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[whitespace] Perry Farrell
Photograph by Dan Pulcrano

Israel Vibration: Perry Farrell visits a cave by the Dead Sea in 1998. The sun-worshipping, celibate Essenes lived there once.

Perry's Jubilee

Jane's Addiction has risen from the ashes again, and this time, its lead singer wants to transform the world, not just change it.

By Dan Pulcrano

AFTER HIKING INTO an Essene cave on the rocky cliffs overlooking the Dead Sea's western shore, Perry Farrell warbles a mystical chant. The Essenes were Hebrew renegades who rejected ancient Jerusalem's material corruption to pursue lives of righteous piety, abstaining from every manner of impure thought and deed. Amazingly, these ascetic contemporaries of Jesus have managed to channel their wail through rock's pre-eminent prophet of flesh and hedonism, a man whose evangelism of hard drugs, body art and all manner of sexual expression have made him an icon of fringe culture.

Seven years earlier, Farrell had launched the original touring rock festival, Lollapalooza, which made its debut in July 1991 at Shoreline Amphitheatre. Keyboard-heaving Trent Reznor brought his little-known Nine Inch Nails to the stage that year. Nirvana, whose album Nevermind had just hit the charts, didn't make the bill; Cobain and Co. were playing rooms like Santa Cruz's Catalyst at the time. Pearl Jam was about to release its first album.

The band that Farrell fronted, Jane's Addiction, went out at the top of its game as Lollapalooza's headliner. Emerging from Southern California beach culture, the band fused heavy metal and punk to create a high-energy sound and cultural tension that snapped a decade out of a diabetic coma induced by oversweetened Jersey rock and Brit pop--Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Culture Club and ... Phil Collins.

It was the second time rock & roll had been rescued from near-death. A decade before, bands like the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, the Pretenders and the Clash slapped urgency back into a musical form that fell over the railing around the time that the Eagles released, um, "Take It Easy." When the pendulum reversed again, it swung to danceable New Wave and modern rock, along with the early manifestations of electronic dance music. That eclipsed "this big dark cloud that had been punk," Duran Duran's Simon Le Bon effused in an interview. "Everyone was just so happy to ... just let it rip and let the colors out and have some fun. It was just fantastic."

It was also, for the most part, vapid.

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Relapsing: Gina Arnold takes a look at Jane's Addiction.

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The cloud returned at the sunset of the Reagan holiday in 1988. Jane's Addiction's first major-label album, Nothing's Shocking, hit stores that year. The band's April 1989 show at the now-defunct Santa Clara club One Step Beyond offered compelling proof that rock still had something to say. Ritual De Lo Habitual, which included such songs as "Been Caught Stealing," followed, and Jane's Addiction sold out San Jose State's event center on the eve of the Gulf War. With only two complete albums, it could count on airplay, pack arenas and amphitheaters and enjoy the fruits of commercial success. Instead, the most influential band of its era broke up.

Nonetheless, alternative rock had been born. As America slipped into recession, deep-voiced Seattle grunge displaced funked-up L.A. art metal to dominate the subgenre. A endless parade of skater bands and heroin rockers followed, each one seemingly adding more tattoos, piercings, overdoses, obscenity and thrashing to their repertoire. A parade of Lollapalooza-inspired festivals--Warped, Lilith, Smokin' Grooves, Ozzfest--filled the multiplying number of open-air venues for a while.

Now, a decade later, Jane's Addiction, the band that started it all, returns to Mountain View, location of the first portable festival, with arguably the most eagerly awaited tour of the season. Which is a little unusual for a band that hasn't released an album of new material in more than a decade.

FARRELL, BORN BERNSTEIN, descends from the caves to the waiting car below. Ahmed points his white taxi toward the next non sequitur in a land of paradox. As the September sun sets, the diesel Mercedes enters the center of Hebron, where a mosque and synagogue coexist precariously above the Cave of Machpelah, the presumed resting place of biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and matriarchs Rebecca and Leah. Soldiers in full gear guard the entrance. Inside, a crowd of about 5,000 commemorates the Sabbath that falls between Judaism's two holiest days of the year.

A Hebrew-speaking American journalist attempts to negotiate entrance for the Sabbath violators who have arrived by car on the eve of the day of rest, but the soldiers are suspicious of his Italian last name.

"Let's jam," an impatient Farrell says. Rock stars, unlike journalists, are unaccustomed to groveling for entry.

"Show him your passport, Perry," the journalist suggests.

Farrell passes the document to the soldier, who radios to the rooftop, "There's a guy from Los Angeles named Bernstein who claims he's Jewish."

"Okay, let him in," crackles the voice from above.

Inside the King Herod-era building, Farrell sits on a bench quietly and watches the frenzied dancing, but doesn't rise to join the circles. "They're not dancing for joy. They're dancing like a football team," he says, punctuating his comment with a gorillalike "oof, oof, oof."

Friend and collaborator Aaron Cohen sparked Farrell's latent interest in the land of the Bible and helped lead Farrell away from substance abuse following an incident in which the drugged-out musician, in a fit of paranoia, greeted Cohen with a loaded weapon. The two began studying ancient texts together, then Farrell made a series of visits to San Francisco to spend time with Yosef Langer, a Hasidic rabbi and rock fan who organizes the lighting of the Bill Graham Menorah each Hanukah. (Farrell's return to his roots was first reported in a 1998 story that ran in Metro and its former sister publication, San Francisco Metropolitan.)

Mud-masked Perry Mud-masked Perry at the Dead Sea: Studying mysticism kept him from sinking


Photograph by Dan Pulcrano


Farrell latched on to the concept of Jubilee, an ancient anniversary celebration of debt forgiveness and slave liberation, a subject on which Cohen had become a scholar. The musician named his son, now 3 years old, Yovel, the Hebrew word for "jubilee," and his short-lived band of that era "Gobbelee." Last year, Farrell joined U2's Bono and Live Aid founder Bob Geldof in calling upon wealthy nations to forgive Third World debt as part of the Jubilee. And he made plans, thwarted by tensions in the Middle East, to hold a rave-style Jubilee Festival in the Judean Desert.

Interviewed Oct. 18 at the W Court Hotel in New York City, three days after a sold-out Jane's Addiction show at Madison Square Garden, Farrell shared his thoughts about the Jubilee.

"I feel I have a 'jubilee' spirit now because I am aware of what it is, and it ignites something in you," he said. "It's an intelligent way to understand and maintain freedom and liberty. And an intelligent way for everyone on earth to coexist with each other, where fights can't go on longer than 50 years--and that's it, that's really one generation. The next group doesn't have the debt of people's feuds and monetary servitude. Look at the world now; it hasn't had that system for 2,000 years and look at the shape it's in. Look how long hatred goes on."

Farrell has also begun using his Hebrew name, Peretz, and spinning discs at clubs in San Francisco and Los Angeles under the name DJ Peretz. His new album, Song Yet to Be Sung (Virgin), is a Magical Mystery Tour of electronica richly spiced with Middle Eastern sounds and containing the songs "Happy Birthday Jubilee" and "Shekina," the latter a reference to the Jewish concept of the female presence of God.

The album contains Farrell's best material since embracing Kabala and dance club culture. His 1999 release, Rev, was a collection of covers, rearrangements of Jane's Addiction songs and dance tracks quickly stitched together to meet a final contract commitment to Warner Bros. While enjoyable, the newest effort really showcases Farrell's genius in breaking new artistic ground.

Now, about this Jewish thing, which nobody knows quite what to make of. Farrell has never hidden much from the world. He was open about his heroin use and sex life, and performed the second part of the last Jane's Addiction show in 1991 completely nude. Now we are witness to his religious exhibitionism.

Even though entire radio stations are devoted to musicians of all stripes singing about their personal Jesus, and Islam is a hot topic in the news, I suspect that it will take some adjustment for some Jews and gentiles to come to terms with the idea of this tatooed love boy surrounded by erotic dancers and a pagan carnival as an interpreter of holy scriptures.

Assimilationists will no doubt bristle at a maverick discussing his unedited views in the media. Progressive pluralists, however, should welcome his spiritual outing, as it calls attention to the diverse views in the American Jewish community, whose agenda has for too long been dominated by the ticket buyers at United Jewish Appeal dinners.

Indeed, Farrell may be the first Jewish rock superstar. Sure, there have been other successful Jewish performers, but none have so publicly merged their faith with their art. "It's anathema for real rock stars to flaunt their Jewishness," Marc Weisblott once taunted in Toronto's Eye magazine.

In fact, Peretz's conversion might be the first time a rock star converted his stage name to a Jewish one. Robert Zimmerman rebranded himself as Bob Dylan. Jeff Hyman became Joey Ramone. Mark Feld flamed out as T. Rex's Marc Bolan. Chaim Witz took on a new identity as Gene Simmons of Kiss. Beck--well, he didn't need to do much.

Occasionally an identity theme creeps into a Jewish songwriter's work, though it's usually subtle. Ramone penned "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg," about then-President Ronald Reagan's notorious visit to a Nazi cemetery in Germany. Lou Reed similarly came out with "Good Evening Mr. Waldheim," and he explored themes of self hate in his 1978 composition, "I Wanna Be Black":

Hey, I don't wanna be no fucked up middle class Jewish, middle class college student no more ...

Hey you talking about my people
If I got a people, hey Lou you got a people, oh I got a people, maybe...

Randy Newman's "The Dixie Flyer" (1988) describes a similar assimilationist sentiment:

Tryin' to do like the Gentiles do.
Christ, they wanted to be Gentiles too.
Who wouldn't down there--wouldn't you?

Paul Simon, meanwhile, has managed to embrace every culture and religion but his own. His latest single, "Old," names Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed while omitting Moses. To give him the benefit of the doubt, though, maybe he couldn't find a rhyme.

THE CURRENT Jane's Addiction lineup features original drummer Stephen Perkins, who also joined Farrell as a member of Porno for Pyros following Jane's breakup, and founding guitarist Dave Navarro, who played the Red Hot Chili Peppers during the mid-'90s and is now enjoying success as a solo artist and author of a photo documentary about his partying days. Former Porno for Pyros member Martyn LeNoble replaces Eric Avery on bass.

LeNoble and Perkins sat in on last week's interview as Farrell discussed the band's future plans, including an idea he has to create a Burning Man-like interactive experience with audience participation. "I have an idea going on for five years now to make it a completely interactive party. We were going to do it for this tour, but I couldn't do it because we ran out of time," Farrell said.

"Of course it's going to take a staff of writers, someone to write the Javascript. And we just had enough money [this tour] to put together dancers and a kind of theater in the round. It's a game in which the whole place becomes interactive."

When pressed, Farrell wouldn't elaborate, except to plug the business opportunity. "I won't give away ideas because I've been talking about it too much, and I know there are other guys already trying to do the ideas.

"But I will tell you that anyone who wants to invest in what could potentially be a landmark in interactive entertainment should call my managers," he said.

Farrell has some ideas to improve the world as well. "The two things I see being massively transformative for earth would be to transform our fuel into hydrogen. Our ability to harness replenishable energy--and an energy that is the oldest form of energy that's known to the universe--could do amazing things for the environment and help with the oil problem.

"The second thing is the legalization of marijuana. If we had a self-supportive hemp culture, a hemp industry going, it could also be used for fuel. Think about the spiritual significance of a person saying there's a certain kind of plant that is gentle, that can be a fuel, can be a cloth -- and yet we make it illegal."

He views rock & roll as a medium for transformation and dissemination of ideas. "We have the important role of message. In that way we're no different than a news agency.

"And if you think what our news is is important, then work with us.

"I'm happy to work with people to spread a message. And it's a beautiful message we all share:

"Chill out.

"Peace.

"Shalom."


Jane's Addiction plays at Shoreline Amphitheatre this Friday. The New York interview was conducted by former Metro staffer Larry Smith, who's now executive editor at Yahoo Internet Life.

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From the October 25-31, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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