photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
COUNT ME IN (RED & BLACK, 2021) is an interesting documentary because it is not so much concerned with the history of drumming per se (because it does dabble in the evolution of the instrument); its primary focus is the actionable pleasure of actually playing the drums. that driving PRIMAL CONNECTION to not only the other players, but the audience as well. it is the drums that establish and maintain that SACRED UNION and keep it pulsating in unison.
much of the film itself centers around interviews with STEPHEN PERKINS (JANE'S ADDICTION, PORNO FOR PYROS), CINDY BLACKMAN (LENNY KRAVITZ, SANTANA), CHAD SMITH (RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS) and JESS BOWEN (THE SUMMER SET) who all participate in a drum circle (with complete kits) at the film's conclusion. for me that active listening and seamless SYNCHRONOUS INTERPLAY between players is at the heart of what drumming is. it is something i witness firsthand in my youth in NIGERIA watching musicians there play in drum circles with talking drums; the collective INHALATION/EXHALATION as time signatures weave in and out of each other. im not religious but there is something SPIRITUAL about that.
the film does pay its due to those players that are key in the evolution from JAZZ to ROCK AND ROLL including the likes of ART BLAKEY, BUDDY RICH, ELVIN JONES, MAX ROACH, RINGO STARR (THE BEATLES), KEITH MOON (THE WHO), CHARLIE WATTS (THE ROLLING STONES), GINGER BAKER (CREAM) and JOHN BONHAM (LED ZEPPELIN).
that transition is interesting from JAZZ to the BRITISH INVASION bands is interesting because in essence the new breed thought like JAZZ drummers (in terms of FINESSE and SWING). but helped initiate a new lexicon that was the basis for all that followed. similarly the transition from the technically gifted drum gods of the 1970s to the more rudimentary PUNK drummers was an evolution in intent. there was a sense of going for the jugular and getting out just as quick, technicality being an unnecessary frill that distracted from the song's impact. interesting stuff. the drum becoming an instrument of PROPULSIVE AGGRESSION leading the charge.
watching this its very easy to nitpick about innovative and highly consequential past and current drummers that were overlooked including NEIL PEART (RUSH), DANNY CAREY (TOOL), TRAVIS BARKER (BLINK-182), MOE TUCKER (THE VELVET UNDERGROUND), BILLY COBHAM, DAVE LOMBARDO (SLAYER), ROY HAYNES, BILL WARD (BLACK SABBATH), ZACHARY CHARLES HILL (HELLA), TITO PUENTE and MEG WHITE (THE WHITE STRIPES). but i feel such criticism is not warranted because creating such an exhaustive list was not the intent of the film (although the lack any mention of latin percussionists is glaring). COUNT ME IN is much more involved with the joy of playing and those players that influenced the drummers being interviewed, which also included STEWART COPELAND (THE POLICE), TOPPER HEADON (THE CLASH), SAMANTHA MALONEY (HOLE, EAGLES OF DEATH METAL), CLEM BURKE (BLONDIE), TAYLOR HAWKINS (FOO FIGHTERS), NICKO MCBRAIN (IRON MAIDEN), RATT SCABIES (THE DAMNED), BEN THATCHER (ROYAL BLOOD), EMILY DOLAN DAVIES (THE DARKNESS, BRYAN FERRY), ROGER TAYLOR (QUEEN) and IAN PAICE (DEEP PURPLE).
i feel this film was successful in that not only celebrated the ARTISTIC POTENTIAL of the instrument, it also examined its nuances by including a consultation by JESS BOWEN with ROSS GARFIELD, a.k.a. THE DRUM DOCTOR. based on her needs he curates a kit that she utilizes in the studio at the close of the film. i think most people would that that a drum kit is a drum kit is a drum kit, but really once you get into sizes, materials and the vintage of the pieces the whole affair becomes quiet SUBTLE and INTIMATE. you really get a sense of the DYNAMIC RANGE of the instrument through this process, and not just SONICALLY but EMOTIONALLY.
and that was my big takeaway from the film. that and hearing the drummer from my favorite band (JANE'S ADDICTION) talking about why he loves his instrument so much. i was more than pleased to watch and learn that STEPHEN PERKINS was such a central figure in this documentary. so im biased. that said this is a film definitely worth checking out even if you cant keep a beat (like me).
thats probably why i play guitar.
along with BLOOD SUGAR SEX MAGIK (WARNER BROS, 1991), the CALIFORNICATION (WARNER BROS, 1999) record is generally celebrated as the other landmark RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS release, not least in part due to the fact that it marked the return of the virtuosic guitarist JOHN FRUSCIANTE to the fold. to appreciate this record you have to consider how ALTERNATIVE ROCK had evolved into the late 1990s when HIP HOP-influenced METAL (LIMP BIZKIT, KORN, LINKIN PARK, etc.) was all the rage. with the exception of the FOO FIGHTERS (as well as several less than credible POST GRUNGE pretenders), there was little vitality in the way of AMERICAN ALTERNATIVE ROCK at the time.
to my ears what made CALIFORNICATION such a revolutionary listen was its simplicity. this record is celebrated and often cited as evidence of FRUSCIANTE's genius (as well as the rhythm section's preternatural chemistry and dexterous musicality) as he evokes so much emotion from his guitar by pairing everything down to a minimal set of notes. for such a technically gifted musician it is the act of pairing everything back to its essence that gives this record its power. CALIFORNICATION sonically is a minimalist affair and is very much a case study in a less is more mindset and aesthetic. case in point are seminal tracks such as "SCAR TISSUE," "OTHERSIDE" and the title track "CALIFORNICATION." to me the arrangements almost have the feel of BEBOP and JAZZ, which should come as no surprise given bassist FLEA's musical background with a trumpet. in fact, subsequent releases will benefit from his formal studies within the genre, further adding to an already advanced group sense of compositional dynamics.
which brings me to the other ingredient at play here: extreme dynamics. given the single note minimalism of the many iconic FRUSCIANTE riffs that abound this release, such are compositionally showcased by maximalist dynamic shifts in tempo and pitch. such is on display on tracks like "AROUND THE WORLD," "GET ON TOP," "RIGHT ON TIME." the use of extreme dynamics creates an unpredictability that is both propulsive and undeniable engrossing. very much reminds me of that kinetic sensibility i felt when i first heard classic GEORGE CLINTON tracks on his PARLIAMENT and FUNKADELIC records.
it was during the CALFORNICATION-era of the band that i saw them live with the FOO FIGHTERS at a gig in PROVIDENCE. i was in boarding school in MASSACHUSETTS at the time and the show was a school sponsored trip. i just remember that evening being a respite from the grind of school and in some odd way got me in touch with my CALIFORNIA roots which i had long abandoned some four years before when my family moved to NIGERIA. there is just something about the band that seemingly exudes the attitude and aesthetic of the GOLDEN STATE, much like JANE'S ADDICTION, X, THE DOORS, SOCIAL DISTORTION, THE BEACH BOYS and THE GERMS before them. at a point in my life when i felt no connection to my surroundings, seeing that show made me feel like i had a tribe out there somewhere.
and im still looking.
ONE HOT MINUTE (WARNER BROS, 1995) is a one-off anomaly in the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS' catalogue largely because it sounds like what it is: a JANE'S ADDICTION hybrid due to the inclusion of guitarist DAVE NAVARRO. his predecessor on record was the much celebrated and beloved JOHN FRUSCIANTE, who had a completely different style than NAVARRO. where NAVARRO was LUSH, OPAQUE and EXPANSIVE, FRUSCIANTE was MINIMAL and ANGULAR. in my mind neither is better, but in retrospect it is apparent that FRUSCIANTE was a better fit with the overall FUNK ethos of the band. i dont think that opinion is a controversial statement since i believe even NAVARRO would admit such.
but none of this was important to me when i first came across ONE HOT MINUTE tracks like "AEROPLANE" and "MY FRIENDS" in october of 1995 when my family was staying in NYC for a week in between flights from LOS ANGELES to FRANKFURT to our new home in NIGERIA. when we made that huge move we stayed with a friend of my parents that had an apartment in TUDOR CITY and more importantly, had MTV. in CALIFORNIA we never had cable, and none of my friends did either, so i remember being really taken aback by all of the BUGSBY BERKELEY theatrics of the "AEROPLANE" video. in many ways that particular trip represents in my life represents a SHIFT IN CONSCIOUSNESS from the CULTURAL MYOPIA of ORANGE COUNTY to the GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE of attending an international school in AFRICA. seeing MTV for the first time also felt like a shift of sorts. you have to remember that this was all pre-internet and music on cable television was a bigger cultural influencer than it is now.
as an adult i go back to ONE HOT MINUTE all of the time. tracks i frequent tend to be the ones that just set off and EXPLODE like "WARPED," "SHALLOW BE THY GAME," "ONE BIG MOB" and "COFFEE SHOP." NAVARRO and his wah pedal never sounded more well acquainted with one another, in fact it feels like an extensive of his ego. he just absolutely rips and FLEA and CHAD SMITH never sounded more MUSCULAR and TIGHT as a rhythm section in my opinion. my favorite track on the album is "TRANSCENDING" especially the ringing DANIEL ASH-esque textures NAVARRO interlaces throughout the verses that culminate in a series of hammer-ons in the chorus that are truly SUBLIME. so melodic and so satisfying to listen to. makes you wonder what the bend would have sounded like had the continued.
but they didnt. it wasnt a perfect fit and only in the later (and all too brief) JOSH KLINGHOFFER-era of the band have these songs even been reintroduced in a live setting. but yeah, in my mind ONE HOT MINUTE is a definitive CHILI PEPPERS record despite it being a complete one-off. and im completely biased since my middle school band played "MY FRIENDS" at a school assembly, which today sounds like an odd choice. regardless, this record well worth checking out and revisiting.
growing up in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS feel like a cultural institution at this point. coming out of the HARDCORE scene of the 1980s and being primed on all the LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK of that era, while also integrating other influences (most predominantly the ethos and sonic complexity of classic FUNK records) this band, along with others like FAITH NO MORE, JANE'S ADDICTION and FISHBONE, in my eyes exemplifies that tipping point when ALTERNATIVE ROCK began to boil over culturally and laid the groundwork for NIRVANA to later charge the gates. given how commercially viable the band has been for decades, its difficult to discern how revolutionary their sound actually was back when their fifth release, BLOOD SUGAR SEX MAGIK (WARNER BROS, 1991) came out at the beginning of the 90s.
its easy to point out the sheer musical dexterity and chemistry of their rhythm section in FLEA, CHAD SMITH and JOHN FRUSCIANTE. it is arguably one of the great assembles of musicians in the history of rock music, probably right there with LED ZEPPELIN. the immense aural pleasure of this listening to this record is how tight and connected they are as a unit. songs like "SUCK MY KISS," "THE POWER OF EQUALITY," "NAKED IN THE RAIN," "FUNKY MONKS," "THE GREETING SONG," and "MELLOWSHIP SLINKY IN B MAJOR" just start and stop on a dime with such energy and gusto that GEORGE CLINTON would most definitely nod with approval. and then there are tender ballads composed in an attempt to almost transform FOLK music and INDIE ROCK into some odd hybrid, i.e. songs like "BREAKING THE GIRL," "I COULD HAVE LIED" and the iconic "UNDER THE BRIDGE."
where this record breaks down relates to frontman ANTHONY KEIDIS, who is arguably the wild card and often a perpetual weak link in their discography. there are plenty of sex-crazed, cringe-inducing lyrics on "SIR PSYCHO SEXY" and the titled track "BLOOD SUGAR SEX MAGIK," which have not aged well especially in light recent allegations of habitual and continuous sexual impropriety during this era in the band's history. these allegations the band has attempted to address and atone for, so i will take them at their word, but it still makes some of the more lurid subject matter a little bit hard to stomach given such.
my recollection of this record at the time was watching them play "GIVE IT AWAY" at the 1993 GRAMMY's with GEORGE CLINTON. i was in third grade so i just remember it all looking and feeling ridiculous. years later in 1999 when attending high school in MASSACHUSETTS i was able to see the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS play RHODE ISLAND on their co-headlining tour with the FOO FIGHTERS in support of CALIFORNICATION (WARNER BROS, 1999). it was the return of the classic lineup and i jst remember being enthralled by FRUSCIANTE and FLEA. their sense of musical connection is really something to be witnessed. one of the better live bands ive ever seen.
so in summation, BLOOD SUGAR SEX MAGIK is a classic, if not problematic, record by a seminal band who undoubtedly inspired everyone that came after to create new hybrid sounds not heard or imagined before. and that is pretty cool.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
everything recently is so depressing. with structural racism in our policing, COVID continuing unabated and political unrest at the hands of QANON true believers still an ever present threat on our republic. just thinking about the onslaught of disinformation and thoughtless cruelty that has been perpetuated by the hubris of the former TRUMP administration and his craven sycophants in the GOP is just too much to stomach. it is because of them that our country is devolving into a GREEK tragedy.
ive already written about my love and admiration for NORM MACDONALD and how his LATE NIGHT appearances are legendary. they cheer me up every time i see them. following closely behind are the appearances by fellow SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE alumnus WILL FERRELL over the years, who gets more and more absurd each time he's on any LATE NIGHT program supposedly promoting a new project. its become less and less about the film he is promoting and more about some ANDY KAUFMAN-esque next level batshit weirdness.
i love these bits and his insane singular commitment to staying in character and ever-present comic geniusm, so enjoy and get some relief before the ominous return of our collective TRUMPIAN HELLSCAPE.