Inside the Music Pt 2: Rethinking Perry Farrell

As I mentioned in the first part of his two part post, I’m basically following Dimitri Ehrlich’s lead when I say that I might have prematurely judged Perry Farrell. Within the first lines of his introduction to his interview with Farrell beginning his book Inside the Music, Ehrlich confesses that he was a bit behind the times when it came to appreciating the artist behind his flamboyant and “artistic” rock n roll performances and vision. And Farrell’s role as festival organizer is a different thread that I’ll unravel later.

Even though I’m still not completely won over by or convinced of Farrell’s artistic vision, after reading the 1997 interview, I do have a new take on some of the past Farrell performances I’ve reviewed and I’ve rethought some of my previous impressions of his m.o. as a performer and festival creator.

I attended and reviewed, Lollapalooza in 2006 and 2007 and each year I was taken aback by the heavy presence of corporate involvement and sheer magnitude of the whole experience and I’ve always questioned whether or not a festival like Lollapalooza is good for music or for the fan’s live music experience. While I do see some of Farrell’s comments about his vision and performance and vision in this interview as being present in the Lollapalooza experience, I still have to wonder how different his 1997 vision is from his 2008 vision. I know all creative minds evolve and I wonder about his evolution.

I do have to retract some o f my original harshness about his performance as Satellite Party when he talks in depth about his mental and spiritual approach to performing. I did see some of his passion to “become the barrier” between the crowd and himself during each time I saw him perform, so I’ll cut him some slack when I called the show glitzy and showboaty. And when Ehrlich asks, Farrell clearly explains his approach to a performance, and if this remains true today, Farrell is probably is a class by himself when it comes to working to master his emotions as a performer and wanting to be as unpretentious with his fans as possible.

Read these excerpts and judge for yourself whether or not Farrell has remained true to his 1997 artistic vision of success and Karmic law of “redistributing his luck” as Ehrlich begins by asking how Farrell has wrestled with the battle between building up the artist ego at the expense of the fan’s self-esteem.

Farrell: “as you get older you try to think things out. As I started to have success, I started to wonder what I was going to do with it. This is kind of funny but a big mile-stone for me was the OJ Simpson case. I saw that he took his success and used it to abuse other people and himself. I mean, giving back to the community is kind of cliché, but how about redistributing your luck. That’s a nicer term. Or maybe refine it a little more. One man can’t take all the success and keep it for himself. So I started wondering, how am I gonna make it through this world? I see a lot of people who get fame in the music industry and for the most part, it’s fleeting. I started to wonder, well, what about Karmic law? What if you gave it back? And I practiced it, and it worked. You know, I spent all the money I made from the Lollapalooza festival, and more, all my savings, to do this Enid festival, which is a multimedia and music tour. And I found that something very big happened to me, something much bigger than I had just spent my good fortune from Lollapalooza on myself. I mean that inside of me, I got a feeling of a giant. Lollapalooza was a great thing to me, but it is the way of the man to diminish the full and replenish the humble. All of a sudden here comes the backlash and how do you get past it? You have to be humble and give away the fortune that you got, and then you get blessed again. There’s a system to it.”

When I was performing I used to wonder if people liked me and I tried very hard to please them. I had this feeling that I wasn’t fully whole and the audience was gonna tell me whether I’m good or not with their applause. Now my attitude is that people wouldn’t be there if they didn’t enjoy it. So I have to go up there loving what I gonna do, not dreading it. I have to look at the audience with open eyes and give ‘em everything in my body.

There are so many things I’m still learning . Believe me, I am by no means a master yet at what I want to accomplish , which is making the party happen. I’m so interested in what makes people happy and how to being joy to them. Let me tell you a few things I’ve learned on my recent tour. I used to get angry when the sound was bad. Then I realized two things. Number one, I believe in the spirit world, and I believe the spirit works through a lot of thing, one of them being electricity. The spirit works in mysterious, roundabout ways, and if it want to give you strength of character, it tests you by offering you a dilemma such as “Hey the sound doesn’t work right.” So how do you react? Do you get angry or do you laugh it off and look at the crowd and show them that it doesn’t throw you? Because things being spontaneous and live, seven out of ten times, it’s going to happen and you can’t expect perfection.” Now when you get mad if only put the crowd in a bad mood, too. It like you’re a paternal figure, and when the father is upset, the little child gets upset too, without even knowing why. That’s what would happen when I would play in a bad mood. So it’s up to me: can I stay in a good mood in the midst of malfunction?”

Ehrlich: “Another drawback to the overtly theatrical side of rock performance is that, although the potential for entertainment value may be higher, the artist is also setting up more of a barrier between the artist and the audience.

Farrell: “Agreed, agreed. You don’t want barriers. I tell you what I do these days. What I want to do is dissolve the boundaries. I want to become them. There’s real beauty in what’s going on with the rave scene because the event is the people. The people are the event. So how do I do that when I’m performing? Of course I don’t like to just steal people’s ideas, but my artistry has always involved garbage picking and garbage collecting….it’s like being a good cook who knows how to take things make them taste better.”

….and I use the computer to get people in each city we play in to dance and to sing. So when we come into town we’ve already been in communication with people via the internet, and I have dancers and singer that I never met before. What this does is change the focal point: then it’s just me on a stage, the dancers are behind us, and the crowd is dancing in front of us and the shows have been a lot looser. I’m surrounded by people, and we’re centrifugal, and it’s making the room spin. It’s the same thing with the lights; the lights are no longer focused straight at the band, they revolve around the room.”

Ehrlich closes by summing up the Farrell concert experience by noting how Farrell’s concert performance and songwriting style are similar to a practice known as “automatic writing” and it’s in that creative context that Farrell seeks to live as an artist and truly connect with a live audience.

After I read this interview, I went back and tried to think if I misjudged and mistook a cheesy Farrell moment for a genuine moment of artist-to-fan connection. I didn’t find a specific example, but from now on I will certainly, especially when I attend Lollapalooza in a few weeks, look at Farrell’s and other artists attempt to truly connect with their audience.

Now it’s your turn. Take a look back at some of the shows you’ve been to and let me know if you’ve ever left the show feeling like your self-esteem was the victim of the artist’s ego, or if you’ve misjudged the performance. I know I have and I’m looking forward to hearing your stories as well.

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