Words By: Gerrod Harris
Too much of my own surprise, it was announced earlier this year that Jane’s Addiction were nominated as potential inductees for the upcoming Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall Of Fame ceremony. Other nominees include Bad Brains, Tupac, and Pearl Jam, among others. My surprise was met with just as much excitement as Jane’s Addiction are one of the most underappreciated bands of the 1980’s who would become one of the most culturally important bands for what would become a sort of alternative renaissance of the 1990’s. By all means, I knew they belong along the names of Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and Metallica, but since when has the hall of fame committee- who has infamously rejected Motörhead, Iron Maiden, and MC5– been so damn hip?
Jane’s Addiction are first time nominees, however, they have been eligible for a nomination since 2010 as that would have marked the band’s 25th anniversary. Despite not receiving a nomination in the last six years, Jane’s Addiction has time and time again proved themselves to meet the second, but most important, expectation: “besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll”. Hailing from Los Angeles in 1985, Jane’s Addiction would release their debut self-titled album in the form of a live recording from The Roxy Theater in 1987. The following year, they would be signed to Warner Brothers and would release Nothing’s Shocking, their debut studio album on a major label. The album failed to break into the top 100 positions on the American charts, but would eventually be certified as a platinum selling record. Following this, in 1990, they would release Ritual de lo Hibitual which would peak on the charts at 19 and would go on to be certified as double platinum. These albums sold well, but by comparison to the blockbuster releases from glam metal bands of the Sunset Strip, this was nothing special to Warner Brothers. What made these albums unique was their substance.
By any means, Jane’s Addiction did not fit in with the popular hard rock bands of the 1980’s. At a time where bands of the likes of Mötley Crüe ruled the air waves- creating a foundation for the global domination of Guns ‘N’ Roses– Jane’s Addiction provided a very different soundtrack to the city of Los Angeles. Made up by the soothing wails and ever present persona of Perry Farrell, the leading and melodic driven bass lines of Eric Avery, the funky and percussion filled grooves of Stephen Perkins, and the undeniable talent and ability of Dave Navarro-whose guitar work is unquestionably incredible in technique, forming a unique and signature style- Jane’s Addiction is one of the few bands where each member is incredibly skillful at their craft, but together, they managed to form a community of misfits who also wanted to create art which opposed the sounds of 1980’s popular metal. In many ways, and certainly unintentionally, the Los Angeles underground music scene centred around Jane’s Addiction and would feature other artists of the likes of Fishbone, Thelonious Monster, and most notably, The Red Hot Chili Peppers. While in many ways Jane’s Addiction are not the household name they once were- largely due to their breakup in 1991 and again in 2004 following the release of 2001’s Strays and a subsequent reunion tour- they were essential to the shaping of the pop culture of the 1990’s.
Despite being overshadowed by the immense success of The Red Hot Chili Peppers in the 1990’s- especially following 1991, where Jane’s Addiction not only broke up, but the Chili Peppers released their quintessential Blood Sugar Sex Magik– Jane’s Addiction were the first among this underground community to not only be signed to a major label, but to also reach fame and great popularity outside of California. In many ways, this was the very opening of the floodgates to the flip in American pop culture; alternative music, what was once the counter culture would become one of the most dominant musical forces of the decade. It wasn’t Nirvana, nor the Chili Peppers who did this, it was Jane’s Addiction, a band whose material captured a more relatable narrative of youthful sexual energy as well as themes of frustration, poverty, and drug abuse. Rock ‘n’ roll had strayed from its roots of being for the people. The grandiose nature of the 1980’s perpetuated a rock ‘n’ roll message of escapism through vicarious sexual and drug fueled exploits rather than acting as a voice for the common person just as it did in the 1960’s and 70’s. What made the alternative explosion of the 1990’s so popular was its grounding in familiar territory; in most cases, a band’s fan base lived what their icons on the radio felt.
This spirit is without a doubt captured in the music of Jane’s Addiction; from the harrowing cries of “Jane Says” or the aggressive pulse of “Pigs In Zen” to the narratives set to a fusion of fuck and rock in “Whores” and “Been Caught Stealing”, Jane’s Addiction was the voice of the disgruntled and lost youth of the West Coast long before Cobain. In fact, the argument not only could, but should be made, that were it not for Jane’s Addiction, the 1990’s would have sounded vastly different where revered artists like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, the Chili Peppers, and The Smashing Pumpkins, would have possibly just been nothing more than another band. It has nothing to do with the talent of these artists, but what they owe to Jane’s Addiction was the community they brought together and the media attention they would later bring to that community. The opportunities and exposure this created truly were limitless and greatly changed the course of popular culture- if that does not demonstrate a significant progression for rock ‘n’ roll, then I don’t know what would. Cultural contributions aside, their music was raw, it was raunchy, and it perpetuated the soul of rock ‘n’ roll with three albums which can be described as flawless.
Even in recent years, the band continues to evolve since their reformation and release of The Great Escape Artist in 2011. The tour following that album took place in quiet theaters and features a circus setting of mismatched and strange visuals: from a giant stuffed bear and the use of dancers and trapeze artists to the array of lights and shadow effects, the tour signified a strong return of one of alternative rock’s greatest spectacles. The band’s current powerful live sound was captured best on their 2013 live record, Live In NYC which yet again catches the band at what could be considered one of their many peaks in terms of live periods. Even today they manage to still capture the same darkness which they wrote of in the late 1980’s, while still delivering a funky and hard hitting tone.
It is for these reasons that Jane’s Addiction– the lost cultural icon who lit the fuse towards the 1990’s as we knew it- needs to be inducted into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall Of Fame. This is a band who can outplay a number of their peers and have outlast sever substance abuse, lineup changes, decades of change, internal combustion, and the collapse of the music industry. They survived it all and are one of the few alternative rock bands who still perform today but refuse to coast on their nostalgia. Be sure to check out the other nominees and cast your fan vote here for a band that has earned the title of legendary.