1993/01 Musician

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Very Hot Chili Pepper

INSTEAD OF ERUPTING WITH A STRING OF speech tics while he formulates a thought, Anthony Kiedis has this way (not quite a habit) of repeating the key words of a question. Ask him, for example, if he has any theories on why the Red Hot Chili Peppers have achieved colossal, nitro-methane-powered, superstar-type success in 1992, as opposed to each of the band’s previous 10 years of funk & rap & metal (in that order), and he will say, “Theories of success.” And then he will pause for a split second, inducing panic in any interviewer with the slightest insecurity that maybe the question is really, really dumb. And then he delivers a thoughtful answer that seems even more thoughtful than it probably is, because the interviewer’s mind is drowning in great globules of gratitude along the lines of “Thank Jesus, he isn’t Johny Rotten.” “Well, for one thing, the definition of success varies from person to person,” Kiedis says. “I’ve felt successful from the first day we ever played. For me, success was just being happy what you’re doing. Making a living at it was incidental. As for mainstream popularity, we’ve been working at it for 10 years now. It can take time for the general population to warm up to a concept that isn’t made readily obvious by the mainstream media. It was a combination of laying down this foundation, and the fact we made a great record. Anyway, I’m awful; at analyzing why things happen in the music business. I just get on the boat and go.”

So what’s your final word on Lollapalooza, the summer’s most successful tour, which the Chili Peppers headlined over Ministry, Pearl Jam, Sound Garden, Ice Cube, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and Lush?

“The final word on Lollapalooza,” he pauses. “Again, I’m not good at analysing. I was there. I had an amazing time. It was great breaking in [new guitarist] Arik Marshall under such strange circumstances. He’d been in the band about a week when we started playing in front of 15-30,000 people a night. I feel extremely blessed that it went as well as it did, that I got to hang out with all those great people on a daily basis. It was the supreme circumstances for playing, compared to what touring usually is.”

Flea has said that he sometimes felt hostility toward the audience, that they looked like the people who tormented him in high school.

“I didn’t get picked on in high school. Also, I’m extremely nearsighted. So when I look out at an audience, I see a big blob. As for fraternizing with the local yokels, you’ll find interesting, creative, intelligent, artistic people wherever you go. And you’ll find slews of moronic, mindless sheep who get all their information from television. That balance exists all over the world. If people at a show are searching for enlightenment, or even if they aren’t, I feel compelled to give them the most beautiful aspects of my musical spirit when we’re in the same proximity. I’m not going to judge them.”

Certainly one of the reasons the Chili Peppers finally connected with a huge audience in ’92 is that Blood Sugar Sex Magik happens to be their finest and most accessible album. Produced by Rick Rubin, it is also a very long album with 17 cuts that clock in at 74.57. “Give It Away” was the first hit single (and video), but the song that sent them into the stratosphere was the ballad (and video) “Under The Bridge.” Its endless exposure on MTV and in MOR formats must have inspired a lot of album purchases by people who were surprised to find the rest of the album a unique form of metallicized funk, distinguished by Flea’s still-astonishing-after-all-these-years bass playing. John Frusciante’s jazzy-but-hooky guitar, Chad Smith’s thunderous-but-funky drums and Kiedis insistently subjective approach to singing. Make that “vocalizing”, a term that could have been invented for Kiedis, who doesn’t quite sing, doesn’t quite rap, doesn’t quite a lot of things that don’t quite add up to “singing.” Kiedis would have added up to a deal if he hadn’t dealt with his heroin addiction and changed his ideas about what is truly important in life, a process he describes in  “Under The Bridge.”

“Yeah, I’m still sober,” says Kiedis, four years after kicking. “It makes life a much less miserable cruise for me. When I was with the band and using, it was during the brief periods of sobriety that I was at my most creative. There were occasions when I wrote songs fucked up, but mostly those ideas went down a dead-end street. It’s just easier for me to be productive now. Instead of bumming everyone by doing shows with a hangover, I concentrate on maintaining a healthy mind/body/spirit balance. I would never take away the experiences of my past, but I wouldn’t want to trade anything I have now for what I had.”

Do you ever envy bands who seem able to sustain high levels of creativity and drug consumption?

“If you ever see musicians like that at 5.30 a.m., as I have, the picture isn’t so rosy. There are a lot of creative people out there getting fucked up, but most that I know – and I know a lot of them- experience a great deal of self-inflicted agony. The public may think, “Here’s this magical, freaky music guy on heroin- I wish I could lead a life like that.” But if you meet them, they wish they didn’t have to carry that ball and chain of chemicals everywhere they go, it’s incredibly unpleasant.”

The Chili Peppers’ current hit “Breaking The girl” concerns Kiedis’ discovery that a large element of his father (an actor who never quite made it) lives on in his own personality.

“From 1973 to 1977, he was a complete womanizer, which is not to say he disrespected women, or treated them vilely,” says Kiedis. “He was just so enthralled with the existence of the female that he had as many different girlfriends as there were sandwiches on the Carnegie lunch menu. There was a never-ending succession of women in his life. As a child, I saw that and accepted it as the way you deal with women. So I mentioned ‘girl of the day’ in that song. I’m seeing that part of my father in me, this element that might not be conductive to having a healthy relationship with one woman. I haven’t had that for a long time.”

By contrast, why has your friendship with Flea lasted so long?

“In high school, I saw this really smart, creative, adventurous person who needed a partner in crime. He was a freak and I was a freak and we decided to freak together. Our friendship has been deeper than everything else surrounding this band. We’ve been the only consistent members from the beginning, and we’ve ended up in this perfect situation to express ourselves. I have the freedom to write with my own lyrics, to see the world, to hang out with my friends, to affect the lives of other people in a positive way, and to rock. I can’t imagine a situation more desirable for me.”

Kiedis’ next creative endeavor will be sitting down with Flea and writing a movie script, a “psychedelic comedy” based on their own experiences in the band. Several studios have expressed interest, but they’ll have to wait until Kiedis returns from Borneo. “This Dutch friend of mine is going to cross the country by river and by foot to write a book, and I’m going with him into the deepest, most remote rain forest left on the planet. It’s a very harsh environment, but I’m so into it. I’ll be hanging out with crocodiles and orangutans for three or four weeks. My lust to experience the beauty of Mother Earth while it’s still here is one of my most overwhelming drives, almost to the point of gluttony. I can’t get enough of the mountains and the skies. Which is another reason why I’m having such a good time in Australia and New Zealand- they’re just full of hardcore natural beauty. And it’s all going to be gone, probably within our lifetime. There’s a chance it can be saved, and that’s a project to which I’ll be applying my energies.”

As rock ‘n’ roll ages, every new album seems to erase more of the lines between sex and politics. But it’s still odd hearing such sentences from the guy who wrote “Party on Your Pussy.”

“I’d never, ever take back anything that I’ve written. It’s all part of me. ‘Party on Your Pussy’ is a sex comedy based on my own experiences, not a serious manifesto on human sexual behavior. I would never denounce the act of being in love with the female genitalia, because I’d be lying about my character. I hope that’s something I’ll always believe in. People are so worried about being politically correct that they’re afraid to express sexual feelings in their art. To me, to ignore it is a lie. I will always express that, and if somebody thinks I’m sexist, I don’t give a fuck.”

So maybe Flea has a theory on why ’92 was so big for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

“’Cause Anthony’s so handsome,” says Flea.

Hasn’t Anthony been handsome for the entire 10 years you’ve been making music with less sales? “It’s because we had a hit, man. And then all these people turn up to see us. We do better than most bands who have a hit and the crowd knows one song. We get more people who know the full scope, because we’ve built up a following. But it’s mostly “Under The Bridge.” It was on MTV every second. We crossed over into that forced-down-your-throat type of thing.”

Maybe the wider exposure of rap in the suburbs has made white kids more accepting of the black musical styles that are so much a part of the Chili Peppers’ approach.

“I guess. Except that “Under the Bridge” isn’t rap or funk. It’s a ballad. ‘Give It Away’ was funk, but less of a hit.”

Has all of this success changed your life?

“I have more money to spend the wrong way. More people want our autograph. And they squeal, ‘Weeeeeeee! Weeeeeeee!’ We played this show in Sydney, and there were 1500 people waiting for us afterwards when we went to the cars. As soon as we walked out: ‘Weeeeeeee!’ The highest pitch you could imagine, reverberating off the walls. I can’t explain it.”

Did you have any say in EMI, your previous label, releasing a greatest hits package to cash in on the success of Blood Sugar Sex Magik? And what’s “Under the Bridge,” a Warner Bros. song, doing on it?

“We had no choice in the matter. It was all part of the deal when Warners brought us out of our contract. EMI got to pick one song for a greatest hits album, and of course it was ‘Under the bridge.’ Anthony named it What Hits!?”

Why do you think the Chili Peppers have lasted so much longer than, say, your marriage?

“I don’t know if I can answer that question. There are so many intangible things involved. When I was a kid, I really wanted to be in a band and play music and do that with my life. I was willing to do anything to make that happen. And I didn’t think that way about relationships. I didn’t think, ‘I really want to get married and be married for the rest of my life.’ So when I got married, maybe I wasn’t prepared to deal with it emotionally.”

Yeah, but being in a band is a lot like being married.

“It’s just like being married. And it’s hard. And we have our differences. Sometimes we habor resentments forever, and they grow into ugly, twisted monsters that lie inside our souls. Sometimes we talk about it. Sometimes…. I don’t know. But the bottom line is, we all love each other.

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