As the founder of Lollapalooza and the lead singer and conceptualist of Jane's Addiction and Porno for Pyros, Perry Farrell became a rock star-cum-shaman, an Old Testament preacher full of fire and brimstone with a massive audience that heeded his words. Although he's now free of his bands, he remains a visionary -- whether on his forthcoming record Diamond Jubilee (Virgin), a melange of rock, house, electronica, and whatever, or through the biblically decreed celebration of liberation after which the album is named. Activists are using Jubilee as a touchstone to advocate a variety of causes, including forgiving Third World debt, ending slavery, and confronting environmental issues relating to land use. Farrell's multi-day, rave-like Jubilee Festival, originally planned for the Judean Desert before being postponed because of the escalating Palestinian-Israeli conflict, is still on his front burner. He plans to hold mini-festivals on the West Coast in as yet unnamed locations of "import to indigenous people," he says, which will climax with an event somewhere in Israel. "I've started to work with a collective in San Francisco that's in part responsible for what happens at Burning Man," he says.
Most of all, Farrell's been working on himself -- as can be seen in his press releases, where his name appears as "Perry Farrell (Peretz)." Embracing his real first name is just one indication of the personal spiritual quest that has taken him deeper into his Jewish roots and kabala.
Those roots originate in New York. Farrell grew up in Queens and then on Long Island before moving to Miami during high school. Following the surf, he ended up in Cali, where he began to sing and get into the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll that later turned him into a music legend. These days, his thoughts turn more to below-the-radar issues like slavery, alternative health, and building utopian communities. Still a devoted surfer, he tends to follow roads that lead him toward bodies of water with welcoming waves -- off the Philippines and Peru, for instance. The place he would most like to revisit is the jungle of Costa Rica, where luminous frogs live.
We talked about what it's like to be a visionary and other interests of a person who believes he can save the world, and is on a mission to do just that.
David Hershkovits: You are often described as a visionary. What does that mean to you?
Perry Farrell: It means that I don't watch my money very well.
DH: But you have been a businessman too -- you started Lollapalooza.
PF: I know, but by the grace of God, because I really don't watch my money; my concentration is always a little lofty. I think about different things, and as a result I have to make sure that the people I am surrounded by love me. That being said, now what is a visionary? It's not that hard to be a visionary, you just have to concentrate. If you concentrate on money, you'll be less of a visionary because money, the fixation on money, will keep you from seeing long-term. I feel a little silly explaining what a visionary is.
DH: OK then, who do you think is a visionary?
PF: I'll tell you who I think was a visionary -- that would be Tim Leary, because Tim was with the computers back in the '80s. When I met him, he was busy on his computer, and it fascinated me so much at the time. Here's a guy who could be resting on his laurels, Mr. LSD, but he had moved along. I'll tell you what a visionary is good for. They have less pollution in themselves. A guy who's not a visionary creates pollution. Example: bad music. Bad music made short-term for money creates stagnation and an accumulative quagmire of other crappy music. You're seeing it today. There's a quagmire of awful popular music. I didn't make a killing [from Lollapalooza], but we did change society, so that's a long-term visionary undertaking.
DH: Another word that people associate with you is "provocative." Is that fair?
PF: Well, anybody who wants to be an entertainer, if they really sit down and think about it, part of it is to get people's interest. Yeah, you're doing it for yourself, and you're also sharing it with others. So I want to relate, and I want to get a reaction. Part of the fun is the response. But the concept that I'm working on now is awesome, it's Jubilee. Jubilee is a time in history when we celebrate liberty. They come in 50-year cycles, and another 50-year cycle is pretty much a generation, and each generation gets to celebrate liberty. And freedom.
DH: Is this the same Jubilee that the pope is celebrating?
PF: The same. The pope has read the same book as I have.
DH: Which is what, the Bible?
PF: That's right. And the call of the order is, declare liberty. And freedom, free the captives, forego all debt, let go of the slaves. And celebrate, celebrate with music. That's my cue.
DH: And that's the concept of the giant show that you'll be doing in Israel. How did you get into kabala?
PF: First of all, the images of kabala are so powerful. It's like seeing the most striking person enter the room -- you never forget it. You don't know what it is yet, but you know to pay it respect. And watch it, follow it. It's very mysterious. So I fell in love just at first sight. And the time came in my life when I really needed something because what I thought was so important I came to find out is not that important, it ends up to be useless. It's a time in your life when you need to use your heart and start to begin to know your soul, and when you know your soul, kabala all of a sudden begins to speak. This was built by a great visionary. They knew that the teaching of kabala will fill your heart and make you a man in the true sense of the word. We use the word "man" flippantly. We think punching somebody is a man. That's an animal. A man knows other things, a man uses his heart, uses his head, and uses his resources, all at the same time. The only way that you can do that as a man is to understand how you relate to the universe and become harmonious with it. So as a musician I understood the principles of harmony, and I was able to understand it with my heart.
DH: Did your turning to kabala have something to do with Jane's Addiction breaking up?
PF: Yes, it had to do with music and the band breaking up... true. Because I didn't have any soul left, my body was a glass and it was filled up with dirty water.
DH: You want the success, but it's a double-edged sword.
PF: You can't change like other people. The pressure is to remain the same because it was successful. So now you're dying. You're not getting the balance, you're all positive, you don't get to be a negative and receive.
DH: Is that what drugs do?
PF: That's one way to do it, yeah. But a visionary says the long-term effects [of drug use] suck. My joints ache. My soul is being filled up with pollution, ideas are diluted, and my balance with the universe is off. Because I started to feel like I was dead. Have you ever visited your grandmother's house and there's old furniture there, and she still lives there and there's a certain smell to it? And the world has moved on, and although she is still alive the furniture is not comfortable. That's sort of what my body felt like -- a piece of antique furniture. I'd look at the news and I'd say, "I'm not a part of that." Every day would be overwhelming for me. So I had to make a decision.
DH: About getting high --
PF: Music can get you high, and yoga will get you high. A nice glass of wine. And you know, I move from there. Marijuana is wonderful, I love to smell it. I don't smoke it in, suck on it real hard, but I like when people have it around me. If it was legal, I'd make incense out of marijuana, like a temple incense of marijuana. And people can enjoy it and that pleasant aroma, you get that mild buzz, and you wouldn't be sucking in a dioxide. I mean, let's be honest, I love marijuana, but smoke inhaled is not good for you.
DH: And ecstasy --
PF: I've done my share, and I like the feeling. But afterward I felt like I did when I'd do coke. I felt like my spine was, like I said, this empty cylinder. And I felt like I had to pay something back. I don't know what to say. Experimenting is part of the game in life, and you have to find your niche and your balance and find what it is that works for you. I'm just telling you that at my time of life -- I find what doesn't work for me, I cut it out. I'm not embarrassed about it, I'm not embarrassed to have experimented, and to keep experimenting, but you should always keep the feeling that you're improving. Otherwise, you're not.
DH: You once said that you want your son to rock. Did you mean rock 'n' roll?
PF: Yeah, you can rock with electronic music. Really, really, really hard. But the feeling of rock is one of power and glory and enthusiasm, elation. That's what I mean by rock. You can do that in a lot of ways. You can do that with a computer.
DH: Are you over the idea of the rock star in rock 'n' roll?
PF: No, you look at it like theater. Having a person stand up there that you enjoy to watch, I hope that's never over. I see some of these performers and I just think of their amazing voices and I cry. But here's where you want me to tell you what bores me, I suppose.
DH: Please tell me.
PF: With electronics, you can take your time -- because nobody feels left out if only one person's making the music. Even if it's two people, but if it's four guys standing there, sometimes there's somebody that feels left out. With electronics, you have an orchestra, you have people, although there is nobody really there that is not playing every note. so you weigh that out and you think, well, maybe I don't need a band, 'cause I have trumpet on two songs, it's not worth it for me to get a trumpet player to travel with me, you just have it programmed. I have a great plan, though. I am going to have live players and we're going to play electronics. It's going to be a great achievement if I can do it, where we can make it more organic, jam where we want to and then come into and lock in on a song. That's what I hope.
Styling by Gina Hendrix/Art Mix. Grooming by Diana Schmidtke/Celestine. Perry Farrell wears a white linen shirt by Lords L.A., brown shearling vest by Emporio Armani.