Imagine, for a moment, a world in which Jane’s Addiction never existed. Nothing’s Shocking was never released in the summer of ’88. Lollapalooza never launched three summers later. Perry Bernstein remained on the East Coast, never boarding that Greyhound Bus and heading across country to Los Angeles like so many dreamers and visionaries before him did. What kind of world would that be?
No kind of world we’d want to live in.
Without Jane’s Addiction, there might still have been a Soundgarden, an Alice in Chains, a Nine Inch Nails, a Rage Against the Machine, and even a Nirvana, but they wouldn’t sound the same. As Tom Morello said when inducting Jane’s into Guitar Center’s Rock Walk of Fame in June 2011: “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 ’80’s. That’s just not true. It was Jane’s Addiction.”
As the years have passed, Jane’s Addiction have kept pace in a modern culture that the band helped to expand and progress. They didn’t invent the metal fan who also loves rap. That kid already existed. So did the Goth kid who also owned Zeppelin records. But before all music and information was instantly available, Jane’s did enlighten the metal fan who’d never even had a chance to hear rap — or industrial or prog or British indie — and that metal fan is better and more open-minded for it. And now, so are their children. “In 1988, Jane’s Addiction saved my life,” Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins has said. Jane’s didn’t invent modern rock, but they turned modern rockers into an enduring and inclusive tribe. “Jane’s was the only band I saw in those times who had that ‘I-will-follow-them-anywhere type’ of crowd. There were a lot of great bands around at that time,” Henry Rollins told Spin, “but Jane’s had this tribal thing happening with their fans. It was very powerful.”
August 2013 marks 25 years since the release of Nothing’s Shocking — an album like no other then, and like few others now, as influential as it is. Many critics were puzzled in ’88 upon first hearing those 11 songs. “A classic love ’em or hate ’em outfit,” Rolling Stone observed. “The band is great. And it is also full of shit. Often at the same time.” The music runs from proggy pomp (“Up the Beach”), to stripped-down, barking punk (“Idiot’s Rule,” “Had A Dad”), to thundering hard rock (“Mountain Song,” “Ocean Size”). It’s dubby and doomy one moment (“Ted Just Admit It,” which features samples of dialogue from serial killer Ted Bundy) and sweet and pastoral the next (“Summertime Rolls”). There’s whimsy inside (“Standing in the Shower Thinking”), hilarity, too (the faux lounge-jazz of “Thank You Boys”), and… there’s “Pigs In Zen.” How does one even describe “Pigs in Zen” except to ask, “What other songs are like ‘Pigs in Zen?’” Oh, yes, and it also contains modern rock’s “Free Bird” — the sad, sweet, and eternal “Jane Says,” a steel-drum-driven pop gem that everyone can sing along to. The riff and the chorus are in our DNA a quarter-century on.
Nothing’s Shocking is one of those once heard, never forgotten albums that bands don’t even pretend to make anymore; easily on par with other titanic releases that came out of L.A. in the ’80s and early ’90s: Appetite For Destruction, Straight Outta Compton, Paul’s Boutique, and The Chronic. And yet, the Jane’s oeuvre and myth doesn’t feel aged, or classic. If anything, it’s still a live wire; dangerous and dark in spite of the passage of time. “My sex and my drugs and my rock n’ roll,” Perry Farrell sang back in 1990 on the Ritual De Lo Habitual album, “are the only things that keeps me here.” Two decades later there’s not one note of corniness or kitsch to Jane’s. While the band never said, “Hey kids, drugs are cool,” they made no apology for exulting in substances stronger than pot. Sex, as Jane’s portrayed it, was bold as well; a ritual, with candles lit, altars built, spirits stirred. It’s part of what bonded them to a devoted fan base and let’s face it, what kept them interesting.
Lyrically, Jane’s made sense of a rapidly changing world — a time when mutually assured nuclear destruction and the AIDS crisis were looming realities, racial tension was at a modern peak, and a generation gap between the Baby Boomers and a still-unnamed Generation X was growing increasingly wide and hostile. Jane’s didn’t shrink from any of this. They celebrated it. Their music was something to wrap yourself in and, certainly in the ’80s, it protected you from the elements in the sometimes terrifying new age. Jane’s would not be bullied. When MTV refused to play the video for the single “Mountain Song,” the band simply added some footage to it and sold it in stores (a few years before Madonna had the same “idea”). When several stores wouldn’t stock their 1990 album Ritual De Lo Habitual (as good as Nothing’s Shocking and anchored by the epic “Three Days”), Jane’s re-issued it with a white sleeve and the First Amendment printed on it. Here was a band who knew how to give the finger constructively and with a little mischief.
Jane’s Addiction passed into legend early and by design. They broke up after six years together in 1991 at the height of their popularity: headlining the inaugural Lollapalooza tour. ”That first Lollapalooza, we were in Los Angeles recording Nevermind,” Dave Grohl told Time Out Chicago. “We heard about the show and Kurt and I got tickets somehow and decided to go down. And when we arrived, there were more piercings, more tribal tattoos and more Rollins Band T-shirts than I’d ever seen in one place at one time. That was early summer. By that fall, radio and MTV and music had changed,” Grohl said, adding, “I can’t even count how many people Perry’s opened the doors for.”
Next year, Jane’s Addiction will be eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll of Fame and could join other acts who are credited with bringing the college-rock sensibility into the mainstream, like R.E.M. and the Beastie Boys. While Jane’s Addiction absolutely deserve to be there, in a way, like most larger-than-life inductees, they’re more than a band: They’re a tool for challenging your dreary reality. Perry Farrell saw the country (and the record industry) and asked, “Why is it this way, when it should be that way?” Then he changed it.
Jane’s Addiction is still a frighteningly powerful live band and an ever-exploring recording act. Original members Farrell, Dave Navarro, and Stephen Perkins reunited in 1997, then again in 2001, and released a third studio album (fourth if you count the live 1987 self-titled release, known to most fans as “Triple X,” for the indie label that released it) Strays, which features current Jane’s bassist, Chris Chaney, and was produced by the legendary Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd’s The Wall). In 2008 founding bassist Eric Avery rejoined. In 2011 The Great Escape Artist was released to critical acclaim. “It sounds like a band re-vitalized,” Spin raved, while Billboard called the album “a dynamic collection that features some of the band's best work."
Farrell, Navarro, and Perkins, it should be said, still look almost exactly as they did in the ’90s. How on earth is that the case? Are they ingesting whatever it is David Bowie ingested up to 2004? This eternal youth visage must make it easier for their new fans to attend shows and imagine it’s still 1988 or 1991, but trust us, the rock world — it’s politics, business practices, and factions — were very different back then. Not to mention the music.
So again, take a moment and imagine a world in which Jane’s Addiction never existed. It’d be a less exciting place to live, wouldn’t it? Here is a band that helped keep rock and roll unpredictable, inspiring, dangerous, and constantly moving forward. As it should be. - Marc Spitz