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Dave's Addiction
by Tamara Wieder
The Boston Phoenix - September 24-30, 2004

Red-hot rock guitarist Dave Navarro talks about his latest project: A book documenting his road to recovery, among other big changes

It's 11 A.M. on a Friday morning, and one might think Dave Navarro would be sleeping. One would be mistaken. The Grammy-nominated guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane's Addiction, a man whose well-publicized drug addiction nearly killed him less than a decade ago, insists he no longer leads a life of all-night partying and general self-destruction. Which is more than a little surprising, considering the evidence laid out in his new book, Don't Try This at Home: A Year in the Life of Dave Navarro (Regan Books), which he wrote with Neil Strauss. What began with a photo booth in Navarro's house in 1998 - he planned to have every visitor during the course of the year photographed in the booth - soon became the basis for a book documenting the musician's drug relapse and subsequent downhill spiral, with Strauss on hand to capture every gritty detail.

By the end of the year, though, Navarro somehow managed to put himself on a potholed road to recovery. In epilogue chapters written in 2000 and 2004, he describes his new life in joyful detail: his freedom from drugs, his marriage to Carmen Electra, and his general and unexpected happiness.

Q: Isn't this a little early for a musician?

A: I usually wake up pretty early, but I got home last night from New York so my clock is a little screwy. I think I'm just tired from the trip, but it's all good. I usually get up around eight or so.

Q: You're not out partying all night?

A: Honey, I'm married. I'm 37 and I'm married. I've done that part, believe me. I don't drink and I'm married; what is there to do out at night late, all night?

Q: You tell me.

A: Nothing. If you don't get high and you're married, you're pretty much home by 10.

Q: Renting movies and everything?

A: Yeah. It's domestic. We're domestic over here.

Q: But it's good, right?

A: It's amazing.

Q: Tell me about the book. Where did the idea originally come from?

A: I think the idea was kind of inspired by Andy Warhol a little bit. I don't know; to be honest with you, I just got this booth in my house because I thought it would be a fun, odd thing to have. And then the idea came about, why not just take pictures of everybody who comes over? And then in order to keep it within some kind of a context, I said, well, let's make it everybody who comes over within the course of a year, so at the end of that year, I could put out a book of pictures - that would be kind of cool.

Q: So it was going to be just pictures?

A: Initially, yes. And then I was hanging out with Marilyn Manson and Neil Strauss, and this was around the time when [Strauss's] Manson book came out, and Manson said, "It was a lot of fun doing this book; why don't you and Neil do something together?" And Neil was really down for that, and I said, okay, but I don't really feel like I've lived long enough to put together a biography. And I also frankly don't think that enough people are aware of me or care enough to read my biography.

Q: Did you really think that?

A: Yeah. I don't know. Look, there's got to be a sense of humility in this thing. So what we decided was, in order to keep it interesting to someone who's not necessarily a Jane's or Chili Peppers fan or a Dave Navarro fan, why not make it a book about a year in the life of my house and this booth? That way there was some kind of a subject matter and a cohesive idea.

Q: You must've known that your house was interesting enough, that you'd have enough interesting characters coming through. I mean, you couldn't do this with just anybody's house.

A: I didn't know. I mean, honestly, the initial idea was just like an art project. We really didn't know what it was going to be, and that was kind of what became interesting about the project. And ultimately, as it turned out after we got going with this thing, it ended up to be a very, very hard year of my life, full of self-destructive behavior. And Neil basically hung out and recorded a lot of it - most of it, in fact - and when the year was up, fortunately I had begun getting my life together. So ultimately what ended up happening was we captured this story about a guy who's on a self-destructive path and put his life together. The pictures in the book from the booth kind of became secondary to the story.

Q: It seems like your reasons for writing the book and your reasons for publishing it are very different. Talk to me about those differences: why you wrote it, and then why you ultimately published it.

A: Why we wrote it, like I said, it was more of an art project to see what happened. It was more like a reality show, a written reality show. Because we didn't know what was going to happen, we didn't know where it was going to go, we didn't know I was going to get as messed up as I did. So we just kind of stuck with it. And my reasons for putting it out are basically, I just wanted to help somebody. Because when I looked back on this thing and saw how I was living, and saw how I ended up coming out of it and how my life became so amazing and magical as soon as I stopped hurting myself, I figured there really is a possibility of being helpful to somebody else.

Let's be honest: it's a book, we want it to be entertaining and interesting and compelling, but I don't want to put out an interesting and entertaining book that's irresponsible, either. And when we read it back, the self-destructive stuff was not in any way glamorous or interesting or fun. It was really, really sad. That's why we ended up putting the epilogue on. There's a last chapter which is essentially more or less where my life is today. And the truth is, I've never been happier, I've never been healthier, I've never been more fulfilled spiritually, creatively, and physically, and I never thought it was possible. I already have this story, which we didn't know where it was going to go; it ended up as positive as it possibly could, and if I can turn this into a way to help others, I'm set. That's really all I wanted to do. Because ultimately I'm so grateful that my life has turned out the way it has. If I can do anything to prevent somebody from having to go down the same road, I'd be honored.

Q: You mentioned not wanting to put out a book that was irresponsible. If at the end of the year you were still doing drugs and living that life, would you not have wanted to put the book out?

A: At the end of that year, even though I did get my life together and cleaned it up, I hadn't had enough distance to just go ahead and put it out. And let's be honest: people don't keep it together all the time. To just throw it out there seemed irresponsible. And honestly, I mention this in the book at some point: there is an element to drug addiction and storytelling about drugs that gets viewed as glamorous no matter how you slice it. There's something about the idea of entertainers and drugs that even if it ends with them dying, it's a glamorous story. People hear it that way. And I didn't want that. And sometimes it doesn't matter how dark you make it; it just reads that way. I wanted to make sure that I was in a good place and that enough time had gone by where I'd be able to talk about it honestly and really stand behind where I'm at. So that's why we waited.

Q: And you had trouble sitting down to read it at first, right?

A: Yeah.

Q: How'd you get over that? Just time, distance?

A: That's a good lesson right there: sometimes what we build up in our heads is so much huger than actually doing the thing we're afraid of. Enough time had gone by, and Neil and I got together and we just cracked it open one day. It was just one of those things where you just kind of have to sit down and do it. I knew it wasn't finished, and I knew I'm the kind of guy that really just wants to complete the stuff he starts, and not really worry about the outcome. Like, I don't care if it sells a lot, I don't care if it's the greatest thing in the world or if it gets absolutely no attention. My whole thing is like, look, I just want to maybe help somebody, and I want to realize something we started. It's the same thing with records that I make or anything that I do: I just want to see it get completed, in order to move beyond it.

Q: Do you think the book has a moral?

A: I hope so. I wouldn't want to tell anybody what it is. I mean, ultimately, drug addiction is bad. That's like the main moral. But I think it's much deeper than that. I think there's probably a bunch of them. Every time I look at it or read part of it, there's a different moral that I get out of it. A lot of it has to do with trust; a lot of it has to do with spirituality, and having faith in life. The mind is so complex that sometimes we let it create insurmountable issues that are actually easily surmountable. That I as a human being have tended to allow my mind to create things that are so overwhelming that they seem impossible to get through, and once you actually just walk through them, it's very, very easy. And I think also there's something to be said for the fact that no matter how old you are or how much you've lived, you don't have all the answers, and no matter how much darkness or how much fear or how much pain you've gone through, life still can be golden and rosy at the end of it all. It's really a lot about perspective and how you choose to walk through things.

Q: What does Carmen think of the book?

A: She's very, very supportive.

Q: Was it scary for her to read it?

A: No. She knows everything about me. She knows everything about me. She knows more about me than is in there, I'll tell you that much.

Q: How would you describe your reputation as a musician?

A: God, I really don't know. That's so hard to do. I'm not aware of me from the outside. I don't know, hon. That's a really good question, and it's tough. It's one of those questions where you either come off as self-defeating or arrogant. There's no safe answer for that one. I think I just try to approach my work with a level of humility and without expectation. And I enjoy it a great deal. Some people are very supportive of my choices and others are very much not. And it's all good. It's all cool.

Q: The preparation for your and Carmen's wedding was documented in MTV's reality show 'Til Death Do Us Part . What was that experience like? Did you ever want to throw the cameras out of your house?

A: Never. It was never intrusive, we were never persuaded to do anything we didn't want to do. It was very easy. I think we had an advantage over the other reality shows in that there was a beginning, a middle, and an end, and there was a focus, and there was a reason why we were doing it, and it was to capture the preparation of the marriage itself. Once that was all done, it was done. So it wasn't like they were hanging around while we were at home or just going to the gym. They came when we were trying out different cakes; they came when we were picking flowers. We knew when they were going to be there and they weren't there any other time.

Q: Do you watch much reality TV?

A: I love reality TV.

Q: What's your favorite?

A: I would say right now I'm a big fan of The Apprentice, which is more of a game show than anything else. The way I look at it is, TV is mindless on its own anyway, so I might as well watch people doing real stuff than pretending to be doing real stuff.

Q: Do you ever worry about overexposure? Is there such a thing, do you think?

A: I don't worry about it because I don't make choices based on exposure; I make choices based on things I want to do. If I started living my life because I was afraid of what the reactions might be, and if I turned down opportunities because I didn't want to be perceived a certain way, then I'd be selling myself short. I'm a big fan of experiences. Especially having gone through this time in my life that we were discussing, and being a shut-in for so many years and destroying my body and coming out on the other side, if I get an opportunity ... like I just came back from New York and I was playing with Usher at this fashion rock show. Some people would be like, "What are you doing playing with Usher? What's the point?" The point is, it's fun. The point is, I'm a musician and I like experiences and life and playing with different artists, and the more people I play with, the more experiences I can draw upon for my own work. Ultimately, people and life experiences are cool. I have been accused in the past of maybe making some choices that are selling out.

Q: Like what?

A: Like playing with Christina Aguilera, or playing with Usher. Doing things like that. And the way I look at things like that is, those are opportunities that come that I want to do. If I chose not to do them based on what I thought somebody's reaction would be, I think that would be more of a sellout move than doing it in the first place. Because it's something I want to do. Whereas if I didn't do it because I had fear attached to it, then that would be even more of a crime, as an artist. And ultimately I'm a better guitar player as a result of playing with different people from different genres. And that's all I want to do, really.

Q: Do you have a wish list of people you want to play with?

A: No, I don't, actually. I'll play with anybody that I respect and think has talent, and that I think I can learn from. I don't ever want to be in a position where I'm 60 years old thinking about, boy, I should've really taken that opportunity to do such-and-such. That's just not a blueprint for this guy's life.

Q: Does anything scare you?

A: Apart from getting hit by a car or something like that?

Q: Yeah. Does anything just kind of weigh on you? It sounds like you're in such a good place right now that you don't have a lot of fear.

A: I'm bored with fear. Yeah, sure, I mean, I'm human, so I go through moments where things are scary. But for the most part it's boring, and whatever situations I fear, I have to do anyway, so it's somewhat useless. And I've gone through so many fearful experiences and come out the other side that I am totally aware that fear is temporary. But yes. The answer is, of course. Some days I'm afraid of where my career's going, and other days I'm afraid of just walking into the gym because I'm having a bad day. Or getting into my car. And other days I have none. I think everybody's like that. It depends on what side of the bed you wake up on.

Q: What are you working on right now?

A: Right now I'm in rehearsals with a band called the Panic Channel, and it's a band that consists of myself and Steve Perkins and Chris Cheney and Steve Isaacs. We're getting ready to do some recordings and some shows around town. We're kind of starting from scratch again, and it's a lot of fun.

Q: So it feels good to start from scratch?

A: It just feels good to stay working, whether it's from scratch or whether it's not. I enjoy the process. I have spent time not enjoying the process, and that really is a drag. I'm really enjoying this. We're just making music because we love it. Once again, no expectations on this either. As long as there's a roof over our heads and food on the table, we're thrilled.