Dream of Californication

Normally I don't share any of my academic work on my blog. BUT, my California Lit professor let me write my final paper on The Red Hot Chili Peppers this quarter. God-send, I know. So I apologize that this entry doesn't follow my usual writing style, but hey, its an excuse to post sexy photos of John Frusciante. 

I also had to compare their history to a book we read in class (The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West, highly recommended). I tried to edit these parts out so excuse any choppy writing you may encounter.


          As Hollywood emerged as the epitome for the California dream, the city has become the assumed source of fame and fortune. As artists, actors, and musicians enter Hollywood to find the celebrity success they dream about, The Red Hot Chili Peppers stand out as a band that has struggled and prevailed against the generic image pressed upon them. Realizing the city's disillusionment, members Anthony Kiedis and John Frusciante have also put forward criticism in personal statements and lyrics alike. Criticizing artificiality and demonstrating the possibility of success with originality, The Red Hot Chili Peppers have been deemed an iconic and much idolized California band.
            Original Red Hot Chili Pepper members, Anthony Kiedis, Flea, Hillel Slovak, and Jack Irons started their band in high school. They performed around Los Angeles for several months before being signed by EMI. Their fan base grew with the help of college radio and MTV, but the band’s first demo CD in 1984 was what Kiedis already began describing as overly polished, as if it had “gone through a sterilizing Good Two-shoes machine.” They started working on their next album, which under the distraction of heroin and loose management by producer George Clinton, found little success in its seemingly random incorporation of many different musical experiments. Their next producer was Keith Levene, who shared in the band’s drug interest. By allocating $2,000 of their $5,000 budget towards heroine, many of the intentions held for Freaky Friday were ruined. Kiedis, who wrote a majority of the lyrics, entered rehab for one month before emerging with new songs for The Uplift Mofo Party Plan and falling back into drug use once recordings began. However even as the album found more success than the former, drug addiction led to Slovak’s death in 1988. Irons left the group at this time, refusing to part of a group where his friends were dying. Already Hollywood was affecting the intentions of a talented group of friends by distracting them from the passion that brought them together.
             In 1988, John Frusciante and Chad Smith joined The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Frusciante was already an avid fan and had studied music theory inside and out. Pre-production for Mother’s Milk went smoothly but producer, Michael Beinhorn, had his sights set on producing a worldwide hit. The album peaked at 52 on the US Billboard 200 but in 1990 the band switched to a label less concerned with producing “money-makers” before beginning BloodSugarSexMagik. Recorded in Harry Houdini’s old mansion, their next album rocketed The Red Hot Chili Peppers to success with singles like “Give It Away,” “Under the Bridge,” “Breaking the Girl,” and “Suck my Kiss.” The 15 million sold copies and its accompanying fame even landed BloodSugarSexMagik a spot on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
            However Frusciante felt rather blindsided by his newfound fame. The popularity of his guitar playing and The Red Hot Chili Peppers penetrated his everyday life and he even told Kiedis, “We’re too popular. I don’t need to be at this level of success. I would just be proud to be playing music in clubs like you guys were doing two years ago.” Fed up with hearing his songs played in the public places like the mall, Frusciante left the band just minutes before their show in Japan was about to begin.
            Frusciante felt that his art was being artificially remastered and reproduced. The Red Hot Chili Peppers were no longer just a local garage band, but a pop culture sensation. There were radio edits and tour schedules; appearances and critiques. The band obtained a global audience and Frusciante didn’t want the spotlight. “I'm not interested in forcing my music on people, and that's what the whole music industry nowadays is based on is forcing stations to play it, forcing people to listen to it,” he said. For John Frusciante, art was a personal experience. Frusciante used his hiatus to create some solo albums and experiment with his musical style.
            Frusciante found Hollywood to be beckoning and seductive, falling into heavy drug usage during his time apart from The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Leaving him in poverty and near death, Frusciante’s experience was common among other members of the band as well. Kiedis, in fact, wrote the lyrics “Under the Bridge” as a way to showcase his feelings of alienation from his friends and society as a user. In the song, Kiedis identifies with the city of Los Angeles as the only friend he has left. With opening lines saying, “Sometimes I feel like/My only friend/The city I live in/ The City of Angels/Lonely as I m/Together we cry,” Kiedis is alluding to alienation heroin induced, making his surroundings his only true solace. In fact, the bridge he mentions is a real location where he once found himself committing to extreme circumstances in order to buy drugs. The lines, ‘I don’t ever want to feel/Like I did that day/ Take me to the place I love/Take me all the way,” reflect his plea to reunite with his fellow band mates, friends, and family instead of depending on a high for happiness. Addiction seemed to emerge as an inevitable theme for The Red Hot Chili Peppers, causing them to take a more critical look at Hollywood and its reinforcing structures.
            When Frusciante rejoined the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1998 after entering a rehabilitation center and realizing how important his friendships within the band were, he made sure to prove his talent was not affected by the hardship of the past few years. The band began work on their seventh album, Californication. The title track itself reached #1 on several charts and is often referred to as a solid critique of Hollywood. Written by Kiedis, the song focuses on the dark side of the city and how its residents fall victim to misrepresentation and artificiality. There are several popular culture references such as Kurt Cobain, David Bower, Star Wars, and Dorothy Stratten. The term “Californication” becomes defined as the expectation immigrants and natives share in finding fame and immortality through celebrity. With lines like “Buy me a star on the boulevard” and “It’s understood that Hollywood sells Californication,” the band implies that rarely anything left in this industry is earned with real talent.
            The song also follows the familiar view of artificiality with lines like “Pay your surgeon very well/ To break the spell of aging,” and “Space may be the final frontier/But it’s made in a Hollywood basement.” Commenting on plastic surgery and film production, The Red Hot Chili Peppers emphasize the illusion and deception Hollywood maintains. Having been commercialized by their own past producers and record labels, the band uses this song to insist they are not following blindly in the shadows of other bands who have sacrificed originality for the sake of sales. Referencing “Little girls from Sweden/Dream of silver screen quotations,” the song continues to recognize the lure Hollywood sets up to trap immigrants and outsiders. Actresses rush into the city with the expectation to be “discovered” and made into a movie star. While their delusion feeds their persistence, artists like The Red Hot Chili Peppers admit they could find contentment just doing what they love. But Hollywood evokes a “go big or go home” mentality, continuously urging its residents and dreamers to persist and clutch onto the hope and chance of fame.
            The Red Hot Chili Peppers even uses “Californication” to mention the climate that promotes the advertisement of “sunny” dispositions. “Everybody’s been there/And I don’t mean on vacation,” Kiedis writes. California is recognized as the ideal place to not only visit, but live in prosperity. Like a plentiful “Pasture of Heaven,” the state facilitates ripe growth and nourishment. There are agents, directors, representatives, and producers that will make sure talent is supplemented with the appropriate image and exposure. Hollywood has a type of immortality in this sense, always able to refresh with the season’s newest “crops.” 
            Along the idea of prosperous land, Kiedis underscores the effect of natural occurrences or disasters. “And earthquakes are to a girl’s guitar/They’re just another good vibration,” seems to imply that no harm could come to California. Even earthquakes serve as an inspirational phenomena, something to be experienced instead of feared. “Tidal waves couldn’t save the world/From Californication,” they say. Hollywood has a resistance against the natural world, functioning only within the industry. Even when Kiedis wrote “Under the Bridge,” he was saying how the lonely he felt apart from the people working for Hollywood. While he was walking the streets and through the hills, he felt sensuality only when “she kisses me windy.” Both “Under the Bridge” and “Californication” evoke a sense of meaning from being a part of Hollywood, even if its artificiality overcomes many of its inhabitants.
John Frusciante was the one to turn the “Californication” lyrics into an actual song, connecting his passion for music with his acknowledgement of the industry and state that supports his art. The line “Singing songs off station to station” echoes the guitarist’s initial frustration with popularity, but Californication’s success was a breakthrough in the admittance on the part of celebrities, acknowledging Hollywood is the only environment that could possibly sustain the lifestyle they have adopted. The Red Hot Chili Peppers proved they are not na├»ve with this album, promising their fans that music is their passion, not fame.
            After Californication, The Red Hot Chili Peppers continued to make music, finishing three more albums despite continually fluctuating band members. They continued with their California theme, even writing songs such as “Dani, California.” They have kept their reputation as the funky and original members of Hollywood, playing the music they love without a concern for constructing any image but the one they emerged from their garage with. The band’s story is still one of interest today, passing along the message that success can still be achieved without selling out to Hollywood’s game amiss the many “grotesque” characters than inhabit the city. Despite expectations that the industry would overcome the music, The Red Hot Chili Peppers hav been able to passionately produce their work, critiquing Hollywood as an environment that suppresses originality and true intent while still being the epitome of success in such a world.