By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
To understand how the Chili Peppers could generate such initial excitement with only a handful of songs, one must understand how entirely original they were at the time. In 1983, A Flock of Seagulls were on the radio, Risky Business was in theaters, punk rock was washed up and hard drugs were the new barometer of cool. Think Brett Easton Ellis’ nihilistic teen melodrama Less Than Zero without so many bisexual rich people. In a world presently overrun by a never-ending pestilence of shirtless white rap rockers, it seems nearly impossible to imagine an earlier time, yet music in the ‘80s was mainly perpetrated by Englishmen who jerked about as if re-creating Monty Python’s famous “Twit Contest.” Sure, there was some ingenious dancing on the other side of the racial divide, Michael Jackson was still living here on planet Earth, and countless Jheri-curl-sporting Boogaloo Shrimp clones were spinning about on cardboard slabs, but the notion that hip, white musicians could actually groove and exhibit a sex appeal beyond cross-dressing and suicidal depression seemed unheard of at the time.
The Chili Peppers earned a reputation for outlandish mugging, alleged sexism and onstage nudity in these early years. Flea believes this acting out cost them with music critics, especially in Los Angeles, where they have continued to receive little notice over the years. “I think it‘s because [the L.A. Times’] Robert Hilburn came to see us play at the Club Lingerie in 1983, and we said a bunch of really obnoxious stuff and he hated us. And because he hates us, it‘s like we don’t exist. Twenty years of putting out records and living in Los Angeles and being a band that pours our heart into everything we do, and not a spot of ink.”
On the radio a few months back, David Bowie stated that the American public really only remembers the three biggest things any artist has done. Sadly, for the Chili Peppers this would consist of nudity, drug addiction and funk rock. It is true that much of the public still envisions the band as the irreverent pranksters they once were, but, while capable of the occasional provocative outburst, the Chili Peppers have actually evolved over the last decade into rather serious artists. Rick Rubin, who has produced the band‘s last four records, theorizes, “Taking your clothes off is interesting; putting your clothes back on is less interesting. It’s less noteworthy. They‘re kind of still in the putting-their-clothes-back-on phase. But there’s no question that the quality of the work just keeps getting better and better. But the general public does still seem to view them as a party band.”
One of the raps on Los Angeles is that the town is populated by beautiful people incapable of any deep intellectual thought. This is relatively the same logic that says all athletes (and especially surfers) are stupid, the premise being that you can either have a good body or a good brain, but not both. The accuracy of this equation can easily be disproved by simply noting the hordes of unsightly simpletons who roam the planet. Nevertheless, it is a trap that plagues even modern music, where to be taken seriously you can be pretty or strange, but rarely athletic-looking. The Chili Peppers have always flaunted their physicality, regularly performing shirtless with not a flabby party ball among them. Though fast approaching middle age, the band has unfortunately aged exceptionally well. This combined with a willingness to interject overtly sexual images into their lyrics has pretty much damned them to the populist mainstream regardless of how inventive their work. Only the band‘s past appetite for heinous amounts of narcotics gets them slightly off the hook with arbiters of cool. Still, be so audacious as to mention their latest disc in the same category as a hallowed masterpiece like the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, and you‘ll get laughed out of the used-recordgraphic-novel store. But the truth is, the Chili a Peppers’ latest release is one of the most interesting and creative new records around and arguably belongs in the pantheon of great Los Angeles albums with the works of the Beach Boys, the Doors, the Flesheaters, X and others.
John Frusciante is sitting half-submerged in the swimming pool of his Hollywood Hills home, the lilting psychedelia of Tyrannosaurus Rex traveling out from a stereo. If you‘ve seen pictures of Frusciante from 10 years ago, his appearance is noticeably different. In youth, he was almost male-model pretty, posing for photographs with a confident smile bordering on a sneer. Nowadays, he appears somewhat fragile-looking, more disheveled artist than Southern California skate punk. He is surprisingly talkative, blending a sure intellect with slightly New Age spirituality, not particularly warm, but engaging. Frusciante was a teenage fan of the band when he was tapped as their fourth guitarist. “Everybody I ever met,” he says, “I would tell them, ’The Chili Peppers are my favorite band, I love them.‘”
He had migrated from the doldrums of the San Fernando Valley to study guitar at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, when drummer D.H. Peligro of the Dead Kennedys introduced him to Flea, and he was asked to join the band. Chili Pepper drummer Chad Smith shakes his head. “He was 18 when he joined the band. Eighteen! The first band he was ever in was his favorite band. It would be like me having joined fucking Led Zeppelin!”