Part funk slap, part punk mosh, part celebration and part remembrance of a lost friend, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ party continues to grow in size. On tour, it’s a party out of bounds.
The Riverside Ballroom, Green Bay, Wisconsin. November 26, 1989:
The Red Hot Chili Peppers stroll quietly into the ballroom and sneak a look around. THe crowd is fairly small, strangely restless, buzzing and hurting for relief from the sexual frustrations of a Midwestern farm town winter. Perfect For the first time on the Mother’s Milk tour, the Chilis decide to give them the sock.
Backstage, tour manager Mark Johnson produces a fresh pack of white tube socks. The Chilis rush from the cold dressing room into the friendly, swarming heat of the auditorium wearing tennis shoes, hats and the socks stretched over their cocks – a costume they save these days for stifled places like Green Bay.
The Chilis rear back and launch into “Out in L.A,” the traditional show-opoener of a band thick with rituals. The crowd erupts in an assgrabbing frenzy. Too-sexy, 19-year-old guitarist John Frusciante lays back, stretching his washboard stomach, his shoulders hunched, the Jimmy Page smirk on his lips. Singer Anthony Kiedis and bassist Flea are simply a blur, a pair of martial arts contenders gone mad, Flea’s eyes glowing green and his tightly-wrapped skull shining.
Given the intensity of the onstage fray, the Chili Peppers are only tempting fate. Eventually, one of those socks has to fly off. Well into the set, jazz horn virtuoso and childhood homeboy Keith Chapman Barry – known only as Tree – joins the Peppers onstage. During his sax solo Tree’s sock almost immediately falls off – but, a true Chili, he “rocks out with his cock out” and finishes the song. There is no way to salvage the crowd. Boys are doffing their shirts. Virgins are crying. Guitar roadie and backup singer Robbie Allen darts onstage and “does a helicopter with his dick” right in the spotlight. We have, indeed, come a long way since Jim Morrison.
Drummer Chad Smith: “We fuckin’ rock the show, but Green Bay starts to feel a little uplight. We get backstage, and the promoter goes, ‘Yo, you guys better get out of here, ’cause the rent-a-cops called the police.’ And they’re comin’ to fuckin’ get us, so we run on the bus and Anthony’s in there – he’s got outsanding warrants from this Fairfax, Virginia show [another indecent exposure rap, at George Madison University], so he’s saying, ‘I’m not in the band, tell them I’m not in the band.’ We’re all like, ‘Fuck !’ ’cause we don’t want to get busted.”
The band makes some quick arrangements to escape in somebody’s jeep. As they’re slipping away from the bus, the ballroom rent-a-cops tell the boys that they’re required to wait for the police to arrive. So they back off from the jeep and wander nonchalantly back into the building, with Anthony lagging behind. Anthony sees the others edging away and begins a wholehearted conversation with the rent-a-cops about the situation – sacrifying himself so his pals can get away.
Chad: “We opened up, go through the back door, and I see this open, dark baseball field behind the place. I just fuckin’ hike up my pants and -”MMMNEEAYEAGH !’ – we’re fuckin’ ALL of us hightailin’ it across this field to freedom. We’re runnin’ our asses off, the long bomb of doom, a couple hundred yards at least.”
Anthony strolls out the back door and takes a few steps toward the bus and the rent-a-cops throw him on his face in the dirt. They pin him down in some wrestling holds, saying that they’re busting him for indecent exposure. When the police do arrive they’re more impressed with having seen the Chili Peppers on MTV, and let him go.
Chad: “I had told this kid with a car, ‘Meet us at McDonald’s,’ and he was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll get you out of here.’ So we’re walking through Green Bay and the getaway car pulls up, we all slide in, and he takes the long-way around to avoid everyone. The cool thing was that we ended up at this guy’s house, playing Nintendo.”
Meanwhile, the kids inside the Riverside Ballroom are still looking for their clothes.
That mad, glorious scramble through the dark – and all for the sake of nudity – could just as well stand for the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ dash through the center of the Hollywood hardcore and glam metal scenes of the ’80s. Their sweat-stewed mix of funk slap and hardcore dynamics have earned them a following of long-hair headbangers, punks and beautiful girls who bring their Night Fever moves to the mosh pit. Long-time faves of the college/alternative charts, the Chilis had trouble getting over on vinyl as well as they did in the flesh. The death of Chili guitarist and childhood friend Hillel Slovak in June 1988.threatened to burn down the bearrers of the Funk Party flag – and the subsequent departure of drummer Jack Irons added fuel to the band’s pyre. Within months, however, soulmates Anthiny and Flea reunited in their love and rage, recruited guitar player John Frusciante and drummer Chad Smith, and set about knocking Hollywood on its ass.
Mother’s Milk, the Chili’s fourth album (recorded in a short time by a new band that barely knew each other), is already their most popular. The Chilis have busted with a pair of manic MTV vids – now everyone can see how they are – and the new band is more convinced than ever that rock’n'roll is sex is rock’n'roll…
John Frusciante: It’s the same kind of feeling with music that you get when you’re having really good sex, and you’re just fucking and there’s nothing else going on. It’s just such beautiful experience and you’re just fucking like a mad dog from hell and that’s the same feeling you have on stage. Funk is just the sexiest, most sexually oriented music in the world, period.
Anthony Kiedis: Why should we think nudity is such a revolting thing in a land where there is so much violence and corruption and racism and hatred ? Nudity seems like a welcome relief from all the bullshit in life.
John: Sexual frustration is the single most powerful force in the world. We are the only species where that frustration affects things like the amount of money given to the poor and the length of welfare lines. I hate that the fact that George Bush’s wife is an ugly old piece of shit could cause suffering among millions and could cause wars. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Kennedy was the last president who had a wife worth fucking and he was the last good president.
The Fabulous Fox Theater, Atlanta, Georgia. December 1, 1989.
The nearly 3000 kids milling about the dark, baroque Fox don’t give any indication that they’re expecting a sizzling Chili funk show. The listless crowd is 80 percent metal kids in full, cheap-silver regalia, 10 percent nouvo-boho and a scattering of buttondowns, and while the two opening acts (Raging Slab and Black Crows) play they’re content to linger under the Egyptian sarcophagi and arches in the 1929 landmark theater’s Moorish arcades. Almost all the kids are white.
As the house lights go down for the show no one seems to notice. The Chilis take the stage at a sream and pitch heart-first into a funk-rock maelstrom. Flea is the Godzilla funk bass player of our time – somehow a screaming hybrid of Stanley Clarke, Sid Vicious, Bootsy and the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. Anthony is swinging his hair, dancing headbanger style, trying his hardest to strip himself out of his clothes. The kids crush forward toward the 15-foot-deep orchestra pit, but hundreds just remain in the lobby and erupt into dance like they were in the front row, hands in the air and moshing. The Chilis have them shaking ass in every corner of the theater.
Anthony: When we were at the Fox theater in Atlanta, we were doing “Castles Made of Sand,” and I couldn’t get Hillel off my mind. I was looking up at the ceiling, and it’s painted with all those stars and clouds and stuff, and I was having a tough time singing because my throat kept constricting on me. At the end, when we do “Fire,” it all just rages out of time, the pain and the need for shelter.
Hillel Slovak, original guitar player for the Peppers, died of a heroin overdose in his Los Angeles apartment in June, 1988, after a headlong dive into addiction which had been deepening for years. His wacky, perverse sense of humor and his natural hunger for funk and freedom were the spark which became the Peppers’ signature hyperkenesis. Flea, Tree, Anthony, Jack Irons and Hillel grew up together in Hollywood from age 16. Hillel taught Flea – an accomplished trumpet player whose father was a jazz musician – the rudiments of the bass and convinced him to join his high schol rock band, Anthem. Anthony Kiedis would start Anthem shows off with a crowd pumping rap. Without Hillel, the Chilis would not have been.
Original Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons walked away from the band in order to deal with Hillel’s death on his own. Flea and Anthony understood, and sent him off with their blessing. (Irons was most recently backing Joe Strummer on his 1989 tour.)
To the two remaining members, however, Hillel’s death only streghened their resolve to stand by the dand’s original premises. In fact, it intensified their lust for all things Chili: wild abandon, nudity, funk, punk, rock ‘n’ roll, tits, underwear, droll cover snippets and – above all else – SEX. And MORE sex.
The one and only wild appetite that’s been completely quashed is their hunger for narcotics.
John: Some girl came backstage and showed us this artivle she said she’d written for SPIN about how some people miss the old Chili Peppers, with Hillel and Jack and everybody being hardcore drug abusers – or something like that. It was a really fucking stupid thing to say. Anthony called her a stupid bitch and threw her out. Hard drugs aren’t the kind of thing you want to inspire anyone to get involved with. On tour, I don’t even drink or smoke pot.
Anthony: Take “Knock Me Down.” The initial impetus for that song came to me while we were in England [May, 1988]. Hillel had a pretty bad drug habit when we left L.A, and when we got there he commenced experiencing withdrawal symptoms. He was really ill, but at the same time he didn’t seem to have compassion for his life or consider that he wasn’t beyond death or humiliation because of drugs. It just dawned on me that here he was in the face of misery, but he still wasn’t ready to concede that drugs were lessening his level of life and beauty. So the idea of “knock me down” came to me, like someone’s got to knock him down before he dies. Because he’s not bigger than life. Then we came back to L.A, and immediately both of us started using again and then he died a very short time afterward, ’cause he was alone. I hadn’t really tried to reach him for a week. I could have saved him – I know CPR really well, and I’ve brought back a couple of friends who died from an OD.
Flea: The death of Hillel is the saddest thing that could ever happen. What made me feel worse was that during the time that he really could have used help and friendship and love, I was just angry at him. I really miss him, us growing up together. I loved him very much. He died when my wife was pregnant with our daughter. Hillel thought it was the most beautiful thing.
No one can predict the future. We might become junkies overmight, but now things are really good and there’s a lot of life in this band…I drink beer. I smoke some pot. I don’t think I have a drug problem.
John Frusciante began listening to the Peppers five years ago as a guitar-fixated 14-year-old growing up in the Valley. Though self-taught, he was alreday mastering music theory and says he was able to write parts for orchestral arrangements. “I had moved up to Hollywood when I was sixteen in order to live a little closer to the street. I was a little too obsessed with the technical aspects of music and I had to do like many of the great jazz musicians have done: learn everything and then forget everything.”
John finally met Flea just after the Chili Peppers had taken on Funkadelic guitarist Blackbird McKnight – though John had gone to their area shows religiously for the last five years, even bying his friends tickets, it was their first meeting – and the two of them began to jam with ex-Dead Kennedys drummer D.H. Peligro. When Thelonious Monster needed a new guitarist, Flea set up John with an audition. Anthony and Flea watched on as John got the job, then immediately offered him a spot in the Peppers. (Blackbird McKnight had left to rejoin George Clinton.)
“We started calling John ‘Greenie’ because he was so young,” says Flea.
“But now it’s a comment on his dental hygiene,” smirks Chad.
The Peppers soon fired Peligro and along came Chad Smith, on his first trip to L.A, fresh off a year of jamming with ex-Parlia Funkadelic percussionist Larry Fratangelo in his home twon of Detroit.
Flea: “Chad came in and he had a bandana and hair sticking out and we were like, ‘Oh, God. Next. Let’s get this over with.’ And he started playing and we all burst into laugher because he started screaming at the top of his lungs – ‘RRRRRAAAAAAAHHHHHHH !’ hiting drums as hard as he could BARUMP PAH PAM TSH ! We couldn’t cope. We weren’t sure if he was good or not – it was just hilarious – all of a sudden we thought, ‘This guy is playing his ass off,’ and everyhting else went by the wayside. Chad hadn’t even heard of us before.”
Mantis Family Restaurant, Charlotte, North Carolina, December 2, 1989.
Mantis is the kind of local beanery wher the mashed patatoes are exactly right and the overweight customers are all related. They roll their fat necks, rub their flat-tops and blab about satellite dishes to each other across the aisles. The sheriff’s patrol is eating dinner in the head booth – a peeling woodgarin plastic. They keep their mirrored aviator glasses on.
Flea is grovelling about his conduct the night before, as is his habit. He uses that word, “grovel.” He wears a sheepish smirk and a patchwork hat that makes him look vaguely Florentine, vaguely Fat Albert. His eyes are somehow both bleary and blazing.
“Robbie, it is your fault I am a low-down scumbag idiot with no redeeming moral qualities,” Flea says.
“I’m not in charge of your libido, pal” counters Robbie from another booth.
“Oh, oh, grovelers,” moans Chad.
“No, it’s not my libido. It’s that you are Satan.”
A young, well-groomed black couple is sitting in the booth across the aisle. They’re holding hands across their table. All the customers in the booths around us are glaring at them.
“I sat on the edge of the stage last night at the Fox and watched the last half of the Lakers game,” says Flea. “Then Robbie and I went to a stupid party with these very young girls and I just wanted to ditch ‘em and start drinking. So we bail from the first party and go to another one and sometime before dawn we end up at this disco called Masquerades and I start drinking like a fiend from hell. The girls are gone. I’m a married man. My wife Felicia and my 14-month-old daughter are absolutely the most beautiful part of my entire universe, and I miss them enormously everyday. So I sit down and drink twenty gin’s tonics and become a raving idiot. I haven’t done that on this whole tour…”
“Flea…” Warns Chad.
“I haven’t. I have been the model of deceny.”
“Then you became a disco inferno,” choke Robbie.
“I’m feeling good and pissed, you know, just a little bit righteous about the fact that I am just drinking like pig, blotting out the world, so I can get some sleep whan I am halfway out the door when Robbie points out the fine chick dancing out on the floor…”
“…So you Travolta’s on over…”
“…So somehow she ended up in the car with me and then we were back at the hotel she ended up at my room and I hid in the bathroom and went through a moral crisis. Then I want to bed – by myself- as Chad…Then I walked in with my PXL-vision camera, fresh from mu night making the ‘Mockumentaries’ in the tit-bars,” barks Chad, wearing his Chili Peppers varsity jacket, “and I see this blonde chick, totally naked, halfway out the window, crawling out on all fours, saying she’s gonna go ‘party on the roof.’”
“Except we were on the fourth floor,” says Flea. “I was asleep. She was headed for a splatter.”
The black man across the aisle gets up, has a few words with the management, and they leave without finishing their drinks. Half-a-dozen other customers had been seated and served while the black couple waited for their silverware. And their menus.
The Waitress comes over to our table. “Now that them spooky folks are gone I can get to servin’ y’all faster,” she says.
Chad’s grin drops. the waitress rushes off, knowing she’s made a mistake.
“That makes me fuckin’ want to puke,” he says – too loud – then turns to tour manager Mark johnson, Robbie and Kathy, the tour merchandiser, in the other booth. “Hey, they wouldn’t serve those people sittin’ there. Bunch of backwards assholes. We shouldn’t eat this shit. I ought to go smash this food right on the floor by the cash register.”
Flea and Chad stir their food, picking at it. The cops and the four heavy small-business types in the booth across the divider are suddenly glaring at us. Not that they hadn’t been. We’re the only ones sitting in there with long hair. Or black leather jackets. Or anything black. They’re all wearing plaid western shirts and polyester slacks. Flea gets up to go to the restroom. His basketball jersey reads “FUCKING FUCK” in huge letters down his belly. He’d doffed his hat to eat, and when he walks back to the table I remember that his curly mohawk is neon green and that his eyes can make people feel an unatural fear. We begin to squirm. Flea, Chad and I finish our food because we hadn’t had anything alse all day. Out in the parking lot I can see the cops talking to the waitress and nodding.
“I was grovelling before,” Flea says into the cold.”Now it’s worse.”
The 13/13 club, Charlotte, North Carolina. Later on that same evening.
Flea prowls close to his mike before the second song begins. He look agitated, whipping his bass from side to side. He’s wearing only a bondage mask and a disposable diaper.
“We went out to get something to eat tonight at a local restaurant,” he starts suddenly, a thousand rednecks and suburban kids whooping,” and there was a black couple seated next to us and, in the course of the evening, the owners basically refused to serve them and the black couple had to leave.” The kids cheer less. “The name of the place was Mantis’ Family Restaurant. That shit make me fuckin’ sick and makes me hate. Don’t eat there anymore.” Silence.
John bounces up off his seat in the forward lounge of the custom MCI tourbus and starts rummaging through some videotapes stored above the microwave open. Today’s trip is short – two-hours through quiet woodlands from Charlotte, North Carolina, South Carolina – a rare day off from the barnstorming tour schedule. Chad, Tree and I are kicked back with our heads in the sun.
John finds The Jimi Hendrix Tape and jacks it into the VCR Instantly a rush shudders through the bus – a rush of energy, of hope, of love, even. Everyone is riveted to the screen as the film flips through a series of interviews with Jimi and his closest associates, cut with live performances. Down through the center of the bus, beyond the nine sleeping berths, Flea, Mark and Kathy have brought the tape up on the monitor in the rear lounge. John seems to have the tape memorized. I have the feeling that they’ve watched it a hundred times before, and that there is more going on than just hero worship.
Eric Clapton is on the screen talking about how Jimi and Pete Townsend were always expected to smash up guitars or amps onstage, and that Pete lived with the burden of knowing that many of his fans came to his shows just to see him break something.
‘That’s like us with the socks,” Anthony says to me over his shoulder. “Especially in Europe. Everybody expects us to walk around all the time with socks on our dicks, as though we didn’t have four albums of our own songs, which is infinitely more important to us.”
Jimi on the Dick Cavett show, circa 1968.
Dick: Are you ready for all the hate mail you’re going to get for the rendition of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ you played at Woddstock ?
Jimi: Why would I get hate mail ?
Dick: …Well, anytime you present the national anthem in any way unorthodox…
Jimi: Unorthodox ? That wasn’t unorthodox. There you go; I thought it was beautiful.
John is hunched on the floor in the front of the bus. “I think that what most people should do, if they want to lead happier lives, is tell themselves they’re a worthless piece of shit and get involved with art,” he says.” Artistic expression is the only thing that can make the world beautiful. It’s the only thing that’s really gonna matter when everything just burns down and the world comes to an end.”
“But you can’t eat art,” I say.
“I don’t think we’re going to be able to do anything about those physical realities, honestly. I’m not saying art is going to solve those problems, but even if those people do find food, that’s not beauty. Art is the only thing that can give the food beauty. If everyone ate, and everybody had a full stomach all over the world, the world still wouldn’t be beautiful.”
“How do we help people free their minds ?”
” I gave up on that years ago, at a very young age. I just realized that there was nothing you could do to change anybody who didn’t already have a natural free thinking way about them. You’re fooling yourself if you think you’re going to save the world. There’s just too much shit against you when you’re trying to change someone who is a sheltered, confused individual into somebody who thinks for themself. That’s the problem with human beings: they all think they’re God.”
Onscreen Jimi is playing Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone.” This is Anthony’s favorite part of The Jimi Hendrix Tape. John and Anthony’s “all for beauty’s sake” credo is awfully sweet and infectious. When the video ends, the entire entourage seems to be pulled outside of themselves for a moment, drawn away into the sun and the fall-colored maples and swamp-oaks and pines, profoundly sad and hopeful at once. Robbie crawls over us back to his bunk and retrieves at acoustic guitar. John rummages around and finds and other, and together they launch into a freethinker’s blues jam that slides back and forth between “Voodoo Child” and “Purple Haze” and then away. After a half-hour we rock to a stop in front of the Holiday Inn, but the spirit is on them and the song continues. Chad and Flea improvise on the rhthm section as everyone else piles out.
Flea: I went to see Black Flag at the Starwood and I just thought it was disgusting. I hated it and people were getting the shit kicked out of them for having long hair and people were being carried away in ambulances – a bloody, violent thing. It really made me sick and scared. Punk rock was awful. Then about a year later I took a hit of acid and went to see this band Fear and they were really tight, fast and aggressive and blew my mind. A week later they lost their bass player and I was in Fear. I was like 18.
Anthony: When Hillel and I were kids, and Flea also, we were heavy-duty drug experimenters. We took LSD, we did cocaine, we did heroin, smoked a lot of pot and did a lot of alcohols and different combinations of barbituates. But it was all in good fun: we weren’t slaves to the drugs. As kids, we considered these mind-expanding situations to just view life in a different way. Then, eventually, tile passes and you either become an addict or you don’t.
Flea: This friend of ours named Gary Allen had this weird cabaret lip-synch freaky dance costume thing and he wanted us to get together an opening act for a JOKE and we got it together – Anthony, Hillel, jack and I. We never rehearsed it. I had a funky bass line and Anthony had a poem and he’d never really been in front of a mike before. We had one song, and we did it and people went wild. It was called “Out in LA,” which is still the song we open with to this very day. The next show we did we had two songs and we just started doing shows and literally within a matter or two or three months we were the hottest band in L.A.
Anthony: Flea never really lost it to drugs. He had his experimental phase, realized he couldn’t handle it, and then he put them away. Hillel and I kept taking them – we needed that extra comfort that they were offering us – until we became addicted to a few different substances. The more time passed, the more he and I began to isolate, individually, get away from the band, families and friends.
Flea: I met Anthony in high scholl when I was 15. I didn’t have any friends and he didn’t either and we decided to go o this crazy ski trip. We got in the Greyhound and went skiing at Mammoth Mountain and we would sleep in the laundry room of this condo and put qurters in the dryer to stay warm. We were also little thieves. Tree was making wontons one night and I had this little apartment and we were like starving at the time. I got arrested for stealing wonton skins. I went to jail and I was hassled in jail by these gay guys and I told myself never steal again.
Anthony: My friends and my family were all afraid I was going to die, ’cause I would just take too much too often, for too long period of time. Hillel was much more subtle and much more cunning in his disguise. He had everyone believing that he had it under control, until a certain time came when I became so familiar with the nature of addiction that I knew he was in as deep as me, but he was just more in denial.
Flea: I was a receptionist in my animal hospital until I came in on acid one day…no, I got fired after Anthony and I hitchhiked up to San Fransisco one weekend and gave ourselves mohawks.We tried to sneak on the train but we were getting really wasted on the train and they kicked us off in like San Jose or Santa Barbara – someplace weird – and we got picked up by this transvestite. We had this insane weekend of sleeping on people’s porches, covered in newspapers, being woken by cops prodding us with sticks, doing a lot of unmentionably weird things. On the way back, we hopped a freight train full of beets and buried ourselves in the beets. We thought, “this sure is going smoothly.” We had stopped. We had gone five miles to the beet factory. We got a ride from this Mexican fugitive with a big tatoo on his neck that said “Los Venos Chicos.” When we got to L.A, he said, “Hey, you guys can have the car. I stole it.” I drove it a block, got scared, and abandoned it.
Anthony: I tried to turn Hillel onto going to AA: “Come to these meetings with me, we’ve got to be clean, because we’ve got the Red Hot Chili Peppers in common, we’ve got our friendship in common, we grew up together, we love each other, I want to spend my life with you making music.” I would write him letters, ’cause it was real hard for me to tell him to his face how much I loved him and how much I wanted to make music with him. We would both clean up, and then we’d both start using again – but Hillel thought he had power over the dark side.
I found out he was dead and I went to Mexico for a week, to this little fishing village way, way down, with a population of like a hundred Mexicans. I just lived in this little hut on the beach, basically drying out, ’cause I had already gotten back into it by the time he’d died. I went directly into a hospital for a couple weeks and I’ve been clean ever since.
Thanks to Invisible Movement for letting us use their transcript as the basis for this