"Here We Go..."
The Inception Point at a Jane's Addiction Concert
I remember the first time I heard Jane’s Addiction. It was ‘89 and pop music was just terrible. I loved music. No, I lived for music. It was (whether I knew it or not) my religion. I’ve always been into vintage, old, classic things so instead of wasting my time on Poison or Phil Collins, Milli Vanilli or Taylor Dayne, I headed into the good stuff…the era that I had missed, the Great Time1—the time of Origins—the time when true Giants ruled the airwaves, sold tons of albums, and strutted across huge stages in towering coliseums: Led Zeppelin, The Who, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Rolling Stones. I did a deep dive into all of them. They were gods.
But this music from the band “creado y regado” in Los Angeles in the late 80’s was not “classic” in any sense. Janes Addiction was a band doing live shows—now! They were not on the nostalgia train, fleecing the now well-heeled boomer set. They weren’t part of Live Aid. They were a little crazy and a lot bit raw. The prior album was “Nothing’s Shocking” and I appreciated their defiance and tongue-in-cheek sense of irony. The cover art was subversive, exotic, transgressive. Ferrell was not only a singer, but an artist. That impressed me.
The opening of the album starts with the sultry voice of a woman, speaking in Spanish. I had no idea what it meant (it turns out to be quite interesting…more on that later2) but it was dangerous, outré…then BOOM:
Scratchy raunchy frenzied riff for a few measures then the soaring high pitched
“Here we go!”
screams Perry Ferrell. I was hooked. Equal parts hard-rock, interesting-but-cryptic lyrics, pulsing melodic thumping loops, layered, complicated and busy. Just raw angry energy. It sung to my soul in that moment.
Life for me, up to this point had been a research project. Music was the roadmap, as I had become dis-enamored with my boyhood faith, a faith that was seriously lived out by my parents. But I grew up in an age light on catechism and heavy on social science, more felt-bannered and nice than intellectual and mysterious. My faith was burned down with the fuel of banalities of the boomer-inflected hippie post-conciliar Catholicism that was still then in fashion. I was smart, so I thought, and why didn’t these losers get the memo? Didn’t they listen to Joni Mitchell and Lou Reed? So I wanted to become a master of my new faith, and I went out and bought a bible:
I read it, well, religiously. Pored over it, doing rabbit-hole searches a full decade before Napster would’ve gotten me arrested. I Made pilgrimages to Tower Records, The CD Store, and a variety of boutique record shops in the French Quarter. I was obsessed. There was nothing off limits, though I was a bit nervous by the inclusion of country and gospel albums. Nonetheless, it gave me something to focus my energies on, as school was a bore, and my bougie world was simply not compelling.
But when Jane’s Addiction came into my life, I was able to go to church. Finally. And sure enough, that moment came. My buddy Jeremy had his finger on the pulse of all this new stuff and he invited me to go with him to their tour stop in New Orleans, on February 15, 1991.
And it was here, as a naive but intelligent young man, a day after my 18th birthday that I experienced an epiphany. And as would become habit for me, it happened smack dab in the middle of a thronging throbbing crowd at a rock concert. As the over 6000 sweating moshing fans jumped up in down in rhythm, thrashing into one another, shouting along with Ferrell, it got a bit scary. These people were serious. The heavy bass line grabbed you, compelled you. And right then a truth reached out and smacked me in the chest: this guy—Ferrell—could get all of us to do whatever he wanted. It was a genuine “waitwhat” moment. Then quickly, a second thought followed: this is an enormous power that I don’t think he takes seriously. These people are a bit nuts. I’m in danger.
I retreated to the back, got some water, and watched from the periphery. I didn’t go back into the pit. It really spooked me to think that the show, the ritual, the lights, the music, the personality, the fellow congregants…all of these things could capture you, possess you, co-opt your good sense, and “it”—whatever “it” was—didn’t care.
There was spirit here.
It was no joke. The leader of the band had power, charisma…charm. It was a kind of Bacchae-level experience, though I didn’t have words for this then, or even a frame with which to make sense out of it, except dimly. Black and white films of dictators from earlier in the century flickered across my inward eye. Swarming flying creatures circling around an invisible but palpable source of energy. People were laughing and jumping around, like whatshisname in “A Clockwork Orange”—Little Alex—with sneers on their faces. At least that is how it felt. I was frustrated that I couldn’t articulate what I was feeling. Articulation would take time. But for whatever reason, as all of these people were having their fun at their church, a bonding galvanizing experience worthy of a dark revival, I felt nothing but alienation.
This was no heavenly host.
It was then that I think my intellectual pilgrimage began, in the midst of a mosh pit at a Jane’s Addiction concert. It was my Inception Point, the day after my birthday. I knew that I had to GET TO whatever was the source of that experience, whatever was under it all, because I somehow knew in the most profound sense of that word, I knew in my bones that something Real was Underneath.
It was only later that I came to see that this intellectual pilgrimage was an actual pilgrimage, a “physical journey to a spiritual end” as I remind my students ad infinitum ad nauseum.
I hope you find my future posts helpful in your own attempts to make sense of things. I do believe we are in a bad place at the moment—“the Meaning Crisis” as dubbed John Vervaeke.3 I believe that we have tremendous resources in what we have received. We have old books, old art, old music, old liturgies (sacred and profane) that await our attention. We ignore them at our peril.
So, Here We Go.
See Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, page 56-57 thereabouts
I will revisit it this incredible moment of honesty, though minimally encrypted in Spanish, especially the line
ladies and gentlemen we have more influence over your children than you do but we love them…
They did indeed “have more influence over me than my parents did.