Music

Dave Navarro Recounts His Darkest Moments to Jill Kargman

The Jane's Addiction guitarist sits down for a chat with the Upper East Side, heavy metal mom.
Reading time 12 minutes

In 2013, a study was explored in The Atlantic that drew a parallel between happy people and angry music: The angst and rage of metal fans is mitigated by pummeled drums and blistering guitars. Rock makes listeners feel things they might not normally allow themselves to feel.

Dave Navarro is one of my rock gods. As the brilliant guitarist for Jane’s Addiction, his shredded riffs were my version of spa music: The bone-shaking tunes eclipsed my teen irritability with calm. But beyond his unique musical talent, Navarro is an icon to me because of his unfathomable emotional strength. He triumphed over addiction and grief after the murder of his beautiful mother, and learned that true fortitude is the ability to expose vulnerability. We sat down the week after Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain took their lives, and Dave’s Instagram revealed he too had been at the shadowy brink, plagued by suicidal ideation, going as far as penning goodbye notes to loved ones.

Jill Kargman: I remember reading a Michael Stipe interview, and he was asked about the consequences of fame and people coming up to you, and selfies and shit, and he said, “The one thing that never bugs me is when people say, your music got me through high school, that never gets old.” Do you have that feeling too? Like when I told you that Jane’s Addiction got me through those years?

Dave Navarro: Well I don’t really have people say that to me.

JK: Really?

DN: No. So when you said that it was really touching. I’ve had a lot of different responses. I am from a time where most of our fans are of an age where they don’t approach me anyway. Do you know what I mean? Our fan base is in their forties.

JK: Well, um, yeah that’s me.

DN: I know that a lot of people have told me that the band had got them through struggles or helped them get through painful times. Or I’ve heard a lot of people say that they ended up getting married as a result of meeting at Jane’s Addiction shows. We actually had a fan reach out to us and say that he was going to propose to his then fiancée during a Jane’s Addiction show. So halfway through the show we stopped and Perry handed the mic to him in the audience. The guy asked the girl to marry him and she said yes and then we played “Summertime Rolls” for them.

JK: I love a public proposal unless it’s like super cheesy. But along with your audience’s joyful moments, you also mentioned struggles. I know that you had struggled with depression after the horrible loss your mom, and Mourning Son is still a profoundly important movie to me.

DN: Oh thanks.

JK: I don’t know how a 15-year-old kid could cope with a violent loss like that. And it’s like a miracle to me that you are sober and thriving after plummeting into that hell of grief and addiction.

DN: On a very deeply universal level, had I not had music and experimentation with self-destruction at my disposal, I may not have made it through. So that was all part of the process of getting to the other side. I am certainly not suggesting that people should struggle and make bad decisions, but sometimes the bad decisions can prevent us from making worse decisions. The recent suicides, and then, of course, we lost Chester and Chris the year before like within a month of each other, which was my first experience with a friend’s death, suicide, so I’ve been around it a lot. I identify with it, I write to it, and I have empathy. But I also know that it changes, and that’s just the part that I wish these people could really grasp is that…

JK: It can get better.

DN: Nothing is permanent. And I think that one of the things that happens with artists and professionals, certainly in our industry, is that—I’m not going to generalize—but in many cases it takes an inherently insecure person to want to receive this much visibility and be willing to go to so many lengths to achieve recognition and work, work, work. It’s so hard, and you go through so much to get to what you think is a goal that by the time you get it, you realize that the hole you originally had still isn’t filled. And then you’re stuck with oh my god, here I am with all my dreams answered and I still feel terrible.

JK: You still feel shitty, so now what?

DN: Now what? It’s always been like if only I had the girl, if only I had the job, if only I had the money, if only I had this, if only I had that, and the fact is you already have those things.

JK: When were you at your lowest point, of actually writing suicide notes and thinking that?

DN: I was in the midst of a super traumatic time in my life and I felt that I was stuck. I felt that there was no answer and no way out and I got deeply addicted to drugs.

JK: Was this right after your mom’s death?

DN: Oh yeah.

JK: So how did you pull yourself out?

DN: Well I think that, inherently, I knew from life experiences that if I just pause and reach out that there is a chance, a tiny chance, that things can shift. It changes from month to month and year to year. It changes often within a day, you know, and some days I wake up feeling terrible but then by the end of the day I am laughing with friends.

JK: You have to hold out for what is around the corner. For me, the grinding guitar echoed whatever the fuck was going on in my clouded head and it just felt like everything was going to be OK. So you are doing that for other people with your music.

DN: I appreciate you saying that and it means a lot to me. In our band, there were so many layers of emotional expression, certainly with the sound of the music and Perry’s lyrics. We gave you the angsty, angry, aggressive sound that you can tap into when you’re feeling that way, and then the romantic, beautiful sound. And we also gave you the melancholy sadness. All of those different textures within the same band are generally what I look for when I am listening to music.

JK: Your live shows have always felt more organic. It’s not like we brought in people to make this theatrical, it’s like, from your soul.

DN: We’ve tried to make our shows somewhat immersive and somewhat experiential. Whether they’re in a club, a shed, or an arena, there is always an element of drama attached. We have always felt that if we are going to charge people money to come, let’s give them something to look at. Different players have different ethics around that. Some people are just stripped down raw fuck you this is who we are, and I think that we definitely try to be from our souls, and suspension, in fact, is something that I do, that I am really involved in and love. I have a deep connection to the community and I recently did a show in Los Angeles where I suspended for the first time at a show we were playing. And that was probably one of the most thrilling onstage moments for me.

JK: That is so cool. Did the crowd go crazy?

DN: I was so in my own space, I have no idea. Some of them were horrified, some of them went crazy.

JK: I love your Instagram keyhole into that world.

DN: Which world?

JK: The suspension world. It’s fascinating.

DN: Some people are really horrified by it.

JK: I like the voyeuristic approach but I think, for me, I’d be too scared to do it.

DN: Well for me that’s why I started doing it, because it was such a fascinating thing to watch and sooner or later you ask yourself, I wonder what it feels like? And you ask the artist what it feels like and they can’t describe it and nobody can describe it until you do it yourself. I am a very hands-on kind of person and kind of an experiencer.

JK: You don’t do it halfway either.

DN: Yeah, I don’t ask questions, I try it out. For everything, anything that piques my interest. And I think that is one of the things, frankly, getting back to depression and suicide, that keeps me wanting to live this thing that we have called life, because there is always something around the corner we have not experienced.

JK: Well also a lot of people reject the unfamiliar and don’t want to do that stuff. And I feel like what you do, whether it’s confronting your mom’s killer in prison or the suspension, you see something that could be terrifying and you shine the flashlight in those dark corners.

DN: I know I do, I tend to do that.

JK: Aren’t you always glad you did?

DN: Yes, always. In hindsight, some of my darkest moments were some of my most valuable in terms of making future decisions. I don’t regret any of them. I’m glad that I had those experiences and I am grateful that I lived through them.

JK: Can you talk a bit about the charity you are involved with?

DN: Right now I am involved in an organization called MusiCares, which has been around for a long time. They primarily worked in the field of recovery, treating artists struggling with drug addiction and have also had a hand in mental health awareness and suicide prevention. After we lost Chris and Chester, who were both friends and I’d played with both of them, I was just really profoundly struck by their deaths. I understand that place of isolation and loneliness and depression that I can only imagine Chris was in. So when he actually left us, I was really kind of shell-shocked and I went through a little bit of PTSD. It was like I almost got a chance to look in a mirror and say to myself, Man, this is where you were and this is what could’ve happened, and it’s what could’ve happened to all the people who loved you.

JK: It’s very strong to have that perspective.

DN: People will say that I’ve been strong, and perhaps that’s true, but the real strength for me is to be willing to show my vulnerability with others.

JK: But I think people are scared to do that.

DN: I think it is terrifying to do. It’s a long answer but you asked me about MusiCares, and that’s why I really got reintroduced to working with them. My partner in another band I do called Royal Machines and I, Billy Morrison, put together an organization called Above Ground, which is dedicated to mental health awareness and suicide prevention, and we put together a show where all the proceeds went to MusiCares. We had Courtney Love come and Jesse Hughes from Eagles of Death Metal, Siobhan Fahey from Bananarama, Billy Idol, and Macy Gray, just to name a few. We did from front-to-back all of Adam and the Ants’ Kings of the Wild Frontier and for The Velvet Underground and Nico, we did two full records in the order they were recorded. And all the proceeds went to MusiCares. It was just a bunch of people enjoying music and getting together for the sake of this love of vinyl albums and also to give back to these organizations that have been there for us. I have to say, that was one of the most rewarding shows I’ve ever done because it wasn’t about me or us, it was about everybody else.

 

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