In the late ’80’s and early 90’s, Jane’s Addiction brought the druggy, draggy Los Angeles underground sound to mainstream audiences with a trio of unforgettable albums: Jane’s Addiction (1987), the classic Nothing’s Shocking (1988) and Ritual de lo Habitual (1990). The fact that Jane’s guitar player Dave Navarro claims to have no recollection of recording the band’s third album offers a peek at the group’s rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and their attraction to dangerous drugs.
During the recording of Ritual, Jane’s lead singer and lyricist Perry Farrell directed a film featuring his actress/music-video-director girlfriend Casey Niccoli. Gift wasn’t released by Warner Brothers until 1993 and it’s likely that the delay can be chalked up to the film’s bizarre content: Gift mixes live footage of the band at the height of their powers with quirky vignettes featuring a cast of oddball characters. It starts out silly enough, but soon spirals into a vortex of intense heroin injection scenes, an overdose, a Santeria wedding, a meeting with a sadistic gynecologist, surfing visions, moronic cops, airhead pizza delivery dudes, an Ice-T cameo and necrophiliac fantasies.
For hip, young people of the era, duped VHS copies of Gift became fetish objects of dark adoration – if you didn’t have one of your own you likely “borrowed” one from a soon-to-be-ex-friend. It’s hard to remember a time when a clunky video cassette could have inspired such intense scrutiny, but, then again, it’s hard to remember a time when a band as talented, experimental and ground-breaking as Jane’s was able to make an impact on the mainstream proper. Nirvana’s Nevermind would set off the grunge music revolution only a year after the release of Ritual and one doubts the movement happening at all if not for the marriage of alternative rock sensibilities, metal aggression and Eric Avery’s alternately brooding and melodic bass lines that Jane’s created during this important period. Even Farrell’s cute dress in Gift’s opening scene draws a direct line to Kurt Cobain.
Of course, the film’s soundtrack is a real highlight. Here is how the ’80’s music site Slicing Up Eyeballs calls the shots:
Musically, “Gift” features Jane’s Addiction playing “Been Caught Stealing,” “Three Days,” “Stop!,” “Classic Girl” and “Ain’t No Right” (the latter two were excerpted from the film as the songs’ official music videos), as well as music by sometime Red Hot Chili Pepper John Frusciante and a performance of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey” by Jane’s and Ice-T and Body Count
Did you watch a third generation cassette tape copy of this film back in the day? Leave a comment below. Gift was finally released on DVD in 2010 and the comments on YouTube suggest that it was Casey Niccoli herself who uploaded the film to the Internet, giving us all a little gift of our own collective past.