Erin around artists, especially in the rock and rap

Erin
Boruta

Musc
050- World Music and Culture

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December
18, 2017

The
Influence of The Red Hot Chili Peppers on the Music and Drug Culture

A staple in the world of rock
music, The Red Hot Chili Peppers found their start in Los Angeles, California
in the mid 1980s and soared to fame in the 1990s. Today, they are still considered
to be one of the most legendary rock bands of all time. The peak of the band’s
fame was in a time when the drug and music culture was still riding the coattails
of the 1960s counterculture
and the Woodstock drug culture that developed in the 1970s. The only difference
between the two was that in the 70s, newer and harder drugs were being
introduced to the LA scene. Heroin became a part of the lives of many famous musical
artists and, unfortunately for some, consumed their lives. The members of the
Red Hot Chili Peppers were no exception; they were the product of the
generation of peace, love, and drugs. The music industry had idolized sex and
drugs and spoke of them in their songs with such glamour. The Red Hot Chili Peppers,
for a time, went along with that mentality, but the shimmer of the high
dissipated and the lifestyle they led took a grave toll on their health. The
lifestyle was deemed as ‘cool’ or ‘alluring’ would kill one of the band’s
members, Hillel Slovak. The band used its influence to sing and talk about the
other half of the culture–the sadness and pain that came with the party
lifestyle. Through songs like ‘Under the Bridge’ and ‘Scar Tissue’ the group
touches on the negatives of the drug culture in music in the hopes to break its
positive stigma.

Drug culture has taken ahold of the
music industry through the artists’ social identity and lyrics. A stigma has
grown around artists, especially in the rock and rap genres, that depicts artists
as party-goers and sex lovers. The introduction of the drug lifestyle in music
begins with bands like The Beatles and The Supremes. Both groups spoke about
social issues during their time while also touching more provocative topics,
like infidelity back in the mid to late 1950s and 1960s. Groups like these were
idolized by the younger generation and, with the introduction of TV and tabloid
magazines, fans were able to see a more intimate part of these performers
lives. These artists were the start of the counterculture of the 1960s where
peace and love were promoted and embraced (Doyle, 2001). Additionally, during
this time period drugs began to enter the public sphere much more prevalently
than before. People were on a quest to self actualization and a separation from
traditional lifestyles their parents led in the 1950s. As the counterculture
and Woodstock ideal took hold, music and lyrics began to change. Music was
transformed into a psychedelic experience. To truly get this experience,
festival goers would smoke weed, take LSD, or some form of drug. Drugs were
popular in music and such a vital part of the creation of and listening to
music during the counterculture.  Their effects
were not very known at the time to the extent that writer Fran Lebowitz said,
“We thought these things were good for you. Drugs, good for you. Like
orange juice. What could be better for you than drugs?” (Stone, 2016). The
worlds of music and drugs began to merge; cities filled with new music and
young adults lived to party and experience life the way they had always dreamed
of. New types of music were being made and young artists began experimenting
with new sounds and new drugs. The group was no different, following the same
path of drugs and music. When The Red Hot Chili Peppers stepped into the scene,
rap and punk rock were in their infancy, but they soon jumped to fame.

Lead singer Anthony Kiedis was
introduced to drugs at a very young age. His father Blackie Kiedis was better
known in the 1980s as the ‘Lord of the Sunset Strip’. He was one of the biggest
drug dealers of his time and, as a result, introduced his son to drugs when he
was only eleven. Anthony would accompany his father to nightclubs to listen to
music while under the influence of the Quaaludes, a depressant. His father
would crush the pill into young Anthony’s banana at dinner and get him high for
a night on the town. Along with drugs, Anthony was introduced to several influential
music artists. Specifically, his father dealt drugs to his close friends and popular
music duo, Sonny and Cher. Anthony idolized the two artists, especially given
that they were his babysitters and he even lived with them for a period of
time. As a child, growing up in such a toxic environment and unaware of the
effects drugs have on a young body, he couldn’t help but idolize the two and
accept their practices as normal (Kiedis, 2015).

Like any other child, he attended
the local public school and while there he met three of the most influential
peers in his life. First, Michael Blazary, better known as Flea, who would soon
become the band’s bassist. Second, Hillel Slovak, who would become the bands
guitarist. Third, Jack Irons, who would become the band’s drummer. The four
boys grouped together at Fairfax high school as friends and a few years after
graduation decided to form a band. Anthony Kiedis was never a singer but he found
inspiration from rap artist, Grandmaster Flash. He discovered that he didn’t need
to be an exceptional vocalist, if he were able to sing or rap his poems the job
could be done by an individual like himself. He was an incredible poet and
always had a love for English. He attended UCLA for English and did fairly well
during his year there. The summer after his freshman year, he was offered a job
in the music industry and never returned to school. In and out of different
homes, working odd jobs, and finding money however he could, Anthony got by
until his band started making it big. There were changes of band members
through the years, but in Anthony’s book Scar Tissue he explains the
unbreakable bond he shared with the boys from Fairfax high school he initially started
the band with (Kiedis, 2015).

While he and his friends were on
the way to stardom, Anthony and his friends were also struggling with drug
addiction. It started off innocently, as they do, Anthony said, but soon enough
the repercussions of the drugs catch up to an individual and they are forced to
face their problem or they will inevitably succumb to the addiction itself (Kiedis,
2015).  Anthony and his friend’s addiction
started in their young 20s. They would go out to a club or an up-and coming
punk concert at a local venue and party the night away. They moved from
quualudes, to cocaine, to speed, to heroin. They would snort, inject, or smoke
whatever they had on hand. At first, Anthony describes it as just fun and games
with your friends. You feel invincible and like nothing in the world will ever
catch you or take its toll. Eventually, however, the addiction catches up to
you and your brain is so dependent on these drugs that your life turns into, as
he describes it, Groundhogs Day. Kiedis would wake up every day, search for
drugs, get high, promise to get clean, and then start the cycle over again the
next day. He started missing practices and rehearsals because of his addiction.

Anthony said the band was one of the only good things he had going for him in
his life, and when the band kicked him out because of his addiction he wasn’t
sure what to do (Kiedis, 2015).  He inevitably
went home to his mother, who lived in Michigan and got clean for the first
time. When he returned to LA, he was drug free for a total of two months, and
had rejoined the band. When he reached 50 days of being sober, he thought he should
celebrate, with heroin. His addiction soon began again(Kiedis, 2015).

He wasn’t alone in his addiction,
however. His best friend and bandmate, Hillel Slovak, was also suffering from a
heroin addiction. He was also on tour with Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana,
who was battling his own drug addiction.  He confided in Hillel and the two discussed
the struggle they were facing and they both wanted to fix the mess they were
making of their lives. Soon after Anthony had returned to the band, a very
similar thing happened to Hillel. He was missing band practices and rehearsals
and even stopped performing mid-way through a concert because of his addiction.

Hillel was asked to leave the band, as Anthony was, and soon after he left the
band his life started to spiral out of control. One day Anthony got a call from
his girlfriend at the time, Ione Skye, to the horrible news that his best
friend and confidant had died from a heroin overdose. Anthony’s reaction to the
death of his best friend was as expected. His grief was so great that he could
not even attend the funeral. Soon after, Anthony made a promise to himself and
Hillel to never use again. So, he went to rehab and made connections with a
support group to get better, and when he made the promise to himself and Hillel,
he kept it for a period of over five years (Kiedis, 2015).  He got clean and started to turn his life
around, cutting out people and places that would keep him in a place of
struggle. His attempt to get clean was a rollercoaster ride with periods of
sobriety and periods of use after the promise he made. Today, however, Anthony
is drug free.

We see the struggle he was facing reflected
in his music. Initially, the band started as a funk rock band using syncopated rhythms
and instruments like the drums, guitar, and bass to create their unique sound.

After Anthony got clean and the band replaced their beloved guitarist, there
were a few changes to the band’s sound. They went from a funk rap rock high
energy sound to a more alternative rock sound, but still making sure to not
lose the spunky funk influence they had on previous albums. Two songs in
particular address the struggles he was facing, one, “Under the Bridge” and
secondly, “Scar Tissue”. They both address his addiction in two different ways.

Under the Bridge addresses the pain and the loss he experiences through the
addiction, while Scar Tissue addresses the process of his getting clean and the
repercussions of doing drugs. The two songs along with many others address the
struggles of addiction and go to show how they can be channeled in a positive
way. For the band that positive way was in music where they began promoting a
sober lifestyle and addressing the dangers of the drug culture found in the
music industry.

During the times Anthony was trying
to get sober, but found himself slipping back into doing drugs, he would channel
his frustration and struggle into music. When he was sober, his lyrics would
talk about the exhilaration of life and being happy and clean, really enjoying and
optimizing his life. When he was going through periods of struggle, you could
see it in his lyrics as well. He would write about the inner demons he was
facing and how he was so desperately trying to get help. He called these songs
his cries for help, yet no one had taken notice(Kiedis, 2015).  Two of the most important and influential songs
of his career, Under the Bridge and Scar Tissue, address the before and after
effects of his drug addiction, where he went wrong, and how he was feeling in
the stages of recovery.

“Under the Bridge” is a song off
The Red Hot Chili Pepper’s first big album, BloodSugarSexMagik.

It addresses the downfall of his life due to the influence of hard drugs like
heroin, cocaine, and speed. The song opens with Kiedis describing the loneliness
he felt when he was on drugs. “Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a partner.

Sometimes I feel like I’m all alone. It’s the city I live in, the city of angles.

Lonely as I am together we cry.” (The Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1999).  When his world revolved around drugs he would
shut out everyone that cared for him and isolated himself to no one but himself
and the city of Los Angeles. He further addresses where he knew he had given up
his life in exchange for a life of hardship. 
“Under the bridge downtown, is where I drew some blood. Under the bridge
downtown, I could not get enough. Under the bridge downtown forgot about my
love. Under the bridge downtown, I gave my life away.” (The Red Hot Chili
Peppers, 1999).  In these lyrics, he
appeals to the emotion of his audience. They show the repercussions of drugs and
what they can do to you. Drugs have the power to change who you are as a person
and turn you into someone you never wanted to be. “It takes away a lot of the
thrill of killing yourself when people are looking for you and you’re
disappointing them, because it is a lot of fun when you’re out there killing
yourself.”(Kiedis, 2015) In his autobiography, Scar Tissue, he further explains
this quote and talks about how the thrill of the chase and the things you’re
putting in your body are great and fun in the moment, but they are, in the end,
killing you physically and emotionally. He speaks out against the culture he
had been so embedded in. He wanted to show the world that even a rock star
could succumb to the realities of the drug culture that music presents so
casually.

The second song mentioned above, “Scar
Tissue”, encompasses his life as a whole, hence the title of his autobiography (The
Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1999). Scar Tissue alludes to things that happened in
his life that couldn’t fully be healed whether it be his upbringing, lost love,
or drugs. All of these things left a lasting mark on his body, physically and
emotionally. He had to live with these scars and grow to make something of
them. The problem with this tissue is that not everyone can always see the
scarring or know if there is a problem. Drug addiction is such a personal and
emotional battle that it can be hard for others to recognize your struggle. “With
the birds I share this lonely view”, draws on the fact that because people can’t
see or understand your hurt you can be left feeling alone (Rubin, 1999). Artists
have used drugs in music to talk about the greatness and the happiness you should
feel when you’re partying and doing drugs, but artists don’t talk as much about
the emptiness they can bring you once the party is over.

Today Anthony Kiedis still promotes
and lives a drug free lifestyle, trying to be healthier. He has tried through
his lyrics to show that doing drugs and living that lifestyle isn’t as great as
artists have made it seem. He has received a lot of backlash from his book by
people who didn’t want the public to know the extent of their drug usage and
actions, but he doesn’t regret his publication at all. The book has been able
to give the pubic an honest report of his life and help others with a drug
problem to try and get clean as well (Wenn, 2016). Additionally, the book
breaks the stigma that doing drugs are cool, carefree, and all fun, even for
famous musicians.

Unfortunately, Anthony’s music hasn’t
ended the drug culture in the music industry. According to the National
Institute on Drug Abuse, there has been an 8.2% increase in drug use between 2002
and 2013 (Addictions). Incredible artists have died from drug abuse, like Jimi
Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, and Lil Peep.  Though I do agree with free expression in
music, I find that the younger audiences listening to music with drug reference
and glorification of living a life of partying can have a negative influence on
the younger generation.

With the introduction of social
media, famous artists have more of an influence than ever on their fan base.

They are able to document every aspect of their lives. For example, Lil Peep,
as mentioned previously, had been exploring a different genre of rap, but died
due to an over dose on Xanax. On his social media accounts, he posted countless
photos and videos of him ingesting anxiety medications rather casually. The
music industry is still strongly connected to drug culture and it is still very
prevalent. Artists have an influential role and are greatly looked up to by society.

Artists today have the potential to
impact young lives more than ever before due to social media (Angelab, 2012).

Though social media wasn’t present during the peak time of The Red Hot Chili Peppers,
the band was able to start a movement in acknowledging the harmful effects of
drugs. Through his lyrics and autobiography, Anthony Kiedis put a rift in the
drug and music culture that had developed in the late 60s and 70s. He has
artistically given hope to members of society, by standing as a public figure
who has come out publically about his drug use and his ultimate victory over
the disease. Additionally, he successfully drew on the emotions of the audience
showing the negative effects of doing hard drugs in the hopes that he can
inspire a younger audience from even starting down a path of abuse. The funk
rap rock band living a life of intense partying transformed into one of the
greatest rock bands who spoke out publicly of the dangers of drug usage in
their lyrics.