Tuesday, December 13, 2011

90's Hit Parade #8

Jane's Addiction - Stop

There are so few rock bands that really deal with the concept of ecstasy. I'm not talking about sex, or even excitement, but a sort of out-of-body experience that you can get from sex, from drugs, from jumping out of an airplane. Jane's Addiction are completely in touch with ecstasy. When they sing about being "ocean size," I take it to refer to Freud's phrase "the oceanic experience," meaning an altered state of consciousness, ego dissolution. It's not always a theme expressed in their lyrics, but it's the constant theme of the music itself.

"Stop" is the boiled-down expression of what Jane's Addiction is about. It's one of the most exciting hard rock songs I've ever heard, it's four minutes zipping by (can it really be that long?), filled with hairpin tempo changes and bristling with excitement. "Stop" starts the first side of the last album of Jane's Addiction's original 3-album run. Its companion piece, kicking off the second side, is the epic "Three Days." One explosive, one implosive, both ecstatic.


This past summer was one long wave of 20th anniversaries, which I guess is another way of saying that the summer of '91 was an eventful time for me. I graduated from college in May, got married in June, and on July 4 we were spending our honeymoon at the annual Smoke Out in Washington, D.C. In August, we attended the first Lollapalooza, and in September, we moved to Athens, GA (I specifically remember making the last trip on Labor Day). For the first month, I worked at a pizza place down the street from the football stadium, which on game days would get an unbelievable rush that I really wasn't prepared for. I bring this up just because it makes it very easy to pinpoint things that happened in that first month, namely that the Red Hot Chili Peppers dropped Blood Sugar Sex Magic, then Nirvana released "Smells Like Teen Spirit" as a 7", and then the album Nevermind. In some ways, the 90's really begins in the summer of '91.

We'll get to Nirvana, but let's talk a minute about that first Lollapalooza, which to this day is the best live music experience I've ever had. I'm not sure if it was the individual bands, some of which (like the Butthole Surfers) suffered a bit from playing out of their element, others (like Living Colour) just sucked, or if it was the whole experience, which was so novel at the time. You really have to hand it to Perry Farrell. It took some audacious vision to pack stadiums with a bunch of bands that were mostly playing clubs and small auditoriums.

The highlights? Well, Rollins Band were incredibly heavy, really surprised me (I hadn't really listened to their stuff before that, assuming it would be even worse than late-period Black Flag). But Ice-T, man...Ice-T came on and kicked the show into gear. Seriously, it felt like everything just came to life at that point. I had been obsessed with Ice-T's album Original Gangsta for a few weeks at that point, and he really killed it. I've seen people tell the crowd to get up and dance, but Ice-T was actually looking directly at people in the front rows and saying "You! Get up and dance! Now!" Which was, uh, pretty effective. And at the end of the set, he debuted "Cop Killer," which, I have to say, sounded a lot better that day than it ever sounded on the record.

Siouxie and the Banshees came on just as the sun set, the air cooled and the sky was a deep blue, and they were perfect right there. They started out with some of their slow, middle-eastern-tinged exotica numbers, then built up into their danceable hits. Then, Jane's Addiction came on.

I'm not sure if they were really that great, or if it was something to do with my state of mind being out in the sun all day, but this was the best band I've ever heard in my life. I think I experienced whatever it is that Dead Heads feel, like there was nothing separating me from the music. We were one. I really don't know how else to explain it, other than to say that I was in the oceanic state. Feeling ocean size.

I went to a lot of these festivals in the 90's, and eventually came to the conclusion that I'd rather see 2 or 3 bands play in a small club. You lose the focus and intensity with these all-day events, and as they added a second stage, and a third stage for local bands, and a DJ tent, a poetry tent, a comedy tent, whatever, it just gets more and more diffused. But now I'm starting to come around to the idea that these all-day festivals are really for people my age. 40-somethings who don't go to a lot of shows, but like having big day-off events to plan their weekends around.


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