Rock historians may grant Kurt Cobain bigger headlines, but Perry Farrell is easily the most important figure to have emerged from the ’90s alternative-rock explosion. First gaining fame as the singer of the genre- and gender-bending L.A. art-rock band Jane’s Addiction, Farrell co-founded the Lollapalooza festival in 1991. Though his musical career has kept Farrell in the spotlight, Lollapalooza remains his chief contribution to pop culture. (How many times did “palooza’ appear as a suffix before 1991?) This year’s incarnation of Lollapalooza is a weekend-long event, complete with a new juniors’ area, Kidzapalooza, to which all Stooges, Pearl Jam and Modest Mouse fans under ten get in free. Right before this year’s festival, Farrell – who’s father to three boys, Hezron Wolfgang, Izzadore Bravo and Yobel – spoke to Babble about the importance of music and family, as well as the need for some occasional peace and quiet. – Aaron Burgess
There’s a lot of kids’ entertainment out there, but the quality definitely varies. How do you decide on the attractions for something like Kidzapalooza?
Well, a while ago, I was invited to do a song with Deborah Harry for a kids’ record [2004’s A World of Happiness]. My friend Tor Hyams, who today runs the Kidzapalooza site, was doing this record for Disney, and he was just this great young producer and songwriter who also had a heart for children. He knew that I had children, and he started to tell me about his aspirations for children’s music, and how excited he was about this genre. I just found that to be unique, his interest. So when my partners and I began to build Lollapalooza in Chicago – my partners also do a festival [in Texas] called ACL, Austin City Limits, and they had this small area for kids, but it wasn’t a “Wow!” kind of area. It was basically just, maybe kids would walk by, get a balloon or something; more or less a baby-sitting area. So, I said to Tor, “Look, I want to do this area for Lollapalooza that is similar to what they do with ACL, except I really want to blow it out.” Because at this point – you know, Lollapalooza itself is sixteen years old, so all these people that went to the original Lollapalooza are going to come back, and I guarantee that most of them will have had children by now. And we want to have credibility; we want to have things that are compelling and intriguing for children; but we also want kids to be able to say, “I was there, and guess who my first concert was? Patti Smith.” We want to bring them the real deal. When I was a kid, the real deal, to me, were people like the Stones and the Doors: I could separate them from Seals & Crofts. You can’t put your finger on the real deal, but even a little kid can sense it.
You and Peter DiStefano [from Porno for Pyros] are playing together on the Kidzapalooza stage this year. Are kids a tough audience?
They are, because they’re so brutally honest. If they don’t like something, they’re simply not going to react to it. I’ve had some practice with it, having kids, and I’ve performed at my kids’ birthday parties. You get a sense of what kids like and don’t like. They like a more melodic, even sound; they don’t like things to be too jarring or start-and-stop. But when you see them start to move back and forth, it’s probably one of the best reactions you could ever get from an audience, even above adults, to see a little kid just honestly digging your stuff. [Laughs.]
How much of the wilder stuff from your past do you share with your kids?
Well, nothing right now. I think that at this age, it really doesn’t matter to them. None of my kids are teens yet, but I imagine once they get older and, you know, when teens start to trade music and collect music and talk about music amongst themselves, when it comes up that I’m their dad, I’m not sure exactly how it’s going to come off. I’m hoping it’s going to come off good! [Laughs.] At this point, though, they’re much more interested in me just taking them swimming or taking them down to the park and running around with them.
How much does music figure into your day-to-day home environment?
I know it might sound surprising, but I like quiet an awful lot – although some of the fun things that you do together as a family have to have music. I love to play music when I’m taking a bath; and, like, last night, we gave the boys a bath in our big tub, and of course it wouldn’t be complete without bringing out the boom box so they could just rock out and play in the tub with their boats. So there are times for it, absolutely.
Has your background made you more sensitive about providing a stable home life for your kids?
Yeah. I mean, listen: the truth is, we’re on the road right now; we’re starting to lay the groundwork for Satellite Party [the ecologically minded dance-rock group in which Farrell plays alongside his wife, Etty Lau]. And if I could speak for a moment about the modern musician, where it’s at is playing live, out on tour. We had our boys out with us on tour, with Jane’s Addiction, where we could afford them a very comfortable life, basically flying up front in first class and staying in four-star hotels. But with Satellite Party, when you’re starting out, laying the groundwork, the lifestyle is not one for a child. We’re basically on a bus with ten to twelve people at a time, and sometimes we don’t get a hotel; sometimes we show up in the morning, get off the bus and maybe take a shower down at the venue. And you really have to have children in a stable environment when they’re at this age, so our boys are studying in Hong Kong for most of the year, living with Grandma, and when we get off the road, we all meet up. One day, I’d like to have them home-schooled out on the road with us, but now is not the time for it. So that’s giving you a little bit of insight into our world.
What sort of world are you hoping to create for the kids who now make up the Kidzapalooza generation?
Our boys are studying in Hong Kong for most of the year, living with Grandma, and when we get off the road, we all meet up.When these kids come to Lollapalooza, they’ll see there’s an energy when you can gather so many people in a beautiful environment–and in our case, boy, the city of Chicago has given us Grant Park; there’s not a better surrounding for a rock festival in this entire country. And they’ll get to walk through other areas of the festival – like, we have a place called Green Street, which is all about the environment and the small solutions for making your own personal life more eco-friendly. We have an art gallery that was started by the Chicago Art Institute; these are college students, fine artists that are simply amazing. We’ve incorporated [Paul Green’s Chicago ] School of Rock and the Alvin Ailey Dance Camp, to let kids see what they could be doing and actually teach them. It’s very much a hands-on, this-is-your-world, this-is-your-future kind of an experience. And so when they see all these things, and they see all these other kids and feel the energy and enthusiasm that they have for music and art, and they see adults, too, enjoying the environment, enjoying the outdoors, enjoying the music, I hope they’ll see that it is a whole new, big, beautiful world, and it’s our world to inherit; we really have the power.
For a lot of us who grew up in the Lollapalooza generation, you represent a sort of idealized Dad figure: this sort of anything-goes spirit grounded in a strong, civic-minded sensibility. How does that differ from the parent you actually are?
I personally don’t like listening to people preach, but if you can create a living example, show somebody and inspire somebody, those kinds of things stick with you for your entire lifetime. I had a friend, Timothy Leary – and I know it sounds like he’s somewhat of a dangerous friend to have – but he was also a person who knew about the World Wide Web and helped to create awareness for it and make use of it; he was on the forefront of those kinds of things. From hanging around with Tim, I learned about the Web and its power and its usefulness, and I learned how to be young at heart forever and surround myself with musicians and artists and forward-thinkers. And, you know, he never sat down and told me to do that. I saw a man who was seventy-five years old living like a college student, which, for me, meant he was always interested and always ready to adapt and change and go and contribute to life. And so I try to be that type of a dad: By living the example, I hope my children will want to be like me. And I guess that’s the best way I know how to parent.