Everything Is Shocking – A History of Jane’s Addiction
Jane's Addiction was an unconventional band from the start, even in a scene filled with the unusual and unconventional.
"I think a lot of people out there (in Seattle) think that rock'n'roll changed in the early 90s when Nirvana showed up, and everyone had a big hit. But it didn't really work that way. There were bands like Jane's Addiction that laid the groundwork. Musically, (Jane's) had a huge impact on Soundgarden." - Chris Cornell
"Jane's was the only band I saw in those times who had that I-will-follow-them-anywhere type of crowd. There were a lot of great bands around at that time, but Jane's had this tribal thing happening with their fans. It was very powerful." - Henry Rollins
"Without a doubt, to me, they are the most important rock band of the 80s." - Flea
On October 13th, 1985, Jane's Addiction played their first show. They were billed incorrectly as "James Addiction." It didn't matter. Almost immediately they were blowing the minds of audiences and fellow musicians alike.
Fast forward to March 20th, 1986. The band's first manager puts up the money for the show, and works the front door, which is nothing unusual for up-and-coming bands. What is unusual, however, is this "manager" happens to also be a prostitute named “Biance”.
Jane's Addiction was an unusual and unconventional band from the start, even in a scene filled with the unusual and unconventional. From 1985 when they formed, until the first breakup in 1991, the band fed on drugs and chaos to supply the creativity that drew people to their live shows and studio albums in droves.
Traumatic Early Years
Two of the primary members of Jane's Addiction came from childhood and teenage trauma. Both lead singer Perry Farrell and guitarist Dave Navarro lost their mothers in tragic situations. Perry's mother, an artist, commited suicide when he was three years old.
Farrell reflected on the impact of his mother's suicide, saying:
I remember it, yeah. There are some things that have deep-seated emotions for me, but you can't change it and you move on. I think it has a huge part in my appreciation for life, for sure.
Navarro's parents divorced when he was seven. Then, when he was 15, after spending the day with his father and returning home, he discovered "his mother's ex-boyfriend had butchered her and a friend in a jealous rage, leaving the bodies in a cupboard."
The murderer disappeared. This was doubly traumatic for Navarro, as the man had been a father figure of sorts in the years previous. He wasn't captured until 10 years later.
The Allure of the Sunset Strip
Navarro took comfort in drugs and music, playing with speed-metal band Dizastre on the West Hollywood Sunset Strip.
Farrell had a similar destination, taking a bus out to California with some weed, a surfboard, and his art materials, looking for adventure.
He spent some time as a club singer, and then joined an experimental Hollywood Goth group called Psi Com. Two years later he left and changed his name to Perry Farrell, which is a play-on-words meant to sound like 'peripheral.'
Band Formation & Diverse Influences
Farrell was 27 when the band was formed - with Dave, Steve, and Eric (the other band mates) being seven or eight years younger. Some report that Perry and Dave had a genuine bond over their mother's unnatural deaths.
The band, composed of vocalist Perry Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro, bassist Eric Avery and drummer Stephen (Steve) Perkins — and "drew upon the darker, druggier and more exotic aspects of the City of Angels to create songs that were both viscerally immediate and shrouded in poetic mystery."
Navarro recounts the band's "bizarre influences," in his own words, saying "The Velvet Underground, Led Zeppelin, Bauhaus, Van Halen and Rush were all part of sound." He adds that:
Eric Avery always had this funky thing to his bass playing, but he was also into classical music, or straight-up punk or arty outsider rock. And Perry was listening to a lot of reggae, zydeco and world music; he wasn't listening to the radio at all. And then you put us all on the streets of Los Angeles... for many years, we interacted with Spanish-speaking people more than English-speaking people, because that's who we copped drugs from.
Additionally, The Cure's Robert Smith was a huge influence on Navarro. In a 1991 Guitar Player magazine interview, Navarro said he was "a brilliant player. He's no technical wizard, but who says you have to be to make great art?"
First Album - Nothing's Shocking
In May of 1987, feeding off the band's huge cult following as a live act, Jane's Addiction released a live self-titled debut on Triple-X Records.
While it's touted as a "live" performance, the band actually re-recorded most of it at The Edge studios in Los Angeles. The crowd noise heard on the album is apparently from a recording of a concert by the band Los Lobos.
After signing to Warner Bros. In August of 1988 Jane's Addiction released their major label debut "Nothing's Shocking".
Nine of the 11 major record retailers declined to carry the album due to its graphic cover, which portrayed two naked statues of Farrell's lover Casey Niccoli as Siamese twins with their heads on fire. Some stores even resorted to selling it wrapped in a paper bag.
Despite bad reviews in magazines such as Rolling Stone, which said "The band is great and full of shit - often at the same time," Nothing's Shocking would go on to reach Gold, and eventually Platinum status. The record would eventually go on to sell a million copies.
Ritual de lo Habitual
Jane's Addiction released their second studio album on August 21st, 1990, titled Ritual de lo Habitual.
Another controversial cover came with it, depicting two naked women in bed with Farrell. One of them was Xiola Blue.
A female friend of Farrell's from the east coast, 19 year old trust-fund bohemian Xiola Blue, visited him and Niccoli for a long weekend of three-way sex and heroin. The event is commemorated by the sprawling masterpiece 'Three Days', the only song on the record where the entire band was in the studio simultaneously.
Adding to the controversy however, is that Xiola was found dead of an overdose in her apartment shortly after the band recorded the album.
The record company protested the cover, leading to a second version being made available in plain white with the First Amendment - the right to free speech - printed on the sleeve.
Been Caught Stealing
The video for 'Been Caught Stealing' enjoyed heavy rotation on MTV, and the album overall reached number 19 on the American charts, with sales eventually topping two million.
Navarro says of these days:
I admit I totally blew it with drugs back in those days. My intake was certainly a factor in the eventual demise of the band the first time around. What do you want me to say? There was always five pounds of heroin, all the booze and coke you wanted, all the girls you wanted–all looking for nothing but guys in bands. And I wasn't even old enough to legally drink yet.
Farrell shares the backstory of "Been Caught Stealing," which seems innocent amidst the otherwise all-out-hedonism surrounding the band at the time.
I was stealing these Pennsy Pinkys (a bouncy ball toy). There was a candy store on the corner by my house in Queens, and I would go there all the time; I thought I was pretty good at stealing, but a guy caught me stone cold while I was taking a Pennsy Pinky. I guess I got in trouble, but that was the only time I ever got caught stealing.
Another iconic part of the song is Perry Farrell's dog barking. It was all very unplanned, according to Navarro:
We had Perry's dog Venice with us in the studio, and we threw him in the booth and got that dog bark. It's not really a sample — we just recorded Perry's actual dog! I don't know that we thought of it as being that obscure or outrageous; he was just barking in the studio while we were playing that song, and we said, "Oh, that sounds kind of cool; let's put him in there!" And the next thing we know, we're the "dog-barking-song band" [laughs]! It was just like something to make us smirk to each other; I don't think we ever thought it through that people would actually hear it. I know I didn't!
The song - and the dog's barking - ended up an iconic entry in our musical lexicon, as did the entire album itself. Songs like "Jane Says" also helped raise the band's flag in popular culture awareness.
Lollapalooza - and the Inevitable Breakup
To support Ritual de lo Habitual, the band agreed to do one final tour, and then break up. Farrell assembled Lollapalooza, a travelling music festival with a diverse line-up comprising, among others, industrial rockers Nine Inch Nails and gangsta rapper Ice-T.
It wasn't certain that people would attend a huge concert event with such a diverse lineup, but it quickly proved otherwise. Shows sold out within minutes of tickets going on sale. Additional dates were scheduled and sold out equally fast. Lollapalooza was a success before it started, but the self-destructiveness of the band was as present as ever.
The opening show in Phoenix, Arizona featured 25 acts. While the other bands put on a great show, Navarro and Farrell had to cut their own set short when they began fighting on stage, in front of 60,000 people.
In September of 1991, not incredibly long after that same Lollapalooza set, Jane's Addiction played their final show before breaking up at the Aloha Tower in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Due to the intense heat, "Perry took off his clothes and performed most of the show in the nude. While Perry drew all the attention, few people realised that Stephen Perkins was the first to undress, playing the entire concert in the buff!"
Post-Breakup and Reunions
Post-breakup, Perry Farrell and Jane's Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins formed Porno for Pyros, which enjoyed moderate success.
Jane's Addiction have reunited more than a couple of times since. The first - for the 1997 Relapse tour - coincided with the release of "Kettle Whistle," and comprised of demos, live tracks and some new songs. Four years later they went on the road again for the Jubilee tour, taking $100,000 of the profits to Sudan to buy freedom for 2,300 slaves with the Swiss Christian Solidarity International organisation.
The legacy of Jane's Addiction is still incredibly strong. It's said that more than a quarter of a century after its release, Nothing’s Shocking "tore down the walls between what was then called 'alternative' music and heavy metal."
The album routinely shows up on "Best Albums Of All Time" charts, and the band is a critical favourite among other influential musicians to this day. Not a bad creative legacy to have forged out of all that trauma, pain, and chaos.
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