Please note: as this is an outsize magazine, it doesn’t fit onto my scanner very well so I’ve had to piece the pages together the best I can.
Melody Maker May 1988
CLEANING UP TO THE TRANSCEND THE BOUNDARIES OF RHYME AND REASON, THE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS RETURN TO FUNK BRITAIN. CAROL CLERK JOINED THEM IN WASHINGTON PREPARING TO TAKE US ALL BY STORM.
“I’M A REBEL WITH A MISSION,” SAID Antwan the Swan, reiterating his own words from “Fight Like A Brave” and leaning forward in his seat as if to emphasise their importance. It was 10pm, and this small, dimly-lit hotel restaurant was deserted except for ourselves and a couple of bartenders listening on with interest.
“I have learned something from my life and my experience,” continued The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ vocalist. “I had an insight, and I thought I would never be able to keep it to myself without trying to let people know what I know.
“What I learned was that no matter how f*cked up you think you are, no matter how much you feel like tossing in the towel, there’s always hope. You can always regain control of your soul, be master of your destiny, be part of the solution as opposed to part of the problem. You’re never hopeless until you’re buried.
“I’ve always been optimistic, like my mother. She brought me up without the help of my father, she’s very loving and able to show her emotions. I have to give her a lot of credit for the loving side of me. But I’ve been so f*cked up at times in my life, whether it was my personality or my habits or the way I treated people, that I didn’t always feel worthy of expressing optimism.”
Antwan’s last experience of being f*cked up was only a matter of months ago, and it was then, he says, that he was forced to rethink his whole way of life.
“I discontinued my career as a drug abuse professional, I was becoming unconcerned with life and my friends and the ones I have loved; I was losing the very essence of my soul and my happiness. When people get into drugs, they tend to stop growing as people, emotionally and intellectually and creatively. They become self-centred, and I hate the concept of being self-centred.
“I hated the idea that I was lying to myself on a regular basis, and lying to my mother, and losing touch with my friends. Flea (the bassist), who’s probably my best friend in the band, became very disgruntled. He’s constantly going up and getting better and needs to be challenged. I’d always done that and, when it got to the point where I was no longer doing that because I was using too many drugs and my creativity was beginning to flag severely, it was a great tension and sorrow. He told me, at one point, that he couldn’t play with me any more.
“I spent some time after that regrouping my life. I didn’t think, ‘I’ve got to get better so I can get back in my band’- I’d already resigned myself to not being in the band. To continue living, I had to find a way of being more acceptable to myself.”
So how do you feel now?
“I’m back to my growth process,” said Antwan, proudly. “I’m much happier now I’m able to learn and experience life with a clear mind. My power and capacity as a singer is improving and growing. My friendships are another thing I live for.”
This is much evident from the lyric to “Me And My Friends” another track from “The Uplift Mofo Party Plan”, the Chili Peppers’ recent album.
“My relationships with good friends give me the gumption to get up in the morning. To be able to share my life with them, to make music with them, makes everything worthwhile and meaningful to me. The communication between friends is the essence of daily life. I just love my friends.
“I like the idea of being able to extend my love as freely as possible. If I had a spiritual belief, it would have to be unconditional love.”
A difficult thing to give or to find.
“It’s nearly impossible for most people, but the ideal keeps me on a positive outlook. It’s a very peaceful feeling. Part of my goal in life is to sustain a constant state of peacefulness, not just for my own selfish peace but for everybody. I’m getting better, but I’m still very mixed up in terms of jealousy.”
This is because Antwan is seriously in love, for the first time ever. With actress Ione Skye.
“I decided I wanted to have a monogamous relationship, so while I’ve been on this tour, I’ve been completely and utterly faithful to my girlfriend. The idea of experiencing miscellaneous pussy across the country became less gratifying, so I decided to give faithfulness my best shot, no matter how horny I got.
“Every night on this tour, there’s been an attractive female who has offered me her body. In the past, I would’ve done it, and I might have enjoyed it or regretted it. But at this point, the idea of doing it makes me squeamish. Even if I did get an erection, the idea of following through with my erection would leave me very sad and sick to my stomach. I’m better off going back to my hotel room and masturbating and waking up without any regret.
“I can’t expect my girlfriend to be faithful to me if I can’t be faithful to her. That means a lot to me. Just the idea of her being untrue to me would make me want to jump through a pane of glass. I would be devastated if someone I loved so intensely was having a sexual experience with someone else.”
WHEN The Red Hot Chili Peppers arrive on these shores at the end of the week, they bring with them your last opportunity to view the current set. You’d be mad to miss out.
In Washington DC, where we met, their performance was stunning, a bombardment of sound and rhythm rising to peak after peak, where funk meets rock meets mayhem, on an enormous, almost superhuman surge of energy. I can remember Jack Irons grinning at the drumkit as the chaos grew wilder in front of him, Antwan hurling himself around the stage with an alarming recklessness, kicking for the ceiling, crashing to the ground, while Flea, a stocky, almost sinister looking gentleman with cropped hair and an extraordinary tuft of beard, shook, shuddered, stamped, screamed and remained oblivious to everything other than the driving out of his own personal demons.
And then there was the guitarist, the glorious Hillel Slovak, the main with the Strat, the “spark plug with way too much oil in between the points so I just implode.”
Hillel was imploding like crazy at the Bayou club, and the effect of this was to twist that wonderfully lugubrious face into the most shocking contortions, to send the gangly limbs flying out from his body at impossible angles in a display of breathtaking uncoordination. Between numbers, by contrast, he recovers his cool gloom, delivering deadpan one-liners while the Swan and the Flea bait the crowd, having a (real) argument or baring their souls with some true-life confessions. In this mood, Hillel would show only a passing interest in the sky falling down.
To watch the band onstage that night was to be thrilled, amused and exhausted. Flea, however, is adamant that they can, must and will do better.
“My big concern outside of being about to raise a family is that The Red Hot Chili Peppers need to drastically improve musically,” he volunteered during lunch the next day. “I think about it every waking moment. We have improved over each record, but we haven’t really grown that much in terms of songwriting. We have a very unique, bold style, a wild barrage of attacking sounds, and I think we need t keep that but expand melodically. We need to retain the feel, the intense energy and the rhythmic thing we’re doing. The whole band is a rhythm section at the moment. But we need chord changes and melodies on top.
“I think about what we can do and hear lots if things in my head that will be great, which will help us. But all the hearing and thinking in the world doesn’t do a shit if you don’t put in the hours of hard work. After the European tour we need to go home to Hollywood and work massively on new music. I already think we’ve been touring this set for too long.
“The thing we’re trying to do is strike a groove that defies categories and transcends all mortal ties, standing on its own as great music, like a few people, Bob Marley, John Lennon, Miles Davis, have done. I think we defy categorisation, but transcending is a different story. We’re very, very far from that.
“It’s a matter of hard work, dedication and unity among ourselves, being open-minded and not afraid to change, not scared of being geeks, not saying, ‘This isn’t cool, we have to do our own weird thing’.
“I feel an extreme sense of urgency about this. It’s a do or die situation. There’s no more time for f*cking around. We must go forward. We have to put our penises out there on the musical chopping block.”
The Chili Peppers, of course, have never been afraid to put their penises anywhere. Least of all in public.
There’s little point going into the whys and wherefores of it all again. We know by now that the band are not sexist, they just like sex. It’s part of them, part of their music, and while their nakedness fits very nicely into the scheme of things, it feels good too, and it shocks now and then.
When it comes to shock value, the legendary sock routine has just about outlived usefulness, and will only be reintroduced into the set on those nights the Chili Peppers feel especially like doing it. Rest assured, though, that we’ll continue to see quite a bit more of this band than we do of most. In Washington, they gave the world’s first demonstration of The Hors D’Oeuvres, a stunt involving paper plates, each with a hole in the middle.
“Have you heard about the guy who goes out on a date and has popcorn?” inquired Flea. “You hold your popcorn on your lap, make a hole in the bottom and put your cock and balls through, then offer the girl some popcorn. The Hors D’Oeuvres works on the same principle, but we don’t conceal it. We don’t hide it in a giant popcorn tub. We put it right out there like a stuffed grape leaf. “
Do you anticipate this getting a little tiresome in years to come, with audiences expecting to see your (not so) private parts at every gig?
“We’re always going to grow and change,” said Antwan. “But we’re never going to ignore our cock and balls.”
WASHINGTON DC: gracious, tree-lined avenues; an abundance of green spaces; stately monuments; dignified buildings, none, by law, more than 14 storeys high; the centre of American government; a shrine to patriotism.
An afternoon’s sightseeing around this roomy, relaxing city at a time of pre-Presidential electioneering inspired the first flash of the day from Hillel and sent Jack into a rant he continued at the gig backstage, that night, and at lunch with Flea the next day.
There are certain things that Jack loves about America. He just happens to hate the people who run it, the way they run it, and the injustices they impose on underprivileged or defenceless people, animals and environments.
We talk about the destruction of rain forests, whales and American Indians. We talk about slavery and pollution and South Africa. We talk until Dilworth [photographer] and myself are half an hour late leaving for the airport, and by the time we’re on our way, it’s clear the Chili Peppers, for all their famous idiocy and for all their individual and occasionally conflicting opinions, are informed and concerned, outward-looking and committed enough to play benefits for everything from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to Jess Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition Campaign.
“This country needs a big change,” said Jack, a friendly character with a quick smile and calm disposition unusual in a drummer. “I believe anybody who claims to love America should care enough to criticise and try to change it. I’m not talking about revolutions. I do believe it starts with individual awareness. The governments do their damnedest to keep the masses in the dark. It’s set up so the masses just don’t think, don’t question what’s going on.
“TV is the perfect propaganda device. Every commercial has a pretty girl holding up a beer can when it’s time to relax. All you’re supposed to think about is pussy and getting drunk so you don’t stop to think about foreign policy or the nuclear issue.
“The ‘fight against Communism’ is really a Western expanding imperialism. We in America are forced to believe we’re in battle with the Communists. We have to believe we have an enemy so that the weapon-building industry, with all the money it makes can be perpetuated. Communism is not a threat. In poor countries, it makes some sense.
“Our Capitalist society is based on technology, but they’ve taken it a step too far with nuclear weapons. If you think- you could use technology for peace. We don’t need another war. I can’t figure why anyone feels they have a right to play with lives. They play with mine all the time and I’m pissed off with it.
“No imperialistic empire has lasted. They’ve all gone down, managed to destroy themselves. This time, since our empire is based on a weapon capable of destroying everything, if we wanna flex our muscle it will be the last time. There won’t be any more empires.
“I wouldn’t fight for my country, maybe I’m not that much of a patriot. I’m patriotic to the planet and life and things I love about being alive.
“It’s very sad that the last President was Reagan, and it’s very sad the leading candidate is now Bush. Any guy who was head of the CIA for a period of time is not a very overt kind of guy. If we had a glimpse of even one per cent of the things the CIA had done, the world would be amazed and shocked.
“The fact that Jesse Jackson has been nationally accepted is a great thing. I think it shows the country is starting to change and open up its narrow mind of the past.”
“The Fascists and the assholes have always been in power because the freaks can’t unite,” declared Flea. “They’re just too damned freaky.”
THE Chili Peppers were approaching the end of an American tour, a revelatory tour for Antwan The Swan who not only gave up sex and drugs, but alcohol and cigarettes too, as an essential part of his renewed commitment to himself.
It’s hard to understand how anyone can survive the road without a vice or two to fall back in, especially if you’re used to all of them. What, besides your music, could you hope to fill the gaps in life that those vices must leave?
“Basketball,” said Antwan, flicking tails of long hair back over his shoulder. “Solace and peace.”
He did look remarkably at peace for a man who had so recently renounced so many addictive things.
“The mountains,” he continued. “Rivers. Woods. The ocean. I feel an incredible attachment to the ocean. I’m drawn to it… the ability to be underwater, to feel the water around your body, the ability to move much more fluidly, almost like flying, not to mention the variation of species and colour and life and the whole existence.
“The idea of the underwater world seems incredibly inviting to me. The dolphin and the whale has an extreme capacity for intelligence, communication, love of sound, love of life, in a reasoning, rational sense. They’ve been around as long as we have, but they have a society that doesn’t contain destruction, war, corruption or hate. They live in peace below the ocean. We should take a look at these other beings that we share this planet with, getting along a lot better than we are.”
Anyone familiar with “The Uplift Mofo Party Plan” will already be aware of Antwan’s dolphin fascination, as reflected in “Behind The Sun”.
“They can communicate a lot more deeply than we can,” he elaborated, “They have a sixth sense. They can experience each others’ feelings through mental vibration. There was a time when I had a very strong sexual fantasy about a dolphin….”
“I once read about some frogmen with wetsuits who were in the water with the dolphins, and one of the females was so excited to be in the water with a man that it was enough to enlarge her genitals. What an incredible experience to have inter-species intercourse, not to mention inter-species communication, exchanging a love vibe with another species. It’s a known fact that whales communicate through song. I would very much, at some point in my life, like to write music for them to listen to.”
DISAPPOINTINGLY, my new hero Hillel only made it downstairs for breakfast at a time when the others were finishing lunch and the Melody maker was in urgent danger of missing an airplane.
By way of hello and goodbye, he informed us that “I’m very please we’re playing England again.” It does, at least, give him a chance to redeem himself,
“The Mean Fiddler was the worst show in my life. I was sick. I had an allergic reaction to some pills and I was hallucinating onstage. I had to walk off for one or two songs, and lots of people thought I went off to watch the Superbowl because it was on at the time. I was just backstage, freaking. It’s the first time I’ve ever, ever, ever lost control. But I guess that wasn’t a bad show. I hope it wasn’t. I really want the English to like us.”
I think I can speak on behalf of the Stop Aitken and Waterman Campaign when I assure him that we will.