It's hard to believe now, but just over 25 years ago one of the landmark albums for the alternative music revolution almost never made it into record stores. All because of a sculpture featuring some boobies.
Jane's Addiction's "Nothing's Shocking," which the band recently announced they will perform in full on on May 8, 9 and 10 at Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas to mark teh anniversary, featured now-classic hits like "Jane Says," "Mountain Song" and "Ocean Size." But it was the album cover — a sculpture of nude conjoined female twins with their heads on fire, all rendered in stark greyscale — that got Jane's attention for all the wrong reasons. Most major retailers in the United States refused to stock the "shocking" album cover and this, obviously, was a problem.
Interview continues after slideshow
When Perry Farrell was in Toronto for the Rockstar Uproar tour this past summer, the Jane's singer and Lollapalooza founder was still perplexed about the whole thing.
"I must tell you I live a little bit in my own world so to me I thought, 'I have this really fantastic cover and I'm really excited to show it to my record company,'" Farrell told HuffPost Music Canada in-between dangles about a prospective Porno For Pyros reunion. "I had artistic license to do anything, and the problem was that Warner Brothers was a major label, we had decided to go with a major label. I felt that they would understand me and allow me the artist license to do whatever I wanted. And they did.
"But the biggest distributor came back and said 'We can't put these in our stores.' And I never shopped at these big stores, they were kind of like Kmart or Walmart stores for music, so when they came back and said that they wouldn't do it and that I had to change the cover it really threw me."
Understandably, when nine of the 11 major retail chain decide they're not going to stock your album because of the photo on the cover you've got a problem. This was when Farrell came up with a compromise — treat the album like a nudie mag and brown bag it.
"I told them, 'You can't tell me I can't have this cover. But I will do something so we can get the music into the store,'" Farrell says. "So I simply wrapped the cover up. So they got that version and I was allowed to put the 'Nothing's Shocking' cover as it was originally designed into record stores back in the day. All the indie record stores got without it, and all the chains got that version. Warner was scared that they wouldn't sell anything if they [stores] didn't get their hands on the record so that's what went down. I don't know. If I were to put that record out today there'd be absolutely no issue, right?"
There's another issue that Farrell has been closely monitoring — rebellion in modern music. When Jane's Addiction were coming up, the band and peers like Nirvana, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails and Pearl Jam were quite literally shaking the foundations of the music industry not just with their non-status quo music, but also with outside-the-box thinking like the Farrell's touring festival idea or Pearl Jam releasing sanctioned bootlegs of every concert they did. Heck, even a definingly anti-corporate band like Rage Against The Machine were on a major label.
The slow death of the old music industry has also meant — to a degree — the slow death of young, vital, angry protest music. Yes, young people are still socially engaged whether it's via movements like Occupy or whatever Twitter protest du jour. But this spirit's not being reflected in mainstream music. Farrell thinks that's about to change, though.
"Well, yeah I do see that," he says. "The music industry is very lost. It's a funny story, but when you are making the money that the record industry used to make you could afford to be charitable with your time and with your songs and with everything else. Today these young men and women who are making music they are fighting and scratching and clawing to stay relevant. And record company distributors, record company presidents of the majors don't care at all about that type of music or that type of song.
"I've heard this from the horses mouth of one [label] president talking about another president calling for a moratorium on rock music. You'll never get that with pop — pop is what it is, you're trying to be popular so you're not trying to piss off anybody and you're trying to make everybody like you. So that's what the pop people are doing. So where does that leave people like us and Alice In Chains? You gotta be tough and pound the pavement and you gotta get on the bus and continually go out and tour and write music.
"We were lucky. We got in there just under before they called for that moratorium. Even though the labels now, I don't know, I think they'll maybe start to rethink it because my band and Jerry's band, we're doing well. They're going to probably start rethinking it is because they said we don't want that kind of music is because that kind of music is freely downloaded... But guess what? Everybody's downloading now. My kids are 9 and 11 and they know how to get anything they want for free. So it's going back to being cooler and being tougher and being more cerebral and really knowing how to play."
Farrell was on the crest of the alternative wave and was also doing EDM music before it got huge, so when he says angry rock music is coming back people best listen.
"It's coming up," he says. "There are a couple of young groups. Tame Impala's one, Palma Violets is another. They're kinda tough and they're rocking and they're getting attention. So now we're starting to see that it's coming back because we're all just sick of hearing this mundane, messageless drivel. That's not what young people are about. It used to drive me crazy the last few years. Are young people just sitting around lackadaisical? It's just not possible.
"I know that's not the kind of music they really want, but it's what the record company was trying to serve them. It's like every song's from the glee club. Like, c'mon man, I know these kids are tougher and meaner and angrier than that, but that's what they were serving them.
"But it's coming back. That's what I see. The kids on the street they don't even think they stand a chance anyway so they might as well play and sing and say what they want. That's what's going on right now. They barely even care if they live or die. Their life is not so great so they're just going to going to lash out at the world. They're going to say here's what you motherfuckers are doing and then we're going to hear it and listen to it and go, 'Yeaaaah, maaann!'"