“Señores y señoras: Nosotros tenemos más influencia con sus hijos que tú tiene… Pero los queremos. Creado y regado de Los Ángeles, Juana’s Adicción!”
That’s how Jane’s Addiction’s final album — Ritual De Lo Habitual, released August 21, 1990 — opened. It translated to “Ladies and gentlemen, we have more influence with your children than you do. But we love them!” It was an apt announcement: by 1990, two years on from their breakthrough album, Nothing’s Shocking, Jane’s Addiction was one of the hottest and scariest rock bands in America. But they wanted to be more than a band, they were looking beyond being the next big thing; they were leading a movement. They were curating a community of misfits, devoid of constraints.
They played as loudly and as powerfully as bands like Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, but they weren’t metal. And they led the way for a generation of loud, guitar-driven bands to dominate the radio and MTV for years to come. Some of those bands, like Nirvana, Green Day, Pearl Jam and Nine Inch Nails, have since been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Unbelievably, Jane’s still has not been voted in.
As Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine famously said at his speech inducting KISS into the Rock Hall, the criteria for being inducted should be based on three things: impact, influence, and awesomeness. Any fan will tell you that their favorite artist is “awesome.” So, let’s look at impact and influence.
Jane’s Addiction was an underground band with dreams to be as big as Led Zeppelin or David Bowie… and like Zep and Bowie, they weren’t going to compromise their art to pull big crowds. Unlike many of JA’s peers, they didn’t hold the contrarian view of mass popularity; they weren’t suspicious of success. But they expected their fans to be intelligent, and to take the time to listen to something a few times to digest it. They made ambitious and experimental, loud, sexy rock music but they never dumbed it down; they didn’t pander. You had to meet them where they were, and if you did, odds are, you’d were hooked.
The music industry likes categories; this was particularly true in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when record stores had sections for different genres. Jane’s Addiction didn’t fit in anywhere, and many of their fans surely felt the same way about themselves: if you went to one of their shows you’d see punks, metalheads, Deadheads, reggae fans and even classic rock lovers hoping to catch a glimpse of this L.A. band who some were hailing as the next Led Zeppelin. They made it cool to cross boundaries, years before iPods and streaming music started the playlist culture. A few years ago, guitarist Dave Navarro told me that this was always part of the vision: “The concept of having all these different genres and styles of music together on one stage really suits Jane’s Addiction, because we kind of embody that. I was a die-hard Grateful Dead follower in the ’80s and would follow them around. Me and [drummer] Stephen Perkins, actually, went to a lot of shows together, so we definitely had the community sensibility with us.”
And, as with the Grateful Dead, that vision was about more than the music. “There are bands that you’re a fan of, and then there are bands where you’re part of a community, and we wanted to be the kind of band where it was a community, it was a collective.”
They were weird, surprising and exciting. They were dead serious about their music, but frontman Perry Farrell had a sense of kitsch as well. They were totally in your face on songs like “Ocean Size” and “Stop!,” but they had an empathy and sweetness that came out in “I Would For You,” “Jane Says” and “Classic Girl.”
They wanted to take you on a ride and give you an experience. They took elements that you may have recognized — Zeppelin and the Doors and Black Sabbath, the Stooges and the Velvet Underground and David Bowie, Bob Marley and the Dead, X and the Germs — and created something unlike anything you had ever heard before. Navarro, bassist Eric Avery and Perkins were as powerful as any of the aforementioned bands, but sounded totally distinct. And Perry Farrell was as much a ringmaster as a lead singer. Like Iggy Pop and Ozzy Osbourne, he wasn’t a singer in the conventional sense, but you had to pay attention to him.
We’ll quote Morello again here: he said that “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 ’80s. That’s just not true. It was Jane’s Addiction. Inspiring, intelligent, furiously rocking and artistically deep as f—.” Indeed, Ritual de lo Habitual was released almost exactly a year before Nevermind. Interestingly, it was also released on the same day as Alice In Chains’ debut, Facelift. The latter album was produced by Dave Jerden, who was hired based on the sound he got for Jane’s on Nothing’s Shocking. Like Jane’s, Alice was a band of metal fans who wanted to create powerful music that wasn’t bound by any genre rules.
Their impact and influence are intertwined: they not only led the way for bands to cross genre boundaries to create something new, they also bust down the doors to mainstream outlets that would catapult these bands to multi-platinum sales.
They made it OK for MTV to play weird, loud bands during the daytime hours and for rock radio to add these bands as well; they weren’t just going for cool city kids. They wanted to expose the suburbs to their unconventional music. Jane’s Addiction may have come from the underground, but thankfully, they weren’t indie rock snobs. And just as they didn’t fit in, you didn’t have to, either. As Perry yelped in “Ain’t No Right,” “I am skin and bones, I am pointy nose… but it motherf—in’ makes me try! Makes me try, and that ain’t wrong! I’ll tell you why: there ain’t no ‘right!’” It felt like something Pete Townshend might have written if he came of age in the late ‘80s. The point was, you can be awkward and weird, but those things can add more fuel to your fire.
Perry Farrell co-conceived Lollapalooza, a multi-media festival tour that featured bands that normally wouldn’t play together; it was originally created for the purpose of being Jane’s Addiction’s farewell tour. The lineup featured Living Colour, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Ice-T (and his metal band Body Count), Henry Rollins, Nine Inch Nails and the Butthole Surfers. In the next few years, the tour continued on, and would help to bring the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Primus, Hole, Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day, Rage Against the Machine and Tool to huge audiences. It led the way for much huger “destination events” that bring together different audiences for a big party, like Coachella, Sonic Temple and Bonnaroo.
One question that’s fair to ask about any Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees is: whether or not you like an artist, how different would music and culture be if you removed them from history? Of course, it’s hard to imagine such a hypothetical. But as a major influence on most of the biggest and best bands of the ‘90s, to the stylistic and genre barriers that they broke down, it’s fair to speculate that music and culture would have been much different without them.