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.
i remember the moment i first heard PORNO FOR PYROS in middle school in NIGERIA at (oddly enough) my own surprise birthday party a NORWEGIAN female classmate threw at her parents' apartment. another classmate that was DANISH had brought GOOD GOD's URGE (WARNER BROS, 1996) on CD and i was blown away by the vocals on "TAHITIAN MOON." just utterly gobsmacked by how pure and angelic that voice sounded to the point that it almost defied gender. or even being human i had no idea that this was PERRY FARRELL, the same singer i heard in LOS ANGELES on the radio from his previous band JANE'S ADDICTION. i had utterly no clue about who FARRELL was or either PORNO FOR PYROS or JANE'S ADDICTION, i just knew that this was something unequivocally different than what i was used to.
and i've been going down the rabbit whole ever since.
GOOD GOD's URGE was the second record by PORNO FOR PYROS, who themselves are arguably the most prominent splinter group of JANE'S ADDICTION, made up of frontman PERRY FARRELL and STEPHEN PERKINS. the outfit was rounded out by the classically-trained guitarist PETER DISTEFANO. the other two members of JANE'S ADDICTION, bassist ERIC AVERY and guitarist DAVE NAVARRO, formed the short-lived ART ROCK project DECONSTRUCTION before moving on to other projects. lyrically GOOD GOD's URGE covers themes related to love, rebirth and renewal and was written largely on surf trips to POLYNESIA. the record features MIKE WATT on bass and special guests DANIEL ASH, DAVID J and KEVIN HASKINS (a.k.a. LOVE AND ROCKETS) as well as NAVARRO and FLEA on selected tracks. standout songs include the aforementioned "TAHITIAN MOON" as well as "PORPOISE HEAD," "KIMBERLY AUSTIN," "100 WAYS," "WISHING WELL" and "BALI EYES." the general vibe is relaxed with lots of tasteful ambient electronic production layered over acoustic tracks that young could totally imagine being sung at a campfire after a day of surfing in TAHITI or BALI. its a real departure in texture and mood from its predecessor which seemed about more about the claustrophobia, excess and cycles of exploitation that come with living and working in LOS ANGELES. GOOD GOD's URGE finds FARRELL in a more reflective, spritual headspace which is something he explored more in his later solo recordings and other groups like SATELLITE PARTY and KIND HEAVEN ORCHESTRA.
i remember hearing a rumor years ago that after his survival from cancer that there was a chance of PORNO FOR PYROS regrouping with DISTEFANO. that they even recorded material. my hope is that their reemergence will happen at some point. the band was totally underrated and are absolutely as seminal an ALTERNATIVE ROCK band as JANE'S ADDICTION.
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.
dedicated to his close friend since childhood, kindred spirit and deceased former bandmate D. BOON, WE JAM ECONO: THE STORY OF THE MINUTEMEN (ROCKET FUEL FILMS, 2005) is an intimate documentary largely narrated by MIKE WATT about his former band, the highly idiosyncratic and influential 1980s HARDCORE band THE MINUTEMEN.
hailing from SAN PEDRO just as the SOUTH BAY was taking over the LOS ANGELES music scene with a more volatile and aggressive wave of PUNK ROCK that included the likes of BLACK FLAG, CIRCLE JERKS and THE DESCENDENTS, THE MINUTEMEN represented the conceptual and artistic vanguard of the scene. their lyrics were opaque and their sound kinetic yet off-kilter, skittish and dare i say it, funky. in a scene where subtlety was not the norm, both sonically and in terms of lyrical content, THE MINUTEMEN effectively expanded the out realms of the genre in the same way HUSKER DU had done in their respective scene at the time.
the core of the band existed before HARDCORE emerged, but in that scene they saw a freedom and artistic opportunity. D. BOON was an accomplished visual artist and had a way with lyrics where he could evoke images with a minimum amount of words. this efficiency likewise found its way to his guitar playing, which borrowed from various genres and transcended the extreme buzzsaw tempos of his label-mate and fellow scene participants, BLACK FLAG. in essence they had a chemistry that came from years of camaraderie and basically exemplified the DIY ethos of PUNK ROCK. they were completely self-made and unique.
can't say the same for the construction of the documentary itself. it drags a bit and has a very uneven pacing throughout. it could use another edit, which is unfortunate as the band definitely deserves better. but where it lacks in professional sheen it makes up for in content. its rough appearance may even make the film a better conduit for information as it provides a sense of intimacy, especially with regards to its interview footage.
this film includes archival live performances and then-recent interviews with the likes of peers such as IAN MCKAYE (MINOR THREAT), JELLO BIAFRA (DEAD KENNEDYS), MILO AUKERMAN (THE DESCENDENTS), KEITH MORRIS (BLACK FLAG / CIRCLE JERKS), J MASCIS (DINOSAUR JR), MIKE MILLS (R.E.M.), DEZ CADENA, CHUCK DUKOWSKI & HENRY ROLLINS (BLACK FLAG), KURT KIRKWOOD (MEAT PUPPETS), JOHN DOE (X), FLEA (RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS / FEAR), THURSTON MOORE & LEE RANALDO (SONIC YOUTH), ROBERT HOLZMAN (SACCHARINE TRUST), RICHARD HELL (TELEVISION / THE VOIDOIDS) and COLIN NEWMAN (WIRE) among many others.
worth checking out only if you are a deep fan of the genre or the artist, but may be less interesting for those not familiar or eager to explore either. there are other documentaries that are arguably a better introduction to the scene in general like AMERICAN HARDCORE (AHC PRODUCTIONS, 2006) or PUNK: ATTITUDE (3DD PRODUCTIONS, 2005).
seductively filmed by noted fashion photographer BRUCE WEBER in stark black and white, LET'S GET LOST (ZEITGEIST FILMS, 1988) lulls the viewer into an ephemeral world of romance and sophistication much like the music of its subject, WEST COAST JAZZ musician CHET BAKER. both the cinematography and the music make it easy to interpret the magnetic power of such musician, who seemed tailored-made for his era, having JAMES DEAN looks and a smooth, effortless prowess on his instrument that has made him an icon of 1950s AMERICA ever since.
but it is a lie. BAKER is a conman.
the beauty of this film is that much like his three wives and countless girlfriends before, we the audience are being wooed. you would think the man would have regrets about wandering astray from his responsibilities as a father, husband and son, but he seems entirely focused on his pursuits, even in his 60s when this film was made. what is presented is a man for whom everything came easy. a natural musician with a smooth croon of a voice, he didnt labor hard at his craft or all that came with it. women gravitated to BAKER, but he was only faithful to his own whims which eventually included narcotics.
we are presented with an unreliable narrator and those that he took advantage of. most tragic is the admission by his own mother that he was a bad son and that he disappointed her. in interviews his own children speak of him with a sense of frustrated mockery, which you assume has been years in the making. its almost DORIAN GRAY-like how this talented, handsome man with the smooth, intoxicating touch on the trumpet left such a wake of carnage in his personal life. this documentary is his final attempt at convincing us otherwise.
it seems the highly stylized cinematography succeeds in demonstrating this gulf between the facade and the reality which is uncomfortable and seemingly tragic.
its a life wasted.
LET'S GET LOST is a unique, smart documentary on a flawed icon. definitely recommend seeking out and watching this challenging gem of a documentary if you can locate a copy.
note: FLEA has a forgettable role asking questions about MILES DAVIS to BAKER when he is holding court with random photogenic young people. didn't get why that made the cut, but there you have it. maybe its because FLEA plays trumpet.
its funny, when my brother and i were both attending high school in KUWAIT roughly 20 years ago our middle eastern peers were largely naive about AMERICAN culture and pretty much anything that wasn't related to that isolated oil-rich hellhole. my brother had a binder that carried a printed out picture of JOHN TURTURRO's epic bowling nemesis from the THE BIG LEWBOWSKI (WORKING TITLE, 1998) and his KUWAITI classmates would ask him who that was. he'd cooly reply "that's Jesus" to which they'd inquire confusedly "THAT's JESUS?!"
THE COEN BROTHERS are masters of playing with genre expectations and THE BIG LEWBOWSKI is a great example of them experimenting with the cinematic form of NOIR films and their ROMAN NOIR literary antecedent. NOIR films were largely created in a post-WWII climate where the world order was being rebuilt and the role of men was being challenged and rethought along economic, cultural and social considerations. the literary analogue to this genre predates WWII. usually there is a single male who throughout the film is fighting a series of outside forces that include government agencies (of the secretive variety), the media and (of course) women. women in particular are depicted as agents of destruction, i.e. femme fatales, who use their sexuality to attempt to derail our hero from his goal. of course its bullshit, but its a construction that is dear to a genre that at its heart is questioning what identifies masculinity when their hegemonic influence is questioned in a patriarchal society.
what makes THE BIG LEWBOWSKI so interesting is that instead of a determined, idealized male protagonist that rises to the occasion to supersede these overwhelming forces, we are instead given JEFF "THE DUDE" LEBOWSKI, an aging inept stoner with no will to effect change on the world other than his commitments to his bowling league and listening to CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL. he is the personification of ineffective masculinity, yet he is the protagonist that meanders his way through a convoluted plot of outside forces that he inept to deal with any reasonable capacity. that is the core of its humor and humanity.
i think i identified with that character not for his slacker-ness but his being thrown into crazy situations, much like i had at that point survived NIGERIA and boarding school.
LEBOWSKI throughout the film is manipulated by more sophisticated and devious counterparts, including another high-achieving JEFFREY LEBOWSKI who is nonetheless crippled and cuckolded by his barely legal porn star wife. even his doppelgänger or mirrored-self is compromised. much like his inability to effect change, the film also just kind of ends where it begins, and endless loop of inadequacy and mediocrity.
a film that never really ends or begins. no character development. no lessons learned.
great film well worth watching on repeat. i have since i was a teenager.
ACID FOR THE CHILDREN (GRAND CENTRAL, 2019) by legendary RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS bassist FLEA is a poetic, thoughtful memoir that looks back on an unconventional childhood and attempts to make sense of how such influenced his life path. structurally this book is connected by a series of brief vignettes which adroitly mimic the fractured manner in which we carry our memories and define our self perception. i think for an artist that is celebrated for both his musicianship and his sensitivity, this was a good choice in that it allowed him to express his life in brief impressionistic chunks that don't necessarily need to relate to one another, but in totality relate a unique perspective on the author.
one prominent theme is the idea of parenthood. his conception, particularly of fatherhood, is complicated in that his mother leaving a conservative but principled husband for a bohemian failed jazz musician presented to contradictory models for manhood, both of which informed his self-perception.
this push and pull of DISCIPLINE versus EXPRESSION is seemingly everywhere in this book. JAZZ versus PUNK ROCK. his sensitive nature versus acting out without consideration for others. in a previous review (linked HERE) of bandmate ANTHONY KIEDIS' memoir SCAR TISSUE (HYPERION, 2004) i railed against him being an arrogant egoist who essentially mooched off his supremely gifted rhythmic section. at the close of this book, FLEA puts his dear friend in proper perspective, explaining that his non-musicianship provided the proper context to showcase the lightning in a bottle nature of their creative spark. it were these very qualities that i seemingly misread that unlocked their potential in that it forced them to come up with their music from a new angle, a different perspective. and i respect that.
reading this memoir, which again only dealt with his childhood up to the first RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS gig, made me consider my own similar upbringing as a THIRD CULTURE KID. though the term is never uttered in this book, to me the whole thing screams it. his constant search for a surrogate family is a common experience for those who move all the time, as FLEA surely did in transferring from AUSTRALIA to upstate NEW YORK to LOS ANGELES. his need for connection through the arts, first as a listener and furious reader and then as a musician and thespian, in a sense shows the fruits of his pursuit to find an extended safe zone. THIRD CULTURE KIDS are famous for being able to make connections and despite his insecure trepidations initially in each new locale, he found connections through basketball, music, mischief and (unfortunately) drugs.
ultimately this memoir is artfully written in a way i had hoped for as a fan of his music. my hope is that he follows this up with another one that takes us through his experiences with the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS and the 90s ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosion.
one can hope.
in the 80 and 90s with maybe the exception of scene favorites JANE'S ADDICTION and FISHBONE, the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS were the de facto definitive ALTERNATIVE band from LOS ANGELES. incorporating disparate elements of PUNK aggression with off-kilter FUNK feel and time signatures, their sound was unique in an era where originality was a virtue. their revolving door of guitarists (HILLEL SLOVAK, JOHN FRUSCIANTE, DAVE NAVARRO) and the foundational core of FLEA and CHAD SMITH provided one of the great rhythm sections of all-time.
but this is ANTHONY KIEDIS' memoir and i'm not gonna lie, he's the weak link in my opinion. i'll just say that up front. even on their best releases, his word-salad approach to lyrics and frat-boy demeanor and general public womanizing was something to be tolerated and not applauded (this is even more problematic given the later accusations that have come about in recent years way after the publication of this book).
getting my bias out of the way, SCAR TISSUE (HYPERION 2004) by ANTHONY KIEDIS and LARRY SLOMAN is mainly about the three major relationships of KIEDIS' life up until this point: his father BLACKIE DAMMETT, his best friend and bandmate FLEA and drugs, specifically heroin. for as much as this book is about his unconventional nomadic upbringing and later numerous trysts and relationships over the years, which all seemed pretty boring quite frankly, in the end I found this book to be about an extroverts need for attention in a community only too willing to grant such.
i can only imagine what growing up with a failed-actor, drug-addled father would do to a young psyche. the messages spoken and unspoken about one's self-worth in a HOLLYWOOD community that trades on humans like they are commodities. not to mention how women were treated as arm candy in an ambitious arms race for fame and notoriety.
I found KIEDIS to be pretty shallow on most subjects in the book with the exceptions being his thoughts on those three relationships and how they informed him as a person. in some ways this book feels like a celebration of his friends and the LOS ANGELES artistic community that challenged and supported his band. for that I applaud him, but it doesn't alter the fact that on some level he's a LARS ULRICH-like impotent mouthpiece where his talk is supported by the actual talent and virtuosity of those around him.
or maybe i am too hard on him, this was written during a renaissance in his career after two successful reunion albums with legendary guitarist JOHN FRUSCIANTE. maybe he was coming to terms with the fact that he was a chauvinistic douche. i doubt it.
if you are fan of KIEDIS, definitely check out this book, if not do yourself a favor and listen to a FAITH NO MORE or MR. BUNGLE record. When is MIKE PATTON gonna put out a book, anyway?