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Group formed in Los Angeles, 1986, disbanded, 1991; members included Perry Farrell (lead vocals and songwriter), born Perry Bernstein c. 1960, in Queens, NY, son of a jeweler, married Casey Niccoli (a filmmaker) c. 1991; Eric Avery (bass), born c. 1966, stepson of Brian Avery (an actor); David Navarro (guitar), born c. 1968, father was in advertising; and Steve Perkins (drums), born c. 1968, son of a plastics salesman and hair-salon manager. Farrell was formerly with the band Psicom, 1981-85; Avery and Perkins were formerly with the band Disaster. Farrell has also directed, with Niccoli, the home video Gift, Warner Bros., c. 1991. Addresses: Record company-- Warner Bros., 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91510.

Perhaps best known by the public at large for their outrageousness--lewd stage antics, songs challenging conventional morality, outspoken views on drugs, censored album covers--Jane's Addiction is also acclaimed for making accomplished, progressive rock music. Centered around the gritty, unfiltered, vaguely insect-like lyrics of lead vocalist and songwriter Perry Farrell, the Los Angeles foursome offers, in the words of Rolling Stone contributor Michael Feingold, "a strange but addictive brew of image and sound as intense as a horrific nightmare, beautiful as a heavenly dream, calculated to both endear and offend."

Musically, Jane's Addiction scores high marks with what David Handelman called in Rolling Stone its "wondrous fusion of funk, metal, punk and pretty acoustics"; the band is largely noted, however, for its distinct shock value. According to Erik Davis in Rolling Stone, Jane's much-touted 1988 album, Nothing's Shocking, managed "to be distinctively perverse in a [heavy-metal] world already saturated with bad taste and bacchanalia." Likewise, listening to Ritual de lo Habitual, the group's subsequent album, "is not a passive experience, as the band's version of life's ugly-beautiful is designed to provoke reaction," allowed Stereo Review. "The horror and grandeur of sex, art, garbage, crime, pain and pleasure ... are held up for all to see with a naked honesty."

Jane's Addiction is the brain-child of multi-media artist Farrell, whose compositions--"Whores," "Had a Dad," and "Idiots Rule"--amply display the philosophy of "look, don't look away," he described to Handelman. Born Perry Bernstein in New York City, Farrell attended college in California, but dropped out his freshman year after a nervous breakdown. "I like things that are esoteric and strange," he told Handelman, "and school is not full of esoteric and strange things." He worked a number of odd jobs, including a stint as an exotic dancer in a Los Angeles club, before deciding to become a singer.

With no musical training, Farrell began working in his basement apartment, recording songs into a tape recorder. He took the name of his brother, Farrell, as his surname, in an attempt to create a pun on the word peripheral. His first band, Psicom, formed in 1981, survived four years--long enough to release an independent album that became a success on some college radio stations. Around 1985, however, Farrell set out to start a new band which, as Handelman noted, "wouldn't fit," and would openly confront issues like censorship and sexuality. He named the group Jane's Addiction after a drug-addicted prostitute who supported the band in its early days.

Joined first by bassist Eric Avery, and then by guitarist David Navarro and drummer Steve Perkins, Farrell and Jane's Addiction soon became a hit on the Los Angeles underground music scene. Playing at the Scream, the Pyramid, and the Roxy, the group featured the brash numbers "Pigs in Zen" and "Whores," in addition to slower, wrenching songs like "I Would for You" and the melodic, almost tender, "Jane Says." Farrell, as Handelman noted, moved across the stage "like a witch doctor, letting fly with his electronically processed, howling vocals." Outlandishly frocked, he sported a day-glow girdle--later opting for a black vinyl bodysuit--nosering, ghoulish mascara, and neon dreadlocks, the latter favored by other band members as well.

Jane's Addiction was soon hailed by local critics as a successor to seminal heavy-metal rockers Led Zeppelin--a comparison that would crop up again and again. In 1987 the group released a concert album on Triple X Records. By that time, intense competition was churning among major record companies wanting to sign Jane's Addiction on the strength of their reputation and the acoustic "Jane Says." Insisting on creative autonomy, Farrell and Jane's Addiction finally agreed on Warner Bros., which in 1988 released the much-lauded Nothing's Shocking.

Nothing's Shocking was praised by Steve Pond in Rolling Stone as "music that scrapes against the smooth surfaces of commercial pop." Pond noted that the group was at its "disturbing best" with "hard-boiled riff rockers, unsettling, lyrically incisive and musically excessive." One of the best cuts, according to Pond, was "Jane Says," which he described as an "acid-etched portrait of an addict, ... [and] worthy Left Coast successor to [New York City denizen Lou Reed's] 'Walk on the Wild Side.'" By Pond's reckoning the band's many comparisons to Led Zeppelin resulted from their ability to create music that was "simultaneously forbidding and weighty, delicate and ethereal."

With 1990's Ritual de lo Habitual, Jane's Addiction proved that Nothing's Shocking was no fluke. Stereo Review described the effort as consisting of "exorcisms ... of punk-funk guitar," "Farrell's sluicing, androgynous vocals," and "art-rock tone poems ... emanating from a fertile erotic subconscious." While a Guitar Player reviewer felt that Ritual de lo Habitual didn't quite match the quality of Nothing's Shocking, he nonetheless called it "a ferocious set of art-metal," saying it "reeks of the funky danger that's been missing from most mainstream rock for 20 years."

Despite limited commercial airplay, Ritual de lo Habitual managed to break Billboard' s Top Twenty and earned Jane's Addiction a gold record. Sales were undoubtedly helped by the furor over the record's cover--a Farrell creation featuring a primitivist sculpture of three naked women and icons of the sinister-seeming Mexican spiritual movement Santeria--that ensued when some record-store chains charged the band with obscenity and declined to carry the record. (In response, the album was distributed to several stores and record clubs in a generic white cover printed with the First Amendment.) Nothing's Shocking had faced a similar, if not so well-publicized, predicament two years earlier. Sales of Ritual were also helped when MTV viewers caught an eyeful of Jane's Addiction in the unsettling, but high-spirited video for "Been Caught Stealing," one of the record's most infectious cuts.

Jane's Addiction loomed large in the music press during the summer of 1991 when they launched the Lollapalooza Tour, which Spin contributor Dean Kuipers succinctly termed "an enormous traveling music and alternative-living festival." Envisioning an annual event, Farrell expressed his inspiration to Kuipers thus: "As my main experiment, I want to see what happens with a major exchange of information. I don't like the idea of the world being controlled by the news media. We need to exchange ideas somewhere else, another forum. The cafes aren't being used anymore, so let's try it at a festival. Everybody's all of a sudden aware at a different level." Headlined by Jane's Addiction, the tour--featuring rap master and street-culture spokesman Ice-T, post-punk emissaries The Butthole Surfers, The Rollins Band, Siouxie and the Banshees, Nine Inch Nails, and the cutting-edge rock 'n' roll outfit Living Colour--visited 21 cities, was attended by nearly 500,000 people, and sold out across the country.

Throughout its relatively short career, Jane's Addiction has insisted on doing things its own way--usually Farrell's. Aside from his scandal-provoking cover offerings, Farrell has also directed many of the videos for the group's songs, some that have been refused airplay on MTV because of nudity. Adding to their notoriety, various members of the band have at times spoken out about their love-hate relationship with drugs. Making an oblique reference to his own use of heroin, Farrell pointedly told Handelman that he doesn't "think it's anybody's business if I want to sit there and bang myself on the head with a board." Outspoken onstage, offstage, and on their recordings, Jane's Addiction is unlikely to acquiesce--even at the prospect of further commercial success--to what mainstream consumers of popular music deem acceptable. "Our music is an escape, a journey," drummer Perkins commented to Handelman. "And it represents drug-ridden, f--ed-up people--whether we are or not. I like when people are inspired by the music, not just going to see some industry band out to sell records. We might make choices that are harmful to us moneywise, but I don't want to see a bunch of bored old fellas playing just like the record." In September of 1991 Rolling Stone reported that Jane's Addiction--true to their convention-defying mandate--would break up after a limited series of post-Lollapalooza dates in Australia and Hawaii.

by Michael E. Mueller

Jane's Addiction's Career

Jane's Addiction's Awards

Voted best underground band and best hard rock/metal band by the L.A. Weekly, c. 1987; gold record for Ritual de lo Habitual.

Famous Works

Further Reading


Jane's Addiction Lyrics

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