about something else,” says Perry, sounding a little slurry as he comes out of the nod. “Let’s talk about sex.” He seems to brighten. “Let’s talk about the modern relationship. Seriously! Let’s talk about ‘Is marriage dead?’ ” Stroking his chin and assuming a thoughtful, professorial expression, he continues. “I think that we might find in modern society the acceptance of more than one partner, perhaps.”

“I don’t think so,” says Martyn. “If the person I consider mine goes off with someone else, I’ll kill. I’m really jealous, and I hate feeling jealous.” “I loove feeling jealous,” Perry says. “In fact, I ask my girlfriend to make me jealous.”

Oh, who cares, can we talk about something even remotely relevant, please?

“Do you want to talk at all about the Jane’s breakup?” you ask. “How much of that decision came from your discomfort with the band’s popularity?”

“At the time,” says Perry, “that did cross my mind. But what it really boiled down to was, I wasn’t getting along with them. I’m not saying whose fault it was. Even though I know whose fault it was. But I’m not hanging out where I’m not wanted. I was not appreciated, and I wasn’t liked. You know, I wanted to ride on the bus with the guys and watch movies and womanize and get high and cry and confide in them, and . . . I wanted some friends. And now I’ve got ’em.”

“Can I ask how much of the problem you guys had getting along was due to . . . uh …” Say it, just say it! Drugs! Drugs!

“Drugs?” asks Perry casually.

“Yeah,” you say, relieved.

Sure, you can ask,” he says sweetly. “But I’m not gonna tell ya.”

Then he reconsiders: “You know what? Probably they’ll tell you it had more to do with that than I would tell you. I get along fine with people who don’t do drugs. To me, that wasn’t the issue.” He pauses. “I’d love to tell you all the dirt. But I’m having such a goddamn good time now that I can hardly remember what I hated about them in the first place.” He giggles apologetically again.

“Am I coming off like an asshole?” Perry asks.

Think I’ll pass on that one, pal. “No, not at all.”

“Really?” he asks. “‘Cause I can be the biggest goddamn asshole.”

“I wanted to talk a bit about Lollapalooza,” you say. “How involved are you on a day-to-day basis?”

“I’m really gonna think very hard about continuing to do Lollapalooza,” he says. “My favorite parts of Lollapalooza are the things that go on out on the grounds.

“The worst part of it, unfortunately, is the music,” Perry continues. “It’s become very political as far as who gets on the stage. Man, when the money starts rolling in . . . It’s your fucking project, and all of a sudden you’re hearing secondhand what’s gonna be going on. It scares me. Who the fuck knows what’s going on over at William Morris? I don’t have time to baby-sit them, and my name’s attached to all of it. I just have to grit my teeth and pray that I don’t get embarrassed too many times. So it might be time to pack it up after this one, do something else. I don’t see why I couldn’t put another one together, if I came up with a good idea.” His eyes glaze over, and his head begins to wobble dangerously.

Quick, you’re losing him! Change the subject! Ask him about the movie he made!” What’s up with Gift?” you ask loudly. Is it going to be in theaters?”

“First it’s showing at a few festivals,” Perry answers, jerking to attention. “I had a hard time getting it into theaters because Ice-T was in it and Warner Bros, was uptight about it.”

“What do you think about all that?” you ask. “Does it ever seem to you that certain groups are trying to push the country back to a sort of Fifties moral mentality?”

“I think you need to get laid,” says Perry. “You need to get laid, you need to get loose. You’re paranoid. It’s not true.”

I wonder if it would fuck up the interview if I hit him.

“You know,” he says, “sometimes I get so fucking paranoid and suicidal and full of hate that I just feel like no one is as sick as I am. But then other days, I just forget about all that shit, and I walk around going, ‘Man, I looove living in Vennnice.’ I think it has a lot to do with being in love, though. I’m so deeply in love that I could give a shit about the child molesters and murderers. I’m just having the best time with my woman.”

He nods off again, and Martyn nudges him awake.

“I’m sorry,” Perry says sincerely. “I haven’t been to bed for like seven days.”

“What have you been doing?”

“Making looooove,” he moans dreamily. “Ohhhhhhh, I want to see her right nooooowwww.”

“I’ve never done an interview with a boner,” says Martyn. “How does it feel, Perry?”

“Feels okay,” says Perry with a loopy smile.

Hmmmmm . . . maybe he’ll perk up if I ask about his relationship.

“Is this a new thing?” you ask.

“What, boners?”

Act II: Dejected, you return to your hotel room. You came to this Godforsaken plastic paradise expecting a brush with greatness, a long-winded conversation with a genius who would fill your ears with poetry and astounding ideas. Instead, you wind up with a narcoleptic Peter Pan who only wants to talk about fucking. The worst thing is, he’s so childlike and innocent about being an ass that you can’t even be sure he is one.

Like, what if you’re the one with the problem? Maybe you’re just an uptight bad sport with no sense of humor. Life, you decide, as you drift into troubled sleep, is a big fat fucking lie.

Act III: On the following evening, you enter a Los Angeles studio where the members of Porno for Pyros are being photographed for your article. Your hopes are high. The plan is for you to watch the shoot, then repair with the band to another location afterward and finish your interview.

Stephen Perkins, sporting a headful of tiny braids and a cheerful smile, is the first to arrive. While you wait for the others, the two of you take a walk down the block to talk. Please, God, he seems so nice and cooperative, please let him answer the questions pleaseGodpleaseplease. . . .

“Do you see Porno for Pyros as a band that will have some longevity?”

“Who knows?” Stephen says. “I know Perry’s 100 percent into this band, but I can see things stopping kind of quickly, you know? That’s just the way things are in this environment. Every time we write a song, I think, ‘This could be our last one.’ I don’t know what he’s gonna do, I don’t know what I’m gonna do.

“This new band feels good,” Stephen continues. “The music feels really positive. Perry’s a genius – he’s got ideas every ten seconds. It’s strange. . . . I’ve had one band that did great, and now I’ve got another chance. No one’s even heard the record, and people want to talk about it. I know it’s because of Jane’s Addiction, but it still feels good. It’s kind of scary. You know, you don’t have to surpass what Jane’s did, but you want to live up to it. You want to be like ‘Here’s my next project, check this out now.’ “

You ask about his relationship with his former Jane’s band mates. “I do talk to them and see them,” Stephen says. “I still see a future in our friendship. I wish them all the luck. I’m so proud of what we did together —– that stands forever. It feels like we started something, a little flame. I felt like Jane’s had the torch. But in Jane’s, there were weird vibes, bad vibes. With Porno for Pyros, it’s much easier to write songs and just play. Everybody’s happy.”

Basking in the afterglow of an anxiety-free interview, you return with Stephen to the studio. Pete and Martyn have arrived, and Pete begins telling the band’s independent publicist, Ted Mico, about a previous photo shoot during which he and Perry got drunk and flashed the photographer. “I’m sticking to this stuff tonight,” Pete says, pointing to a bottle of mineral water.

“Why?” says Ted. “Got a hangover?”

“Nah, I just don’t want to have my dick out in Rolling Stone,” Pete says matter-of-factly.

Perry, with his girlfriend, Kim, in tow, makes a smashing entrance. He seems much more alert than he did last night. He is wearing new clothes; you can tell by the way he walks, as if he’s delighted with the figure he cuts.

When he sees that the photographer, Mark Seliger, has set up equipment in an alley next to the studio, Perry takes action. “Is he shooting us in the alley?” he asks. “I think we’re a little more upscale than that.” He begins poking industriously around the studio and finds a Roman pillar leaning in a corner. Approaching Seliger, he begins explaining, with much enthusiastic gesturing of his hands, how much better the photos would be if they were shot inside, using the pillar as a prop, with a white background and the lights just so. Seliger listens patiently.

The shoot proceeds. Every time Seliger stops to set up a new background, the band gathers around a table in the center of the studio. You’ve avoided turning on your tape recorder, thinking it will be intrusive. Perry, however, has other ideas.

“Are you taping this?” he asks during the first break. “You should be. You’re missing a lot of great stuff.” Well, thanks for the tip, Mr. Woodward, how about we just switch: You can be the journalist, and I’ll be the hyperactive space case.

Perry sits down next to Kim and puts his arm around her. You turn the tape recorder on and set it on the table. Pete, adopting a brusque, businesslike tone, begins interviewing the couple:

Pete: How do you feel about each other?
Perry: You know how the first girlfriend you ever have, you can get a hard-on without touching yourself? Well, I got that same thing going now.
Pete: How do you get along? Do you fight a lot?
Perry: We have so much sex I don’t even know her. [To Kim] Isn’t that kind of true?
Kim: We’re recording this?
Pete: Do you guys feel pain when you’re away from each other?
Kim and Perry: Yes.
Pete: Have you figured out a way to deal with the pain when you’re separated?
Perry: Um-hmmm!
Pete: Airplanes?
Perry: Oh. I thought you were talking about, like, guns or masturbation.

The band goes outside to take some more photos, returning fifteen or twenty minutes later. A Thai dinner arrives, and everyone gathers around the table to eat.

“Where’s your tape recorder?” asks Perry. You hand it over, and Perry, speaking directly into the machine, metamorphoses into a talk-show host. “Okay,” he says. “Steve Perkins! Who did your hair?”

A discussion about Stephen’s braids ensues. Meanwhile, Pete, who is flipping through a magazine, comes to a photo and shows it to Perry.

“Does this guy look for real or what?” asks Pete.

“Who is that guy?” asks Perry.

“Kevin Costner,” replies Pete.

“Oh,” says Perry, “I thought that was one of the fuckin’ Ninja Tuuuurrrtles. . . . Okay, wait, time out! Commercial, commercial!” He belches loudly into the tape recorder. “And now,” he says grandly, “back to our show!”

He guides his band mates through a round-table discussion about karma. They ponder whether Hitler would be getting off too easy if he were reincarnated as a cockroach. Then Perry rises from the table. “Okay,” he says. “We’re ready to go, huh?”

You look at Ted Mico, your face a rictus of panic. No, don’t let him get away!

“Don’t you want to do some more interview?” Ted asks Perry.

Perry looks momentarily deflated. “Okay,” he says cooperatively. “But I think we did pretty good tonight.”

You try a question about the band. Perry changes the subject. You try something more philosophical.

“What’s your prescription for personal happiness?” you ask.

“Okay,” says Perry. “If I could say something real quick, besides ‘Do drugs’ or anything obvious like that, I’d say, ‘Move as far away from your parents as you could.’ ‘Cause I feel like I have no parents. I do what makes sense in my head. As an artist, any time I stop to consider my family and their feelings about what I do personally, I freeze. I wouldn’t want them to know what I’m involved with. I’d feel like ‘Oh, my God, they know about that? I don’t think so.” He steps away from the table, looking pleased with himself. “And that’s all the questions I’ll answer tonight,” he says. “But that was a good finale, right?”

“Okay, well, thank you,” you say, confused.

“You’re welcome,” says Perry. “And I enjoyed myself, and I’m not leaving because I don’t give a shit about your story. This is exactly what we are. What more do you need to know about a person? Personal things, I wouldn’t answer anyway. And I don’t know . . . band questions and shit? The music speaks for itself.”

“I have plenty, really,” you say politely. Oh, my God, the story’s going to suck, they’re going to kill me back at the office, how could I have let this thing get so out of control?

Perry looks you right in the eye. “I’m glad you have the ability to see the potential in that stuff,” he says with an odd, challenging smile. “You know, my mother used to pick stuff out of garbage cans. She could see potential in things that had been discarded.”

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