Flashback on Dave Navarro

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The Dave Navarro who was interviewed by Westword for the August 23 Message column is very different from the one who chatted with the paper by phone in late 1990. During that conversation, he was slurring his words, sniffing loudly, bumping into furniture, losing track of his thoughts and otherwise acting as if he’d just shot up, which, in all likelihood, he had. Hence the headline affixed to the article that resulted: “Panic in Needle Park,” which predated Westword’s online archive, but is reproduced below.

There’s plenty of irony in the piece, not the least of which is the guitarist’s rant about hating interviews. Now, of course, a cleaned-up Navarro is the one doing the interviewing on Spread Entertainment, his program for Denver-based ManiaTV! -- a development as unexpected as his survival.

For more flashbacks, read on:

Panic in Needle Park

By Michael Roberts

December 5-11, 1990

It’s one of rock’s dirty little secrets: Musicians often do their best work when they’re the most screwed up.

Think of Van Morrison, who created Astral Weeks, among the greatest records of the last thirty years, while mired in a suicidal depression – and often less interesting music after he cheered up. Or Eric Clapton, who was a heroin addict when he made his finest work on vinyl, Layla. Though a more recent disc, August, was released by a thoroughly straight Eric, even most anti-drug crusaders would have to admit they’d rather be listening to “Bell Bottom Blues.”

What’s all this got to do with Jane’s Addiction? Maybe nothing. Maybe none of the band’s members have a close, personal relationship with spirits or pharmaceuticals. Maybe all of them are happy, healthy churchgoers who just say no to just about everything. Maybe the bizarre, disconnected, rambling quality of a recent phone interview with JA guitarist Dave Navarro is an easily explained coincidence.

But maybe not. Consider Navarro’s explanation of why there was a delay between JA’s excellent major label debut, Nothing’s Shocking, and its almost-as-good followup, Ritual de lo Habitual:

“Just some problems, some management things, and I had to go into the hospital a couple times.”

“Why did you have to go to the hospital?

“I just had to go into the hospital, man.”

Why? What was wrong?

“Well, I wasn’t injured, if that’s what you mean.”

Now, let’s not jump to any conclusions. “I wasn’t injured” may not mean what it sounds like it means. But if not, how can we explain this exchange:

Where are you right now?

“Where am I at? What do you mean, where am I at? In the country, you mean?”

Yeah, in the country.

“Just a second, man. [Calls to someone else in the room.] Hey, where the fuck are we?”

“We” are at a hotel in Norfolk, Virginia, and Navarro is confused and a bit cranky. The band (vocalist/svengali Perry Farrell, drummer Stephen Perkins, bassist Eric A and Navarro) has just started a tour in support of Ritual, and while every show has sold out, Navarro’s days have not been filled with fun. Instead, they’ve been filled with phone calls from journalists, and he’s had about as much of it as he can stand.

“Man, I fucking hate [interviews],” Navarro says, his voice slurred. “Nothing against you, but it’s just like having to spend your day off sitting and talking to seven people you never heard of. I mean, how would you like it if on your day off you had a bunch of people calling you up and asking you about your wife and your kid and how you comb your hair and shit?”

Are most of the questions stupid?

“”it’s not that they’re stupid questions, it’s the same questions over and over again. And I won’t answer any questions about Perry. I mean, I don’t want him answering questions about me and talking about what I do, so I don’t talk about him.”

Navarro’s probably been getting a lot of questions about Perry Farrell, because the JA leader isn’t talking to anyone these days. (Although Farrell allowed a reporter from Spin to trail after him on a film shoot, most of his “quotes” were comments he made to crew members.) That’s too bad, because Farrell is among the best reasons to pay attention to Jane’s Addiction. An Artist (capital A, please) with grand pretensions he occasionally justifies, he is one of hard rock’s most fascinating lyricists. His words are equal parts Jim Morrison and Randy Newman, combining an obsession with mommy, daddy and genitalia with a feel for character that’s all but unique in a genre often devoted to anti-intellectualism. “Been Caught Stealing,” a spot-on study of an unrepentant shoplifter, is as incisive as anything by John Hiatt.

And at its best, the music on Ritual is as noisy as Metallica. Perkins’ percussion has a clattering, garbage-truck feel that knits together disparate sections of song – this is one band that doesn’t shift rhythms just to prove it can. Throughout it all, Navarro’s guitar provides a steady frame for Farrell’s words. When the time comes for a solo, Navarro solos up a storm, but without stomping into cock-rocking territory. He supports songs such as “Stop!” and “Ain’t No Right” with as much intensity as Ted Bundy on the electric chair, but during the quieter passages of “Three Days,” he displays a gentleness that wouldn’t seem out of place at a John McLaughlin acoustic show.

Whether Navarro’s mysterious hospitalization will affect his playing is open to question – and so is the band’s future. “This is probably one of the last Jane’s things we’re going to do anyhow, because we’re all thinking about different solo stuff,” Navarro says. A few minutes later, however, he hedges his bets: “I don’t know what I said about the solo stuff. I mean, I haven’t gone into the studio or tried to get a deal or anything yet. I’ve just been playing around on sixteen-track and stuff like that> I mean, I haven’t talked to the other guys about any of this.”

Stay tuned: Navarro’s solo career might turn out to be another of rock’s dirty little secrets.


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