02/1990 East Coast Rocker (186)

Good Hoops, Great Funk

by Mike Hammer

“You have to take a picture of me in my stage regalia,” insists Anthony Kiedis, the lead singer for L.A.’s premier funk punks and MTV muscle men, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Kiedis makes his proclamation seconds after bursting into the backstage area at Washington, D.C.’s Lichener Audi-torium.

No one ever accused the Chili Peppers of being modest. “We’re one of the most influential bands in music,” Kiedis is quick to point out without much prodding.

Not an entirely ridiculous statement considering the impressive body of work the Chili Peppers have manufactured since 1992. Spicing power punk with the kind of freaky funk previously found only In Parliament packages, the Chills gave the well-seasoned LA hardcore season a new flavor with revealed albums like The Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Uplift Mojo Party Plan. The Chilis know they’re hot.

After a quick change. Kiedis re-emerges in pagoda shouldered stage “costume” that makes him look like an extra from Samurai Night Fever. Watching him strut, you get the idea he never had much trouble drumming up the nerve to ask a girl to the high school prom. “My costume is an extension of my personality.” he explains, quickly erasing any suspicion of stagefright.

Armed with beefy biceps built through exercise and shooting hoops, los Chills rarely appear on stage or on video (see the hit clip “Higher Ground,” a remake of the Stevie Wonder classic from their current album, Mother’s Milk) in more than jams and Air Jordans. So why the Tarzan touch?

“Our physical energy is as important as the songs,” Kiedis says of the band’s acrobatic performance. “Besides, we find clothes generally inhibiting,”

The dimly-lit backstage room is filled with well-wishers, Chili Will-I-Bees, and old friends they haven’t seen since high school.

“That girl never talked to me in school,” says new drummer Chad Smith, 27, added to the group through an exhaustive audition process which followed the departure of original “skin’ man Jack Irons. ‘Now she’s a government lawyer hanging out at a Peppers’ show. Weird.”

Moments later, a miniature, green-mohawked figure stalks in demanding to see gate receipts. No need to alert the authorities, it’s just the aptly-named diminutive bass player Flea, who’s got a head for business that belies his haircut.

Mother’s Milk the Peppers’ fifth album, started shaking up the charts a few months back with songs like the frantically paced punk rap “Knock Me Down,” which features a video more easily likened to a Jane Fonda workout than a typical performance.

“Physical intensity feeds our music,” Kiedis says, “But one thing I think about this new record, especially with the addition of Chad, is that it’s brought us to a new ballpark of hardness. I just think more kids will want to bang their heads it.

Despite the hardness, there is a touch of softness in the record. “Knock Me Down” is a warning against the dangers of drugs and, in particular, a homage to the friend who lost his life.

‘It was more of a persona loss than a band loss,” Kiedis says. “ You can always make music, but you can’t always make a friend.”

Kiedis and Flea made friends, when Anthony introduces his “physical intensity” to Flea in high school. “He threatened to break my neck,” Flea gasps. “I figured I’d better get on his good side. He looked like a lunatic.”

Flea had already earned his wings as a bassist with West Coast pioneer punk groups like Fear when he decided to team up with his old buddy, Kiedis. “I was writing poetry at the time, and we both figured I could write songs,” Kiedis explains. “I knew I could perform”

Lunacy is the key word in a friendship that has endured five albums, the death by drug overdose of friend and guitarist Hillel Slovak in 1988, and the departure of Irons.

“Flea’s my best friend,” Kiedis says. When we’re away from each other, we incredibly ignorant, but together we’re the super geniuses of funk.”

Their aptitude for funk earned them the respect of one of the masters-George Clinton- who produced Freaky Styley and Some of My Best Friends Are Jokes for the boys.

But there have been times when their combined efforts have hardly been worthy of the “genius” label.

“When we were in high school, we used to jump off roofs into pools all over our neighborhood in Hollywood,” Kiedis remembers.

“One time I got a little overzealous and overshot one and broke my back. Another friend ran away, but Flea stayed, dealt with the cops and made sure I got to the hospital.”

The friendship flourished through the midst of a four-month tour that introduced the two spicey new Chilis—drummer Smith, and 19-year-old guitar prodigy, John Frusciante.

The response to the new members has featured packed houses of college kids, bikers, businessmen and plenty of girls hot for the Chills.

“Our sexual energy onstage is undeniable,” brags the always modest, multi tatooed Kiedis.

All that energy is transported in a sound studio, video-screening room, barracks and laundry hamper that also happens to double as the Chili tour bus.

“Touring is like a time warp,” 28-year-old Flea says during a “therapeutic” homemade recording session on the bus. “It’s mostly hotels and soundchecks, but we have some fun.”

“Fun” consists of challenging local lads to some hoop action or maybe an impromptu concert along the highway.

“One time we were driving through the Canadian Rockies and the band decided to pull out the generators and amps and put on a show on the roadside,” says tour manager Mark Johnson. “People were just pulling up and enjoying the music.”

“Every now and then we show up at an auditorium with hoops still set up and we get into a game,” Frusciante says. “We usually freak out the competition though. One time we ran this play where we brought the ball up court screaming at the top of our lungs with our hands over our heads. It gets the other team thinking.”

“’We want to challenge the girls’ varsity team at one of the schools along the tour, ‘ chimes in Tree, a sax specialist signed on for the last leg of the tour.

Basketball is nearly as important to the Peppers as the music they make. In case you were looking for

(continued from pg. 19) evidence of their devotion to roundball—they’ve got a song on Mother’s Milk dedicated to Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ wonderguard.

“He’s a real hero of the band,” Kiedis gushes. “He represents the most beautiful, positive-willed figure In sports to us. We’re musically influenced by his playing, his smile, his lust for life.”

“Funk and sports intersect in so many ways,” says Flea, the group’s resident sociologist. “For me, a perfect day is to play music and basketball in the same day. They’re the two most fun things for me to.”

As the bus turns into a truck stop in rural Virginia more fun is in sight.

“Would you mind demonstrating this merchandise to us Madam?” queries Kiedis—resplendent in red bicycle shorts, a blue flannel cartoon character shirt and a hairband—holding up a stuffed animal to a stunned sales girl. ‘We meet all kinds of people,” he deadpans. “I guess she does too.”

Back on the bus, Frusciante is studying the dialogue to Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose. Once a high school recluse, who practiced guitar 15 hours a day alone in his room, he’s now a crazed, buzz-cutted axeman playing in his all-time favorite band.

His biggest influence in life was the Peppers,” Kiedis says. “He knew all our stuff as well as us. So when he joined the band (after former guitarist Hillel Slovak’s tragic death), he was like a gift from God.”

So is drummer Chad Smith, who sleeps through most of the on-bus high-volume recording sessions with his ever-present bandanna coveting his head and, evidently, his ears.

“Look at him,” Kiedis says. “He’s the last guy I ever expected to be in a band with. But he explodes on the drums.”

“We interviewed dozens of really accomplished drummers for the job,” Flea says.

“Yeah, but none of them seemed to have the spark or soul that we were looking for,” Kiedis adds. ‘Then Chad showed up and, believe me, he was the last guy I ever expected to be in a band with. He bad this real hard-ass rock ‘n’ roll look with that damned bandanna. And he was bigger than any of us. We never had a big guy in the band before. (Kiedis, Flea, and Frusciante standing on each others heads would have a tough time looking John Entwistle in the eye.) Then he started banging on the drums and we all looked at each other and started laughing. He totally blew us away. We knew we had our guy.”

Kiedis has high hopes for the new band and its future. He lists the 25-year existence of the Grateful Dead as an inspiration. “I don’t even know their music, but it’s great that people are still into them after all this time,” he says. “I hope we’re around that long.”

But the Chilis remain cold on some of the other dinosaur bands—The Who, in particular.

“They’re pathetic,” Flea snarls. “I mean, they were a great band once, but they’re totally irrelevant now. And here’s a personal ‘fuck you’ to John Entwistle for saying rap is the voice of youth that can’t sing.” “Rap is the voice of youth in the ’90s,” Kiedis adds. “And the Chili Peppers are the mouthpiece.”


Rock Around The Clock: A couple of days in Pepperdom

Friday Night: Washington DC

7.45 p.m. Flea bursts in demanding to see the night’s gate receipts. An accountant with a Mohawk.

8 p.m. “You have to take a picture of me in my stage regalia!” Kiedis says.

8.15 p.m. Kiedis finishes posing

8.45 p.m. Showtime.

10:45 p.m. The band pours into the back stage area. The girls in the backstage area pour around the band.

11.30 p.m. Kiedis and Frusciante split to find jazz clubs. Flea takes off with an old friend and Chad leads an unruly crowd of friends, fans and roadies and, um, me) to a nearby rock club to see the Brit group, Melons.

3 a.m. After two encores and lots of liquid refreshment Chad heads for the hotel and first love: sleep.

9 a.mm Are you kidding? ZZZZZville.

11 a.m. Frusciante, Flea and Kiedis dig up breakfast. The hotel food is a little too elegant, so they head out in search of grease.

12.00 p.m. Chad blows into Roy Rogers for a balanced three piece breakfast. Formal dining wear includes red bandana, T-shirt, sweats and a five o’clock shadow, way ahead of schedule.

1 p.m. After a lot of indigestion and indecision about how the heck to get to Norfolk the bus pulls out two hours late.

1:30 p.m. The daily “bus ride” taping sessions begin. Flea lays down a killer bass line to “The Joker” (Steve Miller’s not Jack Nicholson’s) while the rest of gang pipes in with vocals.

10 p.m. Flea shops for “fine quality goods” in a rural Virginia truck stop.

3 a.m. John breaks out the Woody Allen tapes. Flea’s lost shorts are uncovered. “I would  have gone on without them,” he boasts”

4 a.m. The bus pulls into the Norfolk Airport to drop me off. The baggage handler at the terminal door looks a bit over whelmed when the bus pulls up practically to the check-out counter. The band piles out to offer a collective farewell and to scope out stewardesses.


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