Decadence, Drugs, Spy Cams, and Orgies at the Playboy Mansion: From rock bottom to redemption with prodigal Jane's Addiction guitar god and new solo artist Dave Navarro. A book excerpt.
When Dave Navarro first committed to a yearlong "documentation" of his decadent Hollywood Hills life, Don't Try This At Home, he had a life-threatening drug problem and a harsh thesis in mind--"trust no one." The former Jane's Addiction and Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist assumed that collecting mandatory photo booth snapshots of his motley array of visitors would prove "who's genuine and who isn't" in L.A., i.e., that everyone would eventually abandon him--unless they were on his payroll. "The whole thing backfired on me," Navarro says. "No one really did disappear. I learned that nobody wants to sit around and watch a guy kill himself. Everything I'd been feeding myself was completely inaccurate."
The realization enabled him to get clean and finally complete his new solo album, Trust No One, a darkly confessional collection of metallic guitar epics and moody ballads. "For a long time I really identified myself as the 'guy with the unfinished project,'" Navarro says. "It's a relief, but it's also a little scary, because now I'm sitting here like, 'What next?'" In the immediate future, that means playing on the Jane's reunion tour and promoting the rare celebrity book to zone in on the negative. "My intention wasn't necessarily to put out something that people would like me for," Navarro says. "The project became something that was personally important for me to go through. The question could be laid, 'Well, then why make it public?' The answer to that is, 'Why not?'"
Following is an excerpt from Don't Try This at Home: A Year in the Life of Dave Navarro, by Dave Navarro and Neil Strauss, Regan Books/HarperCollins, July 2001.
"Do you know what to do when somebody shoots up too much?"
That's the first question Dave Navarro asked as we began our collaboration on June 1, 1998, making it clear that I had more than a life story on my hands: I had a life. Not a series of past events filtered through the dirty grate of memory, but a heart that was still beating. To document its beating was the goal, and if the past was relevant at all, it was only as the blood that coursed through that heart and gave it a reason to beat. Or not to beat. Because at times, it didn't want to.
That night, Navarro showed me what he called his Spread movie. It begins with a phone call to a rehab center. Dave tells the operator that he's in trouble and needs help badly; the operator says she'll call back later. The rest of the movie is a series of scenes he filmed to the accompaniment of his music. It centers on three inages: a spoon in a bowl of Jell-O, symbolizing the nourishment of his past; a spoon with a rock of cocaine, symbolizing the nourishment of his present; and a picture of his mother, the bond that connects both spoons. In the movie, he sticks his arm in front of his mother's picture and shoots up, an image all the more disturbing if you consider that Navarro's mother was murdered [when he was 15]--by an ex-boyfriend, a man her son had grown to love and trust. The movie seemed disgusting not because of the images, but because of Navarro's eagerness to exploit ta tragedy for the sake of self-aggrandizing art film. At least, that's what I thought until Dave said it wasn't an art film. It was his will.
"That was my checkout movie," he said. "I was going to take a bunch of pills afterward, because I thought it wouldn't be as ugly as being found with a needle in my arm and blood all over the place. I got the idea from [the book] Final Exit, which I always considered a how-to manual. But when I started editing the video, somehow it showed me there was something to live for, there was something else I could do creatively."
Navarro stood up and rolled thick black curtains across a window overlooking Los Angeles ("I bought a house with a picture windwo so I could imagine myself pissing on L.A."). as if that would keep the sun from rising. And it did, at least for us and Mary, a statuesque, raven-haired drug dealer who say mute on the floor with her arms wrapped around her knees.
All did not seem well at Navarro's Hollywood Hollywood home. At the same time, things had never been better. Since a split with the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1998 and a stint with 1997's suitably named Jane's Relapse tour, Navarro was in a strange transition. In the months leading up to June, his role in two famous rock bands ended; he had a messy parting with the label that was going to release his solo project; the friends and relatives he was closest to abandoned him; he suffered a rough breakup with his girlfriend; he started shooting up coke and heroin again; and he bought a photo booth.
Socially, artistically, and chemically, Navarro restructured his entire life--or had it restructured for him--with the photo booth serving as a way of systematizing the friends, dealers, prostitutes, and strangers passing in and out of it. By the end of this yearlong book project, a process piece chronicling 12 months of his life in photo strips, essays, and conversations, the outcome of these changes will become clear. This is a story that will either have a happy ending or a tragic one: There is no in-between.
"Maybe I'll die and make the book a best-seller for you," Navarro said that first night. It would have been easy to laugh off the comment or think of it as a self-pitying plea designed to make the listener feel uncomfortable, but it was not a joke or a test. As he spoke, he tied off his arm with an RCA cable and plunged a syringe into a vein, tapping the plunger as the phone rang. He picked it up, needle dangling from his skin like a cigarette from someone's lips, and put the caller, Marilyn Manson's drug-addled bassist Twiggy Ramirez, on speakerphone. Twiggy had just snorted a fingernail-size line of ketamine, a cat tranquilizer, and was freaking out. His walls and Star Wars toys were closing in on him, the red wine wasn't bringing him down, and he wanted to come over.
One of the biggest changes Navarro made in his life this month concerned transforming his Hollywood Hills home into a cross between a crack den, an after-hours club, a halfway house, and Andy Warhol's Factory. It became a fucked-up focal point for wretched freaks and glamorous stars to gather and discover that, inside, the freaks feel like stars and the stars like freaks. The house is best summarized by the road sign perched 100 feet uphill: DEAD END: NO TURNAROUND.
"I used to feel like life was such a fucking chore that all I ever really looked forward to was going home and turning myself off in an environment that was somewhat of a sanctuary," Navarro, shirtless, with Calvin Kleins creeping out of his jeans, said about the house's past. "It had to be immaculately clean and free of responsibility. I was living life very much in a regimented fashion, following the strict way of health and sanity. I was so fucking strict about the wrong things, like what I ate and put into my body and how I looked, that I was miserable."
When Navarro decided that on an emotional level he didn't feel any better clean than fucked up, he relapsed--returning to the drug habit he thought he had kicked five yeas earlier. It was a conscious decision, he always says, not a matter of circumstances.
Then came the photobooth concept, a triumph in cynicism, mistrust, and fear of abandonment. Though the project--documenting everyone who steps in the house ove the course of one yeah--was so many things, as its core it was an experiment to prove or disprove Navarro Hypothesis No. 1: The only people who stay in your life are the ones you pay. Your friends and family will disappear, but the cleaning lady, pizza-delivery man, and a drug dealer are forever.
The month had its share of tales that would be whispered about at Hollywood bars: Leif Garrett coming over at 6:30 A.M. to fix a certain rod in exchanges for, well, I'll leave it to your imagination; Rose McGowan picking up what she thought was a stack of poker chips only to be told by then-fiance Marilyn Manson that it was a masturbation sleeve a prostitute had given Navarro; a television crew waiting outside for 45 minutes as the producer tried futilely to wake a partied-out Dave, checking his pulse to make sure he was alive; Navarro sleeping with uber-groupie Pamela Des Barres in order to put his penis in the same place Jimmy Page's once was.
But perhaps the best tales that the month produced took place on the rare nights when Navarro actually left his social laboratoy, a feat in itself, considering the strong magnetic pull his house had come to have over him. And each time, his destination was a party at the Playboy Mansion. For the first of two Playboy parties in June, Dave and Twiggy rented a limousine. As the car arrived to pick them up, Navarro turned to answer the door and knocked one of his small glass unicorns off a shelf. He noticed that its tiny horn had broken off. He searched the floor, but the gragment was nowhere to be found.
"Let's go, let's go!" Twiggy urged, jumping around with childlike energy.
"Dude, I can't," Dave said darkly, crawling around the floor on all fours. "I have to get that horn. I feel like bad things are going to happen to me if I can't find it."
Obsessed, he spent the next hour using a lamp with the shade removed as a makeshift flashlight, searching for the horn whose loss he considered a symbolic disaster. Eventually, he found it and made it to the party, where--with the lucky horn in his pocket--he picked up a Playmate and a Penthouse Pet. The Playmate was an argumentative model who quickly earned herself the nickname "The Pooper," since she constantly tried to manipulate the events of the night in the direction of gas stations, diners, and bars where she could take foul-smelling shits in private. The drop-dead gorgeous Pet, renamed "Where's My Purse" after misplacing her handbag eight times that night, went on to earn herself the honor of being quite possibly the stupidest woman ever to sleep with Twiggy. And that says a lot.
Dave's next visit to the Playboy Mansion would be his last, not by choice but by necessity. his companion this time was Melissa, a petite brunette with a large wound on her back--the result of recent friction with the carpet in Dave's studio, which still bore the corresponding bloodstain. Melissa had been excite about the party for months, spending three hours that evening getting ready. When she finally showed up, dressed in new clothes from boutique Fred Segal, she found Dave sleeping. She was so upset that she burst out crying as she shook him awake.
After she finally coaxed Dave into the shower, the doorbell rang, Melissa, tears of dashed expectations still in her eyes, answered the door to find a very dolled-up prostitute with a garter belt hanging out from the bottom of her skirt. The woman, a former Heidi Fleiss escort, held a bag full of hooker wear in one hand and doggie biscuits in the other.
Dave walked upstairs in his underwear, looked at her, and--much to Melissa's disappointment--knew her name. "Sara!" he exclaimed. "It's not cool for you to just drop-by without calling."
"Well," she said, "I'm dropping these clothes and dog biscuits off for Sylvia," another prostitute. Then she proceeded to sit on the couch, pull a crack pipe out of her purse, and light it with a small silver torch.
Dave asked her to leave and then ran downstairs. "What the fuck?" Melissa yelled after him. "We're late for the party. Enough of this drama. Let's go already!"
But instead, Dave called Sylvia, who came by for her belongings. He sat on the couch with her and got into a long conversation about how it wasn't cool for the other prostitute to do a drop-by. Melissa called a limo, which took an hour and a half to arrive. By the time she and Dave finally arrived at the Playboy Mansion, the party was well into its fifth hour of revelry.
Wandering through the estate's tacky game room, they noticed a girl following then. When Navarro walked into the bathroom, the girl slipped inside with him. "Oh my God, Dave Navarro!" she gushed. "I fucking love you. I want to suck you off so bad." He shrugged, as if to say, "Whatever you want," as she dropped to her knees.
Afterward, she trailed behind Dave and Melissa until the trio found themselves in the larger of the game room's orgy chambers, with mood music playing, a spongy floor, adjustable soft lighting, and boxes of tissues scattered around. Dave's interest in entering the room was purely to get his drugs in his sistem, but then a third girl Dave knew appeared.
As Dave sat down to pull out his supplies, he suddenly found his pants down and three naked women using the orgy room as it was intended. "it was like something out of a movie--and it was all happening as I pulled out a syringe and got high, which was part of the decadence," he remembers.
In a gesture not unlike the 1997 Fiona Apple incident that landed Navarro in trouble (spraying a message to the singer in blood--or, as he puts it, from the bottom of his heart--on her dressing-room mirror at a concert), Dave took out his rig and started writing on the wall in blood. "The mansion has always been somehow holy to me, and I began to feel weird," he says. "All my life I'd wondered what it was like, and here I was at 30 squirting blood on the walls with three naked girls at my feet. So I cleaned it off. But it was too late. They had the whole thing on video. When we left the room, several security guards escorted me out of the mansion and asked me never to return. I wonder what they did with the video."