Perry Farrell: the soundtrack of my life

Perry Farrell
(Image credit: Walid Azami)

With Jane’s Addiction and Porno For Pyros, Perry Farrell lit up the 90s with a dazzling combination of unique, artful alternative rock, a bright, flamboyant stage presence and a sense of danger lurking beneath the surface. Today, aged 62 but looking much younger, the founder of the Lollapalooza festival is fizzing with energy. 

“We’re writing more tracks than ever,” he says. “Lots of collaborations, and getting back with old band members. It’s been fun. Every month we’re putting out a new track. I write a song and then get it remixed, so it’s kind of feeding the guitar-band passion and also feeding the electronic passion. It’s nice.” 

The perfect time, then, to have him look back on a life in music.


The first music I remember hearing

The first song that I remember hearing, that I would sing every time I heard it, was My Boy Lollipop by Millie Small. I loved that song. People back then had a way of saying how they felt that was so charming. It was simple in a way that was perfect. So beautiful.

The first song I performed live

Before my first band, Psi Com, I was a David Bowie impersonator. Ziggy Stardust was the first song I ever performed in front of people. I did get to meet him, but I kept fucking up and I would leak his address and his phone number out. I would do stupid shit like I would lose my phone in the back of the limo that was taking me to the airport, and the next thing he knew he was getting a text and it wasn’t from me. 

I had a chance to make it up to him though. Tony Visconti was putting on a tribute show in New York City and asked me to perform. I thought we’d be able to hang out and it would all be water under the bridge, but then he passed away two weeks before. He was one of my heroes.

The greatest album of all time

It could be Stravinsky, or Ziggy Stardust, it could be Led Zeppelin, The Beatles. It could be Jane’s Addiction too! It could also be Frank Zappa or stuff from Brian Eno. It could be The Who, and the Stones, and Jimi Hendrix. And Joy Division. Unfortunately for the music industry they don’t take the time they used to take to make music.

The singer

I was really inspired by Sly Stone. My sister loved soul and funk, so she had Sly And The Family Stone’s Greatest Hits. I would DJ Sly And The Family Stone, and I just noticed it had the best vibe. I have Sly And The Family Stone to thank for the girls wanting to come to my house to party all the time.

The best record I made

Ritual [de lo Habitual]. But then I would also throw in The Glitz, The Glamour, the latest box set. It’s so beautiful and extensive in its craftsmanship. Everything from the packaging to the beautiful quality vinyl. I worked with this artist on it, Zoltar, he’s British. His grandfather was the Prime Minister of England in the 60s, Harold MacMillan. It has a picture memoir. We even mixed it in surround-sound with Tony Visconti.

The guitar hero

George Harrison goes right at the top. But Dave Navarro is one of the greatest guitar players. I knew the very first time he plugged in when he came to my house.

The songwriter

Iggy Pop’s lyrics were surprisingly like a street haiku. He’d sing: ‘Can I come over tonight, can I come over? That’s right.’ Idiotic but genius!

The anthem

I’ve got this one song that we did called Love Feedback. The chorus goes: ‘We got it, love feedback, oh, back and forth it goes between us.’ It’s a good anthem because it always reminds me to keep giving love to my wife and the world and my children. Keep watering my life with love and then it comes back on you. That song is on The Glitz, The Glamour.

The most underrated band ever

Jane’s Addiction and Porno For Pyros! It’s because I went crazy and I broke the band up at their height. I was operating on instinct, and I just wanted to get away from those guys back then. I just wanted to do my own thing really bad. But it was an amazing project, and maybe it wouldn’t have been any better. But now I look around and think: “Damn, I should have been more productive in that area.”

The song that makes me cry

You Can’t Put Your Arm Around A Memory by Johnny Thunders. I have a soft spot for him and people who are a little hopeless when it comes to being a junkie. He wrote that song later in life, about a year before he died. Basically he’s saying there’s no use thinking about all of your fuck-ups, it’s not going to do you any good. And it could be good memories too, but in that case you’d be sad that the good memories are gone, so don’t even bother. You could tell there was a sadness in his delivery, because he was struggling. I’ll cry on that one.

My Saturday night party song

[Sings] ‘Saturday night’s alright for fighting, Saturday night’s alright.’ Elton John is so flamboyant and outrageous, it’s a good mood and good time.

The song I want played at my funeral

How about [The Beatles’] Come Together? [Sings] Come together right now, over me.’

Emma has been writing about music for 25 years, and is a regular contributor to Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog and Louder. During that time her words have also appeared in publications including Kerrang!, Melody Maker, Select, The Blues Magazine and many more. She is also a professional pedant and grammar nerd and has worked as a copy editor on everything from film titles through to high-end property magazines. In her spare time, when not at gigs, you’ll find her at her local stables hanging out with a bunch of extremely characterful horses.