Roughly 25 years ago, Los Angeles alt-rock outfit Jane's Addiction — fresh from signing a big-time contract with Warner Bros. — was playing a hot-ticket premiere show in San Francisco, and the tiny club was packed with local cognoscenti. But iconoclastic frontman Perry Farrell had something to say as the gig started.
"Hey, are there any rock journalists out there?" he sneered, disdainfully. A few proud hands went up in response. "Well, guess what — you all have giant brains and tiny dicks, and you should get the fuck outta my show, immediately!" Some writers chuckled. Others shrugged and exited, vowing never to cover the group again.
Farrell — now 53 and back with a dark, majestic new fourth Jane's Addiction effort, The Great Escape Artist — remembers the incident, and chuckles at his own youthful audacity. "Back in those days, I did have Warner Brothers that would market for me, and I didn't have to kiss up to anyone," he recalls. "Now? You really have to do it yourself — there's no other choice, no other way, if you wanna do it right. You could go to a record company, but I wouldn't recommend it. I mean, up until this year, I was contractually obligated to work with Capitol Records. But now we're free."
Times change. And few artists have surfed the showbiz waves better than Farrell, who's an avid surfer in real life, as well. In '91 — just three years after Warner Bros. issued Jane's Addiction's sophomore breakthrough, Nothing's Shocking — Farrell created today's touring festival prototype with Lollapalooza (which has since become an annual destination concert). In between Jane's albums, he formed spinoffs like Porno for Pyros, issued a solo set, and launched a platter-spinning career under his birth name, DJ Peretz. And his pneumatic power drill of a voice found regular rotation on HBO, when the jagged Jane's anthem "Superhero" was selected as the opening-credit theme song for Entourage.
"This shows you how ridiculous the music industry is," Farrell says. "You've got a show on television where they're playing this song around the clock, every day, for eight years straight. And Capitol Records doesn't think to release it as a single!" He sighs. "I'm lucky I have no ulcer. I'm lucky I have a sense of humor, because if I didn't I might've shot myself in the head, just wondering 'Why, Lord? Why?'"
More recently, core Jane's Addiction members Dave Navarro and Stephen Perkins gravitated back to Farrell for the Dave Sitek-enhanced comeback Escape. With ethereal new processionals like "Underground," "Broken People" and "Irresistible Force," the album's title matches its theme. "Almost 24 hours a day," says Farrell, "we're basically tied to our cellphones and our computers. What we need more than ever is the chance, and a place, to escape."
Meanwhile, the old antagonistic Farrell persona is long gone, he declares. "My wife reminded me of that this morning," he says. "I was on a booking call and listening to the fees that these artists are demanding, and I said, 'How do they get to demand that much?'
"And she said, 'Well, you're always ...' — and she used the word 'challenging' — people, and these artists kissed up to them instead.' So here I am today, kissing up to you," he says, chuckling. "Because I'd sure love to have those same fees!"