There was a time in my life when anytime that John Frusciante rejoined the Red Hot Chili Peppers would have felt like Christmas.
The era when Dave Navarro replaced him after his first departure is not a fondly remembered one, but I think One Hot Minute is actually a top-three RHCP album. It seems to me that punk, pop punk, emo, and nu metal bands—at almost any given time, and certainly in that era, the Chili Peppers are at least two of these—are good at making the world seem dark in a way such that that darkness can also be driven out by a band member getting the girl or through some other process of dudelike self-actualization. This is not to minimize the very real and very nearly deadly battles a few members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers fought with substance abuse, nor is it to say that this is (necessarily) some ploy on any artist’s part, but to the fans who devour these types of music, the return of John Frusciante (or a John-Frusciante figure), who made the made the band what they were and who was now coming back to save them, in their darkest hour and after a brush of his own with death, can seem almost messianic. To contextualize this for those of you know have enjoyed a healthier attachment to, or detachment from, the Red Hot Chili Peppers than I, Californication, By the Way, and Stadium Arcadium, the three albums of my generation that most of you are most likely to know and love, were the product of Frusciante’s deeply emotional reunion with the band.
This is all based largely on speculation, though; I barely knew who the Red Hot Chili Peppers were and did not become a rabid devotee of theirs until 2008, a year before John’s second departure, this time on better terms, but this time for real. I remember feeling disappointed and betrayed, though my understanding of RHCP history was so incomplete and distorted at the time that I probably did not feel the gravity of it. Though, I’m sure I ached too.
I was fairly optimistic about, or at least gracious towards Josh Klinghoffer, Frusciante’s next replacement, because I was still very much on the upswing of fandom. “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie,” the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ first single without Frusciante and their first single in four years, as well as a lot of the rest of their 2011 album, I’m With You, still felt like the Chili Peppers but not so much like what they had been that it was merely a zero sum. I’m With You was a good album, and a few of the later-released singles from the I’m With You recording sessions were good too, and in a fresh, interesting way.
I’ve written a couple times before about a problem I have with zoning out listening to music, especially while driving, but when the flat, straight, open thumb-streak of I-80 that blends the yellows and greys of Illinois and Iowa together demands your attention more than the new album you’ve been waiting to listen to, this may be an indictment of the music. I don’t remember if it was around Christmas or not—it doesn’t snow much in Iowa as I’ve learned. I don’t remember if there was traffic or construction or other bad driving conditions, so it may have just been my imagination that 2016’s The Getaway made the drive feel longer. I don’t think it’s fair to say that it’s necessary Klinghoffer’s fault that the record is almost entirely unlistenable because I don’t know enough about the dynamics of RHCP’s creative process anymore.
I do know that the shift from John to Josh marked a shift from riffs and melodies to soundscapes (which I am normally in favor of at least as an experiment for any musician), and I think these wide open sonic ranges, as cool and textured as they were, ended up being the perfect frontier for a very strange yeehaw élan that I suppose Anthony Kiedis had been bottling up for a while. We’d seen this before, even as far back as “True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes,” the first single the Chili Peppers ever released, but it worked then, maybe if only because we didn’t have any reason to dream bigger, but also, in part, because at least in the early years, they weren’t trying to lie about their messy and problematic machismo.
There was a time in my life when the Chili Peppers dropping a bad record (or at least, for the first time ever, one that I perceived as bad) would have devastated me. That trip to Iowa was close to that time, but in the five or so years since I’m With You, I had in some combination been exposed to enough other music and grown up enough to understand that no amount of artistic growth by a band is enough to excuse the members from being, as I learned far too late, pretty shitty and toxic people, probably the shittiest and most toxic of whom was Kiedis himself. I guess when I was younger and had worse taste in music, I got tricked into thinking, or really tricked myself into thinking, that “Dosed” or any other power ballad would suffice as reconciliation for being an abusive douchebag.
I think the biggest redemption arc regarding the Red Hot Chili Peppers is my realization it doesn’t really matter that The Getaway sucked, and it doesn’t really matter if the next record is great, which it very well could be. I’ve found a lot more peace around the holidays and in general knowing that you can bob your head to a song and appreciate the, well, second second coming of a legendary guitarist without letting too much of your humanity and identity get entangled.
I hope your holidays are filled with peace as well. Stream One Hot Minute on Spotify.
Jeffrey (‘17) ultimately settled on studying film and media studies and French, though food is his greatest passion. He lives in Grand Rapids and is trying to teach himself computer science so he can, among other things, cyberbully Elon Musk.