“60 Songs That Explained the 90s: Jane’s Addiction and the (Perhaps) Birth of 90s Alternative Rock


Grungy. Wu-Tang Clan. Radiohead. “Wonderwall”. 90s music was as exciting as it was diverse. But what does it say about the era and why is it still important? 60 songs that explain the 90s is back for 30 more episodes to try and answer those questions. Rejoin Alarm Music writer and ’90s survivor Rob Harvilla walks through the soundtrack of his youth, one song (and embarrassing anecdote) at a time. Follow and listen for free exclusively on Spotify. In Episode 64 of 60 songs that explain the 90s—yes, you read that right – we’re breaking down Jane’s Addiction and their hit ‘Been Caught Stealing’.

In the early 90s, at the height of the Alt-Rock-Radio era, I didn’t fully grasp the importance of Jane’s Addiction to the very existence of the Alt-Rock-Radio era. I was too busy being just a little scared of this band. Jane’s Addiction was formed in 1985, amidst the myriad vistas of Los Angeles, California. Classic formation, your drummer is Stephen Perkins. Your bassist is the great Eric Avery. Your guitarist, a shining example of the Live Más (look for it) mentality is Dave Navarro, and your frontman is Perry Farrell. In general, I don’t subscribe to the You Had to Be There philosophy of rock ‘n’ roll history, where the true appeal of a band is basically unknowable if you weren’t there, if you weren’t not a youngster living in the band’s hometown at the exact time the band exploded. I spent about 48 total hours in Seattle, in my life, and that as an adult, and pretty much the only place in Seattle I ever ate was downtown Jimmy John, but I I’ve listened to 200,000 hours of Seattle rock music in my life, and I get Seattle, absolutely. I to know Seattle. Trust me. nobody needs this lots of context, really. I have no idea where Tracy Bonham is from – it’s Boston, I just looked it up, it makes perfect sense – but the appeal of “Mother Mother” struck me immediately.

But I suspect the LA of everything – the LA of the mid-’80s – means more than usual to the legacy of Jane’s Addiction, with that sort of thing. This band meant something very different to a kid in Ohio in the mid-’90s than it did to a kid in Los Angeles in the mid-’80s. Okay, so mid-’80s LA Black Flag, X, the Go- Gos, the Minutemen (D. Boon rest in peace), Christian Death, the Dream Syndicate, Fishbone, Mötley Crüe and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Technically, Jane’s Addiction debut album is a live album, called Jane’s Addictionwhich came out in 1987. For your reference, here’s what the Red Hot Chili Peppers looked like in 1987.

It’s the song “Love Trilogy”, by The Mofo Uplift Party Plan. This part is the third part of the trilogy. Listen, I took some very detailed notes during my deep dive into the Red Hot Chili Peppers discography, and My love is my dick in my hand is the general tenor of the notes I took. Who is the biggest hornball? The famous hornball rock band, or the mild-mannered civilian guy who picks the Hornballest, the Hornballerest, the most Hornballiest lines from the hornball rock band catalog? Reflect. Anyway, for your reference, here’s what Jane’s Addiction looked like in 1987.

This song is called “Whores”. What are you going to do ? Perry Bernstein was born in Queens in 1959. His family moved to Miami when he was a child. There is a big SPIN cover of an oral history magazine about Jane’s Addiction, from 2003, their big reunion year, where one of Perry’s friends describes Perry’s father as “that type of Jewish gangster”. Perry himself said of his father, “He was one of those guys who walked around Miami Beach in the 70s with a FILA headband and a bikini swimsuit with gold around his neck.”

When Perry was a small child, his mother committed suicide; at age 17, he fled to California, citing “with a surfboard, art supplies, an ounce of weed, and a phone number.” Whose phone number, I wonder. He lives in a van on the beach. He gets a gig pretending to be David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Frank Sinatra in a club in Newport Beach. He sings for a goth band called Psi Com. They turn off. He changes his name to Perry Farrell, which is a pun peripheral. Periphery. He meets Eric Avery, who already has a ton of rad bass lines. He met drummer Stephen Perkins and star guitarist Dave Navarro, who both played in a metal band called Dizaster. Write this group name and just see for a while, will you? DIZASTRE. Drop it into Microsoft Word and put it in different fonts.

The guys form Jane’s Addiction. Jane is a real person, a roommate of Perry Farrell at the time, and Jane had a real drug addiction. Perry is in his late twenties; the rest of the band are in their early twenties. Direct quote from Dave Navarro, on his general experience of this period: “What do you want me to say? There was always five pounds of heroin, all the booze and coke you wanted, all the girls you wanted – all just looking for guys in groups. And I wasn’t even old enough to drink legally yet. End of quote. The whole ecosystem of the band, it seems to me now like a “If I had the sex and the drugs, I could do without rock ‘n’ roll” situation, but what do I know, I don’t wasn’t there. I’m just reading about it now and pulling quotes from It’s Spinal Tap.

The band plays in a bunch of rad LA clubs with names that mean something to you if you lived in LA at the time, and they don’t get kicked out of all of them. Direct quote from Perry Farrell on his acting philosophy at that time: “As long as I could get my dick out, I knew I was alive.” Live Jane’s Addiction The 1987 album includes covers of The Velvet Underground’s “Rock & Roll” (Perry sounds like Mick Jagger) and The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” (Perry sounds like Axl Rose). It also includes an early version of the song “Pigs in Zen”, which I believe is the song title of ur-Jane’s Addiction, the inextricable spirituality of the sordid, so on and so forth. Dave Navarro’s rad guitar solos in this early release exemplify the Live Más lifestyle. This is absolutely my last reference to the Live Más lifestyle, I assure you.

If you like this band for the rad bass lines – we’re not the majority shareholders, in Jane’s Addiction fandom, but we’re a proud subculture all the same – I’d direct you to the song called “I Would for You”. ”, which is entirely driven by the chemistry between Perry Farrell and Eric Avery, a chemistry that is going to get super screwed up very soon, but yeah for now it’s fantastic and will last forever.

It’s as tender and conventionally charming as Perry Farrell’s voice, although of course no one seeks Perry Farrell for his conventional good looks. It’s a journey though to revisit this live album now – to travel back to mid-80s Los Angeles, when Jane’s Addiction was local swinger heroes and not much else – with the knowledge that this was the song that would make these guys world famous.

“Jane says” is about this Joan again. Her name is Jane Bainter. Sergio was a drug dealer she knew who manipulated her. Her parents were divorced but her mother had remarried and moved to a house in southern Spain, and Jane had a standing offer to live there too if she could clean up, hence i’m going to spain and I’m going to kick tomorrow.

By the time Jane’s Addiction live record comes out they’re shit they’re signed to a major label and their studio debut Nothing is shocking was released in 1988, and the studio version of “Jane Says” – which can still be heard today, 150 times a day (that’s a real number) on any radio that respects itself with “rock” n anywhere in its name – quickly becomes what producer Dave Jerden describes as “modern rock’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’.”

To listen to the full episode Click here, and make sure to follow on Spotify and return every Wednesday for new episodes on the most important songs of the decade. This excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity and length.


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