On Monday, Eric Avery announced his second departure from Los Angeles alt-rock icons Jane’s Addiction on his Twitter account, a development that was confirmed the following day by band members Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro (via their own Twitter accounts, no less). According to news wire reports, rumors are already swirling that Avery will be replaced by once-and-forever Guns ‘N Roses bassist Duff McKagen. Jane’s Addiction has long been defined by its volatile inter-band relationships (hell, you can argue that's what gives its music its spark), but this latest turn of events highlights how the group has squandered its cultural legacy over the years.
While other legendary alternative rock bands ranging from the Replacements to Pearl Jam have at times been criticized for being more musically conservative, from a career standpoint Jane’s Addiction has been the most staunchly rockist of them all, with its slew of ego battles, drug addictions, reality television shows, tell-all autobiographies, and in particular its countless cycles of breakups and reunions. Adding to the list of rock star tropes, the group's last record, Strays (2003), was produced by Bob Ezrin, a man who built his career working on albums by such classic rock warhorses as Alice Cooper, Kiss, and Pink Floyd. Although Jane’s is rightly regarded as having been a pivotal force in the development of alternative rock (a legacy supported by its role in breaking down barriers for the genre in commercial radio as well as in founding the Lollapalooza festival in the early 1990s), incident after incident of rote rock star news items makes it hard not to think of the group these days as Mötley Crüe with less spandex and more tattoos.
For a long time, Avery was the lone holdout from the group’s myriad reformations. Ever since first quitting the band in 1991, Avery repeatedly declined invitations to rejoin the group during its bursts of activity, forcing Jane’s to rely on a assortment of bassists (including Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) to fill his spot until he finally rejoined in 2008. Tensions between Avery and Farrell have played a large part in the bassist’s long absence from the group, so it’s probably not unreasonable to assume that that might be the cause of this latest turn of events. Still, Avery’s return held the hope that the revolving bass slot would stop being the source of clichéd “creative differences” fodder that the band has been mired in for ages, and now that’s been dashed.
Although Avery leaving the band is not unprecedented, the unconfirmed addition of Duff McKagen to the line-up might raise some eyebrows among certain fans. He’s a logical choice given he’s a fine bassist who’s friends with Dave Navarro, but considering the roles Jane’s Addiction and Guns ‘N Roses occupied in the context of the late 1980s L.A. music scene (the former the quasi-bohemian transgressive figureheads of its underground sphere, the latter the macho bad-boy embodiment of Sunset Strip sleaze), not to mention his recent tenure in hard rock traditionalists Velvet Revolver, the connotation of drafting McKagen into the band seems like another betrayal of what Jane’s was supposed to stand for. Jane’s Addiction has always placed its weight on the idea that it’s a visionary group, but time after time events like this make that notion seem like mere window-dressing for typical rock ‘n roll operating procedure.