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The Dance of Decadence: The Uncensored History of Jane’s Addiction

If you did something dangerously fun and outrageous in the late’80s and ’90s that your parents didn’t like, you can probably thankPerry Farrell and Jane’s Addiction. Stalking out of Los Angeles’seedy underground after hair metal wilted, they revolutionized whatrock music sounded and looked like, and became thegodfathers of the Alternative Nation. This is their shockinghistory–from wiseguys and Fila headbands to goth surfers,transsexuals, Siamese twins, Lollapalooza, and Carmen Electra.Proceed at your own risk.

If you did something dangerously fun and outrageous in the late ’80s and ’90s that your parents didn’t like, you can probably thank Perry Farrell and Jane’s Addiction. Stalking out of Los Angeles’ seedy underground after hair metal wilted, they revolutionized what rock music sounded and looked like, and became the godfathers of the Alternative Nation. This is their shocking history–from wiseguys and Fila headbands to goth surfers, transsexuals, Siamese twins, Lollapalooza, and Carmen Electra. Proceed at your own risk.

Excerpted from the magazine

NAVARRO: It was our first exposure to this elaborately seedy, fabulously filthy Hollywood underground scene that we’d only ever heard or read about. I was, like, 18 years old–in awe. I was over the moon. I’d finally made it at last.

NICCOLI: When you’re 27 in rock’n’roll [like Perry was] with nothing really happening, you think you’re old. That’s why Steve, Dave, and Eric were seven or eight years younger than Perry. He felt like he could mold them and they would forever do what he wanted. Eventually, they’d grow up, but by then he’d have gotten what he needed out of them.

BAINTER: I think Perry and Dave had a genuine bond, though. Both their moms had died unnatural deaths.

PERKINS: Dave’s mom was murdered. He was about 15. I met him when I was 14 and a half. I knew his mom, and I knew the guy that killed her. It was too shocking to even grasp, especially for a 15-year-old. As a best friend, I just tried to be there for him. We played music. We talked. We’d go meet girls. Whatever it took to free ourselves from the pain.

BAINTER: Dave’s parents were divorced, but they were on good speaking terms, and they would trade him off for weekend visitations. So one weekend he was with his dad, and he was going home to mom and his mom’s best friend, who he called his “Auntie.” They called and called, but no answer–very strange. Finally, Dave and his dad drive over, and they find his mom and Auntie bound and gagged in the closet–chopped up. His mom’s boyfriend, who was quite close with Dave, is just gone–never heard from again. He had even played softball with Dave and had been a second dad to Dave for, like, four or five years.

NAVARRO: I used to focus on the tragedy and how certain negative things in my life have defined me. It took a long, long time to realize that.

GEHMAN: Heroin was really taking its hold. There weren’t a lot of people doing it in the early to mid-’80s. It took hold at the end of the ’80s and continued, as we know, into the ’90s.

BAINTER: We all were total suckers for drugs.

KARYN CANTOR: Perry would say, “We all have an addiction,” but we’d all sort of say, “Well, it’s her problem” or “It’s his problem.”

NAVARRO: 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.

NICCOLI: When Perry and I first started dating, we did heroin together a few times, long before it became a problem. It was just us getting high, sitting around making Christmas cards for our friends. We thought of it as a way of opening up our creativity.

MARC GEIGER: Three of the four members–not Stephen–were very into heroin, as well as many other things, and it was clearly a big influence on the band and their behavior. Perry definitely believed that drugs fueled creativity.

BAINTER: “Jane says, ‘I’m done with Sergio.'” Yeah. Sergio was a drug dealer who lived nearby. He was El Salvadoran and sold drugs to send money home to his family. I was strung out, and he was using that to manipulate me. My parents divorced, and my mother and her new husband bought this house in the south of Spain. I had the opportunity to go over there, but I couldn’t because I was strung out. I had this idea that it was this big reward of mine that if I could just get sober, I could go away to Spain. You know, “I’m going to kick tomorrow.”

AVERY: Sometimes we’d do acoustic jams on the porch at the Wilton House. I’ll never forget when Jane asked us if we’d play a sad song for her, and I had to shake my head and say, “Jane, we just got through playing ‘Jane Says,’ one of the saddest songs in the world.”

JERDEN: When I first heard [“Jane Says”], I just thought it was another good song they’d written. I didn’t know it would become the “Stairway to Heaven” of modern rock.

DEAN NALEWAY: My partner Peter Heuer and I started Triple X [Records/Management] in ’85. We were out in the clubs all the time looking for new bands to build a roster. We’d already staked out a few bands when we saw Perry handing out flyers, and we were like, “Pretty interesting-looking guy. Who is he?” We wanted to do a three-record deal with Jane’s at first. They were unknown; we had a little bit of clout. But Perry had his eye on the big picture. He knew that three records for us was too much. He really wanted to get his show on the road.

FARRELL: We told Warner Bros. we definitely wanted to sign, but we wanted to come out on our own label or an indie first and then grow organically from there. We said, “We appreciate all the money you’re offering, but we need to come out on Triple X with a live record first.”

NALEWAY: We invited everybody down for a show at the Roxy. We put up everything we had to make that live record [1987’s Jane’s Addiction]. We even sold our cars.

FARRELL: I behaved like a prick and cussed out the entire record industry in the audience. I was telling everybody they needed to lose weight. I was like, “Fuck you all–you can all kiss our ass.” It was typical overwrought histrionics. But we made sure to put on a great show because it was being recorded.

FORREST: Anthony [Kiedis] and I were watching [the show at the Roxy], and it was just so mesmerizing and powerful. It was everything that everybody who had bands hoped to accomplish. It gives me chills still, how great they were. We walked out to the car, and Anthony was all quiet and I was all quiet, and then he said, “What are you thinking?” And I said, “I’m thinking why do I even [bother to] play music.” And he said, “Yeah, me too.” And he just started the car and drove away. They were that far ahead of everybody else.


FARRELL: Things were hot. Enter the record companies. Soon they were all buzzing around.

NAVARRO: I don’t remember much about the bidding war. All I remember was, they took you to Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset for record-label dinners back in the ’80s. Always the same place. I don’t know why.

AVERY: All of a sudden, we had MCA–labels like that–taking us out to dinner, but we knew we were never going to sign with them, because Warner Bros. was just the right place. It was like visiting a college dorm. You could walk down the hallways and hear music blaring out of everyone’s office–what a great vibe.

NALEWAY: Their hearts and minds were already set on Warners. We could get anybody on the phone, from the top man down, which impressed the hell out of Perry. And the Warners deal gave them 100 percent creative freedom. But we played around anyway and milked it for some good meals.

FARRELL: I never ate so well in my life.

NICCOLI: When he put his mind to something, Perry always got things done. He was a leader. He stuck his nose into everybody’s business, and sometimes he pissed people off. But he always got what he wanted.

FARRELL: I liked Dave Jerden’s work on [the Brian Eno/David Byrne album] My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, so I was excited to work with him. He knew how to do a lush production with a hard-rock band.

JERDEN: I jumped at the chance to make a record with them. What other band since X–and then, even further back, the Doors and the Velvet Underground–could have segued from songs about serial killers and terminal-addiction despair to singing beautiful, tender love songs about summertime? Perry gave me a tape of all these bits and pieces of music that the band had. It had this feeling like our entire culture was in there, distilled into one idea, and that idea became Nothing’s Shocking.

PERKINS: Nothing’s Shocking was a combination of everything in the world today. Even back then, there was reality TV when [notorious serial killer] Ted Bundy was representing himself in court.

JERDEN: Perry has always been interested in the dark side, and with Ted Bundy, I don’t think you can get any darker than that. He gave me this video of Ted Bundy, and he said that he wanted to use some of the dialogue, so we worked it in. They were going through a really tough time personally. Dave Navarro was still having a rough time [with his mother’s murder]. And there were tensions between Eric and Perry.

AVERY: Our relationship deteriorated into an unspoken standoff; it was kind of like the Cold War, where both sides knew that all-out war would be devastating. It created this weird détente, this nonverbalized agreement not to escalate. So we never did. It’s surprising, with all the out-of-controlness, that he and I never got physical with each other. We didn’t even yell. In more roundabout, passive ways, we’d say things to hurt each other’s feelings.

NICCOLI: Early on in the band, Eric got drunk one night and tried to pick up on me. We were both really wasted. When I told Perry what happened, he basically stopped liking Eric. Perry just never got past that. He hated him forever because of this stupid incident. I’d kissed him back, but I was just drunk. It was nothing–just stupid puppy-love stuff.

FARRELL: But did she tell you he also went on to confess his undying love for her? That was uncalled for. I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t try to steal girlfriends. C’mon, man, you never try to pick up on your bandmates’ girlfriends–even in rock’n’roll, man. I mean, please.

AVERY: Things got really bad between me and Perry. We had a meeting to figure out the publishing. I wanted it to be split equally between everyone, but Perry wanted 50 percent for writing the lyrics, plus another portion of the remaining 50 percent for the music. Dave, Stephen, and I wound up getting 12.5 percent apiece.

NICCOLI: Perry could argue, “Well, without me, it would have just been a great bass groove in his garage forever.”

JERDEN: I drove to work at the studio one day, and Perry was in his car in the parking lot with Stephen and Dave, and they were pulling out. Perry says, “The band just broke up. There won’t be any record. See ya!”

AVERY: Warner Bros. called an emergency meeting, because Perry said it was his way or no way. We actually broke up for a day. Perry said, “It’s got to be this way, or I’m walking.” And we said, “Let’s walk.” But we compromised and obviously kept going. David made a T-shirt for our next show that had 12.5 PERCENT spray-painted on it.

JERDEN: We finished the record, and then the real trouble began. When we turned it in, someone at Warner Bros. was saying, “We’re concerned about this record. It doesn’t sound like anything else.” It was the time of Guns N’ Roses and the metal-lite thing. And this was before they’d even seen the cover!

STEVEN BAKER: In 1988, nine of the 11 leading record chains refused to carry Nothing’s Shocking because of its cover [which featured a photo of the Farrell/Niccoli sculpture of two naked, Siamese-twin nymphettes].

FARRELL: Well, obviously nudity doesn’t fly well at Wal-Mart.

PERKINS: We had to issue the record covered with brown paper.

BAKER: We [Warner Bros.] financed a video for “Mountain Song,” which contained a few frames of Casey’s bare breasts, and MTV wouldn’t play it. So Perry said he wanted to release it as a single on video. He was like, “Okay, so MTV won’t play my video? Fuck it, we’ll sell it to break even. Let the kids who like us see what we’re doing.” Then he added 20-plus minutes of band footage [Soul Kiss]. It’s commonplace on CDs now.

JERDEN: When the record came out, the mainstream rock press just trashed it. Rolling Stone said, “This band is full of shit.”

FLEA: I remember the first time I heard Nothing’s Shocking. Perry had just finished up recording, and we were on our way to a friend’s house to watch the big Tyson-Spinks fight. On the way there, Perry was like, “Oh, this is my new record, listen to it.” And then I realized what a great, great band they were. It was just a big, weird day. I heard Jane’s music for the first time, Tyson knocked Spinks out in the first round, and then I came home and got the call that [Chili Peppers guitarist] Hillel [Slovak] was dead.

JERDEN: I went into a record store and asked this guy with glasses and a ponytail behind the counter if he had Nothing’s Shocking. And he looked at me and said, “Are you kiddin’? I wouldn’t carry that piece of crap in this store.” I knew then we were either going to make a big belly flop or we were really gonna do something.

NAVARRO: KXLU [at Loyola Marymount University] was the first local station to play our music. The first time I heard us-I think it was the “Mountain Song” demo-you would have thought I was signed up to be on the first civilian flight to the moon. It was just the biggest deal.

FARRELL: The success of R.E.M. really helped what they now call “modern rock”; it helped it catch fire. Suddenly, college radio began to become important to the record industry. One tour we’re playing a club in Phoenix, trying to get paid while this guy is choking our manager and pulling a gun on him. Then [by the Ritual de lo Habitual tour] we’re selling out Madison Square Garden.

BAKER: There were some limitations on the first Jane’s album. We didn’t have a video on MTV, and there weren’t that many [alternative] stations. They didn’t mean as much. They didn’t have the numbers they do now. Nothing’s Shocking did about 200,000 to 250,000.

JERDEN: Nothing’s Shocking eventually found an audience all right [more than a million copies sold]. There’s not one person I talk to today who’s in their thirties who didn’t listen to that record in college. Nevermind was a fucking classic record, and the press has marked that as the beginning of this big change in alternative becoming mainstream. But it wasn’t. Nothing’s Shocking was. It didn’t have the same sales, but it made the same cultural mark and it made it first.

BROWN: That whole [Seattle] thing came out of Jane’s. There wasn’t anything like us at the time. If Jane’s hadn’t happened, Seattle wouldn’t have happened. The scene was bubbling up, and Soundgarden and Mudhoney were the first ones out there, but they were too paranoid of L.A. [music-business people], and they hesitated and missed the window. Nirvana ended up getting the credit. Jane’s got mired down because we were the first ones cutting through. Even though the sheep in the music industry hated us, they realized that this was happening, so once they didn’t get Jane’s, they started going for all the bands that opened for us, like Soundgarden.

CHRIS CORNELL: 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.

HENRY ROLLINS: Jane’s was the only band I saw in those times who had that I-will-follow-them-anywhere type of crowds. 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.

FLEA: Without a doubt, to me, they are the most important rock band of the ’80s.

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