Interview? Perry Farrell Philosophizes About Peace, Punk Rock + Recovering From The Apocalypse
Image by Walid Azami
For those of us who can remember, the mid-80s were a pretty bleak time for music, with Bryan Adams, Phil Collins, and Lionel Richie dominating the charts, and the heroes of punk and post-punk mostly having entered their “not good” periods (anything by Prince was a saving grace). But the underground was bubbling, and by later that decade our patience would be rewarded with the rise of #modernrock, and breakthrough albums from R.E.M., The Cure, Love And Rockets and The Pixies. G’N’R and Nirvana weren’t far behind.
Within that clutch of bands there was many a jangly guitar and bohemian lyrical outlook, perhaps a welcome alternative to all that overproduced pop – but hardly something to bang your head against a wall to. For that, there was Jane’s Addiction. Wildly exploding out of the LA junkie rock scene, their supremely ferocious live shows often bordered on the frightening…but were also nothing short of exultant.
The members of Jane’s were a motley crew of like-minded degenerates, with a seemingly bonafide alien as frontman – Perry Farrell – whose performance style required Jagger-like energy, combined with as much punk fury as it was possible to muster. The band’s initial golden age was just five years short, with their first “breakup” happening amidst substance abuse issues and infighting in 1991; they’ve reunited a number of times over the decades with a variety of additional members.
They still never disappoint. (Unless perhaps you’re a Lionel Richie fan.)
Outside of Jane’s Addiction, Farrell has remained impressively industrious. Starting with the band’s farewell show, which was part of the inaugural decades-running and startlingly successful Lollapalooza festival, Farrell hasn’t stopped working, releasing music across an impressive range of styles, and with an assortment of equally iconoclastic collaborators/co-conspirators. There was even a tequila venture a couple of years back.
Few other rock icons, then, warrant a career-spanning retrospective more than he – and Mr. Farrell and Last Man Music have just delivered that in appropriately dramatic form.
Indeed, Perry Farrell – The Glitz; The Glamour box set includes nine vinyl LPs of recordings, from his pre-Jane’s band Psi Com, his 2001 Project Song Yet To Be Sung, Satellite Party’s Ultra Payloaded, his latest project Kind Heaven, plus remix acetates, limited edition artifacts and a book of photographic memoirs. If you’re a fan, it’ll likely bring you to tears; if you weren’t, then what were you thinking?
We are most definitely fans, so the opportunity to Zoom with the enigmatic maestro was the highlight of our way too long quarantine so far. And, no surprise, we came away with some truly fascinating asides.
(Note: One doesn’t really interview Perry Farrell, so much as sit back and listen to him talk and soak in some knowledge. And if you’re lucky, as we were, you get a preview of a new song.)
The Genesis of Perry
I’m lucky as I never bought into the music industry hype, I never wanted to be a popular musician, I got into LA and I didn’t know what I wanted to be, I was just surviving.
I was invited up here by this guy who kinda wanted to fuck me, and manage me, he wanted to make me into a soap opera star, if you can believe that.
I came up to LA and got a job working at this restaurant called Café Figaro, it was a pretty happening spot, it was open late, and you could get a meal for 8 or 12 dollars. A lot of waiters/actors worked there, I fell in with the punk rock kids, I loved music, but I didn’t think I was going to be a musician. But punk gave me an in, because you didn’t have to be polished and be a guy with a nice guitar, nothing like that.
I was a busboy and a waiter and was working at this hip place on Sunset Blvd. Don Henley would come in there and eat sometimes, Oscar’s was the name, it served British food, and at night they would close the door and hang out and get to drinking and playing music.
The Demo + Huey Lewis
Anyway I had a demo, and Huey Lewis – he’ll never remember this – but he heard that I was a musician and I played the demos for him cos he was putting together a supergroup – it was Tommy [Shaw] from STYX, and Neal [Schon] from Journey and they wanted me to be the singer for this group; but I couldn’t do it man, I was a punk rocker; and I said to myself I’d rather be a waiter. I told them, Nah I’ll hang on doing my thing.
Music compares to the greatest medicine, you can take on this Earth. God gave us wonderful things to heal, coca leaves so we can walk through the hillside, he gave us mushrooms so we can experience another universe, and he gave us sound.
I’ve got songs all over the place, my wife makes sure that I always write them down, not on a computer or typewriter – because she says one day when you die you’re going to have all these written down lyrics for an archive.
Here’s a new song that I wrote last night with my son [plays the song], I went into his room and he has a friend who’s a shitty rapper, he raps about bullshit, but they think it’s okay. But I sat him down and he was rapping about all this shit that he never did and all the hoes and all this money he doesn’t have.
And I told my son, that song kinda sucks, he’s not fucking all these hoes, and you shouldn’t talk about women that way anyway. The point being I wanted him to know the difference between what his friend did and what I don’t like about it and what I just did and why that is powerful magic and why that (points the other way) isn’t that necessary.
These are the words; “I’m on a wild horse, right now, And I’m not slowing down, So you better watch out, yeah, watch out, See, listen to me because I’m out there, Hear that, that’s me riding on a wild horse, I’m riding on a wild horse called Magic, here, have some.”
And they (artists) have to know what they have in their possession is important. They have in their possession magic and the ability to change the world. Or they can be a fuck up and try and make money and be funny, try and be a clown; and that’s alright, but for me that is no way to spend a life. We have precious moments, and you have to make sure that what you do is magic.
There’s a real chance for peace, the first step for peace is understanding – and before that you have to have the ability to communicate, which has never been easier.
Right now my interests are in mending the world, because in my mind we just went through the Apocalypse. The Apocalypse doesn’t mean everything ends, it just means a certain time ends, we go on, and how are we going to get through this? I feel proud and up for the challenge and I have ideas. I think there is a common ground.