Today’s another song I associate with fall, though I first heard it on that tape I’ve mentioned a few times, made by my friend Tim, that accompanied me on a long drive to North Carolina from Delaware, and back in the same day. That was in winter of 1989.
I think of the song in the fall though because it reminds me of a girl I met only once—Tallulah was her name—in the vicinity of Philly’s Tower Theater where I went with my friend Karen to see Elvis Costello and The Attractions in 1986. So that event predates the song, but when I met Jane in the song, I was reminded of Tallulah. Not because she was hooked on smack or anything (I don’t think) but because she had a similar demonstrative way of narrating her every thought and move. Manic. Or maybe she was speeding.
“Jane Says” I loved from the first time I heard it. And I didn’t hear another song from the album Nothing’s Shocking until I picked it up, at another friend’s urging, in the fall of 2003. I still don’t think too much of the first side, but the second side with today’s song and “Summertime Rolls” and “Idiot’s Rule” and (on the CD) “Pigs in Zen” is pretty great.
Gotta say though I don’t know shit about Jane’s Addiction, other than the fact that they started (didn’t they?) the Lollapalooza Festival. I do know that they had a rather unusual look—glam meets punk meets New Wave meets LA grunge-before-the-fact meets freakshow circus act. I dunno. It was in the streets, which is where I wasn’t. I was in col-ledge, don’t you know.
Jane hits the streets, but not exactly the mean streets, probably. She says she’s done with Sergio, he treats her like a rag doll. She don’t owe him nothing, but if he comes back tell him to wait right here for her. Or try again tomorrow—she’s gonna kick her addiction tomorrow and start saving for a move to Spain. She’s got it sussed, honest. It’s pretty naked stuff and it’s full of the moxie of the gamine, streetwise and playing stupid, keeping up the patter.
The song’s dynamite strum does it all. It slaps up against the cranking riffs of the Velvet Underground—with Lou’s penchant for “Lisa Says” and “Caroline Says”—but has more compassion on the delivery, more kicks in its situation, reminding me more of Bowie on Hunky Dory, something like “Queen Bitch,” another out in the street song. Perry Farrell, the singer, doesn’t really belittle Jane though he’s so onto her (rather than into her), giving us both her cuteness—“she takes a swing but she can’t hit”—and his general indulgence of her: “she don’t mean no harm, she just don’t know (don't know, don't know) what else to do about it.”
About everything, pretty much. We imagine Jane’s life is a constant crisis narrowly averted—when it is—by a little help from her friends and by the fact that she knows how to survive. Which means knowing how to score. The part Farrell gives his all to is: Jane says ‘I ain’t never been in love / I don’t know what it is’ / She only knows if someone wants her / ‘I want ’em if they want me / I only know they want me’ and he stresses “want me” as a plaintive kind of do-or-die acceptance. I want ’em if they want me has to be the simplest statement of the quid pro quo approach to sex ever made.
Poor Jane. “She gets mad and she starts to cry.” “She knows they all want her to go / But that’s OK, man, she don’t like them anyway.” The delivery of that part is so much in the voice of Jane it’s rather bracing. It’s hard to say why the song is such a lift (apart from how spirited its delivery is), but to me has to do with how scrappy and unbowed our Jane is. People suck and Jane knows that but she’ll try again tomorrow.
She pulls her dinner from her pocket. Which may be gross but is actually encouraging. Bowie said “you don’t eat when you’ve lived too long,” so Jane is still hanging in there.
Jane’s Addiction didn’t last that long—though they’ve regrouped a few times—and are one of those bands of the late Eighties/early Nineties (pre-Nirvana) I associate with the break-up of what you might call the “New Wave trajectory.” By the mid-late Eighties things were splintering and some kind of “metal” was into the blend more often. Y’know, Guns N’ Roses, RHCP, NIN, and all that. Not my thing, really (I could say I’m too old though Farrell is my age), but I do love this song.