Why Red Hot Chili Peppers make the best frat-rock
I’m going to admit something right now: I love the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And not in an ironic way. Nothing about my love for the California rockers is at all sardonic.
It’s particularly embarrassing because it happened later in life. It could almost be cool had I grown up in the Hollywood rock scene of the ’80s and happened to stumble across RHCP when they opened for the Ramones or whatever. Sadly, I really became an RHCP groupie after reading frontman Anthony Kiedis’ autobiography Scar Tissue . To some people, admitting that you like the RHCP is like admitting you use imitation butter to shave your legs: it’s just unnecessarily gross. RHCP are a band with cultural baggage. They have stories.
Scar Tissue is filled with Kiedis’ sex adventures, romantic escapades, rock star mojo and, obviously, his on-again, off-again relationship with shooting speedballs. In the book, I learned the entire story of Kiedis and his high school buddy, Michael “Flea” Balzary, who started a funk-punk-whatever band just to have fun. I learned that their first guitarist, Hillel Slovak, died of a heroin overdose and caused their drummer to quit. That’s when they found then 18-year-old RHCP super fan and guitar protegé John Frusciante, who replaced Slovak in 1988. Chad Smith (or the Will Ferrell look-alike on a motorbike) played drums. RHCP was back.
They released Mother’s Milk (1989), which propelled them to international stardom. Kiedis rarely wore a shirt while Frusciante soloed and the girls melted. Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991) came next, peaking at number three on the Billboard charts. RHCP became huge. You know that song “Under the Bridge,” right? “Funky Monks”? Of course you do. Everyone does. RHCP were on top of the world and in every pussy that came their way (which was a legendary amount of pussy).
Then, things got dark. Drugs will do that to rock bands. At some point everyone’s habits became deep addictions that were no longer ignorable. Things crumbled, bad. But that’s what happens when you prolong adolescence and give rock stars a ton of money. It’s practically a mathematic formula.
My theory? Kiedis was jealous of Frusciante. It was a sexual thing. They did not have a healthy relationship. Plus, Frusciante struggled with his lightning fast rush to fame. Eventually, Frusciante quit the Peppers, holed himself up in his California home and shot cocaine for years in silence. Johnny Depp made a short film about it. It’s called Stuff . You should watch it because the 1994 Dutch documentary about a doped-up Frusciante is too real for most. During this time, he began a solo career, releasing one of my favourite albums of all time, Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt .
Years and years and years and years passed. Frusciante got better (not before almost dying multiple times) and rejoined the band. The Dave Navarro thing ends. RHCP record Californication (1999) and rocket back into the stadium circuit of touring on an incredibly successful commercial album. Kiedis got blonde tips in his hair and they dropped By the Way (2002). The songs were good. RHCP looked ridiculous (per usual) but the hooks were infectious.
RHCP get associated with bad shit like cock rock, college bros, surfing and sexism, but you have to look past it. You have to see through Chad Smith’s do-rag, through the silver hand on Kiedis’ board shorts — basically erase the baggage clinging to RHCP and just realize that it’s good rock music. Frusciante is genius (and not embarrassing at all). Flea will always be cool. Whatever.
But now Frusciante is gone. He’s done phoning it in. He’s banked his bucks, so he passed on the role of RHCP lead guitarist to his own protegé, Josh Klinghoffer, in order to make some money on the band’s 10th studio album, I’m With You (2011) while touring the world. They are a high-grossing band and you do not get to become a high-grossing band unless the songs are there.
Just go see RHCP. I’m going to. And you know what? I’ll probably want to throw my bra at Kiedis, but that would be giving into the baggage. And I am just about the music, obviously.