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Perry Farrell's Mystical Musical Tour 

The hedonist at 42

Wednesday, Sep 5 2001
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"I'll grant you, I have a business mind. Bringing Jane's Addiction to the table makes good business sense, sure. But if I was only concerned with business, I'd have a million dollars in the bank right now. You have to realize I work in the industry. The first thing they look at is how many people show up to see your show. If a lot of people show up, they'll work with you. If nobody shows up, they won't. I've prepared myself, and I have waited for this time for five years. I look at Jubilee as pure music, 12 months. And Jane's Addiction, will that be a good thing for it? That'd be a great thing for it . . ."

IN THE SPACE OF JUST THREE ALBUMS, Jane's Addiction became a landmark band. A landmark Los Angeles band, in the same way that X and the Doors were great Los Angeles bands. What made Jane's special was that their songs seemed to have been lived first, written second. And they were lived in L.A.: Their lyrics were the stories of the poor, beautiful and bohemian, the people who spent their nights and days scoring drugs, surfing in Point Dume, hiking in the canyons, shoplifting for fruit and razor blades, making art from gathered rubbish, getting hassled by cops, figuring out their families, watching daytime TV, writing songs. Their music -- especially on their pair of studio albums, 1988's Nothing's Shocking and 1990's Ritual de lo Habitual -- was utterly unique, a rippling art-rock admixture of rarely combined sounds present in contemporary L.A.: Jane's had the majesty and weight of heavy metal, the naked aggression of punk, the ass-shake of funk, the wide-eyed ambition of psychedelia, the dark drama of goth, the home-country folk music of the city's many ethnic enclaves. Dandy Lion of Zion

In lesser hands, that would have been a formula for a fusion fiasco. But for the eerily child-voiced Farrell, sublimely restrained bassist Eric Avery, oceanic guitarist Dave Navarro and six-limbed drummer Stephen Perkins, the music's borderlessness -- incubated not at hair-metal HQ Gazzarri's but at the Scream and Lhasa clubs alongside bands like the Minutemen, Savage Republic and Fishbone -- was an absolute strength. (Yes, two guys in the band -- Navarro and Perkins -- did have a Sunset Strip metal background, but, as Avery told me recently, chuckling, "We didn't get together over a shared love of Warrant.") And at a time when conservative California was trying to perma-seal its southern border, at a time when hard rock's reigning king asshole Axl Rose was mewling about his problems with "immigrants and faggots," Jane's wore black nails and garters, kissed each other on their lipsticked mouths onstage, and gave their breakout album (Ritual de lo Habitual) a Spanish title and botanica décor. As Perry chanted on "No One's Leaving," "Wish I knew everyone's nickname/all their slang and all their sayings/every way to show affection/how to dress to fit the occasion."

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Time has only been kind to these records, probably because at the core of Jane's lies a deep sadness, and sadness always endures. You could sense it was there, even if you didn't know that Navarro had witnessed his mother's murder at age 15, or that Farrell's mother had committed suicide when he was a toddler. It's there in the way Navarro's guitar does gorgeous spirals around the verses in "Summertime Rolls" in the as-yet-unreleased '97 tour doc Three Days. It's in the desperation for life in Jane's' "rock" songs, too, but most of all it's in the band's ballads -- beautifully shaped character studies about friends, lovers and mothers, laden with empathy and an ineffable sense of loss. It's manifest in the band's fliers, stage decorations, album artwork and videos fashioned from papier-mâché sculptures, flowers, golden cherubs, pregnancy tests and Super-8 home films, sumptuous handmade folk art that glories in its transience, anticipating its own eventual decay and disappearance.

In the flesh, the band could swan-dive or belly-flop. Actually, the band was almost always good -- it was Perry who could make or break the show. On some nights he was graceless, loaded, pointlessly ribald. On others he was the master party-giver/dramaturge, a spangled marionette, the most magnificently shamanic lead man since Morrison or Iggy Pop. Live, on a good night, Jane's Addiction were a Van Halen for the freaks of the world: a way to rock & roll without feeling your intelligence being insulted.

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