Once a fiddler played so sweetly that all who heard him began to dance, and whoever came near enough to hear joined in the dance. Then a deaf man who knew nothing of music happened along, and to him all he saw seemed the action of madmen -- senseless and in bad taste.
--a story from Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, as told in Tales of the Hasidim: The Early Masters by Martin Buber
PERRY FARRELL HAS SIZED UP THE SITUATION.
"Does that door slide open? Have you tried yet? Come on!"
I glance at the glass panel behind me and ponder whether a mere restaurant customer has the right to open it. I look back at Farrell: He flashes a mad smile -- the face of a charismatic mischief maker/ringleader capable of persuading less imaginative minds to do something they wouldn't normally consider. Everything is riding on my decision.
I slide open the door. A cool breeze enters.
"Yeahhh . . ." grins Farrell.
Sitting here at this modest Venice beachside restaurant populated by sunburned tourists and straight-to-video deal makers, watching him scan the drinks menu, I realize that Farrell -- the notorious Dionysian, the once and future singer for the genre-bending Jane's Addiction, prime mover behind the Lollapalooza festivals that injected bohemian music and ideas into the mainstream, the newly solo artist with an ambitious new album out -- has spent his whole career, maybe his whole life, doing this: cajoling people into doing things they might not otherwise do -- healthy stuff, ridiculous stuff, consciousness-deepening stuff -- to get some fresh air in.
Perry Farrell looks good for a 42-year-old who's done a lot to his brain and body. Yes, below his crown of brown hair lurk what might be signs of past habits: a pair of darting, intent hazel eyes whose slightly outsize bulge could be those of an excoke fiend; the cheeks that have the pinned-and-stretched look of many an ex-junkie. But Farrell has the radiant aura of someone who's exchanged nasty habits for a tug on the inner-peace pipe -- and come out ahead in the deal. He's sinewy, trim, with a lean surfer's body dressed in tight pinstriped white flares and a button-down blue-collar shirt. A tanned dandy, with a turquoise bracelet around his wrist and a golden Lion of Zion around his neck.
Farrell speaks evenly and expansively, with the ease of a born talker. His conversation is full of cosmic longhand: extended metaphors and parables plucked from his reading or his own febrile imagination. He clicks sometimes, his eyes suddenly whirring, re-training, as if this plane of existence is only one of many currently demanding his attention. He seems humbled, almost penitent, but you get the sense that these are learned behaviors rather than natural ones.
He seems a bit impatient, too. There's a lot to do after finishing this late lunch of bruschetta and red peppers. Like organizing this autumn's "Jubilee," a multi-artist festival spotlighting various socioeconomic campaigns that Farrell has become involved with during the past four years. But instead of bringing his new solo music to this festival, Farrell is planning to reunite Jane's Addiction, the band he lead-manned until its demise in 1991.
Re-launching Jane's seems a strange admission of sellout from artists who had the integrity to split when they were spent -- and who made the reunion cash-grab once before, when they toured in '97 minus a crucial founding member.
Perry initially seems surprised -- even hurt -- that his intentions could be questioned. After a moment, he has an answer. Actually, a set of answers.
"Could I be doing this because I need money?" he asks. "I do need money. I need a lot of money, man. I am penniless. And the reason I'm penniless is because I have put my faith and trust into this cause. And as a result, ironically, or coincidentally, I've run dry monetarily. But my heart is extremely rich. And I don't fear.
"If what you love is money, which is smelly cold paper that's got the same picture on it over and over, then become a banker. To me, rarity -- limited editions -- that's where I'm coming from. Because I would trade a lot of material things to have seen Jimi Hendrix . . . The value is in the art. A person's creativity and their inspiration, that's what you're left with when they die.
"You know, a terrible, horrible thing happened," he says, now almost in tears. "Joey Ramone died. The first tour Jane's Addiction ever did was with the Ramones. We opened up for 'em. And I know that if you're a Ramone, you can't replace Joey Ramone. You have to honor that situation. There's a gang of songs and a group of guys and a whole crowd of people. They were witness to the Ramones, and it was a wonderful feeling for them. It's very powerful to consider the loss of the person. The loss of Jimi Hendrix, of Jim Morrison, of Judy Garland, of Louis Armstrong. So when these people are around, and they're healthy, and they're ready to play, and we can add newness to it, and we can do charity . . .?