Perry Farrell and Nothing's Shocking Are Still Converting the Masses
Press photo of Jane's Addiction
What has most distinguished Perry Farrell's career is his willingness to experiment and take chances. Over the past 15 years, he has strayed from the unique rock of his groundbreaking band Jane's Addiction to mix genres like rock with dance music in projects like Perry Etty vs Joachim Garraud. Despite the amazing musical journey that Farrell has taken over the last 30 years, on May 8-10, he, Dave Navarro, Stephen Perkins and Chris Chaney will celebrate the recent 25th anniversary of Nothing's Shocking, the first Jane's Addiction studio album, with a performance of the entire album in the intimate space of the new Las Vegas venue, Brooklyn Bowl. And while some of the old vanguard Jane's fans will be in attendance, so will neophytes.
Santa Ana native Cindy Arebalo has been a fan since a trip to Lake Havasu in the early '90s, where she and her friends listened to Jane's Addiction's sophomore masterpiece Ritual de lo Habitual for the entire weekend. When she returned, she bought her own copies of Ritual and Nothing's Shocking, and she has not stopped listening to them since. She raised her daughter, 23 year-old Alondra Shields, on the music. Naturally, she too became a fan, and now Shields is accompanying her mother to one of the Las Vegas performances, where she will be properly baptized. To clarify what, exactly, Shields is being baptized into, the Weekly spoke with Farrell. The day after he returned from taking his Lollapalooza musical festival to South America, where he had been introducing hundreds of thousands of Argentines, Paulistanos, and others to their first alternative rock performances, he recalled the humble years.
Ian Curtis performing with Joy Division, as captured by Kevin Cummins
In mid 80s post-punk LA, Sunset Blvd. was occupied by big-haired, spandex-wearing, Heavy Metal bands, but there was a strong musical "undercurrent." Farrell said, "People like Martin Hannett [producer of Joy Division, Buzzcocks, Jilted John, etc.] were doing records that were subversive, and, from a production standpoint, it was experimental and it was fearless." He added, "It was drug music; it was music for the disenfranchised -- suicidal, anti-establishment, anti-pop -- but it was divine. It was gorgeous. It was like a blanket. It was like the feeling of heroin. It took away the blues. It took away your sense of awkwardness. It was awkward, but in its awkwardness, you felt you had a friend; you had a place to go, and that was what was going on when we wrote Nothing's Shocking."
In lofts, warehouses, and in the desert, Farrell threw parties where Jane's would perform. The performances, with his original bandmates (Navarro, Perkins, and Eric Avery), were so intense that word spread and reached the music industry. Farrell recalls, "They couldn't deny us because we were so vicious and dangerous live that people had to come see what they'd heard about. They weren't hearing it, necessarily, on the radio, but they'd heard legends of what we were about." Part of the legend included the fact that, during shows, Farrell would expose himself. This act, Farrell says, was in the traditions of Iggy Pop and Darby Crash.
Nothing's Shocking album cover designed by Perry Farrell
After the album was released, the iconic single "Jane Says" became a radio darling, and critics took notice. Steve Pond from Rolling Stone wrote: "...as much as any band in existence, Jane's Addiction is the true heir to Led Zeppelin, creating music that's simultaneously foreboding and weighty, delicate and ethereal."
This was the music that Shields was raised on growing up with her mother in Placentia. It did not, however, make an immediate impact."I appreciate it a lot more than the seven year old me, who just wanted to listen to my horrible music [Spice Girls]" Shields says. "My mother was very patient with me."
Granted, the pop machine is not designed to recognize or promote original acts, but given the developments of the Information Age, it is harder than ever for youths like Shields to discover truly inspired music. Wannabe rock stars have the Internet and various vehicles by which to rise to fame (American Idol, the Disney machine, etc.), but Farrell equates current popularity trends with the behavior of stock tickers: "Like the trends changing on Wall Street, the numbers go up and down...It's all happening so fast, it almost seems like nothing really matters." And whereas Miley Cyrus offers token demonstrations of rebellion, which appeal to most teens, Farrell is not impressed. His philosophy on what makes a legendary musical act is: "You've got to come from the gutter, and you've got to know all the people in the gutter. You've got to accept them, and they have to accept you. To be truly legendary, there's no short cuts."
Photo of Alondra Shields (left) and Cindy Arebalo (right) courtesy of Alondra Excene Shields
Shields's journey to appreciation of early Jane's was brought about by the discovery of the Vegas series of Nothing's Shocking concerts. When she heard about the shows, she told her mom and recalls, "She was super stoked, and a couple of days later, she's like, 'Do you want to go?'" Shields, who recently left the nest to live and work in North Hollywood as a special effects make-up artist, accepted the invitation, and says, "I don't get to really spend a weekend with my mom very often, especially not in a fun setting."
Over the last few months, Arebelo helped prep her daughter for the show by giving her copies of Nothing's Shocking and Ritual de lo habitual. Upon studying the material in preparation for the pilgrimage, Shields experienced a moment of conversion: "I was taking it like, 'Oh, this is my mom's music'...but now, going back and listening to them, I'm like, 'Damn, this is really good stuff!'" Her matured tastes can now discern some of the elements that make Farrell's hybrid music so unique, "Obviously there's rock in it, but then you have...a lot of different flavors that go into it. It just makes it totally different than most other bands."
Press photo of Perry and Etty Lau Farrell
While Farrell has never stopped experimenting with musical forms, he admits that it is a risky proposition. He says, "I'm not afraid, but it's not because I never fail. I've gone out there, and I've fallen flat on my fucking face." He illustrates a recent example of this, "I did an electronic show in Chile, and I failed so miserably at it that I felt like I was being cut in half by a hot saber." But his perseverance tends to pay off as he says, "The following day, I did [another] show in Chile, and it was a blast. It felt like I was an astronaut, and I was sitting in a seat and being shot into space because it was that much fun."
Farrell continues to experiment with various musical genres and platforms. He is currently working on an immersive musical theater project, called Kind Heaven, with his wife, Etty Lau Farrell, and house music producer and DJ Joachim Garraud. However, when vintage and neophyte Jane's fans are willing to travel from OC or any other place in the country to Las Vegas to get a glimpse of the old magic, Farrell is happy to entertain them.
As far as continuing the good work of converting would-be fans from the slavery of the pop machine, Farrell is dedicated to this cause. He says, "What we've been able to accomplish...is amazing, but there's still the rest of the world, and I'll probably spend the rest of my life trying to bring [the music] to all corners of the world."
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