Finally Ready to Trust Himself

Richard Cromelin is a Times staff writer

Mick has his Keith. Axl had his Slash. Bono has his Edge. And in Jane's Addiction, Perry Farrell has his Dave Navarro.

These are the guitar-hero sidekicks, the foils to the front men, tight-lipped conjurers who let their fingers do their talking. Not too often does one step out of that role with a substantial words-and-music statement of his own, but more than 10 years after L.A. legend Jane's Addiction broke up, Navarro is finally ready to give it a shot.

His first solo album, "Trust No One," arrives in stores Tuesday bearing some of his old band's majesty and mystery, but its emotional signature is a sense of overwhelming release, as if the musician has popped open a lid holding down a lifetime of compressed pain. (See review, Page 70.)

"In Jane's I never specifically spoke words." Navarro says during lunch at a West Hollywood health-food restaurant. "I've always had my guitar as an avenue of creativity and expression, but it's obviously less specific. This is the first opportunity I've had to actually speak about what it is I've gone through.

"I've been asked by a lot of people, 'Why has it taken you so long, whyhaven't you done it before?' I just have to trust that there's some kind of spiritual rule at play here. It's not that Ihaven't tried to force these things for a long time, so it's almost in spite of my actions I'm here, whether I like it or not."

Now that he has the opportunity, he isn't being shy about it. In addition to the album, he's assembling a book that documents, Warhol-like, a chilling descent into a drugged numbness.

Navarro, now 33 and drug-free, has more than his generation's usual list of goblins to blame. There was also the murder of his mother when he was 13, a trauma that drove him to escape into music and drugs, and left him unable to connect with people emotionally--hence the album title.

But now that he's on the other side, he's reaching saturation with the "poor me" victim role.

"I didn't have the foresight to know that years later I'd still be discussing it," he says. "Because I feel like I've hammered the darkness enough, and where I'm at now is what's really exciting to me.... I've gotten a sense from a lot of people that they're wondering why I'm not the over-the-top rock guitar player guy anymore."

Navarro still looks the part, the rock 'n' roll buccaneer with a goatee, bandanna and earrings, his black tank top baring tattoo-covered arms. He comes to this sprouts 'n' salad emporium every day--sometimes twice a day, he says. That's just one measure of the changes in his life. There's also the daily workout at the gym, and a fondness for browsing in bookstores, going to the movies with his girlfriend of seven months, and playing low-stakes poker at a casino in Commerce.

All of which is safer, if less ink-worthy, than shooting up while driving a car, or drawing and injecting a partner's blood during sex, or, paranoid, picking up a shotgun and confronting a utility crew doing a late-night repair on the street outside his Hollywood Hills house.

Navarro and co-author Neil Strauss (who also co-wrote Marilyn Manson's best-selling "The Long Hard Road out of Hell") recount these and other episodes in "Don't Try This at Home," a book for HarperCollins' Regan Books that documents the final year of Navarro's latest term as a heavy drug user.

(Planned for publication this summer, it will now be rescheduled because Navarro decided to do some last-minute revisions. See Pop Eye, Page 62.)

The photo-and-text account depicts Navarro as the proprietor of a sort of sex-drugs-and-rock-'n'-roll Xanadu stocked with hidden cameras, and open to a parade of hookers and hangers-on, celebrities and wannabes.

The question seemed to be whether Navarro would survive, never mind finish making an album.

"It hurt me very badly to see Dave there," says Jane's Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins, a close friend of Navarro since they were 14. "Was I worried? Oh God, yeah .... I'm very happy he came out of whatever darkness" he was in.

"I see Dave now emerging so much more focused and more interested in showing his art to the world. He keeps it very private, and I think he's such a great talent it'd be great for everybody to see it."

Another friend never lost confidence.

"I knew Dave well enough to know that he would make it through that journey," says Andy Slater, the record executive who signed him as a solo artist in 1998. "I don't know if unscathed, but intact.... I just never got this sense of hopelessness from Dave."

Says Navarro, "I definitely started getting the message that in spite of my actions I was probably gonna live, which is a much scarier place to be. Because it got to the place where it was scarier to face another day than the possibility of death."

Navarro has gone clean and then relapsed before, so he knows the drill.

"Ultimately what I learned was that I was just a very fear-based guy who had a lot of bad experiences and was looking back on the past and living as a result of those fears.

"If I used my past experiences to foretell my own future, I was sunk, and that's what I was doing, and I have to catch myself doing it now. I'm in no way cured. It's a daily self-check-in that I've got to do."

Experiences don't come much worse than the one that devastated a 13-year-old Navarro: The murder of his mother, a model and a set designer for TV commercials. The killer was her boyfriend, a man who had helped raise the boy since his parents' divorce.

"I think that I've come to some sort of peace with it in the sense that I know what negative effect it had on my views regarding relationships and my fears with trusting people," says Navarro, talking easily as he eats a salad.

"I've been able to realize that everybody isn't gonna hurt me.... The guy who killed my mother isn't a metaphor for all men in relationships. It's just one guy who had a lot of issues. He was just as sick with his sickness as I have been with mine. I just didn't kill anybody."

In the wake of her death, Navarro turned to drugs and the kind of angry and moody music that provided some solace.

"I related to punk rock. And Pink Floyd was a big one. Love & Rockets and Bauhaus, Joy Division for sure, big time.... Lou Reed, Velvet Underground of course. And then there was the years I was into heavy metal, the Goth thing. The English gloomy music, the Cure, things like that.... It touched me."

That was the combination Navarro brought with him when he and Perkins, his drummer pal from Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, teamed up with their friend Eric Avery and the singer from his band Psi-Com, a dread-locked Perry Farrell.

They became Jane's Addiction and took over the city's club scene with their alternately pummeling and tender music. They released three albums, the last two on Warner Bros., and became a major force in alternative rock. It was a short-lived but long-resonating reign.

"Jane's is kind of my home," says Navarro, who is gearing up for a Jane's show on Saturday at the KROQ Weenie Roast at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, and then a late-summer reunion tour. "I started playing in the band when I was 17, and it's kind of like my first love, you know."

Navarro shook his drug habit and went on to play with another L.A. institution, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, for four years, leaving by mutual agreement due to increasingly obvious musical differences. He started to work on his own songs with the band's drummer, Chad Smith, and Slater, who has also guided the careers of the Wallflowers, Macy Gray and Fiona Apple, signed him to his Sony-distributed Clean Slate label.

"I thought there was a lot there and a lot more to be done, and then we started working on it," says Slater, who bought the album from Sony when he assumed the presidency of Capitol Records in May.

"With singers, you either believe them or you don't," Slater adds, "and it was never really a question when I heard that initial tape that here was a guy who was really honest. His whole basis for what he does is being sometimes brutally honest."

With the album track "Rexall" doing well on radio, Capitol might wish Navarro were touring with his own band and music rather than in Jane's Addiction, but Slater tries to see the big picture.

"I think it's an extension of who he is, and I want to see that tour too," he says. "So we'll just find a way to segue into his solo thing. He's a great artist, and great artists have to survive, they have to live and breathe, they need inspiration. I signed him because he's got this broad vision, so I don't want us to stifle it."

Navarro will take that, and at this point he doesn't even mind that it took so long to get here.

"I don't think I was ready for it before," he says. "I just don't think I was at a place two or three years ago when I did original versions of the songs. I don't think I was through the feelings I was talking about. I was probably still in them a little bit, and so there was no emotional closure.... I might have been still sitting there with those feelings like an open wound." *

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World