A series exploring first musical experiences…
I was 13 in 1993 when I discovered the Red Hot Chili Peppers. My brother in law lent me a pirated cassette of Blood Sugar Sex Magik and it changed the way I heard music. Until then I had dabbled with bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, embracing the grunge movement but not feeling like it really spoke to me. They were gloomy adult bands and the stunted emotional maturity and earnest optimism of Red Hot Chili Peppers was perfect for a teenage boy. Sure, they had their sad songs and they had their drug problems, but they also had a guitarist and a bass player who could create magic.
Tacked onto the end of the C-90 cassette was The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. This discovery led me to their back catalogue and I snapped up Freaky Styley, the self-titled debut, Mother’s Milk and my own copies of Blood Sugar Sex Magik and The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. It was the first time I had truly immersed myself in a band and its history. I read everything I could, learning about their formation, the death of original guitarist Hillel Slovak, the arrival and departure of John Frusciante, and their acquisition of Dave Navarro on guitar. This set up 1995 to be the year that I was a fully paid up fan. I was at the bleeding edge of Chili Pepper fandom and the anticipation of their new record was at fever pitch.
I had never before been so in love with a band. I listened to them every day, knew every pornographic lyric Anthony Kiedis had sung in his four-note range, knew every guitar riff, and every bass line. I dreamed of seeing them live and imagined how it would feel to have my life completed in such a way. I lined up and pre-ordered their new record. I had to put a $5 deposit down to secure a copy of the limited edition, individually numbered gold CD. Limited edition took on new meaning when the CD I received was numbered 350 000.
Then the day came. One Hot Minute was released. And it sucked.
There is argument among the faithful over who is the definitive Red Hot Chili Peppers’ guitarist. Some say Frusciante, who presided over their most commercially successful records, while others maintain that Slovak remains the original and the best with Freaky Styley a testament to his funk chops.
All I know for certain is that Navarro is most definitely not it.
The guitars were all wrong, there was no funk, no slink, no sultry, and the lyrics were even more woefully adolescent than usual. Navarro’s style was too traditional and he lacked any kind of chemistry with Flea, the foundation stone of every Chili Peppers’ record.
I really tried my hardest to like One Hot Minute. I listened to it a lot. I watched the videos. Stuck a poster of the band on my wall and as much as I could convince people I liked their latest record in spite of reviews to the contrary, I couldn’t fool myself. The spell had been broken and no amount of wishful thinking could heal the cracks in my heart.
I saw them live the next year and it was underwhelming, partly because they weren’t very good, but mostly because they didn’t feel like the band I had fallen for.
In hindsight, it was almost inevitable that I would be let down. My fandom coincided with their least productive period as a band. Heroin addiction and personality clashes affected their musical output and it would eventually end with Dave Navarro being fired from the band. They have since disowned the record and only play “Pea” in live shows anymore. John Frusciante returned and they made Californication, which was a vast improvement, but listening to that, and By The Way, was fueled more by nostalgia than their renaissance.
This pattern of obsession and disappoint would repeat itself with other bands, notably and embarrassingly with Manic Street Preachers. But as much as I would fall in love with other musicians’ work, and even harder than I had with the Chili Peppers, the first heartbreak still stings 20 years later.