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Relapse Your Mind

Jane's Addiction
Back in Business: Jane's Addiction exerted an extraordinary influence on rock music in a mere five years of existence.

Photo by Block

Jane's Addiction drummer Steve Perkins talks about recapturing the glorious past on 'Kettle Whistle'

By Gina Arnold

AS THE DECADE, the century and the millennium wind down, so too is rock music's innate dynamism apparently fading to black, prompting two long years of rock & roll reunions, revisions and reissues. Despite Bob Dylan's much-heeded warning "Don't look back," U2, Kiss, the Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac have all mounted behemoth tours recently, while the Sex Pistols, Patti Smith and even Dylan have launched smaller but more credible comebacks.

These reunions range in quality from the pointless to the sublime, but the most unexpected--and possibly the most welcome--has been the sudden return of Jane's Addiction, a mere six years after its demise.

The reunion has come much sooner than most, but it is not untimely. The band's first two shows, in New York City, sold out in a phenomenal four minutes, and others around the country have been received with equal enthusiasm. (The band plays the Bill Graham Civic in San Francisco on Nov. 21.)

Why such excitement about a group whose memory has barely faded? For one thing, Jane's Addiction was truly among the best live groups ever. For another, there's not much else happening this year: rock has barely moved on since 1991, when Jane's Addiction broke up.

In fact, given the huge influence that Jane's Addiction has had on popular music, it is difficult to believe that the L.A.-based band's career spanned only five years. Formed in 1986 by Perry Farrell (born Perry Bernstein), the band amalgamated punk energy with psychedelic imagery and the thunky metal riffs of classic-rock radio. It then added a final kick in the pants with a blast of blatant hippie idealism. The result managed to burst the socio-musico-demographic bonds that had held rock & roll's progress in check for years.

Thanks to Farrell's flamboyant presence, which very much defied the Guns n' Roses metal posturing that dominated the airwaves then, Jane's Addiction was an almost overnight success in L.A. clubs like the Whiskey and the Scream. An early song, "Jane Says"--a strangely poignant tale of a prostitute/junkie who is "going to quit tomorrow"--quickly became one of the most popular ballads of the '80s, replacing "Stairway to Heaven" as a perpetual radio staple.

"Jane Says" also prompted a mammoth bidding war that saw the band signing to Warner Bros. After releasing one independent record, Jane's Addiction on Triple X in 1987, the group went gold with 1988's Nothing's Shocking.

But it wasn't until the release of its 1990 hit record, Ritual de lo Habitual, and the equally groundbreaking Lollapalooza Tour, which Farrell invented, that so-called alternative rock went mega--at which peak point, Jane's Addiction promptly broke up.

Farrell, with drummer Steve Perkins, went on to form the similar-sounding but much less prominent Porno for Pyros. Guitarist David Navarro wound up in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and bassist Eric Avery started a band called Polar Bear. This fall, however, six years after implosion, Jane's Addiction is back, suffering what Farrell calls "a relapse."

IN THE WAKE of the release of its fourth record, Kettle Whistle, a collection of live tracks, demo tracks and a few unreleased outtakes, three of the band's original members--Farrell, Perkins and Navarro--have joined with the Peppers' bassist Flea for a brief national tour. Avery has declined to be involved, which is why Farrell refuses to call the tour a "reunion."

Last summer, Flea joined Porno for Pyros on a few dates. Meanwhile, Navarro hit the recording studio with the band in order to record a new track called "Hard Charger" for the soundtrack to the Howard Stern movie. Finally, this past Fourth of July, Porno did an acoustic show, and Navarro hopped on stage and performed some Jane's Addiction songs, unrehearsed.

The result, Perkins tells me, was "magical." When Chili Pepper's lead singer Anthony Kiedis was suddenly sidelined with a broken arm, leaving Flea and Navarro with some free time this fall, the band committed to a new Jane's record and tour.

Unlike most the band's projects, which are spearheaded by Farrell, Kettle Whistle was Perkins' project; he culled most of the material for the album. He did so, he says, because he is the band's unofficial keeper of the tapes. "I've always sort of had a crush on this band," he says. "So I kept all the board tapes and demos. I have thousands of them."

He adds that "it took me weeks and weeks to find the demo of 'Ocean.' Also, this performance of 'Whores' was taped at the Whiskey before Dave and I were 21. We had to hang around outside before and after the gig, and I just remember it as being an awesome night."

The live tracks were recorded at the Palladium on Dec. 19, 1990, a show that, fortuitously enough, Warner Bros. paid to have recorded from a mobile 24-track studio parked outside the venue, making it easy to remix. "Warners is always looking for material for a new record," laughs Perkins. "They didn't know we'd break up, but even so, they probably meant for it to be our next record, Jane's Live Around the World.

PERKINS WAS ALL of 18 when he joined Jane's Addiction; two weeks ago, he turned 30. For him, Kettle Whistle has been a celebration of his past and his youth. However skeptical I am of reunion tours, it's hard not to feel excited by his enthusiasm for Jane's memory.

"Jane's songs were written in Hollywood in 1986; it's all about us driving down Sunset Boulevard to see Perry and record in his garage," Perkins says wistfully. "It's brutally honest stuff, kind of sleazy and grungy and sexy, but it's romantic also. To me, it's really beautiful and well crafted."

The material was also the brainchild of Farrell, a somewhat outrageous shamanistic frontman who has never let his overt drug use interfere with a wildly creative business sense. Besides inventing (and co-owning) Lollapalooza, Farrell has made one film, The Gift; attempted to begin a new touring festival, called ENIT; and was an earlier experimenter with rock on the Internet.

Though many compared the band's music to Led Zeppelin's (and Perkins admits that the band still plays "Communication Breakdown" at rehearsals), Farrell always saw Jane's Addiction as a musical vision of L.A.'s late-millennium streets, and to emphasize its roots, Jane's Addiction used to cover songs such as the Doors' "L.A. Woman" and X's "Nausea."

Apparently, Navarro thought one of those tunes should be included on the new record, but the rest of the band vetoed the idea in favor of original but unreleased Jane's songs such as "Slow Divers" and "My Cat's Name Is Maceo." "City" is from a movie called Soul Kiss.

The other tracks are wildly alternate takes. " 'Had a Dad' is a version Warner Bros. rejected because it had piano and chimes and backward sounds on it and goes into some very weird places," Perkins explains. "It's definitely a journey, and we always liked that version better. This version of 'Been Caught Stealing' will blow your mind--Perry wasn't singing it for the public, he was just showing us the parts sort of. It's real down-to-earth and loungey and funny; it makes people smile." There are also two new songs, "Kettle Whistle" and "So What," which feature Navarro and Flea in the studio.

As best-of albums go, Kettle Whistle is a darned compelling artifact. The in-concert tracks--particularly the versions of "Jane Says," "Had a Dad," "Three Days" and "Stop"--show a band at the very peak of its live power, which in Jane's Addiction's case was a mighty high precipice indeed. A few of the new songs, namely "Slow Divers" and "So What," are a welcome addition to the band's legacy. Only "My Cat's Name Is Maceo" is an obvious throwaway, although the title cut is much closer in feel to the more airy-fairy and atmospheric Porno for Pyros than to Jane's Addiction's tenser and more rhythmic work.

The band's current good relations belie the idea that Jane's Addiction was ever riddled with bitter interpersonal unrest.

"It was more like when you're still going to bed with your boyfriend or girlfriend, but you're not talking very much," Perkins says. "Eventually you go, 'Hey, we've got to stop sleeping together.' We [Jane's] had to stop sleeping together--which for us meant going on stage.

"Luckily, all of us had different worlds to jump into at the time, and I think that was healthy. But it was never a question of us having to 'make up.' It was more like running into your old girlfriend and starting to hang out again. It was a disappointment that Eric didn't want to do [this reunion], but he just didn't feel ready for it, and that's OK, because there's been so much to do--remixing, chewing the fat, hanging out, touring--it'd be really tough to do it if you weren't up for it."

Because of everyone's other professional commitments--Porno plans on going back to the studio in January, and the Chili Peppers have tour dates set for December--the project has been a bit of a rush job. "I wish we had another month," Perkins says with a sigh. "We only had five or six weeks to complete it and rehearse, and it's meant a lot of work and bullshit and pressure, but it's a lot of good stuff too. It's really potent and powerful, quality stuff. I hope when you see us play, you won't think about 1990, but more about 1997.

"I do think we paved the way for some things to happen--we did break some ground. It's almost like we were the soil, and Nirvana and Pearl Jam and the Smashing Pumpkins are the flowers and the grass. We were the soil they grew in, and you don't always notice the soil so much."

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From the Nov. 13-19, 1997 issue of Metro.

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