Monday, January 27, 2014

Jane's Addiction and the Weird World of 80's Music in LA

Early photo of Jane's Addiction, probably from '86

It may sound pompous to say, but I have almost no regrets in my life save one.  Oh sure, there are things I regret saying, and regret doing, and regret not saying and not doing.  Like everyone I’m sorry for times I hurt someone through my action or inaction.  But by and large I do not look back and regret much in my life.

Except one thing:  I wish I’d gone out to see more shows when I was younger.  I didn’t go to my first concert until I was 17, in 1984, when I saw Billy Idol at Irvine Meadows Amphitheater in Irvine California.  For the next year or so I only saw large acts at large venues:  Depeche Mode and General Public, also at Irvine Meadows in spring of 1985, and Madonna at the Universal Amphitheater in 1985 as well. 

Meanwhile 20 miles up the freeway Los Angeles was undergoing a renaissance of small rock clubs.  Los Angeles may have arguably produced the greatest flowering of post-punk music outside of England in the early to mid-80’s, at least in part because a thriving network of clubs had sprouted up following the punk revolution of the late 70’s.  When punk first exploded in LA, there were very very few places where bands that played original music and were not signed to a major label could play; established clubs like the Whiskey and the Roxy did not open themselves up to the “new wave” of music until later, and indeed the dearth of both rehearsal and performance space available to punk bands in large part was the trigger for Brendan Mullen’s opening of the Masque in ’77. 

But by the early 80’s all that had changed.  The Whiskey, the Roxy, The Olympic Auditorium, and even the Troubadour hosted top-flight local and touring punk and post-punk acts.  The Starwood, once one of the only clubs in all of LA that would agree to put on punk shows, continued to do so until it closed in 1985.  New venues, including Al’s Bar, Raji’s, and the Anti-Club, all opened in ’79 or in the early 80’s dedicated to primarily showcasing punk and post-punk music.  And after the final demise of the Masque, Brendan Mullen took over booking for the Club Lingerie and it too began hosting underground music.  As the decade progressed, a host of dance style clubs also arose that would either play records by local bands or would occasionally host live performances by them, including Plastic Passion, Seven Seas, Power Tools, and of course Scream, which I’ll talk more about below.

And while Slash, the original LA punk magazine, put out its last issue in summer of 1980, by this time Flipside had risen to take its place.  Meanwhile Scratch Magazine (not affiliated with today’s hip-hop centered magazine) put out its first issues in the early 80’s and was mostly dedicated to documenting the glitterati of LA’s punk and post-punk scene much like Craig Lee and Pleasant Gehman did in the “LA Di Da” column of the LA Weekly. 

Finally, a raft of new record labels also sprouted up to document the new music.  Slash and Bomp continued to lead the way but Lisa Fancher’s Frontier Records, originally set up to release albums by the Orange County hardcore scene, and Epitaph Records, started by Bad Religion’s guitarist Brett Gurewitz, had also started releasing albums by the early 80’s.  Greg Ginn of Black Flag’s SST Records was also a flagship for the many acts under his tutelage. 

Thus by 1985 or so LA had a thriving post-punk music scene, and there were literally hundreds of bands along with clubs, zines, and labels to support them.  I arrived up in LA in fall of 1985 to attend college but only sporadically went out to clubs until about 1989 or so.  In my defense I did have two fairly good practical reasons why I didn’t go out more often:  first, I didn’t have a car, and as everyone knows you can’t get anywhere without a car, and second, I was a student and didn’t have a lot of time or money to be going out that often either.  And while I did get to see some good shows, including free shows at the Cooperage and on the A-Level at UCLA, and cheap shows at the Anti-Club, Raji’s, and the Roxy, I definitely regret not getting out to see more shows.  As soon as someone invents a hot tub time machine I’m going to go back and check out about 1000 shows in LA in the 80’s, right after I catch the Ramones’ debut at CBGB’s and the Pistols playing the 100 Club with Siouxsie and the Banshees opening.

What was particularly incredible about the LA post-punk music scene was how disparate the artists were.  Much like the CBGB’s scene in New York, where every band had a different look and sound, post-punk in 80’s LA was characterized by a uniqueness of vision of each act.  No two bands looked or sounded the same. 

Part of this was no doubt due to the explosion in influences in post-punk compared to punk; punk music, particularly in LA, hewed pretty closely to the Ramones/Pistols look and sound—short, fast, sloppy songs played by performers in denim, leather, and spiky hair.  But post-punk was different:  here the point wasn’t to hew to some ideal version of the punk look and sound but to craft something unique. 

Many different musical currents and inspirations were swirling around LA during the mid-80’s.  The Paisley Underground bands like the Three O’Clock harkened back to the garage punk and psychedelia of the 60’s; meanwhile, the Blasters and other bands were cranking out raw punked-up rockabilly and American roots music.  Heavy metal was not quite yet a major strain or influence on the post-punk scene, but it soon would be, and several bands were already integrating the hard, bluesy rock sounds and/or fashions of bands like AC/DC and the Stones into their image, most notably bands like the Hangmen and Tex and the Horseheads, both of whom combined punk, hard rock and country rock/swamp blues for their sound.

One of the major musical currents in LA post-punk was goth, sometimes also called horror rock.  LA in fact became the biggest center for goth music outside of England.  Why exactly this happened is a mystery; why did Southern California, a region noted for the beach and sunshine and movie stars and perfect bodies and suntans, become the second home for a music and style that centered on darkness, despair, pale skin, and skinny bodies?  Maybe it’s the contrast effect but goth was very big in LA.  Goth of course had its origins in England; Joy Division was arguably the first “goth” band (though the band broke up before that label was really starting to be applied regularly) and set the sonic standard at least with slow tempos, sterile production, plodding, morose bass lines, minor keys and down-tuned guitars, and lyrics focused on negative emotional states like depression and alienation.  Bauhaus quickly picked up the banner and melded these elements with the emotion and theatricality of David Bowie’s work and became the first true goth band.  In Southern California, bands like Bauhaus, the Cure, and even Tears For Fears (particularly their gloomy song “Mad World”) were tremendously popular, and many LA bands emulated their looks and sounds.

One LA band I did manage to catch fairly early on in their history, and which would meld many of these disparate musical influences into a tremendously cohesive package, was Jane’s Addiction.  In fall of 1986 I started working as a volunteer DJ for UCLA’s campus radio station, KLA.  I can’t think of a single other event in my life that had a greater impact on my musical life than this.  I’d always been a person who was really into music, but entering into this community of music obsessives was a total education.  I thought I knew a lot about music, but compared to these people, especially the older jocks, I was a babe in the woods.  I was proud that I knew a few semi-obscure bands like X, Black Flag, the Replacements, etc., but these people knew TONS of bands.  They also knew the names of band members, what instrument they played, the producers of their albums, the label(s) they recorded for, and so forth.  I tried to absorb as much as I could.

It was probably through one of the other disc jockeys at KLA that I first heard of Jane’s Addiction.  Jane’s A had first formed in fall of 1985 (just as I myself was arriving up in LA to attend college) when Perry Farrell and Eric Avery first came together, initially to perhaps carry on with Perry’s first band, Psi Com, but then ultimately to form a new band that became Jane’s Addiction.  However, their real identity didn’t click into place until Stephen Perkins and Dave Navarro left Dizastre, the speedmetal outfit they were in, to join Jane’s in January ’86.  From that point on Jane’s gigged relentlessly in the clubs of LA, building a massively giant buzz in the process.  I can’t remember when exactly I first heard of them, or how, but it was probably a combination of the talk of other DJs at KLA along with my increasingly regular reading of the free periodical the LA Weekly, which from the start was a major supporter of Jane’s Addiction and which carried extensive club listings detailing when and where they and other bands were playing.   We also had CARTs (basically one-song 8-tracks) of “Jane Says” and “Pigs in Zen”, two demo songs Jane’s Addiction recorded along with a handful of others at Radio Tokyo Studios in LA in March of ’86 but I can’t recall if I played them then; I certainly did later, in 1987, when I’d become a full-blown fanatic for Jane’s A.

So by late fall of 1986 I’d started combing the LA Weekly to find gigs of theirs to attend and one of the first I can consciously recall wanting to attend was at a small club called the Lhasa Club in Hollywood in December of 1986.  The Lhasa was an interesting club:  it was very small but had an eclectic range of entertainment, everything from poetry readings, small acoustic rock shows, performance art, and art exhibits.  A few months later in 1987 I did manage to get to the Lhasa where I saw Robert Hecker of Redd Kross do an acoustic show; Steve McDonald, his band mate from Redd Kross, sat right next to me and I drunkenly tried to converse with him during the show, which in retrospect was really rude of me since he probably just wanted to hear Robert play.  Steve was cool about it, though.  Sadly, the Lhasa closed soon after, at the end of 1987, but owner Jean-Pierre Boccara went on to found the equally eclectic but longer lasting club Largo down on Fairfax.  Anyway I ended up not going to the Jane’s show at the Lhasa because it too was an acoustic show and everything I’d read was how Jane’s Addiction was this crazy, heavy, funky, loud, psycho electric band and I figured that energy would not come across in an acoustic setting.  I greatly regret not seeing this show but at the time I had very little money and had to choose carefully which shows I could afford to go to.

I finally got to see Jane’s A for the first time a few weeks later in late January of 1987. They played a show at the Cooperage pizza place on UCLA’s campus, and since I went to UCLA this was obviously very easy for me to attend!  The concert ended up being another galvanizing event in my musical life; it is pretty much the first time I remember being that blown away by a live act I’d never seen or heard of before, something that has thankfully happened a few times since. 

My first impression was of the CROWD; never in my life had I seen so many of the disparate tribes of music fans in LA in one place.  You had the punkers, the post-punk/goth crowd, the metallers, the funk/black contingent, the hippie/folk people. This heterogeneity was starting to characterize ALL LA shows—it was becoming increasingly common for bands with wildly different styles and fans to play together and for everyone to listen respectfully to the other bands—and would eventually find full fruition in the Lollapalooza shows organized by Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell.  But this is the first time I can really recall seeing such integration at a single rock show.

Jane’s Addiction did not disappoint; they were everything I’d read about and heard about and more.  Their music was a bewildering blend of fierce punk energy, heavy rock riffs, deep, groovy rhythm, tribal percussion, and Perry’s wild, shamanistic shrieking and antics.  And in 1986 I was finally at a point in my life where I could appreciate all of this.  Up until late 1985 or so I’d been a punker and/or new waver through and through, and the two things that were most distasteful to me musically were heavy metal and classic rock, especially hippie dinosaur shit like Led Zeppelin.  But starting in 1986 I began developing a great appreciation for pre-punk musical and sociological movements and forms.  This was driven in large part by the changing times; punk and new wave were receding in popularity, but post-punk bands in LA as described above and pretty much everywhere else too were re-integrating other musical forms with the energy of punk.  Even one of my favorite bands, Black Flag, had atarted creating music that drew upon founder Greg Ginn’s favorite pre-punk bands, the Grateful Dead and Black Sabbath.

My own experience with classic rock bands like Zep was extremely limited up until then.  Because I grew up on Southern California in the late 70’s and early 80’s, a time when Zep was close to breaking up and newer musical forms like punk were ascendant, I never really experienced them in any direct personal way.  My dad was big on the late 60’s psychedelic/heavy blues acts like Cream, Bad Company, and the Stones but strangely I don’t recall him owning any Zep albums even though Zep was obviously in the same wheelhouse.  Of course I’d heard their big hits—“Stairway to Heaven”, “Black Dog”, “Whole Lotta Love”—occasionally on the classic rock radio station my dad preferred, LA’s KMET.  But up until 1986 I’d never really listened to Zep myself.

One thing that started to change this for me was the fact that my best friend John, who was attending UC Irvine at the time, moved in with a older roommate named Ed.  Ed WAS a classic rock guy; he HAD grown up with all of those classic rock bands and he started playing more and more of his music for us (he had a big record collection too).  Sometime that year I believe is when I bought Zep’s first album; I was lukewarm on most of it, though I loved “Communication Breakdown” and still do; the machine gun staccato riffing and breakneck rhythmic pace of this song still make it sound like a punk rock song to me.  In addition, I’d also started availing myself of the fairly impressive record library at KLA to listen to some of these older albums myself, so by the time I saw them play I had a much better appreciation for that aspect of their sound.

I am still not what you would call a connoisseur of Led Zeppelin’s music.  Aside from the aforementioned “Communication Breakdown”, until recently the only songs I owned by them were the acoustic numbers “Going to California”, “Tangerine” and Brn-Y-Aur”.  I’ve also always loved the funky, funny “Misty Mountain Hop”, and my all-time favorite song by Zep is “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”, particularly Robert Plant’s ferocious harmonica work and the lurching rhythmic structure of it.  I’m more appreciative of their huge, iconic stompers now too, including “Rock and Roll”, “Black Dog”, “When the Levee Breaks” (the intro of which the Beastie Boys stole for their song “Rhymin’ and Stealin’”), “The Ocean” (which the Beasties took for “She’s Crafty”, probably my favorite Beastie Boy’s song of all time, at least in part because it reminds me of one of the girlfriends I had in college around the time it came out; she didn’t rob me blind like the girl in the story, but let’s just say that there were definitely some cabbies that could have recognized her from the back of her head, so to speak), and of course “Whole Lotta Love”.  These were also the songs I was most into when I saw Jane’s Addiction, the huge stadium stomps.  Anyway, inspired by this post, I have gone back and downloaded pretty much every song from their first six albums and have really enjoyed getting better acquainted with the breadth of Zep’s work.

Anyway, when Jane’s Addiction launched into their first song, “Whores”, at the Coop in January 1987, the place EXPLODED.  In the very front, clinging to the Coop’s small, low stage, was a fringe of hardcore metalheads (including Brent, a long-haired guy from my dorm floor who was the first metal/hippie/peace punk I’d ever met) banging their heads to the music in syncopated rhythm; behind them was one of the largest and most frantic slam pits I’ve ever seen before or since; and in the back were some wild/cool black funk type dudes (including Angelo and Fish from Fishbone), leaping wildly in the air.  It was a perfect geographical encapsulation of Jane’s sound:  metallic, but punky and funky too. 

Jane’s roared through an electrifying set, punctuated by Perry’s wild frontman act, throwing his skinny body around the stage while a strobe light flashed chaotically, wildly shaking his dreadlocks and goading the crowd, all while belting out his piercing vocals at high volume.  I’ve seen few acts before or since that had such a captivating front man, though from everything I’ve read this was similar to how Iggy Pop was back in his late 60’s/early 70’s heyday. 

After the concert I actually approached Perry.  Anyone who has seen a show at the Coop knows there’s no backstage—the performers typically sit in a booth in front before going on, or come from the bathrooms out in Ackerman Student Union.  There is, however, a door just next to the right of the stage that goes out to the patio seating deck, and Perry and the boys escaped out that door for some cool air after their set.  I was at the show with my friend Patrick, who was an extremely interesting guy.  Patrick was maybe the only REAL punker I’ve ever known, and by that I mean he wasn’t just some college student guy like me who liked punk music, he was a scratching-by guy who LIVED it.  Patrick was the boyfriend of my then-girlfriend’s friend (I’ll call her Tina), and Tina and Patrick lived in a tiny, roach-infested studio apartment off Wilshire a few blocks from MacArthur Park (and the Park Plaza Hotel, home of the clubs Power Tools and eventually Scream).  Patrick had dropped out of high school when he was about 15 or 16 and was then working a variety of menial jobs but he was one of the smartest people I ever met.  He also had broad musical tastes; his primary tastes were in punk and post-punk music; he especially liked the 60’s garage punk sounds of bands like Thee Fourgiven, and he occasionally performed with the legendary (mostly due to their name) art-damage-punk band Grandpa’s Become A Fungus (I saw them with Patrick at one of the art schools downtown later that year, and memorably had sex in a broom closet with my girlfriend during part of the show).  Patrick was also the only person I ever met who actually had seen Bauhaus live, in December of 1982, which made him almost godlike to us since we all worshipped Bauhaus but they’d broken up long before. But Patrick also was obsessed with gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, and often would sit up late at night picking out pieces of his works on his own battered cheap guitar. 

Anyway at the time of the Jane’s A concert Patrick and a friend were bouncing around the idea of starting their own club.  It never came to fruition but Patrick wanted to talk to Jane’s A about maybe playing their club so after the gig we followed them out onto the Ackerman Patio behind the Coop.

As we exited the building, Perry was giving an interview to a journalist (I don’t think it was a Daily Bruin reporter, maybe it was an LA Weekly reporter) and that too was one of the most electrifying things I’ve ever heard.  Perry spoke in a rapid, stream-of-consciousness voice about how Jane’s Addiction’s goal was to make it big and then give vast sums of money away to the poor and downtrodden and so forth.  I’d never heard anyone so charismatic and so passionate before.  Anyway, after the interview, Patrick and I approached him and he was very personable—he readily agreed to play Patrick’s club if it ever developed, and told him to talk to their manager and blah blah blah.

But from that moment on, I was smitten.  Jane’s Addiction was everything I’d ever wanted in a band—intense punk energy, heavy metallic/hard rock riffing, softer acoustic jams, tribal rhythm, charisma, artsiness, etc.  I was a full-blown Jane’s Addiction fanatic. Unfortunately for me, though, my timing sucked in that Jane’s had recently signed a record deal with Warner Brothers, and as a consequence they were gigging around LA less as Warner’s had them rehearsing in preparation for recording their first studio album with them, and they also had Jane’s Addiction opening for other acts nationwide in an effort to get them better known outside the LA metropolitan area as they’d played very few shows outside of LA proper at that point.  So for most of 1987 they were either out of town on these tours or were rehearsing and they therefore played very few club dates in LA.

The other show I really wanted to attend of theirs was one they did opening for X and the Dickies.  I wasn’t a Dickies fan then (mostly because I was unfamiliar with their music, I’m sure I would have loved it if I’d heard it) but I was a HUGE X fan; Wild Gift was, and remains, one of my favorite albums ever.  But this show took place in May of ’87 on the Cal State Northridge campus, which was a good 15-20 miles from UCLA, and moreover the tickets were “expensive”—probably 10 or 15 bucks—so once again my lack of an automobile and sufficient funds came to bear.  At the time I wasn’t working during the school year but was instead trying to squeak by with whatever I’d saved up working during the summer plus a tiny amount of cash my parents supplemented that with; I can still recall “dates” where Patrick and I and our girlfriends would pool our money (my girlfriend was doing the same thing I was doing and Patrick and Tina were barely making ends meet with their menial jobs) and our night’s entertainment would consist of buying a Duraflame log and a pint of schnapps to share!  So needless to say coughing up 10 bucks EACH to see this show was out of the question.

Anyone interested in what Jane’s Addiction was like live then can find out for themselves by listening to their 1987 live album released on Triple X records.  This album was recorded at the Roxy just a few days after I’d seen them at the Coop so obviously it is pretty much identical to what they were like when I saw them.  Of all their albums, this remains my favorite for that reason; while I enjoy their studio work, to me Jane’s Addiction was first and foremost a live band, so this album is the nearest and dearest to my heart.   My absolute, all-time favorite song by them is “Whores”, which perfectly encapsulates Jane’s appeal:  Eric Avery’s lumbering, ominous bass coming in first, followed by Dave Navarro’s slashing, feedback-drenched guitar, before launching into the massive, lumbering, surging core riff of the song, and Perry’s first lyrics, “Way down low where the streets are littered, I find my fun with the freaks and the niggers” was a shocking, un-PC introduction to the band’s ideas. 

Listening to this album today, as well as their two studio albums for Warner’s, 1988’s Nothing’s Shocking and 1990’s Ritual de lo Habitual, I am struck by a couple of things.  First is how central Eric Avery’s bass playing is to the Jane’s Addiction sound.  I think it is very easy to miss sight of his contribution; after all, Perry’s psycho shaman lead singer qualities, Dave Navarro’s obvious guitar genius, and even Stephen Perkins’ tribal percussion are all so much more obvious on first listen.  But as I’ve gone back and listened to their songs, I am struck by how often they either start with a big, memorable bass line (like “Whores”, “Mountain Song”, Up the Beach”, “Three Days”, “Ain’t No Right”, or “Summertime Rolls”) or have as their central element one of Avery’s bass lines (like “I Would for You”,  “Pigs in Zen” or “Been Caught Stealing”).  At the time I appreciated Avery because he seemed like the band member with the tightest connection to the punk world (which is true), but he was such an integral part of their sound and appeal and I’m disappointed that I missed that until recently.

The other thing that strikes me about Jane’s Addiction is how effectively they captured several critical elements of Led Zeppelin’s sound.  Jane’s A was frequently compared to Zep in their early days, most notably for their bombastic sound centered on massive, dinosaur guitar/rhythmic riffs (“Whores”, “Pigs in Zen”, “Mountain Song”, “Ocean Size”, “Up the Beach”).  But perceptive listeners also caught several other things as well.  First off, like Zep, Jane’s A was able to switch fluidly between the heavy AND the light.  With respect to Zep, for every “Whole Lotta Love”, “Good Times Bad times”, “Moby Dick”, “Ten Years Gone”, and “The Ocean”, there was a “Going to California”, a “Bron-Yr-Aur”, a “Lemon Song”, and an “That’s the Way”.  Many of the greatest bands in history, including the Velvet Underground, the Stones, the Replacements, and Wilco were similarly able to veer dizzyingly between the rocking and the gentle.  In addition to their rockers noted above, Jane’s Addiction also had some incredible mellow songs too, everything from “I Would For You”, “Classic Girl”, “Summertime Rolls”, and of course one of their songs that has had the broadest and longest appeal, “Jane Says”.

A second and related thing to me was how Jane’s Addiction was able to combine the heavy and gentle even within the same song.  Zep of course did this on songs like “Over the Hills and Far Away” and their masterwork “Stairway to Heaven”, both of which start with quiet, gentle acoustic parts but end with wild, heavy rock finales.  On songs like “Summertime Rolls”, Jane’s Addiction does exactly the same thing.  And on their magnum opus, the huge, majestic epic “Three Days”, Jane’s Addiction creates the same drama and tension that Zep created on “Ten Years Gone” or “Kashmir” off Physical Graffiti. 

True, Zep could be ponderous and heavy, but what impresses me the most today listening to their music is how often they were lithe as well as muscular.  Listen to a song like “Black Dog” or especially “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”—these songs are big, heavy, HUGE . . . but not LUMBERING.  Listen to John Paul Jones’ bass in “Fault” and it sounds like an idling Panzer tank, and yet somehow this song manages to move with a sinuous grace that is as unexpected as it is elegant.  Same with “Black Dog”; it would be easy for this song to become plodding, but every time it threatens to do so it is pulled in new, frantic, slippery directions by Jimmy Page’s endlessly exploring and meandering guitar lines.    Jane’s Addiction shared that same ability to move beyond the merely plodding and thunderous, as on songs like “Ain’t No Right”, which also soars like “Black Dog”, and on Dave Navarro’s wild, vicious guitar solos on “Pigs in Zen”.

The last thing that strikes me about the apt comparison between Jane’s Addiction and Led Zeppelin is how unconsciously funky both bands were.  Oh, Zep could be intentionally funky, as can be seen in the throbbing bass and shimmering James Brown guitar stylings on “The Crunge”, the meandering bass lines of “Custard Pie”, or the lurching reggae pulse of “D’yer Mak’er”.  What I’m talking about is the way Zep could be funky without being obvious about it, such as on songs like the phenomenally groovy “Misty Mountain Hop” (still one of my favorite Zep songs ever) or the almost hypnotic, repetitive “Houses of the Holy”; even “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” has a lurching booty shaking appeal to it.  Jane’s Addiction could also be obviously or overtly funky, as on Eric Avery’s popping bass on “No One’s Leaving” but it's the almost effortless way they lay down what has to be the funkiest jam of the late 80’s, “Been Caught Stealing”, that so blows me away.  The Red Hot Chili Peppers based their entire existence on trying to capture that same feeling of smooth, easy funkiness but to me they never came remotely close to doing so as well as Jane’s A does on this one song.

All of the members of Jane’s Addiction had played in other bands prior to joining Jane’s Addiction.  As mentioned, Dave and Stephen were in a speedmetal group called Dizastre; supposedly in 1983 Dizastre recorded a three song demo containing two original songs as well as a cover of “Killers” by Iron Maiden, but sadly this has been lost in the mists of time.  It would be incredible to hear a sixteen year old Dave Navarro shredding some Maiden but this demo hasn’t surfaced yet and chances are it won’t. 

Eric Avery was in a couple of different bands prior to Jane’s.  The first was a pop-punk, Paisley Underground type band known as the Flower Quartet, who played a few days in 1983 and 1984 at the Cathay de Grande club with other similar bands such as the Pandoras, Wednesday Week, and the Leaving Trains, and then later in 1984 he played briefly with Flower Quartet guitarist Jack Gould’s subsequent band Yellow Dog Contract when Gould moved to Amherst to attend UMass in 1984.  Eric and Jack, along with Jack’s brother Herman and mutual friend Chris Brinkman also formed a band called Scrunge in the summer of 1985, just prior to Eric’s hooking up with future Jane’s frontman Perry Farrell in fall of 1985.  Amazingly, there are recorded songs from all three pre-Jane’s phases of Eric’s career, though none are available commercially.  “Transitive Times”, a paisley-pop-punk song, was recorded by the Flower Quartet at Radio Tokyo with Rain Parade member David Roback in the producer’s chair sometime in 1983.  The song is a sweet, simple blast of poppy punk with light jangle-pop elements and certainly wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Three O’Clock record.  Neither the lyrics nor the vocals quite stand up to the music, but this band definitely had ability and their sound fit well into the 60’s influenced scene of the time. 

“Remembrance” is a Flower Quartet holdover recorded around the same time that was also performed by Yellow Dog Contract; here Avery sings, and his vocals are very capable if not uber-impressive.  This song too has an early R.E.M. feel to it musically, with a repeating jangly riff and some solid if unflashy drumming; I do like the break in the middle of the song and how it slows down then speeds back up, as well as other places where Eric’s bass becomes more frenetic and popping.

From Eric’s Scrunge days, nothing was recorded alas, but the LA post-punk outfit Black Angel’s Death Song did a cover of one Scrunge song called “Shocker”; this version, or at least BADS’s version of it, is fast and punky, with shouted choruses and rougher, less jangly guitar.

Perry Farrell’s also performed in a band before Jane’s Addiction, the post-punk gothic ensemble known as Psi Com; I will discuss them in more detail in a subsequent post.  For now the one thing that strikes me is how different Psi Com were from Jane’s Addiction.  There are a few sonic similarities, most notably the drumming, which approaches the big tribal feel that Stephen Perkins brought to Jane’s Addiction.  But for the most part there is very little the two bands have in common other than Perry.  This amazes me; I always think in terms of linear evolution, where an artist or band will go through small, incremental changes, approaching asymptotically some new style.  But Perry’s change from Psi Com to Jane’s Addiction almost feels like a “punctuated equilibrium” event, a totally new and rapid change in an entirely new direction.  Of all the Jane’s Addiction songs in their repertoire, even including the earliest songs, nearly everything Jane’s Addiction played or recorded sounded totally different from the clanging, shimmering post-punk of Psi Com. Only the posthumously released live song “Kettle Whistle” sounds even remotely like Psi Com, and even then the similarity is a remote one at best.  “Pigs in Zen”, which reportedly is the first song Eric and Perry wrote together, is an entirely new sound from what Perry accomplished with Psi Com.

It fascinates me that Perry took this bold leap into a totally new sound.  I’ll always wonder what his motivation was; after all, by that time he’d invested several years in making Psi Com a respected and viable act; like Jane’s Addiction they were a favorite of the LA Weekly music writers and always received favorable press.  To take this bold new direction, or more accurately bold OLD direction, away from goth and post-punk and into a sound more rooted in classic rock, seems daring.  He was essentially starting from scratch, taking only his own wild psycho vocals and stage style with him into this new approach.  What made him do this?  Did he feel like Psi Com’s sound was just never going to break through beyond the tight circuit of LA clubs and into something larger?  Did he always want to have a band more like Led Zep?  Did he foresee that shift back toward hard rock, prog rock, and heavy metal in post-punk that occurred as the 80’s progressed?  I’m not sure but it still impresses me that he made that move at a time when it would have been much easier to just keep doing the same thing, maybe just replacing people who’d left the band (Perry always claimed that certain members of Psi Com became Hare Krishnas and that’s why Psi Com broke up, though there’s some debate about the veracity of this).

I also find this fascinating since I’ve always been the type of person who has tremendous difficulty letting go of anything, even something bad.  I’ve continued to work jobs that were horrid simply because I couldn’t get myself to quit what was obviously not a good situation.  And only when they’ve become utterly unsalvageable have I walked away from my prior romantic relationships. To me, quitting a band, especially a modestly successful one, would be unthinkable. 

And there was definitely some risk involved.  Jane’s Addiction ended up being the subject of a massive bidding war between all of the major record companies before signing with Warner’s, but there was definitely some uneasiness involved on the part of the industry.  Keep in mind that the Jane’s Addiction bidding war came just a year or two after the Unforgiven debacle.  The Unforgiven were this strange LA hard rock outfit that dressed like extras in a spaghetti western, with dusters and bolero ties and floppy hats, and there were like six guitar players in that band.  There had been a huge bidding war for them too, and by 1987 when Jane’s was being courted by everyone the Unforgiven’s album had come out and stiffed memorably, so there were definitely some folks concerned that Jane’s Addiction would end up being a similar bust. 

So even within the bidding war there was definitely some healthy, and valid, skepticism of how broad their appeal could be.  I remember reading an article at the time that quoted an unnamed record industry executive who predicted disaster from their signing, primarily because the people who were fans of their sound, which was this big classic/hard rock/heavy metal sound generally, were NOT particularly enamored of the image Jane’s Addiction projected.  Simply put, Zep fans were not likely to dig a guy wearing a corset, dreadlocks, and a nose ring.  Of course, this executive might have been under-estimating the abilities of your average rock fan to accept something new; after all, plenty of heavy metal lunkheads in Kansas and Ohio were into bands like Poison and Cinderella even though they wore more makeup than supermodels.  But I also think it is to Jane’s Addiction’s, and Perry’s in particular, everlasting credit that they were able to not only overcome this but to bring their weird art punk image and appeal to the masses.  Within a few years it was no huge deal at all to see someone with a nose ring, or a white person with dreadlocks; in fact, it became so common in alternative circles that that’s almost become the cliché look for anyone with any “indie” aspirations.  But I think few could have predicted such an outcome at the time, and there was very real concern that their ability to connect with audiences outside urban markets was probably very limited

As mentioned, I followed Jane’s Addiction avidly after seeing them for the first time in January of 1987.  I played their demos relentlessly on my radio station at KLA until their live album on Triple-X came out, and then I played that relentlessly on my show and of course bought it myself.  By that time it was common knowledge that they’d signed with Warner Brothers and were recording their first album, Nothing’s Shocking, which was released in summer of 1988.  At first I was a little disappointed by Nothing’s Shocking; while I LOVED the three openers, “Up The Beach”, “Ocean Size”, and “Had a Dad”, I was less impressed by “Ted, Just Admit It . . .”, which I felt was ostentatiously controversial.  I also thought “Standing in the Shower . . . . Thinking” was kind of stupid, though I actually like this song now.  I liked “Mountain Song”, arguably their biggest Zep riff ever, and I liked the mellow introspection of “Summertime Rolls”.  But I HATED the brassy horns of “Idiots Rule”, the cheesy lounge sound of “Thank You Boys”, and the re-recordings of “Jane Says” and “Pigs in Zen”.  So for me there was almost as much on that album that I didn’t like as I did.

Still, I followed them, though by this time they had departed on a massive worldwide tour to support Shocking.  In April of 1989 they returned to LA for a massive five night engagement at the John Anson Ford Theater in a weird cleft in the Hollywood Hills.  My then-girlfriend (now wife), my roommate Gil, and I went to see them on the second night of their home stand, Friday April 22nd.  They put on an incredible show although their opening act, the Buck Pets, are one of the reasons why I’m partially deaf today; they were so loud, one of the loudest bands I’ve ever seen. 

If I was less than impressed with Nothing’s Shocking, I was in for an even bigger disappointment with 1990’s Ritual de lo Habitual.  My favorite Jane’s songs were always their heavy Zep stompers and/or their punk slashers.  So I definitely liked “Stop” (which is the first song from the album I remember hearing; they recorded a video for it that was released a little before the album itself was released), and LOVED “Ain’t No Right” (I still love this song, especially Eric’s rumbling bass), and was so-so on “No One’s Leaving”.  I also liked the majestic and beautiful “Classic Girl”.  But I found the shimmery “Obvious” and the weird, Eastern European sounding “Of Course” to be boring and arty, and at the time I HATED “Been Caught Stealing”, mostly because it just seemed kind of contrived, almost like a novelty song for them.  Now I love this song but back then I detested it and the stupid barking dog sample and the totally frat boy accessible goofy video.  I was also hot-and-cold on the albums bloated centerpieces, “Three Days” and “Then She Did . . .”, both of which were written about Perry’s onetime amour Xiola Blue (Xiola was the subject of a Psi Com song too, more about this in my next post) and specifically about her three day threeway drug and sex tryst with Perry and his eventual wife Casey Niccoli and her eventual death from an overdose, respectively.  All in all the album felt indulgent, overly/intentionally weird, too produced, and without the wild energy of their live shows.  Nevertheless I bought this album (it might actually be one of the first new albums I ever bought on CD, since by that time my girlfriend/future wife and I were living together and she owned a CD player), and on Halloween 1990 they played a “secret” show for fans only at the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood; my wife and I joined a huge scrum of alterna-fans, frat boys, and LA scenesters in scrabbling for the tickets, which went on sale at like 8 AM at the theater box office; by the time we arrived around 7:30 there was already a massive line of folks camped out.  The show was good but was more of a spectacle, with cloth draped everywhere and Santeria candles, beads, votives, etc., everywhere on stage. 

Jane’s Addiction returned to LA a couple of months later and played a multiple-night stint at the Universal Amphitheatre.  My wife and I attended but by this time Jane’s Addiction were arena rock stars and the concert was about as personally involving as seeing Yes at the Forum in 1974.  I can still remember standing and cheering when this perfect alterna-couple fell into me coming down the stairs of the venue; they both had nose rings and dreadlocks and perfect tans on their skinny bodies and they looked like they were in heaven, seeing their diety in the flesh; they looked all of about 15 and they made me feel about 150 years old even though I was 24 at the time.

That to me was the beginning of the end of my infatuation with Jane’s Addiction; I moved on to other musical interests and they broke up shortly thereafter anyway.  I was never a huge fan of Perry’s subsequent band, Porno for Pyros; we bought their first album but other than “Pets” I don’t remember any songs off it, and I didn’t buy their second album at all.  Dave Navarro went on to create some music with Eric Avery in a band called Deconstruction, but I never enjoyed their stuff either.  Nor have I been particularly impressed by any of their subsequent reformations and the resulting albums.  To me Jane’s Addiction will always be primarily about the excitement they created in that first year and a half of their existence, when all of LA was enamored with them. 

I must say I have enjoyed listening to some of the posthumous material that have come out since Jane’s demise.  2009’s A Cabinet of Curiosities was especially enjoyable.  All of the band’s demos, including the aforementioned Radio Tokyo demos from March of 1986, are on this album, including never-released songs like the funky and metallic “Suffer Some”, the acoustic jam “City”, and the funky but arty “Maceo” (originally titled “My Cat is Named Maceo”) as well as the aforementioned live version of the also never-released “Kettle Whistle”.

There’s also a raft of cover songs, all of which provide an insight into the sound of Jane’s.  There’s a capable but somewhat boring version of the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple”; a turgid version of “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey” by Sly Stone featuring Ice T and his metal band Body Count; a frantic, almost unrecognizable version of “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zep; a terrific blast through the Stooges’ “1970”; and the strange “Bobhaus”, which is a mash-up of the lyrics of “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan set to the music of “Burning From the Inside” by Bauhaus.  I of course loved the covers of Lou Reed’s “Rock and Roll” and “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones they did on their first live album.  But my all-time favorite cover by Jane’s Addiction is something they called “LA Medley”, which was snatches of “LA Woman” by the Doors, “Lexicon Devil” by the Germs and “Nausea” by X.  Recorded live in 1989, it starts with Dave Navarro’s feeding back guitar before Perry says something like “I was gonna say women reaching the age of menopause . . . that’ll do!”, at which point Navarro drops into a blistering, chugging speedmetal riff before launching into the iconic descending bass notes and soaring melody of “LA Woman”.  Navarro’s guitar remains a vicious, slashing entity throughout this song, occasionally wailing in high notes but returning to that fantastic chugging before launching out of the lyrics and into a wild, noodling solo.  The other two songs are great too, but this jackhammering, lightning-fast run through the Doors’ stately classic is blistering and beautiful.   This song may best capture their wild, frantic live energy the best.

While researching this article I have leaned heavily on a phenomenal Jane’s Addiction resource, the web site  Set up by fans way back in 1995, it has been contributed to by many Jane’s Addiction fans over the years and contains a comprehensive, almost exhaustive (and exhausting) catalog of tours, gigs, playlists, song histories, discography, and bootleg descriptions.  It is through this site (as well as my own memories and ticket stubs and other Jane’s Addiction paraphernalia I’ve collected over the years) that I was able to research the dates and specifics of this post so I am hugely grateful to these folks and their obvious labor of love.  The list of gigs, by both Jane’s Addiction as well as the various members’ prior bands, that I found most fascinating, for two reasons.  First, it was fascinating to me to look at the dates and locations of some of their gigs and try to figure out where I was—where I was living, what I was into musically, etc., at that place and time.  Second, most of the gig entries are annotated with scans from fliers, ads, and club listings from the LA Weekly, and these I found REALLY fascinating, and in fact were the reason for my regretful malaise that started this post.  It is stunning to see the variety and quality of gigs that were happening in LA between about 1983 and 1989, and I found myself angry at my younger self for not making more of an effort to get out and see more bands.  I man shit, how great would it have been to see a gig like the Hangmen, Tex & the Horseheads and Guns n’ Roses at the Whiskey, or L7, Bulimia Banquet, and Raszebrae at the Music Machine?  GnR was just getting revved up in 1985-1986 too, and like Jane’s would explode into international superstars, but back then they were playing some incredible shows in tiny clubs with similarly bluesy hard rock bands.  Dwight Yoakam and Rosie Flores were playing regular gigs at Hollywood’s main/only country style music club, the Palamino, and bands like the Minutemen and X were arguably at their live peak and played places like the Anti-Club and the Lingerie regularly.  I spent an entire weekend scrolling methodically through these magnificent entries on, totally mesmerized by how many great bands were playing around LA then.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I went to the gigs I did get to go to, I only wish I’d gone to more.  As the Butthole Surfers famously said, “Its better to regret something you have done than to regret something you haven’t done”, but unfortunately most of us are guiltier of “regrets of omission” than the former.