Being in a band is a bit of an emotional tightrope walk.
Trying to make any art can be difficult. It’s hard enough to write one good song on your own — let alone to do it with a group of people, each with a different aesthetic.
And let’s face it: Most musicians tend to possess, kindly put, an independent streak and so — almost inevitably — there is a residue left by the day in/day out friction from collaborating on any body of work. If you’re lucky, that creative process is followed by rehearsing, recording, and touring. Sprinkle on top of that whatever “personal demons” existed beforehand and you’ll see that, for all the clichés of a band being like a dysfunctional family, it’s inevitable that there is some truth to it.
Is it really any wonder that so many bands quickly lose their balance and fall off the wire?
And yet it’s that very fragile, very human stuff — the raw chemistry of a band — which separates the few long-time survivors from those thousands of groups that appear and disappear each year. Some musicians are certainly more talented than others, but raw talent or proficiency can’t make up for a sort of “X Factor”: an almost ineffable feeling — a force — that enters a room when certain people summon it by making music together.
Whatever it is and wherever it comes from, it’s the thing that either gives music its lift… or, in its absence, allows it to sink forgotten to the bottom of our cultural ocean. Jane’s Addiction was a band that had that particular (and mysterious) glow around it. After starting a fire in the music world during the late 80’s, the band burned itself up with interpersonal squabbling and drug abuse by the early 90’s.
The Start of Something New
If you weren’t around for the “Birth of Alternative Music”, it’s probably difficult to understand the impact that they had on music (and musicians) in that moment of time. Let me just say this — In the midst of a very hairy L.A. Metal Band scene, Jane’s Addiction showed that you could find art, intelligence, and even poetry in heavy music. More than just reflexively “counter-cultural”, they countered an existing culture by creating a new one in its place and, in doing so, paved the way for everything that came after.
Groups like Jane’s and The Pixies knocked the horribly bad metal music scene off-balance long enough for bands like Nirvana to drive a stake through its collective heart. Trust me when I say that we all owe them our eternal gratitude for that.
A Personal Story
On one hot Arizona summer day in 1991, I was in the audience of the very first Lollapalooza show ever — which is to say that I was a witness to the both the beginning of “Alternative Music” becoming mainstream music and also to the beginning of the end of Jane’s Addiction. The line-up included Siouxsie & the Banshees, Living Colour, Ice-T & Body Count, Butthole Surfers, Rollins Band, Violent Femmes, Fishbone, the Emergency Broadcast Network, and a very young Nine Inch Nails suffering through a set marred by their equipment failing in the Phoenix sun.
The excitement of being a part of something new was palpable and that feeling, along with knowing we’d see Jane’s Addiction play at the end of the night, kept us all going throughout the day — despite 110+ degree heat. When they took the stage later that night, Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro almost immediately got into a fistfight. I can’t say anyone was really surprised; Everyone knew that Jane’s Addiction was a high-wire act. But as we walked quietly through the dirt parking lot of Compton Terrace trying to find our cars in the dark, I remember feeling just… stunned… that they could fall apart so quickly.
New Beginnings for Old Friends
Most bands never possess that Vishnu-like charisma which destroys itself in the act of creation. For those that do, one could say that the “X Factor” becomes the “EX-Factor”. Sure — you can work on other music while the band is broken up or “on hiatus”, but your audience probably won’t care as intensely as they did about the music you made with those people that you can’t stand anymore. An interesting problem to have.
Each member of Jane’s has done other projects since their break-up 17 years ago — with varying degrees of artistic and commercial success. Bass player Eric Avery resisted a reunion for many years and, while the band has occasionally “relapsed” with the some all-star guests subbing in for him, it never reformed in its original lineup.
That is until now.
Here Today, Gone ???
Avery finally relented for a one-off NME anniversary party last year. His musical contributions were, to many people (including me), considered the heart of many Jane’s Addiction songs and so his return is — you know — a big deal. The NME show proved that the chemistry was still intact and so quiet discussions began between the members and their respective camps. Trent Reznor made an overture, secret recording sessions were scheduled — all leading up to today’s release of the official “Nine Inch Nails and Jane’s Addiction” tour schedule for this summer.
Jane’s has occasionally been playing “secret shows” to get back into the groove and, if last night’s SXSW performance is any indication, they can still drop the hammer on a grateful audience.
Time will tell if Jane’s Addiction can overcome their personal shortcomings and survive past this summer’s tour (or even through it!). In this interview on a Washington radio station, Perry Farrell didn’t seem to have the presence of mind to ignore the DJ’s bait to repeat his thoughts about Dave Navarro’s (unfortunate) forays into reality TV. He also seemed to struggle to find words of praise for his tour mate Trent Reznor — which seems striking when you compare it to Trent’s effusive praise of Jane’s Addiction. At one point, Farrell spoke about his upcoming birthday party saying that, even though he knew plenty of people, he had very few close friends to invite to his party. He seemed genuinely sad about it. And yet, he didn’t seem to make the connection that publicly sharing your personal thoughts about a friend on a radio show could be a part of why that was — or how that could jeopardize this long-awaited reunion.
Will he (and the rest of the band) be able to hold itself together over the long haul? Who knows. But no matter how long it lasts, you can already enjoy some new fruits of the revived collaboration.
With Reznor, Jane’s has recorded two new versions of old songs — ‘Chip Away’ and ‘Whores’ — for a promotional tour EP (and presumably for the upcoming boxed set release, Cabinet of Curiosities). The songs are available on the NIN | JA website as part of a FREE tour sampler EP in MP3 format (or download lossless versions from the links below):
While you’re there, check out the tour dates and other goodies, including multitrack stems of the songs available to download and remix if you’re geeky like that. And do me a favor — keep your fingers crossed that these guys can keep Vishnu at bay long enough for me to finally see my first complete Jane’s Addiction show.