1992 March Hot Metal March

Thanks to Kathie Davis for the transcript.

Phil Wilding finds Chili Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis in a reflective mood, as his past life floats before his eyes – or is it just his living-room furniture…?

Anthony Kiedis, the Chili Peppers’ tattooed ringmaster, is un-sure if he’ll ever rock the sock again.

“We never saw the sock on the cock thing as a gimmick,” he stresses, his voice struggling to be heard over a constant gurgle of water.  Kiedis’ Hollywood home is partially flooded.  He sighs, as coffee table floats bumpily by.

“How natural, how much fun would it be to play partially naked?  An entrancing form of rocking, but what happened was that the press, especially the European press, picked up on a superficial aspect of the music.  But, luckily, we didn’t get caught behind that.  The people who really care, people who connect with the vibe, the sensation created through our music, they matter.  But the press… ”  His voice trails wearily away.

“There’s no useful point to that.”

Kiedis is wary of anyone ever really having understood him and his band’s music.  Five albums later and no one’s got it yet?  He dismisses, quite rightly, all the funk thing out of hand.  When you talk music with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, they answer in terms of vibes, sincerity, compassion, spirituality and conviction.  Blood Sugar Sex Magik is, in recent retrospect, a logical extension of what at first sounds like only so much mumbo jumbo.  Blood Sugar Sex Magik epitomizes, as ludicrous as it may sound, that oft repeated vibe.  The album was pieced together at a giant mansion in the Hollywood Hills supposedly brimming with ghosts.  Valentino lived there.  Gangsters fought on its staircase and during prohibition, booze was smuggled through the dank corridors down in its cellar.  The Beatles dropped LSD in its glorious rooms.  Jimi Hendrix hung out.  Kiedis insists that there’s a ghost of the times caught in the frame of a band photograph on the album, held in the slick red gel.

Possibly.  What is without doubt is the simple fact that their splendid isolation enabled them to complete their most cohesive piece of work to date.  Kiedis puts it down, not unnaturally, to the fact that this time the band really knew each other.  As simple as that.  He confesses that Mother’s Milk was blessed with a rousing energy, but blighted by the unknown that lay between the band members.  Whatever the case may be, the overall effect of Blood Sugar… is stunning, engrossing and more than enough to send every other wannabe back to the musical grave.  Kiedis swears he’s never seen the opposition.

“I don’t really pay attention to those other bands we may have opened the door for.  I’m more ignorant than flattered when it comes to that kind of thing.  You know, if I’m into a band, that’s good, then it’ll make my life happy.  People should realize that inspiration should be an almost spiritual influence, instead of just copying a style.”

Blood Sugar Sex Magik is the band’s first record for Warner Brothers.  The previous four appeared on EMI.  I hazard a guess that the split occurred due to a certain lack of spirituality.  It was communication, actually.

“EMI had no understanding of us at all,” Kiedis remarks without the slightest hint of malice.  “They had a vague concept of us, but no real idea of what we were; they didn’t have any interest in putting out something compassionate.  It was a terrible situation.  There was always a lack of communication between us.  We made some great records with them, the Uplift Mofo Party Plan for one, and they let those records slip by.”

But, I argue, Warners are just another faceless conglomerate.  Couldn’t this be a case of jumping out of the frying pan and ending up in the proverbial fire?  His answer says a lot for the genuinely innocent love that Anthony Kiedis has for music.

“Look at their roster, They signed Jimi Hendrix.  And they’ve got Neil Young.  And they managed to get the Jane’s Addiction thing going on and they weren’t an obvious format band.  We were courted by all the majors, but the President of Warners actually came down to the studio to listen to us.”  He’s astounded still.  “That was phenomenal, I don’t think anyone at EMI ever heard us.”

At the time of the Mother’s Milk record, Flea was quoted as saying that the production on their next album, ie Blood Sugar…, was something they were going to try out for themselves.  A situation turned on its head by the introduction of Rick Rubin as a producer, who is surely more of a musical svengali than anything else?

“He certainly has a reputation as one,” concedes Kiedis.  “But he’s just a music loving being.  I was apprehensive, I didn’t know if he could connect to the Positive Mental Octopus thing.  But the more I talked to him… he’s just so into music.  He never attempted to overshadow us, he’d just sit on a couch and watch us rehearse; sometimes he’d nap, sometimes he’s be right into it, sitting on the edge of his seat, shouting.  He’s like a chess player, he makes small but important moves.”

The Chili Peppers were formed out of a high school friendship that was torn apart with the drug related death of original guitarist, Hillel Slovak.  Kiedis has described him as the most beautiful person he’s ever known.  I wonder aloud if the Chili Peppers would have been so forthright, clean and ultimately so together, if Slovak had lived.

“That’s impossible to say.  It’s weird you should mention him, because today…” He pauses significantly.  “I wish he were here.  Imagine what we would be doing musically if he were rocking now?  If he’d come around to dealing with life.”  How phenomenal it would be to play with him?  He was one of the great players walking the earth.  As good as the other guys in the band are now, it’s not the original conception, not the thing that came out of that friendship… I think we’ve done really well if you think about it.  So have the new guys.”

A more recent, if less personal, tragedy has also recently struck Kiedis Mother’s Milk features a paean to the basketball superstar, Magic Johnson, a heterosexual sports hero who recently announced publicly that he was HIV Positive.  The first real celebrity case of the virus that was neither homosexual nor drug related in any way.  The shock waves it set off rolled, momentarily, around America.

“That was a weird dichotomy; at one time it was profound, but it was so short lived, now everyone’s seen to have forgotten.  This hero was stricken with a virus meant for druggies and homos…”  His tome is contemptuous and ironic.  “There were suddenly so many right wing idiots out there who had to face up to the fact that it could get them.  But now two months later and it’s almost like it didn’t happen.

“But, personally, it was so shocking to me.  It was like the Kennedy thing; where were you when Magic was tested positive for HIV?  I know where I was.  But he’s not a dead man, he could continue living for a long time.  On an extremely selfish level, it’s a read drag for me, because watching him play used to make me feel so good.  He was so fluid” – Kiedis once compared his playing style to the band’s music – “he brought me a lot of joy.”

And, it seems, something of a legacy.

“I just went and had an AIDS test, as a person who cares about other people.  But when they said negative, I was so happy, so full of hope.  It makes you think, I’ll be more careful now, I’ll rock the condom.  Though, I have to admit that I have a hard time getting used to that concept.  Hopefully, I’ll fall in love and become involved in a monogamous relationship.”  He says this without any real conviction.

The band’s quite irrepressible sexuality, lyrically, conceptually, and, occasionally, aesthetically, gave vent to a couple of situations that resulted, in both cases, in legal action.  The first saw Kiedis accused of ‘sexual battery’ and ‘indecent exposure’.  While the second, occurring at an MTV Spring-Break in Daytona Beach, saw the band facing charges of ‘disorderly conduct’ and ‘solicitation to commit an unnatural and lascivious act’.  Could this be, I consider, the downside of public fame?

“That first one, that girl thought she was hurt by the experience.”  The girl in question, according to Kiedis, had simply witnessed him changing backstage in the band’s dressing room.  “But I think she was more hurt by the fact that we wouldn’t take a ride back to the hotel in her car, because she was pretty loaded.

“And that MTV thing was when they wanted us to lip-synch to one of our songs.  We didn’t really want to do that, so we just jumped off the stage, and spanked this girl.  Maybe we shouldn’t have, because we aren’t violent or bad guys, but because we’d done it and not some local guys from college, the redneck Florida beach police went after us.  Then the local paper took photos, and we were suddenly like these rapists from Hell.  I mean, Flea’s the father of this beautiful daughter, a compassionate father.  We are not bad people.  They were unfortunate and stupid things, and very much prime examples of yellow journalism.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers have often been accused of sexually explicit lyrics—Mother’s Milk carried a Parental Guidance sticker – though if you question Kiedis on his apparent disregard towards women in light of what he’s written, he’s plainly mystified.

“Not if you ask me or any of the girlfriends I’ve ever had.  I’m probably more sexist towards men, I prefer the company of women.  But because I don’t write songs about equality but about a sexual experience, I’m regarded as sexist.  People are so uptight, they can’t take a joke…”

And just before he puts the phone down, I hear the sound of the coffee table drifting around for another lazy circuit.

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