Matt Rosoff (@mattrosoff) is the West Coast Editor of Business Insider SAI. He used to blog about digital music for CNET.com and play bass in lots of bands you’ve never heard of.
Perry Farrell pouring Rosoff a drink in 2011
They’re a sad joke now, a washed-up sold-out Los Angelized imitation of their former selves, but Jane’s Addiction changed my life.
In high school, I was a classic rocker and metalhead. Denim jacket, long messed up hair. I only listened to music with loud guitars, played by people who actually knew how to play them. Zeppelin, Maiden, Ozzy, Eddie (pre-1984), Scorpions, Judas Priest. Synths were suspect, with exceptions for Pink Floyd and Rush. The Beatles were for little kids. MTV metal — Def Leppard, Motley Crue — was for girls. Punk was for losers. Bands like the Police and Devo and the Talking Heads were beneath contempt, reserved for clove smokers who paid too much attention to their hair.
My mind stayed stubbornly closed through most of my first two years of college, although occasionally I tolerated some new-ish bands like REM and Love and Rockets. Especially if a girl was involved.
Then came spring break of my sophomore year. April 1989. I spent an endless glorious afternoon wandering Seattle with a friend, riding the bus to go see Terry Gilliam’s “Baron Munchausen,” sitting on park benches and watching the trees move against the sky, freaking out at the gigantic cellphones wielded by suit-wearing men with black sunglasses on the way home. At the end of the day, we landed in his basement and he put on side one of “Nothing’s Shocking.” I remember staring at the cover — this was back when most people still owned more records than CDs — and being startled at how photorealistic the flames were, jumping and crackling from the heads of those topless conjoined rocking-horse twins.
I’d heard bits and pieces of the album before, but when “Up The Beach” started with that simple two-note bassline, I was completely riveted. The first two blasts of guitar-drums-vocals sent me spinning, but it was that third one that really did me in — ugly twisted barbed-wire guitar with Perry Farrell’s voice on the Echoplex, everything slightly flanged, spinning up and to the right into infinity.
The song was only 20 seconds in.
Then he started singing “Here…we go…away…now” and I was hooked. Every single note, every word of that album seemed to be thought out, sculpted, perfect. It was everything I had been thinking and feeling, secretly, to myself, for the last couple of years, but here it was articulated in music and words. “God is…dead…he’s not there at all!” Or the endless variations on “sex is violence.” Or the split vocal harmonies of “me and my … girl … friend.” Or the secret Masonic call — IAOM! — at the end of “Idiots Rule.”
It was unlike any music I’d ever heard before. It was heavy and loud…but kind of arty, too, like Pink Floyd or (yes, OK) Love & Rockets. It was kind of punk, but with guitar solos, which made it OK. And then there was the guy on the back cover — Perry Farrell, although I didn’t know his name yet — a crazy beaded transvestite, sort of like Boy George but much more frightening. I dind’t know what to make of that. Those eyes! I remember those eyes. Wolf eyes. Junkie eyes, I realized years later.
But the best part came a few hours after that, when I was home alone in my bed. I’m still not sure how this happened, and it’s never happened again, but “Up The Beach” started playing in my head. This wasn’t like when you get a song caught in your head — this was like hearing a song on the radio. It was note-perfect, 100% accurate, and I’d only ever listened to it once. It stayed like that through big swaths of the album. I can’t swear that the whole record played in my head, but it sure seemed like it at the time.
After that, I started listening to any and all music — anything that anybody liked, I was game to hear it. Talking Heads! Tales From Topographic Oceans! Dead Kennedys! Neil Young! Stevie Wonder! The Replacements! So much great music, so little time. I began collecting records in earnest, building the collection of 700 heavy petroluem-based discs (it used to be more) that I still schlep with me on every move. I started DJing on the college radio station. And by the time I graduated from college, I was learning to play the bass. My only goal in life was to join a band and learn how to make music. And that’s what I did.
♬ Listen to Up the Beach ♫
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