By Brian Ives
In the past few years, alternative rock icons from the late ’80s and early ’90s have started hitting the age where they are being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2012, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were inducted; the Beastie Boys got in that year as well. In 2014, Nirvana entered the Hall; last year, it was Green Day.
But the one band at the center of the universe that all of those bands existed in was Jane’s Addiction. It’s strange that they have yet to make the ballot, much less be voted in.
They’ve always been open about their influences, which at the time, was a strange mix: Led Zeppelin, Joy Division, the Doors, X, David Bowie, the Stooges, the Velvet Underground, and Patti Smith all seemed to figure in; rock radio heroes along with underground acts who rarely got mainstream attention. But Jane’s looked and sounded like a completely new thing. They were heavy without being stupid. They were sexy without being sexist. They were masculine, but feminine too; it felt like people of any and all sexualities were welcome to their party. They came from the punk rock underground but also had a bit of a hippie vibe: who else has covered the Germs and the Grateful Dead?*
They were, like Zeppelin, a band with no weak link. Dave Navarro was a new kind of guitar hero who didn’t care about technical prowess, and who seemed to love the Cure’s Robert Smith and Bauhaus’s Daniel Ash as much as he did Jimmy Page. Bassist Eric Avery seemed equal parts hardcore punk and Peter Hook. And drummer Stephen Perkins, the metalhead with jazz and world music leanings, brought a unique tribal feel to the band’s sound. And of course, there was the shaman, Perry Farrell, with a voice unlike anything we’d heard before, and whose vision not only shaped Jane’s Addiction, but pop culture itself for a few years.
Nirvana is generally seen as the catalyst that heralded the alternative rock bum-rushing of the charts and the radio waves. With all due respect to that amazing band, that’s not quite accurate: it was Jane’s Addiction. But don’t take my word for it; Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine said as much when he presented Jane’s at their Rock Walk induction.
“Nirvana often gets credit for being the first ‘alternative’ band to break through, the band that changed music and led rock out of the hair metal wilderness of the ‘80s,” the guitar hero said during a June 1, 2011 ceremony at Guitar Center in Hollywood, California. “That’s just not true. It was Jane’s Addiction. Inspiring, intelligent, furiously rocking and artistically deep as f—.”
An often-told story is that Jani Lane, the singer of hair-metal band Warrant, visited his record label Columbia’s offices, and saw a huge Alice in Chains poster where a poster of his band used to hang: at that point, he realized that Seattle had beaten up the hair-metal bands from L.A.’s Sunset Strip and exiled them from pop culture’s zeitgeist. In truth, it was Jane’s who made those bands seem irrelevant a few years earlier (and, in fact, Alice’s 1990 debut, Facelift, was produced by Dave Jerden, who helmed Nothing’s Shocking in ’88, and that was surely no coincidence: AIC’s Jerry Cantrell and Sean Kinney told Radio.com that Jane’s is one of their favorite bands).
It’s worth noting that Jane’s had a different view of women than the pop metal bands, and most rock groups in general. As Farrell told Radio.com, “There’s a lot of ways you can view a woman if you’re a fella. You can look at them like they are something to f—. There’s another way to look at them. You could look at them as if they are an object of desire, someone to impress, and someone to admire, and someone to build a life with. I’ve always been that kind of a guy. You can be a playboy, that’s cool. For me, I always wanted to maximize the relationship that I would have with a woman.” That was quite a contrast to the way women were portrayed by Poison, Warrant and Mötley Crüe. For a minute, Jane’s Addiction actually made sexism seem uncool.
Their one big mainstream hit was 1990’s “Been Caught Stealing,” from their swan song, Ritual de lo Habitual. It seemed surprising every time it was played on MTV in between hits by MC Hammer, Paula Abdul and Madonna. In his essay for the liner notes of the 1997 Jane’s compilation Kettle Whistle, Henry Rollins recalled, “You never felt stupid for wearing the shirt, even after they scored a hit on MTV.” Unlike many other bands from the fringes, they didn’t recoil at the idea of headlining arenas or getting mainstream radio airplay, as opposed to Faith No More who also had a pretty surprising hit that year with “Epic” (their lead singer Mike Patton seemed appalled by his band’s appeal to mainstream audiences).
At the same time, they didn’t pander to reach larger audiences. They were happy to play the enormous venues that Led Zeppelin and the Doors had before them, but they would never dumb things down. “When [singer] Perry [Farrell] told the band to bring it down so he could say something to the audience boiling at his feet,” Rollins wrote, “he really did have something to tell them. It wasn’t some rap that he used every night. And the raps he laid on audiences were not sugar-coated. He already expected you to be smart, so he didn’t play down to you.”
He had the shamanistic power of Jim Morrison, but with more relatable lyrics. “Now the biggest gang I know, they call the government,” Farrell sang on “1%” from the band’s 1987 self titled debut, recorded live in concert(!). “A gang is a weapon that you trade your mind for/You gotta be just like them.” Like Bowie a generation earlier, Farrell and Jane’s Addiction came up with a way out of having to be “just like” anyone: be yourself, there’s others out there like you (just don’t let them think for you, either!). On 1988’s Nothing’s Shocking‘s “Mountain Song” he saw a tribe of people who could celebrate their differences: “Comin’ down the mountain, one of many children/ Everybody has their own opinion.”
That tribe of many children, each with their own opinion, seemed central to the ethos of Farrell and Jane’s Addiction. Their music was heavy, but wasn’t heavy metal; it was funky, but it wasn’t funk; sometimes they looked at the ugliest parts of society (such as in “Ted Just Admit It…” which seemed to predict YouTube and the internet), but there was also beauty (“I Would for You“) and even compassion (“Jane Says“).
They had punk’s energy and in-your-face confrontational spirit, but they didn’t adhere to its orthodoxy. As Farrell told Spin in 2011, “Punk rock couldn’t last, only because their attitude was ‘f— everything.’ Mine is ‘Include everything.'”
That “include everything” attitude had a huge effect on at least two young musicians from Seattle. In the 2006 book, Whores: An Oral Biography of Perry Farrell and Jane’s Addiction, Green River bassist Jeff Ament recalled playing a show with Jane’s. “It was the first time I had seen an alternative music show where it was like the most reverential hard rock crowd,” he said. “That night Jane’s Addiciton showed us that you could do something really different and make it work, which basically caused Green River to break up, since the other guys didn’t dig it as much as [guitarist] Stone [Gossard] and I did… When we got back to Seattle we just knew we wanted to do something else, something with less limitations, something that had endless possibilities, and that’s what Jane’s seemed like to us. It really inspired us.” Green River soon split up, with Ament and Gossard forming Mother Love Bone. When MLB band ended due to the 1990 death of singer Andrew Wood, they formed a new band: Pearl Jam.
A few hundred miles east, Jane’s Addiction inspired Billy Corgan to alter the sound of his band, the Smashing Pumpkins. As he wrote in an essay on his website, “I’d decide[d] that my band was too-soft for a crowd eager for power; our new-wavy set a disappointment; a fateful decision indeed.”
In his aforementioned Rock Walk speech, Morello echoed Ament’s sentiment about Jane’s Addiction’s hold on the crowd: the audience, he said, “Didn’t just love the band; they believed in the band.” He also noted that they were able unite different audiences: “[Guitarist] Dave Navarro’s playing gave metalheads like myself a reason to love the band, and challenged indie snobs to deal with the presence of an undeniably great rock guitarist in an underground band.”
Morello said of Farrell, “He single-handledly forged the ‘Lollapalooza nation,’ smashing barriers between genres, bringing the fringe into the mainstream and allowing rockers and rappers to share the stage for the very first time.” The first Lollapalooza tour, a brainchild of Farrell and Perkins, was the most eclectic tour in pop music in decades, and maybe ever, up to that point. It featured Rollins, hip-hop star Ice-T (who debuted his metal band, Body Count, on that tour, and also often joined Farrell for a cover of, of all things, Sly and the Family Stone’s “Don’t Call Me N—–, Whitey”), acid-damaged underground band the Butthole Surfers, New York metal hybrid Living Colour, and goth rock legends Siouxie and the Banshees. It also introduced a wider audience to an up-and-coming industrial band called Nine Inch Nails, whose leader Trent Reznor called the tour “Our biggest break,” and said “These performances essentially created and defined the term ‘alternative’ rock in the U.S., created an ongoing festival franchise that is still thriving, set the stage for Nirvana to shift popular taste a few months later” — an important point — “and were really f—ing FUN to play and attend.” (Incidentally, Nine Inch Nails should also be in the Hall of Fame by now as well, that’s an essay for another time.) The destination festivals that dominate the summer touring plans of rock, hip-hop and EDM acts can be traced directly to the success of the Lollapalooza tour of 1991.
In subsequent years, the tour helped elevate the careers of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ministry, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Primus, Alice in Chains, Tool, Rage Against the Machine, Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day and Hole, among others. It was an era that introduced a bevy of arena-worthy rock acts that dominated radio (including top 40!) and MTV, sold millions of records, and were respected by critics. It was one of the few eras in the past few decades where the best music was also the most popular and most critically acclaimed. And while Nirvana surely were a significant part of that, it was Jane’s Addiction who started the era by kicking down the door that everyone else entered through. The fans who lived through that era know this, it’s time for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to catch up and induct them in 2017.
(*It’s interesting to note that at the time they covered “Ripple” for the 1991 tribute album Deadicated, alt-rock bands rarely paid respect to the Grateful Dead; next month will see the release of Day of the Dead, a 5 CD Dead tribute made up of mostly hipster-approved indie rockers. Another instance of the band being ahead of their time.)