I learned about Jane's Addiction in 10th grade chemistry class from Gina Smith. Two years my senior, Gina was easily one of the smartest kids I have ever met. But on first introduction, she was easily one of the most intimidating kids I have ever met. "Skinhead Gina," who later explained that she was actually straight edge (an important distinction that she didn't bother sharing with most as she enjoyed her reign of intimidation) loved to learn, read, and see live shows. I had never met anyone like her---so fierce on the outside, but so giving and kind, especially to a kid like me who was so hungry for a bigger world yet lost in my little one. Not only did she tutor me in chemistry, she also expanded my music horizon (which was decidedly dark and British at the time), making me special mixtapes of all her favorite albums and bootlegs from LA shows she was able to sneak into, which prominently featured a messy and unpolished explosion of sound from Jane's Addiction, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Germs, and Thelonius Monster.
During the mid to late 1980s, LA was best known for its hair bands (there was no shortage), but there were also super cool sounds percolating on the fringes, incubators of punk/ska/psychedelic funk swirling together to make sounds I didn't think could work together, but somehow did. It was amazing and once I knew about it, I couldn't stay away. I would hop in my little blue Honda Civic, either solo or with a gaggle of friends, and head to Hollywood eighty-five miles away, wrapping myself with the sights and sounds like a warm, fuzzy bathrobe. My pal, Tatum, always knew about obscure clubs, record stores, pop up shops. and art shows. In our pre-internet world, I don't know how he came about his knowledge, but he always knew and could direct me to a fashion show out of a young designer's garage or the best pop up vintage store so that I could source tailored 1940s jackets for my collection.
On one of these adventures, we found ourselves at a tiny makeshift gallery housed in a backyard not too far off of Melrose and Fairfax. A sign on the fence instructed us to let ourselves in and we followed the sound of horns and percussion down a short path flanked with California poppies, up a stairwell leading to a loft space above a garage, only to be greeted by the kindest crowd and a roomful of large mixed media sculptures and paintings. I remember little of the art now other than being moved by the boldness of color. What struck me most were the people, slightly older than us, and unafraid to take up space. They had work they wanted to share and so they did. They invited friends who invited friends who invited more friends. Anyone who came through that little gate down that flower flanked path must be a friend, so they were welcome. The show was organized by Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction and his then girlfriend, artist Casey Niccoli. Again, how did Tatum know? I don't remember if Farrell and Niccoli were there during our visit, but I like to imagine they were among the exuberant circle holding court, handing out cheap champagne in solo cups.
Until that point, I had only seen grown up life modeled in very limiting ways. So to see adults have fun, make music and art, and hype one another up filled me to the brim with hope. Maybe I could do that, too. The magic was in the "how" --- how we do anything is how we do everything. The seed was sown and has become the single greatest influence in my life.
I've been listening to a series of podcast recordings with creative genius Rick Rubin and legendary guitarist, John Frusciante, of the Red Hot Chili Peppers about this time period. Frusciante is only a couple of years older than me and we were likely at a lot of the same places at the same time. Hearing him tell his stories of this time period---an LA snapshot filled with acute joy, sorrow, confusion, and ambition---has been a real gift. Mainly because we are lucky to still have a Frusciante alive and well and creating new sounds and shapes. So many artists and musicians from this time did not live to tell their stories; the wisdom from the rearview mirror lost forever. Once the Hollywood veneer is stripped away, his stories are at once unique and yet universal in their hopeful fumbling: how does one pursue who and what they are? What are the rules--to follow or break? How to adapt...or not and at what cost? As I listen to his small, shy voice, I am sixteen all over again—Peyton’s age on Monday.
“Hop in, kid. Let’s drive.”
I do not slide into the driver’s seat and instead toss her the keys. “It’s your turn."
Just make it loud.