One of my best friends, Mr. Brian Jones, came to visit me when I lived in Los Angeles. Well, to be fair, he traveled to LA for business, then stayed a couple extra days to hang out with me.
It was his first time in Hollywood, and as I took him to his hotel, we got stuck on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.
“Think I’ll see any celebrities?” Brian asked.
I looked over at him and plainly noted, “Well, Michael Rapaport is in the car next to us.”
Brian turned his head, and indeed as could be, Mr. Rapaport was in an SUV, stuck in traffic along side us. Both Brian and Michael had their windows down, which meant we could overhear the actor as he laughed happily into his phone: “You my nigga! You my NIGGA!”
Brian and I exchanged a look; we figured he must have been speaking to one of his “homies” from Higher Learning. Either that, or he was just doing them proud by adopting a very specific kink in their vernacular.
Due to the fact we were (and continue to be) obsessed with music, I took Brian to Amoeba Music. If you’re not familiar, it’s a world famous, independent record store with a location on the Sunset Boulevard. It carries everything. New, used, hard to find, impossible to find, and holy-fuck-I-didn’t-know-that-existed bootlegs.
While standing in one of the wider pathways, I noticed a copy of Californication on the end cap display. Brian introduced me to The Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1987; he played the song “Backwoods”—off The Uplift Mofo Party Plan—and I was hooked. As a bass player, the song ripped into me something fierce.
I immediately bought Freaky Styley, and when they came out Mother’s Milk and Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Brian and I finally saw the Chili Peppers live on the Blood Sugar Sex Magik tour. At first, we were excited, because it was the second date on the tour; they were playing Madison, WI, and then we were seeing them in Milwaukee. “How cool is that?” we thought. “We get to see them before anyone else!”
Little did we understand at the time, the band was getting the unimportant dates out of the way, so the fuck-ups would be fixed before the important markets: Chicago, LA, New York.
Not that it means anything, but it was a triple bill that night: RHCP, Stupid Pumpkins, and opening for both with a short, 30 minute set, an unknown band called Pearl Jam. Eddie Vedder was still stage diving back then, and rode the audience around the entirety of the Eagle’s Ballroom while crowd surfing. They really should have had a longer set; Billy Corgan’s nasal whine really couldn’t follow their energy.
Anyway, after Blood Sugar, things fell apart for the RHCP. Anthony’s drug use was a problem, John Frusciante quit the band, and they seemed destined to fade away, releasing ‘greatest hits’ albums ad nauseam for the rest of their career.
Surprisingly, in 1998, Frusciante returned, and with him the hope the band would re-achieve their iconic sound. Which, if you look at the sales of Californication, they did. But to me, the gap between Blood Sugar and Cali had been too long. Maybe I changed, but to me, while I could still listen to Mother’s Milk front-to-back, I could only listen to a song or maybe two on Cali. To me, they sounded like a fantastic Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band, not the Peppers themselves.
I know I shouldn’t complain—it is near impossible to maintain vitality for three albums, much less thirty years—but maybe that’s why I like The Police so much. Five albums, each entirely different in sound, style, and texture from the one before it, and then bam: break up and walk away on top. Or, to put it in a famous way, “Better to burn out, than fade away.”
One of my main fears regarding the RHCP is that I am one of those curmudgeons who speak only of Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days. But maybe I’m right, and after a while their ability to really nail a song—something I think they absolutely did with Rain Dance Maggie—happened less and less often.
Either way, standing in Amoeba Music, I picked up and held Californication for a moment, saying to Brian in a resignedly depressed tone, “God, I used to love them, but this just…it just sucks.”
I placed the CD back on the shelf, and turned to see Flea standing about 10 feet away.
His back was turned, he hadn’t heard me, wasn’t paying attention to us in any way, shape, or form and wouldn’t have known who I was talking about if he had, but fuck if I didn’t feel stupid.
My favorite bass player…the man who inspired me above almost all others regarding the instrument…he who created one of the best bass lines of all time in the song So Unsexy, and I had just insulted him. Had I not just said that and felt like a complete fuckhead, I would have taken the moment to shake his hand and thank him for the music. To do so after slandering him would have been hypocritical, even if he were unaware of the insult.
Flea eventually wandered off into the Big Band section and ended up walking out with a handful of discs.
I don’t remember what Brian or I bought, if anything.
Well, at least I’m not a white guy dropping the n-bomb because I think it makes me cool.