MILKING IT BIG
“The way I see it,” muses Anthony Kieidis, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ kinetic front-man, “life is a continuous struggle of experiences.” Think about that sentence for a moment, because those are the last reasonably down-to-earth words you’ll be seeing for a while. You’re about to be taken on a roller-coaster ride, courtesy of one of the wildest bands in the universe. “We play what we consider to be the most ferociously emotional music there is to offer, which is hardcore funk music,” Anthony warns. “It’s something that isn’t just listening with your ear-hole—it’s listening with your butthole, with your vagina-hole, with your penis-hole, with your heart, with your soul, with your whole body, with your bowels.”
Which brings us to that aural celebration called Mother’s Milk, the Chili Peppers’ fifth recorded jumble of funk, rap, radical riffing and primal rhythms. The foursome get down with their buddies from the L.A. underground on “Good Time Boys,” and become a cheerleading section for the Lakers on “Magic Johnson.” They also grab serious issues and take them on a slam dance. “Johnny Kick a Hole in the Sky” rails against the white man’s injustices toward American Indians, and the group begs sarcastically for stardom and MTV airplay on “Punk Rock Classic.” A true Mother’s Milk classic is “Knock Me Down,” a melodic, hard-hitting number about friendship and loss, inspired by the death of the group’s guitarist, Hillel Slovak. There are even a couple of breathtaking covers—Hendrix’s “Fire” and “Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder. The Peppers bring the two tunes ecstatic rushes of new life. No matter what this quartet chooses to embrace, they spin it around and toss it playfully in the air.
The album almost didn’t happen. When Slovak died of a drug overdose in June ’88, it put the Chili Peppers’ future in serious doubt. The loss of their guitarist, says Anthony, “Utterly left me in a state of shock, and left me with a giant, shotgun-sized hole in my soul. I don’t think there’ll ever be any-body like Hillel Slovak on guitar, because he was one of the most unique and powerful guitar players that I ever heard—and he was also that way as a friend.” Drummer Jack Irons left the group shortly thereafter. Nevertheless, the singer points out, “Flea and I recognized the fact that the Red Hot Chili Peppers actually represented life to us, gave us purpose, and gave us an outlet for all of the feelings that we had inside us: we needed to hold onto that outlet.”
So, Anthony and bassist Flea were left to find two guys who understood the philosophy behind the Chili Peppers. This wasn’t an easy thing, because it goes far deeper than music. “The Red Hot Chili Peppers are based on a foundation of friendship,” Anthony relates. “That’s one thing that just really catapults us into the higher stratospheres of musical integrity: the chemistry of the people in the band—how they relate to each other, how they love each other, how they hate each other, basically how they’re married to each other through this bond of friendship.”
Enter John Frusciante, a native of Chatsworth, California, in the sleepy San Fernando Valley—”a really miserable place,” as John describes it. The only way he could escape his environment was to hide in the world of six-string bliss. “I would ditch school and practice ten, 15 hours a day or more,- he recalls, -and to get out, I would go into Venice for the weekend and visit this guy. He introduced me to all kinds of shit, like Funkadelic. He showed me Frank Zappa videos—at the time, I couldn’t get enough of anything having to do with Frank Zappa. He played me the Chili Peppers, I guess, when I was 14.”
And thus started John’s obsession. “It was really quite extreme,” Anthony remarks. “People would go over to his house, and he would subject them to our videos, to our records. He would buy all his friends tickets to our concerts.”
Says John, “By the time I got heavily into the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I knew all the guitar solos off the records, I knew all the bass lines on guitar, I knew all the guitar parts, I knew all the lyrics—I just knew the music completely inside and out.”
When he turned 16, John turned his back on the Valley and spent a couple of years jamming around Hollywood’s underground scene. Eventually he met Flea, and a group of their mutual friends, Thelonious Monster, auditioned John for their band. Flea insisted that Anthony come down and check him out too. “I saw him audition,” the singer relates, “and I said, ‘No way. This can’t happen. He can’t be a Monster; he’s got to be a Pepper.’ ” With that, John’s lifelong dream came true.
Finding the right drummer, on the other hand, was tough. “We had auditioned about 30 or 40 drummers, none of which seemed to be quite powerful enough for the Red Hot Chili Peppers,” explains Anthony. Then they met Chad Smith. “He walked into the room, and although he appeared to be an oversized geek from the Midwest, what he was in actuality was a very soulful drummer who pushed us to greater boundaries than we had ever been pushed to before. He made us play harder, work harder, and be more intense, because he was ex-plosive. He was like a herd of gorillas behind a drum kit.” Unlike John, Chad had been completely unaware of the Chili Peppers’ existence. “Here, we had one guy who knew exactly what we were about, and the drummer, who had never even heard the Red Hot Chili Peppers and had no idea what we were about,” says Anthony. He describes the new members as “two very fresh, funky injections from a completely opposite end of the spectrum.”
The chemistry inherent in Mother’s Milk has overflowed into the bandmembers’ personal lives. “John has become one of my very closest friends,” relates Anthony. “I spend a lot of time with him, doing other things besides playing music—you know, going out partying and playing pool and talking about girls and having breakfast together, exchanging our memories and experiences. He’s only 19 years old, and it’s really great to have him as a friend, because he really reminds me of the reason that we started this band in the first place. He offers me that youthful exuberance.” As for Chad, he says, “He really maintains his own personality, and he doesn’t change anything about himself to please some-body else. Like he walked into the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who live and eat and breathe the Lakers, right? They’re one of our biggest nonmusical inspirations. He’s from Detroit—he’s a Pistons fan. He walks into rehearsal every day with a Bad Boys T-shirt on. He’s got a goofy haircut, he wears a bandanna, and no matter how often I tell him to shave his head and come to rehearsal like a Pepper, he won’t do it. I respect that about him.”
It’s useless to discuss musical influences with the Chili Peppers, because their search for inspiration goes far beyond their ears. Life itself is music to this group, and Anthony refuses to downplay the bad against the good. “Life without sleaze is imbalanced,” he advises—especially when it comes to the Peppers’ hometown of Los Angeles. “You have to accept the sleaze for what it is, accept the industry for what it is, and look at the beauty of those aspects, and accept that also. We’ve got the Pacific Ocean, we’ve got the desert winds blowing in, we’ve got the Hollywood Hills, we’ve got palm trees, we’ve got creativity oozing out of the cracks in the side-walks. It’s all there. I just try to keep my head completely open to everything, whether it’s disgusting or whether it’s beautiful. That way, I have more information and more ideas to play with when it comes to writing music.” However, the band’s vision goes way past the parameters of the city. “Before we recorded Freaky Styley,” recalls Anthony, “Flea and I went away to the southern tip of Baja California for a week, just to hang out on the beach and go climbing through the mountains. I found that very inspirational, to get away from satiety. If you get far away from it, you have a much wider vantage point. It enlightens you, gives you a different perspective.”
It has taken many record buyers six years to catch up with the Chili Peppers’ wide-eyed, yet aggressive, view of the world. Perhaps it’s because this group of white boys grew from black roots—such as rap, long before it became popular. In addition, black hard-rock bands are further muddying the racial lines in music. “I think bands like Living Colour are helping to make people more receptive of music for sound, and not for color,” Anthony reasons. “When you start setting up racial barriers for music, it’s a very negative confining concept that I choose to destroy.” After all, rock roll began with black blues, a fact that Anthony feels was taken advantage of by early white rockers like Elvis Presley. “There were a lot of black people out there doing rock ‘n’ roll that had a lot more sincerity and meaning behind what they were saying than Elvis,” he asserts. “To me, he was more of a white figurehead that just represented the possibility for commercial success.”
Although this band is finally receiving widespread recognition with Mother’s Milk, commercialism has nothing to do with it. The Chili Peppers’ music, according to Anthony, “doesn’t really fit into what the industry has set up as the categorization theory. Music has to sound like this, or it has to sound like that, to get on the radio. The Red Hot Chili Peppers? They play hardcore, bone-crunching, mayhem, psychedelic sex funk from heaven, and there really just isn’t a category out there available for that sort of music.” That’s never bothered this freewheeling bunch, however. Success, to them, is the kind you earn on your own terms. And, like very few other, they seem to be getting it. Anthony thinks he knows why: “We play honest music that we believe in, that’s coming direct from our life experiences and the truth and soul from in-side us.” The Chili Peppers’ unique outlook on life creates music that is stratospheric, to say the least.