Chili con carnage
Can the Red Hot Chili Peppers find peace without losing their fire? Scott Cohen investigates.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are standing on a crumbling stone bridge, just one of many ancient ruins gracing the dilapidated estate in Laurel Canyon where the band is recording Blood Sugar Sex Magik its fifth and latest LP. Suddenly a nebulous body, something straight out of a Star Trek episode, begins to float around their heads. The caretaker had warned them that the house was haunted and the bridge was the epicenter for ghost activity. There are two ghosts. The lady ghost is kind of cute. But it’s hard to tell. The only people who see ghosts are ghosts themselves.
The Chili Peppers are a bunch of free spirits with tattoos who’ve been haunting the Los Angeles punk-hardcore scene for the last seven or eight years. In that time they have invented a new kind of rock ‘n’ roll that fuses funk, punk, rap, and jazz; their music embodies the souls of famous ghosts like Keith Moon, Igor Stravinsky, John Coltrane, and Sid Vicious. Bass player Flea Balzary and lead singer Anthony Kiedis are both born entertainers, kids with the kind of wacko appeal that lands side jobs as actors. As a youngster, Anthony played Sylvester Stallone’s son in F.I.S.T., and he was recently seen as a radical surfer in Point Break. Flea’s credits include Suburbia, Bruce Weber’s Let’s Get Lost, and the upcoming My Own Private Idaho.
But the Chill Peppers may be more famous for coming onstage wearing nothing but tube socks over their red hots. The first time they did that was at a sleazy strip joint on Santa Monica Boulevard. Since then, they have gone a step or two beyond Jim Morrison; they do helicopters onstage with their dicks.
FLEA HAS JIMI HENDRIX TATTOOED ON HIS ARM. According to Anthony, Jimi once stayed in the Mediterranean-style mansion where the Peppers are recording. It was once Valentino’s house, and the Beatles supposedly took LSD here. “I’ve seen this house ever since I was a little kid,” Anthony explains. “It’s amazing working here. Usually in a studio, there, unnecessary people walking around, and you have to order dinner every night, so there’s greasy tinfoil and menus all over. That,” he says, opening the front door, “is anal compared to this.”
‘This is my room;’ says guitarist John Frusciante. When it comes to housekeeping, Anthony is Felix Unger; John is Oscar Madison. John’s room is above the kitchen. “Since it was the maids’ quarters, I know no bourgeois scummy fucks inhabited this room, just the colored help, whom I feel more in common with.”
John played all his acoustic guitars on the record in this room, just as Anthony sang all his vocals in his. He spent most of the time in his room enjoying the silence. “Most musicians feel it’s important to always be doing something. If you’re not at a club, you should be at a concert, or a loud restaurant or partying with a million girls and doing a million drugs. After a while it has a deadening effect on your spirit.” John thinks it’s important to sit back and take a deep breath.
‘That’s what I was doing one night when all of a sudden I hear a girl’s voice moaning like she’s getting fucked. It only lasted for a few seconds, but it was such a shock that it gave me an erection. But there wasn’t a girl in the house. It was a ghost. There are ghosts in all
The Chili Peppers have gone a step or two beyond Jim Morrison
the rooms. They’re all over the record.”
Most albums are a continuation of a band’s last effort. Blood Sugar Sex Magik has nothing to do with Mother’s Milk. John cites two reasons why, “We weren’t as much of a band then, and we’ve realized how much we love and need each other.” When they made Mother’s Milk, John and drummer Chad Smith had just joined the band, replacing Hillel Slovak and Jack Irons. The new LP covers a broader emotional turf, from slow ballads (“Under the Bridge”) to hardcore thrash (“Greeting Song”) to cold funk (“The Power of Equality”).
Rick Rubin produced most of Blood Sugar Sex Magik while lying on a couch. Rick found and recorded the Beastie Boys, L.L. Cool J, Public Enemy, and Run-D.M.C. when he was an NYU student. He has also worked with Aerosmith, the Cult, and Slayer. Rick’s got a big beard and long hair; he looks like it ghost from the ’60s. Though he’s twenty-eight, the same age as most of the Peppers, he looks more like their camp counselor. “I saw them rehearse several years ago,” Rick says. “It was not happening. It seemed like there was heavy drug use–not a strong positive vibe like now. They have elements of great funk, but also a lot of Led Zep and hard rock, in the spiritual sense.”
ABOUT TEN YEARS AGO, THREE FRIENDS WENT skiing. Seeing as they were pretty wild and might get into trouble, they decided to have code names. One was Squeak, another was Tree, and the third, a little guy who jumped around a lot, was Flea.
“We did whatever we wanted to do back then,” says Flea. “One evening we climbed up the billboard on the corner of Westwood and Wilshire Boulevard, supposedly one of the biggest intersections in the country, and wagged our weenies at the world.”
Flea met Anthony in high school when they both were about fifteen. Flea had someone in a headlock one day when Anthony came by and told Flea to let him go. This was in 1977; everybody at school had long hair and was into Led Zeppelin, except Anthony, this new kid from Michigan. He had a flattop and looked like a pit bull. Flea let the kid go. After a while Flea and Anthony became friends and decided to go skiing. They took a Greyhound up to Mammoth Mountain and slept in the laundry room of a condo. To keep warm they put quarters in the dryer.
The fun never stopped. “Anthony and I hitchhiked up to San Francisco one weekend and gave ourselves Mohawks. We got thrown off a train because we were so wasted. So we hopped a freight train full of beets and ‘five miles later ended up at a beet factory. Finally we caught a ride with a Mexican fugitive who had this tattoo that said ‘Las Venas Chicas.’ When we got to L.A. he told us to keep the car. It was stolen.”
“I GREW UP IN A JAZZ HOUSEHOLD,” SAYS FLEA, “and wanted to be a trumpeter. When I got older I got into punk rock and that kind of energy. When I picked up the bass, it came out as funk. One night, a friend of ours who was one of the more interesting freaks in Hollywood was doing a crazy cabaret-music costume-dance thing, and as a joke, Anthony, Hillel Slovak, Jack Irons, and myself got together an opening act. Anthony had just seen Grandmaster Flash and was translating poems he had written into rap songs, and I could play some funky grooves. We performed one song, ‘Out in LA.,’ which we had never rehearsed; it was a natural explosion of funk and wildness. The next thing we knew, there were lines around the block and record companies on the phone.”
Flea, Anthony, and the original Pepper guitarist, Hillel Slovak, were once heavy-duty drug experimenters. Eventually Flea stopped experimenting, but not Anthony and Hillel. Anthony’s addiction was obvious; Hillel’s was more subtle. Everyone thought he had it under control, but he was in too deep. When Hillel died of an overdose in June 1988, Anthony went to a small fishing village in Mexico where he lived in a small but until he dried out.
“We were devastated;’ says Flea.”But the band kept going.” They met John Frusciante through a friend, unaware that he was a major fan. “When we called him up on the phone to tell him we wanted him, he started crying.”
Around the same time, the band was also auditioning drummers. They expected Chad Smith to be lame because he walked in wearing a leather jacket and bandanna, just like that guy in Poison. When he sat down to play, he exploded, screaming at the top of his lungs. Flea and Anthony cracked up. He hadn’t even heard of the Peppers before.
“I DREAMT ABOUT THE RAIN FOREST AND THIS alligator who could run at speeds upward of sixty miles per hour up and down the hills,” says Anthony. “I think the alligator was created in God’s likeness.”
When they were sixteen, Anthony and Flea had a thing about water. They liked to jump off the roofs of apartment buildings into the swimming pools below. Then Anthony got overconfident and missed. He got a compression fracture of his lumbar-three vertebrae. It’s been bothering him lately, so he’s seeing a twelfth-generation Chinese acupuncturist. Once he went to a seventy-eight-year-old dentist in Memphis to have a tooth pulled, and when the dentist walked in hunched over and shaking, Anthony felt really nervous. When the dentist found out Anthony was in a band, however, he got chatty. He said he used to do Elvis’s teeth; then he went into the back room and came back with Elvis’s bridgework.
IN THE KITCHEN, LUNCH IS BEING PREPARED. “A girl I know tattooed these elephants,” says Flea, who has a colorful chain of them going around his biceps. “To me the skull-and-cross-bones, dagger, blood, Grim Reaper thing that people always go for is boring. I’m not into that negative, dark outlook The first tattoo I got was a little smile with gap tooth in it—because I have a big gap in my teeth—on my right shoulder. I have my ex-wife’s name across my heart and my daughter’s name on my arm. I have a portrait of Jimi Hendrix, a nice Celtic design, and on my back the Hindu god Shiva, who destroys the world after humans have fucked it up.” “The nicest thing about my tattoos is that the richest person in the world couldn’t buy them,” Anthony adds. “He’d have to sit there and pay for them in pain. It feels like you’re giving birth to a small hippopotamus.”
Overheard in the dining room, where lunch is being served.
“There are certain rumors that go around high schools,” Rick says, “about certain guitar players. And one of them, about Tony lommi from Black Sabbath, is that no matter how much you practiced guitar you could never sound like him because he has metal finger-tips—metal inlays in his fingertips.”
“What Pepper rumors have you heard?”
‘The worst rumor,” says Flea, “was when I got arrested in Florida last year. We were doing a show for MTV, and I picked up this girl and spun her around over my head and really scared her. It ended up being blown into this big thing where I was charged with sexual assault, which is something I would never do.”
And John’s favorite rumor, ‘That Anthony and I are gay.”
“I listened to the demo of the record while I drove to my acupuncturist,” Anthony says. “What kind of car do you drive?”
“A 1967 black Camaro convertible. I’ve had a BMW, a ‘62 T-bird, and a Studebaker, and this is my favorite.” Flea: “I drive a big, pompous Mercedes.”
“My ‘65 Mustang fastback is the nicest in the fleet,” Chad claims.
“If my Charger ever gets out of the shop,” declares Rick, who is in line for the new Dodge Viper that was the pace car at the Indy 500,” will whip any of you guys.”
“With who behind the wheel?” Anthony asks.
“Anthony and I once drove all the way from Michigan to LA,” says Flea, “in a little Caprice with no brakes. To stop we would downshift and rub against the curb.”
“John’s been behind the wheel but once in his life,” says Anthony.
“And I rode up to the stop sign on the side-walk and nearly killed a jogger,” John recalls.
“He went to the Anthony Kiedis School of Driving,” explains Chad.
Rick changes gears. “Did I ever tell you about Ozzy Osbourne doing Black Sabbath in my living room? I’m a huge Black Sabbath fan. Ozzy came to my house one night at four in the mooring. I wanted him to listen to these Black Sabbath records, and I’m telling him not to be afraid of these records because they’re a part of his history. I played him a bunch of songs, and as the sun was coming up, Ozzy got up and became Ozzy from Black Sabbath and sang along”
“And instead of biting the head of the bat off,” Anthony says with a laugh, “he bit the head of Rick’s penis off.”