Twenty-five years really does a number on you: One minute you’re young and you’ve got the world by the balls; next thing you know you’ve slid into middle age with kids, a mortgage and your first or second spouse, asking yourself, “How the hell did I end up here?”
Then an era-defining band rolls into town and puts on a seminal show that reminds you of the time when the world was your oyster and getting older was for, well, old people.
At least that’s how I see the upcoming trio of shows by Jane’s Addiction, who’ll be performing their debut studio album, Nothing’s Shocking, in its entirety on May 8-10. These three Jane’s shows are the endcap of the group’s 25th anniversary celebration, which began last fall (the album was originally released in 1988) with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and continued with a Las Vegas performance in conjunction with the Consumer Electronics Show in January—a show that reportedly inspired the group to book the upcoming three-night event.
What’s shocking about the album today? Appropriately enough, nothing really. On the surface, Shocking sounds like an ode to sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. When Perry Farrell, not the most-gifted vocalist of his generation, screams a chorus such as Sex is violent from “Ted, Just Admit It…” or the line I’m gonna kick tomorrow, a wistful elegy from “Jane Says” about getting off heroin, these words are likely to elicit a shoulder shrug from the under-30 crowd.
And that’s perfectly OK. Rock ’n’ roll is a young person’s game, and their time is now. But if you were of an age when Nothing’s Shocking debuted—sandwiched in some undefined nether region between hair metal’s fading days and the nascent post-punk scene—you’ll remember a world without the Internet; a world of “This is your brain on drugs” fried-egg commercials; and a political landscape that was positively repressive. In 1988, when Warner Bros. released Nothing’s Shocking, the Berlin Wall stood, the U.S.–Soviet Cold War raged, AIDS was only beginning to be taken seriously, and progressive issues such as gay marriage and medical marijuana were light years away.
At that time, Jane’s debut was shocking, precisely because it gave the middle finger to the world as it was then. Farrell’s lyrics were only the half of it. The band co-opted a variety of styles into its music, from hardcore to jazz, all of it mightily punctured by Dave Navarro’s ferocious guitar, and pinned together by drummer Stephen Perkins and original bassist Eric Avery’s thunderous undertones.
At the same time, the album was comforting, giving voice to our fears and disappointments, and offering lighter moments in our drug-gobbling aimlessness. From the opening “Up the Beach” to the sanguine “Summertime Rolls,” Nothing’s Shocking offered moments of hope, but for the most part the album was a primal scream, raging at the world.
Jane’s confluence of styles may not seem like much in today’s musical landscape, but in the late 1980s it was groundbreaking. Their sound helped ignite the “alternative rock” revolution—as utterly banal and meaningless as that phrase came to be. Music fans can no more compare Nothing’s Shocking to today’s world than film buffs can claim the original Star Wars trilogy sucked because it lacked CGI effects. Not applicable.
In 2014, we’re not shocked by drug addiction or violence or divorce or promiscuity—or much else it seems. I’ll leave it up to history to decide whether that’s good or bad, but we can all safely agree that the bar of our collective shock has been lowered. So where does that leave us with these Nothing’s Shocking shows? Let’s call them a mirror of our former selves, for those of us old enough to remember; a celebration of an album that helped change the course of music.
Brooklyn Bowl at the Linq, 9 p.m. May 8-10, $65, $195 for three-night pass, 702-862-2695, Vegas.BrooklynBowl.com.