35 Years Ago: ‘Nothing’s Shocking’ Nearly Ends Jane’s Addiction
Nothing’s Shocking brought Jane’s Addiction to audiences around the world. For a brief time, it also broke them up.
The band was already firing on all cylinders when they began work on their first release after signing with a major label. Jane’s Addiction’s self-titled 1987 live album garnered underground attention and sparked interest within the music industry, but Nothing’s Shocking would be their introduction to mainstream listeners. These sessions happened during a prolific songwriting period. “There was no typical approach, which is I think why we were able to have such an eclectic catalog of music,” Dave Navarro told Billboard.
All four members contributed to the songwriting, but each had a different style. So, finishing a song was much like assembling a puzzle in which all the pieces don’t always fit. “You can hear us fighting against each other in the music,” Navarro added. “You can hear different sensibilities clashing at times, and I feel like you can hear the almost disconnectedness becoming connected because of all that tension.”
Leading the creative charge was Perry Farrell. Jane’s Addiction’s enigmatic singer wrote all the lyrics, while also contributing to the melodies and musical elements.
Watch Jane's Addiction's 'Jane Says' Video
“We were young people in our 20s,” Farrell told Classic Rock, “and at that age, you’re rolling dice. You’re taking risks. If it fails, it’s not too bad because you don’t have too far to fall.”
As Nothing’s Shocking was coming together, things were clicking creatively for the band. However, the business side of music brought all that harmony to a halt.
Sensing Jane’s Addiction’s pending fame, and under the advice from his lawyer, Farrell decided he wanted a bigger piece of the band’s publishing rights. “I said in my mind, ‘Well, okay, I’m writing lyrics, melody, and music,’” he said. “I was not telling anybody they couldn’t write songs, but this was my band.”
Navarro told Billboard that “it definitely drove a wedge between [Perry] and the three of us. If one guy is saying that he is more important than the others, that’s going to drive a wedge. The three of us felt insulted.” Bassist Eric Avery added: “I don’t know that I could say that things were ever the same really after that. That was definitely a dispute.”
The animosity among the bandmates eventually bubbled over. For a moment, it appeared Jane’s Addiction would never realize its exciting potential. “I was pulling into the studio one day, and they were in a car pulling out,” Nothing’s Shocking producer Dave Jerden told Billboard. “There were tears in their eyes, and I said, ‘What’s up?’ And they said the band broke up.”
Listen to Jane's Addiction's 'Had a Dad'
Avery said, “I think for a day or two we were not a band ... and [then the record] company brought us in.” Executives at Warner Bros. Records mediated the dispute, eventually finding a compromise. In the end, Perry got substantially more of the band’s publishing rights. This agreement kept Jane's Addiction's breakup from becoming permanent, but lingering bitterness remained.
“I remember famously Dave played one of our shows after that and put on a t-shirt that said ‘12%’ or something, because that was the amount that was going to be left for him in Perry’s system,” Avery told Billboard. “So it left some resentment, for sure.”
The band – most notably Navarro and Farrell – finished their parts for Nothing’s Shocking separately. “I remember recording my vocals without the band,” Farrell told Classic Rock. “There was already a strain and a separation beginning to happen.”
Interestingly, Navarro saw an unexpected byproduct of the band’s acrimony. “As much as what was going on wasn’t fun, I believe that it made our shows much more exciting,” he told Billboard. “You’re watching four guys with the same goal and the same passion and in the same organization doing the same thing at the same time, loving what they’re doing and at the same time hating what they’re doing. That kind of energy onstage really came across.”
Watch Jane's Addiction's 'Mountain Song' Video
Released Aug. 23, 1988, Nothing’s Shocking would deliver some of the most famous songs of Jane’s Addiction’s career. Influences ranged from Led Zeppelin and the Clash to reggae and electronic. Farrell sang about addiction (“Jane Says”), the suicide of his mother (“Mountain Song”) and even serial killer Ted Bundy (“Ted, Just Admit It … ”).
Reviews for Nothing’s Shocking were overwhelmingly positive, but it didn’t initially explode in popularity. Part of the reason was its packaging. The album’s cover art featured a sculpture made by Farrell which depicted a pair of naked conjoined female twins with their heads on fire. Nine of America’s 11 leading record store chains refused to stock the album, greatly damaging its availability.
Still, the album gained momentum over time. Nothing’s Shocking sold a then-modest 200,000 copies in its first year, and “Jane Says” climbed to No. 6 on the alternative singles chart. When Jane’s Addiction’s second LP, Ritual de lo Habitual, was released to great success in 1990, fans rediscovered Nothing’s Shocking. It eventually sold more than a million copies.
Farrell called their debut “one of the great accomplishments of my lifetime. I will always be welcome around the world to perform songs from Nothing’s Shocking. I feel so fortunate that that record was created.”