Red Hot Chili Peppers
Yes, people do really want to believe that the Red Hot Chili Peppers possess torsos that when unveiled cause riots on the California beaches.
Never adverse to a lot of talk about their tackle or even a little public exposure of their packets, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are perhaps better known for the size of their socks than the depth of their spirits.
Patrick Fraser sets out in search of higher ground.
`Well, maybe I’ll initialise it.’ Flea, on being asked to autograph an inebriated fan’s penis.
The fact that the above story is not only unattributable but almost definitely untrue hardly seems to matter. You see, people want to believe it. And why not? In one sentence is encapsulated all four of the qualities that have become the essence of The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Wit, intelligence, speed and, of course, an appreciation of the oftentimes absurdity of the male member. In fact, the Chili Peppers possess an awareness of their own genitalia that sometimes borders on the obsessive. Add to this those exhortations to ‘Party on your Pussy’ and what do you have? Sex, sex and (yes, I’m afraid) more sex together with the prevalent belief that the Chili’s are on a mission ‘to pervert the planet’ (as one reviewer delicately describes it). Yes, people really do want to believe that the Red Hot Chili Peppers possess torsos that when unveiled cause riots on Californian beaches. They welcome the illusion that the band possess penises that when limp, sway like lengths of heavy-duty garden hose (to become, at full stretch, the size of US Navy midget submarines). In short, people want the Chilis to be sex machines who, after days cooking up a funk in the rehearsal room, evenings pumping iron in the gym, unburden themselves at night into the choicest, creamiest Californian beach girls with enough come to put out a forest fire. So, when I ask Anthony Kiedis if he really likes women or if he really likes toscrew women and he says: “Sure I like to fuck!” I resign myself to an oncoming verbal catalogue of acrobatic sexual activity complete with position guides, maps, diagrams of attendant hand stands and in depth descriptions of unending multiple orgasms (his!).
Only it never happens. Instead, for the next 30 minutes or so I’m treated to something far, far different indeed. But first, (and by way of an explanation), let me tell you about John.
My second impression of John is that he is a lunatic. My first impression of John is that he has something the size of a wardrobe up his nose but that’s only because of the way in which he talks and he’s only talking in this manner because his nasal passages are full of water which is why I take him to be a lunatic because what I don’t know about John is that he has just had a wash which is why his face is a sea of water bubbles (and his hands are running like taps) which I mistakenly identify as the rage of a cold sweat and none of this is helped by the fact that he is bug-eyed with excitement but is missing his guitar and speaks and looks and moves like Matt Dillon acts (only John isn’t acting) and talks not so much like an artist but like a truck driver whose sole purpose in life is to deliver a lorry load of perishable goods to a certain destination on time.
John says: “I am surprised that I feel so good ‘cos I went to bed kind of depressed. Oh! But then I realised that the reason I felt so good was because I dreamed I was with Picasso and Picasso was coming on to me sort of and we were at this museum and there were paintings of his lying around but this was no big deal because there wasn’t this false glorification of Picasso that there is. Instead…I paint watercolours y’know..and Picasso’s paintings were on thin, cheap paper and they weren’t any guards blocking them or anything and they weren’t up there with the other paintings and we just walked around in there and I didn’t feel the need to say too much to him because we were just enjoying each other and he was being so nice to me but some asshole who was sitting at this little bar drinking coffee nosily asked me if this guy was coming on to me and I just told him ‘Fuck you! because, see, his manners were so affectionate to me that this guy was living in his own weird little world where that automatically meant some sort of a homosexual thing.”
By the way, John looks like he’s seen a ghost – which is probably because he has (but more of that later!)
Blood Sex Sugar Magik in the guitarist’s words is “a building made out of the sky” Each nut and bolt, each chord and phrase is screwed down so tightly that the whole swinging structure sways through the clouds. It is movement through precision – power-jazz. “I play my guitar the same way I use a paintbrush,” explains John, “it’s there to create another place to live and that’s my real home. When we’re creating this music, technically, we’re not thinking of anything. It’s all coming from our souls and has a lot more to do with the fact that we all love each other very much than it does with any technical ability we possess.”
So how would they define ‘love’?
John: “I have a girl who I like very much named Toni but I don’t feel like I would ever want her to be mine. I don’t need to have that possession of anybody. We have a good time when we have sex but more than anything I just like sitting round with her and not saying anything and just listening to records and stuff. I suppose that sort of selflessness might be called ‘love’. I also fell in love with a girl in Costa Rica. But love is something that pours out of me all the time. I just have to surrender myself to it.”
What about Anthony? Does his earlier declaration that ‘he likes to fuck’ find any place in a definition of ‘love’?
“Sure I said that I liked to fuck but I equally enjoy the emotional part of a relationship. I can enjoy talking, holding hands and touching just as much as fucking. It’s just that at the moment I find it much easier to write about the physical side of a relationship. I do have problems articulating my feelings on the emotional side and don’t yet feel completely comfortable expressing myself. But maybe, sometime in the future, I will begin to explore my feelings in this area more fully in my songwriting.”
So what areas is Anthony exploring on the new Chili Peppers’ album? Is it a continuation of the search inside or an attempt to point at the world? “It was definitely an exploration” declares Anthony, “probably an exploration of both the inner and the outer world. But there were many other spirits that contributed to the album besides us. Our four physical presences played a pretty small role.”
“For seven weeks it was like I was just jumping out my body and into Flea’s bassline.” continues John. “We were playing from a totally egoless standpoint and so if your ego has vanished, if you look over your shoulder, like we did, and see your head rolling on the floor, laughing, there’s much meaning that comes forth and that’s where you’re opening up to the spiritual road because there’s nothing shocking to us about being spiritual because we were living in the house with ghosts dancing around and so much energy in the room that we just didn’t have to move at all when we were playing this shit because there were spirits and smoke doing the most cosmic of dances that you could ever imagine.”
Anthony confirms this story with a smile. So where exactly was the ghost-infested house in which the Chilis recorded their album?
“A house on Laurel Canyon” says John, “but more importantly, located in the fourth dimension.” It is at this point that I feel as if the floor has opened up beneath me.
“Yeah, I was always made fun of and considered a weirdo. I have terrible memories of trying to fit in with the world” We are discussing the guitarist’s childhood while, as if to focus his thoughts, he moves great armfuls of crockery from one side of the table to the other before stubbing a succession of cigarettes into the sodden, face-size slices of pizza that are soaking up the coffee that is running from the plates.
“I was definitely sad a lot of the times but my best memory was when I bought the album GI by the Germs and it just hit me that the fact that I’d always felt alone and the fact that I’d always felt like people didn’t understand me – which manifested itself by people trying to ridicule me or teachers trying to humiliate me for saying anything that I had to say to do with my creativity – was a strength and that I could live my life being true to that world and not worrying about whether people accepted me or not.” Pausing for breath, he then adds: “Just recognising that I was a freak but knowing that was a cool place to be…”
Anthony, on the other hand, has rather different childhood memories:
“I was brought up by my mother, a sweet, sweet woman, until the age of 11. Then I went to live with my father in the Hollywood hills. He was a crazy, partying playboy so I was introduced to the world of psychedelia at a very young age.”
How young is ‘young’?
“Eleven, although I’m not saying that I took LSD that young, just that I was exposed to a very weird environment from that age on.”
Does John consider his background in particular a contributing factor to his success?
It depends what you mean by ‘success’. From the moment I played in this band I was basking in success because success is nothing to do with money or fame or possessions, success is doing what you want to do. Success can be just sitting on a couch and listening to Velvet Underground records. The world, you see, will forever try to put you down, crush your creativity.”
John agrees: “The world tries to get creative people to build up this brick wall inside themselves but if you’re able to be open up but do it in a surrealistic way you can be opened without being harmed. I told myself when I moved out of my mom’s house when I was 16 that I was never going to make a living doing anything but playing music and I didn’t give a shit if I had to live with a sugar daddy and get butt-fucked – whatever I had to do in order to still be able to just draw and paint and play guitar. Whatever my physical presence had to be doing just didn’t mean shit. I’ve never had a job. Thank God I had that attitude because if I had had the attitude of an ambitious yuppie I would never have been able to live the creative live that I do.”
But what about the everyday things in life, like paying the rent?
“They are still only so important. When I didn’t have any money. When I was poor, I still didn’t give a fuck about it. I was very happy. From an artistic standpoint I have too much respect for people like Robert Johnson and Leadbelly and people like Henry Rollins to think that any sort of financial success means shit! The world has people tricked into thinking that the world of money and ambition is here. It’s not. The only thing that’s here when you’ve got a guitar in your hands is the guitar in your hands and if you can just put every ounce of soul into that, many other things open them-selves up to you. Time is just this thing that everyone’s been tricked into believing in and that everything very much has its place. I believe in just being open to everything and keeping my sensitivities at as high of a place as I can get at all times. As long as the roots aren’t suffering then all is well and all will be well in the garden and if you can turn your life into that garden you’ll be just as much of a beautiful person as Chance Gardner.”
On paper this probably all comes across like the sort of dippy horse-shit that 20 years ago you’d expect to fall from the mouths of a couple of bearded, fruit-juice drinking hippies. Forget it! The Chills inspire me! Theirs is a world of wrap around history, where to make music is to lump in and out of each other’ according to Anthony, to see ‘your ego looking and laughing back at you’ according to John. Theirs is a world where the barriers that are their physical bodies can be temporarily forgotten – lost even, as they meet each other mind on in their music. “We have the same guiding spirit that all creativity has always had. I feel that creativity from all history and from the future is all one thing and if one chooses to live there it welcomes you with open arms.” pronounces John. The Chili Peppers are a mind fuck! The flesh made word.