First listen to just purchased Jane’s Addiction Nothing’s Shocking on vinyl:
This hugely influential record shaped not just millions of listeners brains & creativity back in 88-89-90, but through its weird originality and sheer power, also had a measurable effect on everything that came after it out of the American music scene: from Nirvana, to Hole, to Smashing Pumpkins, to contemporaries The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and a hundred more. To this day.
The “title track” (where the album takes its title from) is “Ted, Just Admit It”. (Arguably the band’s ID was as clearly defined by the iconic “Jane Says”, the once-in-a-generation character sketch worthy of a movie that informs the band’s name.)
The song is A LOT to get your head around. It must have sailed right over some heads.
It’s a weird artifact about the biggest bad of our time: Ted Bundy, made shortly before his 1989 execution, during which residents of California turned off their power in hopes of sending more juice to fry him with. I supported this idea. I did not think it was excessive in the least, even if it was just symbolic and seemed unkind. He was the worst monster we ever knew, by many miles. He still got too much kindness because of his looks and charm, right til the end.
“Ted, Just Admit It” is scary.
It includes a clip of Ted in his famous denial of guilt. That itself was scary and controversial in our more innocent times of 1988. Were they celebrating Bundy? Like that scummy person from another band who later bought Bundy’s Volkswagen Bug at auction to display in his home?
No. They were talking about very complex and important ideas of second wave feminism: that (all) “sex is violence”. That we are becoming desensitized. Unshockable. That this is not a good thing. That we should think of murdered women as the babies they once were, not separate them from their essential humanity as entertainment (as we endlessly do in every medium).
Ted tried to blame his crimes on porn, on entertainment, on TV. Perry Farrell takes this bullshit and thinks about it. Gives the intelligent, scary dude his due. A radical idea, something only FBI profiler types were as yet willing to do. The rest of us still scared, fascinated, captive audiences, book buyers, filling our heads with smut in guise of useful information or news, Farrell was ready to lock horns with Bundy and neuter what was left of his power: his talk. Reading about Ted Bundy, we teenage girls filled our heads with stuff no good person needs to know about what Bundy and other rare, dangerous predators like him do to women.
There’s no prevention or cure: it’s all just voyeuristic reading unless you are in law enforcement. Ted Bundy was bad for us. Letting him do interviews was bad for us (but ultimately good as well for profilers since the dude loved to talk). Hearing him in a rock song was eerie. But ultimately good for us. Farrell shamed Ted, called him out on his BS. Made him plain, uninteresting and silly in his ridiculous protestations (with mountains of DNA evidence), which was good for us all to heal from heartache of names of destroyed, beautiful women locked in their old high school pictures we still see across a generation and across borders and oceans, when we close our eyes. Listeners instead of readers. Rioters and fearless stage divers. A globe of ordinary good people, women who survived being nice girls or friendly women (or just women period) haunted by our refusal to be desensitized like the soulless sociopaths never are.
The song starts out creepy and weird in that way we loved in and here begins with mouth sounds that imitate a trumpet out of out-of-step folk horror of another time. It builds its lines like only Jane’s did, Navarro emerging as the young virtuoso he stunningly was, the band moving around Farrell’s performance sounding tight but loose, live but clean, urgent and original. The song builds to something sexual and violent itself, and walks a knife edge. This is a band that whilst inventing Lollapalooza and in so doing, elevating life itself for young music goers for the next decade, could discuss feminist concepts and act as media critics while attacking topical subjects like Ted Bundy without cliches, and could do all of this while exotic dancers twirled on their stage, who at times might include Farrell’s wife. Jane’s Addiction was an anomaly, and thank god for that.
This song said, ok, let’s face this shit. Bring it out into the light. Layer guitars onto it. Have girls dancing on stage to it. Repurpose it. Meanwhile Jane’s grew in stature, importance, coolness, reach and accomplishment while Bundy was soon cremated and finally taken out of our atmosphere. Nothing has improved in the way we consume women as entertainment these days but those of us who listened closely to Jane’s Addiction are smarter at least. We think about it. We never forgot what Ted’s capture & all the words written about him taught us about being too nice to a good looking guy in a cast, in broad daylight. We owe Bundy our resting bitchfaces that we choose to wear for strangers over being silly nice girls.
“Nothing’s shocking” as a claim, is a lie, a detached, L.A. pose, a type of armour. We can all still be shocked, we must, for to be moved is to be human. The more we go through in life, the less capable of surprise / shock we become. But we were all so young in 1988. Weren’t we? Yet, there’s a world-weariness to Jane’s Addiction, even as their four men have unlined, perfect faces and Navarro looks brand new. That world-weariness was real. Kids grow up real fast sometimes. Childhoods are robbed. But Jane’s lyrics are “painted pepper sunlight” – there’s always sun dappling through the trees, there’s bare feet in the grass, there’s the belief in love and purpose that we build like bonfires in ourselves despite the odds and despite the length of our childhoods. Jane’s are simply modern troubadours. They crafted, in 1988 amid a chart that was a riot of hair metal fighting classy matte brown lipsticked songstresses, the entire roadmap of 1990s optimism and hope that Lollapalooza and all the many divergent bands that thrived through the early and mid-90s would echo back to us in waves that we all believed were only the start of the future, unretractable, unkillable. We were so naive to the power of dark corporate forces, their desperate, crass cynicism and their brutal stranglehold on our own art form, pop music, that was as ugly as Bundy’s own hands. That would send Alternative music (s) to the margins, where it remains. (Jane’s Addiction’s recent returns to the road have been most welcome, needed, and satisfying.)
Perry Farrell had a view askew for the entire world, seemed to operate in his own curated universe, was a visionary in art, sculpture, writer of lyrics that seemed effortlessly poetic, got away with cursing with a sly drawl on his songs, regularly filled his album covers with (artistic) nudity and nipples, (something censored 30 years later, and pushed boundaries of conservatism in America under Bush senior in the 90s more easily and further than anyone in American music of that time. He was a dangerous, marvelous figure and Jane’s Addiction was a dangerous, marvelous band.
Jane’s Addiction’s work is due for a deluxe and luxe remastering. But this vinyl reissue with no bells and whistles, played on a decent sound system, is a happy surprise. The music breathes, it’s full of urgency, it’s downright metal at times, it sneaks in steel drums effortlessly (without ever looking foolish unlike so many who’ve tried it) and it is a mini music festival itself. It forebodes Lollapalooza and it means more than words can say to the formula of musical alchemy of us kids of that time. Revisit it.