An Offbeat Addiction : Perry Farrell inflames passions and plays for high stakes as he leads Jane’s Addiction in its quest for importance


The sound hooked Perry Farrell the moment he left the Thai restaurant.

“That’s a live band,” he said, turning toward the adjoining Armenian restaurant in a corner mall east of Hollywood. Through the glass door, he watched as couples filled the dance floor to the insistent wailing of accordion, clarinet, drums and bass.

“This is the kind of thing I listen to,” said Farrell, who has slipped an occasional Middle Eastern modality into the rock of his own band, Jane’s Addiction. “I listen to things like this, Indian movie sound tracks. I don’t listen to much rock ‘n’ roll.”

Stepping inside, the scrawny rock ‘n’ roller with pasted-down dreadlocks, a Mexican rosary around his neck and a ring through the center of his nose crouched at the side of the room, drawing curious glances from the middle-aged Armenian diners.


But he was oblivious. For the first time all day he didn’t have to think about the deadlines and demands that spoil the fun of being an artist. Eyes wide, head bobbing, a smiling Farrell escaped into a mournful, infectious sound forged by ancient pain and resolve.

In a way, that’s what he’s after with Jane’s Addiction, the Los Angeles band that has drawn sharp battle lines during its noisy advance to the brink of possible stardom. Opinion about the group doesn’t tend to be neutral, and its recently released album “Ritual de lo Habitual” (reviewed on Page 56) figures to be closely watched as a put-up-or-shut-up response to the question that won’t go away: Is Jane’s Addiction a big noise with a knack for getting attention, or is it the real thing?

The debate is fine with Farrell, who likes to inflame passions and play for high stakes.

“It’s always been my intention to do something great,” the 31-year-old singer said earlier, over a plate of Thai duck. “I know in the back of my mind that yeah, people are looking at it like it could be an important band. . . . Yeah, I would like to be involved in an important band.

“I don’t write about current affairs or current events. I talk about things that have been going on since the beginning of time. . . . I would like a man a thousand years from now to pick up the recording the way you’d pick up something Aristotle wrote, and say, ‘I know what he’s talking about.’ ”

The Doors, the Byrds and Love in the ‘60s. X and Black Flag in the punk ‘70s and ‘80s. So far in the ‘90s, it pretty much comes down to Jane’s Addiction and Guns N’ Roses when you’re looking for the definitive Los Angeles hard-rock band.

“I kind of feel that we are that,” said Farrell. “In my heart I know it. . . . There’s a lot of bands like Guns N’ Roses. There’s not a lot of bands like us.”


True enough.

You can drop Jane’s Addiction into any number of slots--hard rock, psychedelic, white funk, art rock. Wherever you put them, they’re different from the other bands in there. Farrell’s voice conveys a child’s excitement and wonder in an old man’s rasp, and his charged, restless vision is framed in a sound that’s haunting and head-rattling, intimate and majestic, frightening and tender.

“We were trying to get into something that was very far, far removed from reality, yet a person can follow it, and maybe even be scared to be there,” Farrell said. “If anything, I think that’s where our band does well. We’ll take you places. It’s not just music, it’s not just putting together a song. It’s creating something that’s like theater.”

On stage, the startling metal/psychedelic attack and Farrell’s over-the-top, shamanistic performances become a purging rite of passage, providing release through ritual. Farrell is a champion of good old rock ‘n’ roll mayhem and audience participation.

Farrell likes to keep his emotions close to the surface. When he talked about how much he loves his girlfriend, he appeared to be on the verge of tears, but his mood swings kept bringing him back to complaints about “greedy men” with their hands in his pockets. He casts himself a champion of pure freedom, a challenger of limitations locked in eternal combat with the forces of convention. His adopted name is a play on peripheral .

Farrell arrived in L.A. after running away from his Queens, N.Y., home at 17. He lived in his car at the beach before eventually drifting into the rock scene, and after a stint with a band called Psi-Com he enlisted bassist Eric Avery, guitarist Dave Navarro and drummer Stephen Perkins to form Jane’s Addiction.

Abrasive and provocative, erratic and unruly, the flamboyant Farrell became a vivid presence around town as Jane’s Addiction elbowed its way out of the underground club scene. They released an independent live album, then signed with Warner Bros. after a record-company bidding war. “Nothing’s Shocking,” their 1988 major-label debut, sold 250,000.

The group has the potential to command a unique coalition, but it wasn’t just another case of mapping demographics or hooking into a fashion curve. This group’s bond with its followers went deeper than that.


Farrell can sense this solidarity, and he has a theory.

“If everybody said, ‘Hey man, let’s go and talk to this guy, ‘cause we’ve been ripped off,’ I’m the guy who’s in the front. I’m the one who’ll knock on the guy’s door and say, ‘Hey man, we want our money back.’ Maybe I’ll take the first punch. Maybe that’s what they get out of me.”

The key, he says, is to live what he writes.

“I don’t enjoy listening to songs that I know the people didn’t experience. . . . The way I look at it, songwriting or song making started because somebody stood up and had a story to tell. People would listen to it and it intrigued them. It meant something to that guy, therefore people felt something from it.

“But to sit there and make up this story that comes from nowhere and it’s not grounded with any sadness, sorrow, joy or anything, it’s just a waste of time. . . . It’s gotta be founded in something that’s inspired you or hurt you or made you feel really happy.”

Farrell’s quest for realism and free expression has led to controversy, mainly

over his record covers--naked Siamese twins with flaming heads on the first, naked fetish dolls on the new one. But he insists his intentions are pure.

“I like giving people a rise. I’m not trying to outrage you. I’m not this stupid kid with a nihilistic outlook on life like I just destroy. I like colors. I’m drawn to colors, I’m drawn to love.”

For someone who likes to look like a walking piece of folk art, Farrell keeps a low profile.


He avoids rock clubs because he doesn’t like to be recognized. Instead, he spends time with the homeless beach dwellers near the Venice apartment he shares with his girlfriend, Casey Niccoli, who co-directs his film/video projects. Rather than ride a Harley to L.A.’s trendy nightspots, he drives around in his pickup truck looking through trash dumpsters. Mainly, he wants to make things.

He writes the songs, oversees the arrangements, produces the records, builds the sculptures and other constructions for the covers. Right now he’s designing the stage for the upcoming tour and facing 25 hours of footage for the band’s new video/movie.

Stimulating stuff, but the external pressures of the record business tend to get in the way. “If I would just be left alone it’d be so much fun,” he said.

But being left alone doesn’t seem to be in the cards. He simply has a nose for conflict, and since he writes what he knows, pain has become Jane’s Addiction’s great theme.

Bumped my head. I’m a battering ram.

Goddamn took the pain.

Cut myself, said “So what?”


... Took the pain

There ain’t no right! Ain’t no wrong now

Only pleasure and pain .

--”Ain’t No Right”

“If I had my druthers, next life I would prefer to be on a planet where there was less pain and a lot more pleasure,” Farrell said. “This is a very tricky world. It’s a very exciting world because of the element of pain and danger. . . . I would make a very bad parent and I’m sure I’m not a good influence on people because I would advise people to take risks and to go out and do things that are dangerous.”

Farrell is resigned to his role as a lightning rod for aggression.

“I really would just as soon do without it, but I guess you take on in this world what you’re equipped to,” he said. “So maybe I’m equipped to take on a lot of fights. . . . It doesn’t feel good doing it. But the pain that comes with things can also make you a very strong spirit.

“You know who was a hero of mine? Muhammad Ali. . . . Look what he did. In the ‘60s, in the midst of the war, he objected to joining the Army, he changed his name, his religion, he said, ‘I’m the greatest.’

“The man burned himself up. He made everything look so easy. Something that’s so difficult, taking shots in the face. And every time he did, he would open his mouth and eyes real wide and shake his head ‘No no no.’ And now he can hardly even speak. Because he made it look so easy, but those shots really took their toll on him.


“I can relate to the guy, but he also scares me, because I don’t want to end up like him. Because I’m the kind of guy who can take shots and shake my head and say, ‘It don’t hurt, look look look,’ and do my windmill with my right hand and punch you with my left and then move my feet real fast.

“But the poor guy’s paid for it. And I just feel sometimes people that have that flamboyance, they burn fast. They burn themselves up fast. It’s unavoidable. Yeah, a lot happens in my life. Maybe I’ll burn out fast, but I’m gonna leave behind something good. I know it.”