Not Fade Away: 25 Years Later, Perry Farrell Talks Jane’s Addiction’s ‘Nothing’s Shocking’
In Not Fade Away, we take a look at the legacy of some of the greatest albums of the past few decades – some iconic, some lesser known – as they celebrate significant anniversaries. Here, we focus on Jane’s Addiction‘s the album that introduced them to radio and MTV, and tore down the walls between what was then called “alternative” music and heavy metal. The record turned 25 this past week.
Decades after its release, it routinely pops up on “Best Albums Of All Time” charts. But if anyone ever puts together a “Most Deceptively Titled Albums Of All Time,” Nothing’s Shocking may top that one.
First off, there’s the obvious: that album cover. We can’t show it here, but you know it: the black and white sculpture of two nude women conjoined at the shoulder and hips sitting on a chair with their hair on fire.
And speaking of sex and violence, there was the song whose lyrics gave the album its name, “Ted, Just Admit It,” which featured a sample of an interview clip with murderer Ted Bundy. The lyrics “Showed me everybody naked and disfigured/ Nothing’s shocking/ Now sister’s not a virgin anymore/ er sex is violent…” led to a chanting of “Sex! Is! Violent!” Yes, Jane’s was a quintessentially L.A. band, but this wasn’t what Sunset Strippers Mötley Crüe, Ratt and Poison were singing about.
And the frontman, Perry Farrell: a white, dreadlocked banshee who didn’t sing, at least in the conventional sense. He was like Jim Morrison, David Bowie, David Johansen, Iggy Pop and Michael Stipe rolled into one wild-eyed, bursting-with-energy, surfer-dude. He was a hippie, he was a punk, he was a shaman and he was a huckster.
Also shocking: no one seemed to be able to put a label on the band in an era where most bands were fairly easy to categorize. They had the power of Led Zeppelin, but Farrell hardly resembled Robert Plant. Everyone he wrote about seemed like a real person darker side of L.A, not some cloudy, Tolkien fantasy. Similarly, Navarro’s playing was dynamic like Jimmy Page’s, but unlike many other L.A. players, he didn’t sound like Jimmy Page. While much of L.A. was aping Zeppelin’s style, Jane’s came off as more of the heir apparent to that band’s throne by not cloning the original.
And like Zeppelin, they had great acoustic songs as well. Case in point: “Jane Says,” which at first listen is a bit Zeppelin III, but Page/Plant never wrote lyrics that cut like these. Propelled by acoustic guitar and steel drums, it was a moving tribute to Farrell and Avery’s one-time housemate Jane Bainter, who’s “gonna kick tomorrow” when she “gets her money saved.” She doesn’t know what love is like “I only know they want me.” There’s no judging, just an observation of a tragic figure.
That song got played on “alternative rock” radio alongside the likes of Depeche Mode and the Cure, but Jane’s pulled a metal audience, and appealed to punks as well. This was in the days before Farrell invented the Lollapalooza tour, and those clans didn’t often meet at concerts, or really anywhere else.
The album changed a lot of things in the music business and could be pointed to as the record that led to alternative’s rushing of the mainstream. But Perry Farrell told Radio.com how it changed his life.
“Prior to that, I was a kid in Los Angeles, I guess you could call me a street urchin, I was hanging out with a lot of other musicians in the city, it was a very different scene back then. It was built around music. Today, there’s a lot of other things for young people to do. We didn’t have computer games and social media.”
Conversations with Farrell tend to be wide-ranging and protracted; the pithy soundbite answer is not for him. “When Nothing’s Shocking came out, I became much more of a worldly human being. That took me a while, thirty years. Now, I am able to relate to the man standing next to me in the elevator. Back then, he might be scared of me. Today, he might find me to be a refreshing conversationalist. I was always a good person, but back then, I just didn’t look like it. Now, after all this time, and having children and aging, but aging–like a wine would–I enjoy my life more than ever. I meet people who are tremendous and valuable, valuable to the world, they invite me to places. Back then, I was f***ed up, I don’t think they were able to relate to me.”
Farrell says that he wasn’t able to relate to a lot of the bands playing on the Sunset Strip at the time: while Jane’s and the hair metal bands all liberally used female imagery, there was a difference: “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. There’s always been guys around, playboys — you can be a playboy, that’s cool. For me, I always wanted to maximize the relationship that I would have with a woman. I always wanted to make it into something grand that would be worthy of a novel. Our relationship would be historical , a timeless romance, we would have a great family, and do great things together, and make amazing Christmas cards. I’ve been fortunate,” he notes, referring to his marriage to Etty Lau Farrell.
Which isn’t to say that he didn’t like anyone from L.A. Two of the city’s top alternative rock bands, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Fishbone, are represented on “Idiots Rule” – Flea from the Chilis plays trumpet while Fishbone’s Angelo Moore plays sax and Chris Dowd plays trombone. Both bands would eventually play Lollapalooza, along with Nine Inch Nails, Living Colour, the Rollins Band, Ministry, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Primus, Alice In Chains, Tool, Rage Against The Machine and Smashing Pumpkins.
Does Farrell think of that era as a particularly special one? “If you look at entertainment as a pastime… there’s a golden era of baseball, there’s a golden era of boxing, and yes, there was a golden era of music. That was a golden era , in my mind. We didn’t have computers, [rock] groups were more important to us. We used to wear our music on the back of our leather jackets. When was the last time you saw that?”
When asked if he felt that Nothing’s Shocking broke down barriers, he answers quickly: “I sure did! I love Nothing’s Shocking [but] I feel [the 1990 follow-up album] Ritual de lo Habitual is our best album. As a matter of fact, when we were together at that time, I saved the best songs for Ritual. ‘Three Days’ and ‘Then She Did’ those two songs I would say are the greatest accomplishments we had.”
Nothing’s Shocking and Ritual make up a good portion of Jane’s setlists, all these years later. . Does he ever tire of singing them? “They’re like my family: I love them, I don’t get tired of them. I’m proud of them.”