Waaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!!! Select October 1995 No. 64
Note: Some of the sentences in this interview don’t make sense, etc. but I’ve typed them up exactly as they appear in the text.
Daringly dangerous pool stunts mean nothing to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They are, after all, the band who’ve survived death, drugs, departed guitarists and doom-fever from Borneo. Now they’re manfully loved-up with new fret-keeper Dave Navarro and have actually finished a new album. Can anything stop them?
Spring 1979, around midnight, and all across West Hollywood you could hear the blood-curdling screams. Two semi-clad and sodden teenage boys, quickly scan for cop cars and scramble back up the side of the deserted house. Poised and eager but perilously over-zealous, they prepare to shatter the elusive serenity of the city with another blast of demonic screaming.
Precariously positioned some 30 feet up, at the very edge of the roof, they peer down into the dimly-lit garden. A few rough calculations of angle, distance and wind factor. Then, with the bravado beloved of ‘teen-lads’ everywhere, they hurl their spindly bodies off the rooftop.
One of them, with a shaven head, plunges feet-first into the deep end of the swimming pool. The other, taller boy is lying crumpled on the surrounding concrete, having, in his enthusiasm, overshot the pool completely. In shock and agony, with his friend by his side, and the police in tow, he’s rushed to hospital.
The kid, a 17-year-old Anthony Kiedis, had broken his back. But it wouldn’t be too long before he and his best friend Mike Balzary aka Flea, were back to typical form. Fairfax High School’s most notorious, idiotic, rebellious, trouble causing, pleasure-pursuing, never-known-any-better pupils.
SUMMER 1995, AND AN ELDERLY waiter cautiously descends a flight of concrete steps in the grounds of a swanky West Hollywood hotel, smiling warmly. “IS everything fine?” he asks the lady PR. “Oh good. And, erm, those guys, are they OK? I mean, they’re not running around up there naked, I hope. They’ve got a reputation, y’know?”
At the far end of the gardens, set up in peaceful, leafy, seclusion are the hotel’s self-contained luxury apartments, designed for the rich, reserved and more discerning resident. For the next few days, these residents will largely consist of members and employees of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Who, right now, are clambering out of a second-floor apartment window, wearing nothing but Calvin Klein underpants.
“What we going on, Flea?” ask Anthony Kiedis, as the four of them, average age 33, line up on the narrow ledge, some 25 feet high. “The usual? Three, two, one. Waaaa!”
“Yeah,” says Flea, as each of them excitedly eye the clear blue water of the swimming pool below. “Ready? Three, two, one, WAAAAAH!”
THE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS ARE A BAND WITH an incredible history, but more remarkable still is their lifelong sense of spirit. Thirteen years, six albums, an almost indecipherable family tree; drugs, death, sex, cocks and rock; personal adversity, and a grossly overdue follow-up to their massive ‘BloodSugarSexMagik’ LP. And here they are today, in a swimming pool, frolicking, cackling and performing back flips like over-excited Summer Camp kids. They are, undisputedly one of the biggest, funkiest rock bands in the world. And they no longer have anything to prove.
“Hmmm… funny, let’s see…” Now dressed and dry in his hotel suite, Anthony Kiedis strokes his cleanly shaven chin and considers the question in hand. “Erm, funny things that happened while making this record.” New boy, ex-Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, sitting opposite, leans forward in his armchair to help him out. “I’ll tell you something hilarious about doing this record,” he says sternly. “How fucking long it took to male, that was pretty fucking hilarious.”
‘One Hot Minute’, produced again by Rick Rubin, is the Chili Peppers’ seventh, eagerly anticipated and, evidently, most difficult album yet. In the two and a half years since Lollapalooza, bar a brief European tour, headlining Reading and their lightbulb-men appearance at Woodstock II in ’94, it was all fairly straightforward business. Another visit to the studio, no problem.
But the album’s progress was marred by unforeseen difficulties. When John Frusciante quit the band in May ’92 (telling them, “I can’t give what it takes to be in this band anymore”) it was a loss so sad, it reminded them of Hillel Slovak, their original guitarist and childhood friend, who had died of a heroin overdose in June ‘88.
This was only the beginning. Kiedis returned home from a holiday in Borneo to discover he’d contracted a rare fever linked to malaria. Then came rumours of a drug-relapse- apparently, he was back using heroin. Not to mention Flea’s return home to the country of his birth, Australia apparently, to look for a house. Or the sudden death of several close friends of the band. It looked desperate.
Their first problem, however, was in recruiting yet another replacement. They knew exactly who they wanted, widely revered Dave Navarro, but it wasn’t that easy. Dave knew and so did the band, that his was the only man in the world who could do the job, but, due to commitments with his new project Deconstruction, he couldn’t. A funky old friend of Flea’s by the name of Arik Marshall joined instead, only to be ousted when Dave finally submitted, and realised he was meant to be a Chili Pepper.
Although darker, with an over-riding sense of sadness ‘One Hot Minute’ is pretty much what you’d expect to hear from the meisters of funk -heads filled with ‘spirituality’ and bodies warped in sex, with flickers of Jane’s Addiction thrown in. The latter is most conspicuous on the opening track ‘Swirly’, when Kiedis switches into Perry Farrell mode.
“You think it sounds exactly like Jane’s Addiction?” ponders Kiedis. “Does it Dave?”
“Yeah it does. That’s exactly what all my friends said when they heard it.”
“Well that a not a bad thing,” he enthuses. “That’s a compliment. I loved Jane’s, they were a fucking incredible band.”
Now the album is finally ready for release later this year, the world’s media, celebrating the return of one of the most fascinating band ever, are lining up for their 40-minutes’ worth. Over the course of the next three days, the band will talk to over 30 international journalists. To make it easier, they’ve split into two groups: Flea and Chad and Anthony and Dave.
“I had a crush on Dave instantly.”
Kiedis and Dave Navarro, are now both squatting on the floor of Anthony’s suite, between the twin chaise longues and the black varnished grand piano, looking, sincerely, into each other’s eyes.
“Well,” Anthony continues. “I think I had more of a crush on you than you did on me.”
“Really?” Dave asks, looking flattered.
“Yeah…’Cos I still have a crush on you.”
Dave: “I have a crush on you.”
Without a trace of embarrassment, they take a sip of water and await the next question.
Heroin. The seediest, most self-destructive drug. With the most powerfully-alluring pulling power. Strength of will plays a small role in getting ‘clean’. It takes months of intensive counselling and personal examination. Shortly before Hillel’s death, Kiedis publically admitted to taking heroin. Since then the band have grown enormously, the pressures heightened. A relapse under these conditions is surely likely. Anthony, did you start taking heroin gain?
“Well,” he says, “brushing his Timotei [a brand of shampoo]-silky hair aside. “I’ll answer any question, but in my own way.”
Several minutes later he draws to the end of an unfathomable answer. A rambling, disjointed speech featuring talk about self-love, spirituality, sadness, despair, trees and the desert. So, is that a yes then?
“I just told you,” he replies with a self-congratulatory smile.
He smiles again.
Anthony Kiedis was born in Michigan in 1962. Eleven years later he moved to Hollywood to live with a virtual stranger, his father Blackie Dammett. A reasonably successful small-time actor, Dammett was an inspiration. He led a life full of wild parties, young women, rock ‘n’ roll stars, exclusive clubs, drinking and drugs, pleasures which, he generously extended to his son. With dangerous effects, as Kiedis now admits, “I was doing just about every imaginable narcotic by the time I was 13-including heroin.”
One year later, at 14, Kiedis lost his virginity to a beautiful 18-year-old girl, who was also openly sleeping with his father. At school, his debauched exploits were infamous and, on the whole, envied. He even had Sonny Bono, a friend of his father’s, for a surrogate dad. Whenever Blackie was broke, Bono would take the young boy on day trips or weekends away. Around the same time, Anthony, trading under the name Cole Dammett, won a role in a film. He played Sylvester Stallone’s son in the badly-received union-rights movie F.I.S.T. He showed no desire to act again. Instead he became uncontrollable, the wildest kid in school, fighting, taking drugs and driving a car with no brakes.
“I had this real need to prove myself as this incredibly aggressive, anti-authority-type little bastard.”
“You sound like the kind of character I would have hated,” Dave wails. “Which is interesting because I love you so much now.”
Anthony looks offended: “Well, I took it upon myself to help the retarded kids that were integrated in my school. I would land on you with a shovel in your face if you picked in them. But the goody-two-shoe jocks? I was forever playing hardcore practical-violent humour towards them.”
Dave and Anthony are now practically interviewing with each other. Totally engrossed in a crossfire of childhood experiences.
“I was never violent, but I hated jocks,” says Dave. “When I was in grammar school, my teachers nicknamed me Uncle David because I was the guy all of my classmates would come to if they had a problem.”
Anthony: “You would have hated me? No, you would have liked me. When I was ten, I pierced my ear. They thought I needed electro-shock therapy, because I came to school with this big ring in my ear. In 1972, in the Mid-West, that was like OK, this kid needs a rubber room and a straightjacket.”
Dave submits: “I guess then I would have liked you.”
“And when I was 16,” Anthony continues enthusiastically. “I had a big fight with my girl-friend and she was driving her father’s Lincoln. So I took a syringe- this was way before I was into heavily into shooting drugs- and I stuck it in my arm and withdrew from my vein a syringe full of blood, squirted it into the palms of my hands and put it on my lips. Then I proceeded to kiss the windows all around her car with my blood lips. She tried to wash it of so her father wouldn’t know, but it never came off, it had actually stained the glass.”
Dave: “That’s a great story. What was I like as a kid? Totally self-destructive. Like, when I was maybe six or seven, I used to take razor blades and cut open my fingers and hold them over this mirrored counter in the bathroom… I can’t believe I’m telling you this. Anyway, when I’d cut all my fingers I’d hold them out and just watch them slowly bleed. And then, when I was done with that I would take tweezers and pull taste buds off my tongue and line them up on the counter. That was how I vented my rage.”
“HAVE YOU SEEN THE K-MART PICTURES YET?”
When a band have been together for as long as the Chili Peppers, the prospect of yet another photo session is hugely unappealing. But they’re not a band short on ideas-they chose K-Mart to take their latest session. K-Mart specialises in photos of loving-couple, happy-family, bouncing-baby dimensions- a smear of Vaseline, a pale-blue curtain, a few ‘cheeses’ and you’re done.
In view of the special occasion, Flea decided he’d wear a suit, and drove into town on his motorbike to buy one. On the way, however, he spotted something better. Parking his bike outside, he ran into the shop, purchased the outfit and, realising it would save time, put it on. A fearsome-looking skinhead, covered in tattoos and piercings, on the back in an enormous Harley Davidson, wearing a full-length red-taffeta Mexican wedding dress.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are not averse to a laffs-they are, after all, one of the few bands able to maintain their musical sincerity while dressed up as enormous sliver lightbulbs.
“Those fucking costumes,” spits Dave.
“Dave did not want to wear one,” Kiedis smiles. “We were all into it, but he didn’t stop whining.”
Dave: “They were a fucking dumb idea. I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t see and I could hardly fucking hold my guitar, let alone play it. I hated those costumes.”
To be a good Pepper, you need humour, and little public pride. For a long time, the Chilis were better known for their outrageous stunts than their music. England was slow in accepting the band’s free-style ethic. In 1992 they were due to appear on both Top Of The Pops and The Jonathan Ross Show, on condition they be allowed to perform stark naked. The BBC, surprisingly, refused and they cancelled. Consequently, it’s taken longer for the band to hit the top in England than it has anywhere else in the world. And while England was still twittering over the bravura of a band clad in nothing but shoes and strategically-placed socks, in America they were making cameo appearances in The Simpsons, playing a benefit gig for Barney the drunk, who stood on his own shouting: “We want Chilly Will, We want Chilly Willy.”
DAVE NAVARRO LEAPS TO HIS feet and nips off to the bathroom. He’s gone for some time. Anthony, meanwhile, is making a rather shoddy summary of the band’s history. Halfway through, Dave returns and slumps on the sofa. As Anthony continues, his expression grows increasingly confused.
“And that leads us to sitting here in this room, with Dave.”
“Yes,” he says slowly. “What are you doing?”
“She asked me to give an abbreviated synopsis of beginning to now,” he retorts.
Dave: “So why didn’t you give her the abbreviated one?”
Well, 13 years in eight minutes isn’t bad going. Looking back, would you say that death and drugs are…
Anthony: “The centrepiece of our existence?”
Well, at least a recurring theme.
“There has been a lot of death… and a lot of drugs, but I wouldn’t say that’s the focal point, or the essence of what we’re all about. I think we’re about the opposite of those things.”
“I think,” opines Dave, rejoining his cohort on the floor, “That we’re about now. At least since I joined the band.”
In a theatrical tone, Anthony throws up his arms “We’re about life…”
“… After death and drugs.”
Kiedis looks at Navarro, as if he just stolen the Yorrick line from his Hamlet. “Yes. This is what it feels like to be alive. It’s pretty good.”
Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be a woman? Would you want to be a woman?
Anthony contemplates the suggestion, while Dave, without hesitation, spits, “I would love to be a woman.”
“Forever? Just switch over?”
“Er, I Dunno. I just think women get to wear cool stuff.”
“Mmm, women definitely have the upper hand on fashion.”
So would you?
“I… I would be a woman,” pauses Anthony. “I guess there’s a lot of shit. I wouldn’t look forward to bleeding every month. I think that would be a real pain in the ass. But I think the feminine form is divinely exquisite by nature and I think it would be interesting to be inside that form. But maybe just for a small time, just to see what it felt like.”
Dave: “I’d like to experience what it would be like to have children.”
So, sell the greatness of maleness.
Dave: “Being able to urinate standing up, that’s about it.”
Anthony: “It’s easier to direct your flow of urine onto your girlfriend’s kneecaps when you’re in the shower together.”
Dave, do you think Anthony is a rock star?
“Not at all. He’s not superficial. To me he’s a genuinely warm human being all the time and he happens to do this for a living. It’s a completely different thing. Rock stars think about what they wear when they go to the market.”
“Playing music is a way of feeling good about myself,” says Anthony. “I definitely feel way better about myself as a human being when I’m working and creating and writing and letting free the melodies and feelings inside of me. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to say the things that I say. It’s very difficult for me to express myself anyway, whether it’s with my mother or my girlfriend or my best friend, I feel pretty bottled up when it comes to expressing my true, innermost feelings. It’s always been like that.”
Dave agrees: “For me, I didn’t have anybody who shared the same experiences. I wasn’t into sports, and I really wasn’t into chasing skirts. Although I loved girls, I wasn’t into the whole next-day-in-the-locker-room thing. I couldn’t relate to that, so I had a lot of stuff bottled up in me and the only way I could get it out was if I sat in my room and played guitar. Maybe I wasn’t trying to fill a void, I was trying to heal a void.”
Did you have any expectations?
Anthony: “I try really hard not to have expectations, because it’s a really hurtful thing to do to yourself. Your attempt at trying to write a script for your life is a big waste of time. When we made our first few records and sold very few of them, I thought that was perfect. I never thought, Wow, let’s sell millions of records and be really famous. I thought what we were doing was the coolest thing in the world and playing to people in little clubs completely spazzing out to what we were playing was, to me, the greatest pinnacle of success.”
“I’ve always thought that pessimism is the key to continual excitement,” muses Dave. “If I’m pessimistic about every situation I’m involved with I’m never let down. But I’m constantly excited about stuff, because I’m thinking the worst and usually the worst isn’t what happens.” Unless you happen to be a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
“David is the delightful pessimist,” opines Kiedis. “As pessimism goes, he’s a really brilliant pessimist.”
Is that something else you share, Anthony?
“Ha! When I was a kid I went to Camp Optimist.”
“Really?” says Dave, surprised.
“Yeah, you never heard of it?”
Dave: “No, I went to Tumbleweed. Y’know that one? ‘Tumbleweed/ Tumbleweed/ The camp we love the best/ Sing about how we can make things/ And you know all the rest.”
It’s about now that the interview begins to fall apart as Anthony and Dave start singing camp mottos to each other. Another journalist waits patiently outside, waiting to be seen. The Red Hot Chili Peppers have returned, rejuvenated, with Navarro, the unmistakable fourth member of the band. Thirteen years is a long time in rock ‘n’ roll, but what’s time when you’re regressing back to Camp Optimism.
Anthony: “Nobody likes us/ Nobody Likes us/ Kids from Camp O/ Always a-winning/ always a-grinning/ always a singing ‘Oi Oi Oi!”