Wednesday, May 17, 2006

DELIVERED FROM MUSICAL HELL

With nearly two weeks having elapsed since I discussed Vs., by Pearl Jam, as the first of the discs in a running series I call, "My Favorite 100 CDs," it's high time to present the second entry.

The piece included the full description of the nature of this list, the genesis of the idea, and all the other long-winded stuff I'm so fond of. Nonetheless, here's a brief recap of the Official Ground Rules before we move on:
For an album to be eligible I must OWN THE CD. Period. That's it. No Born to Run, no Are You Experienced, no John Barleycorn Must Die, no Who's Next, no Deja Vu, not an awful lot of great albums released before I upgraded in 1987. Have them on LP; don't have them on disc. No go. Also not gonna see the "great, must-have albums" every swinging dick puts on his Best Album list . . . but for some reason isn't great enough for him to actually own. So none of those albums either. Unless I like them, and then they're here. You'll see.

On to today's entry:

#92: Jane's Addiction -- XXX. I'm not sure that's the actual title, in fact I'm pretty certain it's not, but that's what everyone calls this live album, Jane's first release, from 1987. Triple X records, some shady, eighties, LA-based outfit put it out before the band got hooked and reeled in by Warner Bros., the very company that later left them hanging over the Ritual de lo Habitual cover art brouhaha.

Like Zeppelin dressed in drag, with a little punk jauntiness thrown in, Jane's swaggered onto the late 80's scene and just said Fuck You . . . with a wink. Without The Wink, they'd've been just another loud and crunching band outta' Los Angeles. "Guns & Addictions," or something like that. But -- and thank god for it -- they winked.

Back in '88 or '89, I'd already heard the chatter about Jane's, but I wasn't yet ready for the wink. Still too heavily immersed in the classic rock of my youth and the classic rock-derived acts of the late 80's ('89 was a big year for Lenny Kravitz and U2, not to mention one of Neil Young's many resurgences), I couldn't get into Janes Addiction's sound. I realize now, with the benefit of hindsight, how much they sounded like Zeppelin or even early Sabbath. But something about the combo of Perry Farrell's voice and the heavy distortion of Dave Navarro's guitar allowed me to lump them with punk, post-punk, metal, and all the other styles my ears didn't attune to until later in 1990 and into 1991. Follow that? No matter. Let's move on.

So, in the the Summer of '89 or whenever it was exactly, after I turned off whatever Dead bootleg I was obsessively grooving to at the time, when my friend & roommate told me to "check this shit out," and threw on XXX's version of "Jane Says," followed by a menacing cover of Velvet Underground's "Rock n' Roll" segueing into the "Sympathy For The Devil," no one had to convince me of the band's worth. Simply put, if you've never heard that back-to-back cut, you're missing something. Check it out.

But, being 1989, I remained very much a man in search of my tribe. Not yet willing to buy completely into the new sound that was starting to seep through the cracks separating The Mainstream from The Underground, from "College Radio" and "Alternative Music," I continued to ride the fence between worlds. Like a character in a B-sci-fi flick, I was mid-metamorphosis, ooze and diaphenous eyelids still drying in the dawning sunshine. I wanted good musicianship and good songwriting. But I needed something youthful, something raw, something in-your-face. I yearned for something real, something organic to come along and deliver me from classic rock radio with three plays daily of dreck like "All Right Now," "She's Not There," and "Carry on Wayward Son."

And, as if by magic, along it came: Rock's Second Golden Age. I bought in this time. But I'm getting ahead of things.

As 1990 rambled into 1991 and even '92, as I jumped into The Pit, so to speak, in terms of the music, my appearence -- that other element of youth culture, of youth style, partnered as always with the music -- did not mosh. Didn't match either: I continued wearing hippie paraphernalia like tie-dyes, a multicolored South American knit belt and its bracelet brothers, plus some macrame thing I got from a waitress I worked with, which I actually wore on my ankle . . . eventually combining these things with downtown NY, urban-punk-meets-grunge regalia: Doc Martins, self-inflicted hair shearing, three holes in one lobe, two in the other, goofy-as-all-hell sideburns, black jeans, flannels over or under the tie-dyes.

Yes, you're reading correctly. I looked that weird. Motley doesn't quite describe. Nothing was left to take it to the next level, not even silver bells to wear on my boots . . . which I surely would have sported had some doe-eyed lass given them to me along with a merciful favor or two.

And along with this cliched-yet-mishmashed "look," my musical stance, too, possessed more attitude than necessary. I clearly remember the first time I met one of my long-term friends, in the fall of 1992:

Him: I noticed you wearing a tie-dye. You a Deadhead?

Me: I used to like the Dead. But lately I'm into other things--

Him: Oh. So now you like Jane's Addiction?

Me: Uhhh, yeah, but I like other stuff too . . .

You see, we all tend to romanticize Nevermind, and with good reason, as the moment the doors blew off. Look, I admit 1991 was the big turning point for me, as it was with a lot of people. Billboard suddenly opted for a system that actually measured sales as opposed to payola, and the audience favorites emerged. But the favorite had to come from something. From somewhere. And that something, that somewhere? Many things. But Jane's Addiction was one of the big somethings.

Nothing's Shocking, Ritual de lo Habitual. I got them, and got into them a good six months before Nirvana and the re-jiggering of the charts later that year. I got those two albums late in the spring of '91 around the time I bought my tickets for the first Lollapallooza. Which I went to twice in one week in August. I fuckin loved those albums (they'll show up much further on in this countdown). And I actually bought XXX that summer, well before I picked up Nevermind and Gish and Loveless and Bandwagonesque and all the other gems of that year.

But it was well after I'd burned laser holes in their other two albums that I finally got into XXX, probably in early 1992. I was ready for The Wink. More than even Nothing's Shocking or Ritual, XXX captures that menacing sound that Jane's had. That combination of a punch in the face and suggestions of deeply deviant sexuality. As Perry suggested on Ritual, there "Aint No Right," only "pleasure and pain." Of course, he'd probably throw in a "motherfucker" or four, but that's what made them different from all the other metal-meets-punk bands around.

From the guitar-crunch of "Whores," through Farrell's bizarre verbal interlude on "Pig's in Zen," the album roars out of the gate, kicking ass from the first note. After a slow mid-section including a few obscure songs, they hit "Jane Says" and really deliver the goods with the "Rock n' Roll"/"Sympathy" combo, before closing with the dischorant "Chip Away."

But my favorite song on the disc? "1%." Why was it my favorite? Hard to say now, but when I was 23, I had a hard time resisting songs with lyrics like, "biggest gang I know they call the government/gang is weapon that you trade your mind in for/you gotta be just like them/the gang and the government no different." Hell, 15 years later I think I still feel that way.

But then, following those verses, which sound far more angry on the disc, Farrell lets fly with a gutteral "Oooo God!" followed by a 2 minute thrust through three-chord rock heaven, and well, they had me from that moment on.

I'll admit I haven't listened to this disc but two or three times in the last decade. As should be clear from my description, even if you don't know this disc, it ain't for adults. Too angry, too earnest, too . . . I hate to admit it, but too silly. But it spoke volumes to me as a young man. It mattered. It really did.

And if that's not good enough for #92, I'm not sure what is.

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