In Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the loud music and hard rockin' has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Perry Farrell, best known as the frontman of Jane's Addiction.
1: What gift did you give Tony Blair in 2007?
“It wasn’t a gift – it was an oration. I gave a speech at 10 Downing Street, speaking on behalf of the earth. Talking about global warming.”
WRONG (SORT OF). You did a speech on global warming, but you also presented Blair with a CD of the Satellite Party track ‘Woman in the Window’.
“Oh! You’re right about that! It was the song that I had produced and composed that was the voice of Jim Morrison – the last recording that Jim had ever done, and the material had not been released to the public. I think he [Blair] liked it.”
“I went there with the intention to heal the earth along with [Queen’s] Brian May and Roger Taylor. This man came up in a pair of knickers and white tights, threw a soapbox down and pointed at me to get up on it. I jumped up on it and started telling the guests what I knew about global warming.”
Does the rise of young climate change activists like Greta Thunberg give you hope for the future?
“It’s gonna change. The world is in really sad shape and these last men are choosing to ignore it because their businesses are banking on them proceeding as they’ve done in the past. These guys can argue with us all they want, it’s not going to change nature. It’s not going to change the facts. And if you care about your children and you enjoy this earth, the answers are right in front of us and we have to not let these guys bully and push us around.
I’m excited and have faith, because the internet means that we’re living in a time where the truth surfaces fast.”
2: In 2004, you duetted with Debbie Harry on ‘The Patience Bossa’. What are you riding in the video?
“I’m riding this thing called a big wheel. Back in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, we had these children’s bicycles that were really low to the ground. In fact, Migos ride them in a commercial. My little sister had one and they’re fun to mess around with. It’s a really cool way to get around if you’re nine years old.”
The video was directed by the actor Gary Oldman…
“We recorded this children’s song and they brought in Gary to direct the video – he’s very intense! We had this one shot that the cameraman was struggling to get right. And Gary got so mad because he’s an intense guy. You know, I’m there sitting on a tricycle and he grabbed his head and started grinding his teeth like he was Winston Churchill! (Laughs) Then he gathered himself quickly and remembered where he was!”
3: Complete the following lyrics: ‘I’ve got a new man for you/This one I say is true blue…’
“Oh! ‘Blue eyes and responsibilities/I intro you do the rest’. That’s the song I did with Andy Bell from Erasure!”
CORRECT. It’s from ‘Honey if You Love Him (That’s All That Matters)’, the track you wrote for and sung with Andy Bell on his 2010 solo album ‘Non-Stop’.
“My wife and I attended a Pride festival that Andy Bell performed at. I love his voice – he’s one of the great vocalists of my era. I got to meet him and said off the top of my head that it would be wonderful to sing with him one day. The next thing I know, his record company got in touch. The song is about a friend of mine who’s the manager of this amazing clothes designer who was in love with a guy who just abused him all the time. It’s about this friend’s situation of falling in love with a hot mess. My advice to him was ‘Honey if you love him, that’s all that matters’, because I was trying to make him feel better ‘cos he’d tell me these terrible stories – the guy tortured him, punched him, pushed him out of his own house and locked him out. But who am I to judge, right?”
4: Which actor did you ask to introduce Jane’s Addiction at the Roxy in LA in 1987?
“Are you thinking about Jack Nicholson?”
“Well I didn’t ask him to ‘introduce us’. We were performing that night and I used to make flyers and hand them out. There was a private club above the Roxy called On The Rox. People like John Lennon hung out there with Harry Nilsson. So I saw Jack Nicholson – this is when Jane’s was still an underground phenomenon about to record our first album so he didn’t know who I was – and I was quite freakish looking! But I thought hey, it would be cool if he went, so I put the flyer out to him and he went (Imitating a startled Jack Nicholson): ‘Hey-hooo! What’cha got there?!’, like I scared him to death. He goes: ‘Thanks man!’, ran up the stairs and I never spoke to him again!”
Who’s been the most memorable person to say they like your music?
“Back in the mid-‘80s, I went to the birthday part of Dayle Gloria, one of the promoters of Scream, a post-punk downtown nightclub we became the resident band at. They put out a compilation with ‘Pigs in Zen’ on it. At this party, I hear ‘Pigs in Zen’ coming out of her bedroom and see Iggy [Pop] on the floor playing our song really loud and he’s looking at the liner notes like we used to do. And so I lost my nerve, turned around and bailed and Iggy came running out of the house after me and said: ‘Hey man! Wait up! Do you wanna go on tour?’ And so we did.”
5: What did you once convince your Porno for Pyros guitarist Pete DiStefano to wear, telling him it was made by a top fashion designer?
“We were performing at the Big Day Out in Australia. It was the last show and we’d pulled pranks on each other through that tour. Gay pride had just happened and the thrift stores were full of drag queen memorabilia. I found this sequinned fire-red toga with a big pair of red lips over the shoulder, bought it, had it dry-cleaned and put on a nice hanger, all spiffy. I said: ‘Pete, the number one designer in Australia has designed an outfit for you. He knows you’re really into Jimmy Page and has designed something like Zoso and the dragon suits he used to wear. Whatever it us, you have to wear it because the whole of the fashion industry is going to be there’. He puts it on and he’s a smaller Sicilian and hairy-chested – it wasn’t working for him at all! We’ve got a big group picture with Tricky and Nick Cave – who were performing on the bill – where he’s wearing that gown!”
6: Two months after the release of Jane’s Addiction’s debut album ‘Nothing’s Shocking’ in 1988, what did you smash up and try to feed to the audience at a live New York show?
“Oh right! I got super-excited – this was our first trip to New York to do our own show and I grabbed a guitar – but it belonged to Dave [Navarro, Jane’s Addiction guitarist]. I wasn’t thinking ‘cos when you’re performing you go to this altered state. I grabbed it from the guitar stand, ran out onstage for the encore and smashed his guitar to smithereens and threw it into the audience. And Dave went: ‘What did you do?! That was the first guitar my dad ever bought me! That was my first Gibson!’. I really suck. I always regret that. That was terrible. I should have never done that but you know, I’m an idiot.”
For a bonus half-point, what was Dave Navarro’s codeword in his contacts book for prostitutes?
“Well, I wouldn’t know that! I never had those conversations with him.”
WRONG. He listed sex workers in his address book as ‘pelicans’. It’s noted in his autobiography that there are more pelicans in those pages than on the entire Florida coast.
“I know that they are popular in his little zone but I never talked pelicans with him! I never talked any birds with him!”.
7: At the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards, what did Billy Idol – presenting Jane’s Addiction with Best Alternative Video – change the name of ‘Been Caught Stealing’ to?
“God, I don’t know! You’re stumping me!”
WRONG. He called it ‘Been Caught Wanking’.
“Been Caught Wanking? Oh really?! (Laughs) I don’t think I went to that. I know ‘Nothing’s Shocking’ was nominated for a Grammy – but we lost out to Jethro Tull, so I’m glad I didn’t go to that either!”
8: What year did Jane’s Addiction become the first American band to receive NME’s Godlike Genius Award?
“Mmmnn…yeah, that’s a tough one! It would probably be near 2003? 2004?”
WRONG. It was 2008.
Oh OK, alright! I believe you. (Laughs) The reason I don’t remember is they only gave us one award and Stephen Perkins [Jane’s Addiction drummer] took it. I was happy about that because we got to do a parade out in the streets of Hollywood leading to the theatre we performed in and Alice Cooper was there.”
9: What did Rolling Stone magazine once vote you the rock star most likely to do?
“Ummm…I’m gonna guess because I don’t know. Maybe the person most likely to take their own life?”
CORRECT-ISH. They voted you ‘the rock star most likely to die in the next year’.
“I never read that but that didn’t surprise me. They’ve never been a huge fan of mine. That’s kind of lame – but it explains a lot!”
Having gone through your own battles with substances, do younger artists now turn to you for help? Courtney Love once said you were one of the few people she’d trusted to try and get through to Kurt Cobain.
“Well, I like to consider myself a help to mankind. But the night before [Kurt] died, she called me – it was just about looking for him and saying would I talk to him because he would listen to me. And I would have been very happy to do it. He had just escaped rehab and was not far from where I was living in Venice [Beach] so I never got the chance ‘cos he didn’t hang around town. He went quickly up to Seattle but I would have been happy to talk to him. I don’t know if I was the greatest role model. If I were able to speak to him now, I’d have better advice – back in those days, I still didn’t have it together.”
10: The title of The Simpsons episode ‘Homerpalooza’ is a play on Lollapalooza, the festival you founded in 1991. Can you name two of the musical guest stars in the episode?
“I’m gonna say – The Smashing Pumpkins. The other ones I wouldn’t know.”
WRONG. The Smashing Pumpkins were in it and you could have also had: Peter Frampton, Cypress Hill and Sonic Youth.
“Wow! That’s awesome! My fondest memory of Lollapalooza was the first year in New Jersey. There’s a lot of Native Americans that have lived and died there and as I was singing, I could feel their spirits. I made a connection and could hear their angelic voices – that made me feel we were doing a good thing. I felt very tied to the universe at that moment.”
The verdict: 6/10
“Not bad! I wasn’t expected to get 10, right? I’m not that up on pop culture – most of the time I’m kind of in my own world.”
Perry Farrell’s new album ‘Kind Heaven’ is out now through BMG. He performs three special shows at The Box in London from July 24.