ErinBorutaMusc050- World Music and CultureDecember18, 2017TheInfluence of The Red Hot Chili Peppers on the Music and Drug CultureA staple in the world of rockmusic, The Red Hot Chili Peppers found their start in Los Angeles, Californiain the mid 1980s and soared to fame in the 1990s. Today, they are still consideredto be one of the most legendary rock bands of all time.
The peak of the band’sfame was in a time when the drug and music culture was still riding the coattailsof the 1960s countercultureand the Woodstock drug culture that developed in the 1970s. The only differencebetween the two was that in the 70s, newer and harder drugs were beingintroduced to the LA scene. Heroin became a part of the lives of many famous musicalartists and, unfortunately for some, consumed their lives.
The members of theRed Hot Chili Peppers were no exception; they were the product of thegeneration of peace, love, and drugs. The music industry had idolized sex anddrugs 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 highdissipated and the lifestyle they led took a grave toll on their health. Thelifestyle was deemed as ‘cool’ or ‘alluring’ would kill one of the band’smembers, Hillel Slovak. The band used its influence to sing and talk about theother half of the culture–the sadness and pain that came with the partylifestyle. Through songs like ‘Under the Bridge’ and ‘Scar Tissue’ the grouptouches on the negatives of the drug culture in music in the hopes to break itspositive stigma.Drug culture has taken ahold of themusic industry through the artists’ social identity and lyrics.
A stigma hasgrown around artists, especially in the rock and rap genres, that depicts artistsas party-goers and sex lovers. The introduction of the drug lifestyle in musicbegins with bands like The Beatles and The Supremes. Both groups spoke aboutsocial issues during their time while also touching more provocative topics,like infidelity back in the mid to late 1950s and 1960s. Groups like these wereidolized by the younger generation and, with the introduction of TV and tabloidmagazines, fans were able to see a more intimate part of these performerslives. These artists were the start of the counterculture of the 1960s wherepeace and love were promoted and embraced (Doyle, 2001). Additionally, duringthis time period drugs began to enter the public sphere much more prevalentlythan before.
People were on a quest to self actualization and a separation fromtraditional lifestyles their parents led in the 1950s. As the countercultureand Woodstock ideal took hold, music and lyrics began to change. Music wastransformed into a psychedelic experience.
To truly get this experience,festival goers would smoke weed, take LSD, or some form of drug. Drugs werepopular in music and such a vital part of the creation of and listening tomusic during the counterculture. Their effectswere 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. Likeorange juice. What could be better for you than drugs?” (Stone, 2016).
Theworlds of music and drugs began to merge; cities filled with new music andyoung adults lived to party and experience life the way they had always dreamedof. New types of music were being made and young artists began experimentingwith new sounds and new drugs. The group was no different, following the samepath 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 wasintroduced to drugs at a very young age. His father Blackie Kiedis was betterknown in the 1980s as the ‘Lord of the Sunset Strip’.
He was one of the biggestdrug dealers of his time and, as a result, introduced his son to drugs when hewas only eleven. Anthony would accompany his father to nightclubs to listen tomusic while under the influence of the Quaaludes, a depressant. His fatherwould crush the pill into young Anthony’s banana at dinner and get him high fora night on the town. Along with drugs, Anthony was introduced to several influentialmusic artists.
Specifically, his father dealt drugs to his close friends and popularmusic duo, Sonny and Cher. Anthony idolized the two artists, especially giventhat they were his babysitters and he even lived with them for a period oftime. As a child, growing up in such a toxic environment and unaware of theeffects drugs have on a young body, he couldn’t help but idolize the two andaccept their practices as normal (Kiedis, 2015). Like any other child, he attendedthe local public school and while there he met three of the most influentialpeers in his life. First, Michael Blazary, better known as Flea, who would soonbecome the band’s bassist. Second, Hillel Slovak, who would become the bandsguitarist.
Third, Jack Irons, who would become the band’s drummer. The fourboys grouped together at Fairfax high school as friends and a few years aftergraduation decided to form a band. Anthony Kiedis was never a singer but he foundinspiration from rap artist, Grandmaster Flash. He discovered that he didn’t needto be an exceptional vocalist, if he were able to sing or rap his poems the jobcould be done by an individual like himself.
He was an incredible poet andalways had a love for English. He attended UCLA for English and did fairly wellduring his year there. The summer after his freshman year, he was offered a jobin the music industry and never returned to school. In and out of differenthomes, working odd jobs, and finding money however he could, Anthony got byuntil his band started making it big. There were changes of band membersthrough the years, but in Anthony’s book Scar Tissue he explains theunbreakable bond he shared with the boys from Fairfax high school he initially startedthe band with (Kiedis, 2015).While he and his friends were onthe way to stardom, Anthony and his friends were also struggling with drugaddiction.
It started off innocently, as they do, Anthony said, but soon enoughthe repercussions of the drugs catch up to an individual and they are forced toface their problem or they will inevitably succumb to the addiction itself (Kiedis,2015). Anthony and his friend’s addictionstarted in their young 20s. They would go out to a club or an up-and comingpunk concert at a local venue and party the night away. They moved fromquualudes, to cocaine, to speed, to heroin. They would snort, inject, or smokewhatever they had on hand. At first, Anthony describes it as just fun and gameswith your friends.
You feel invincible and like nothing in the world will evercatch you or take its toll. Eventually, however, the addiction catches up toyou and your brain is so dependent on these drugs that your life turns into, ashe describes it, Groundhogs Day. Kiedis would wake up every day, search fordrugs, get high, promise to get clean, and then start the cycle over again thenext 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 inhis life, and when the band kicked him out because of his addiction he wasn’tsure what to do (Kiedis, 2015). He inevitablywent home to his mother, who lived in Michigan and got clean for the firsttime. When he returned to LA, he was drug free for a total of two months, andhad rejoined the band. When he reached 50 days of being sober, he thought he shouldcelebrate, 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 aheroin 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 discussedthe struggle they were facing and they both wanted to fix the mess they weremaking of their lives. Soon after Anthony had returned to the band, a verysimilar thing happened to Hillel. He was missing band practices and rehearsalsand 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 theband his life started to spiral out of control. One day Anthony got a call fromhis girlfriend at the time, Ione Skye, to the horrible news that his bestfriend and confidant had died from a heroin overdose. Anthony’s reaction to thedeath of his best friend was as expected. His grief was so great that he couldnot even attend the funeral. Soon after, Anthony made a promise to himself andHillel to never use again. So, he went to rehab and made connections with asupport 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 lifearound, cutting out people and places that would keep him in a place ofstruggle.
His attempt to get clean was a rollercoaster ride with periods ofsobriety and periods of use after the promise he made. Today, however, Anthonyis drug free.We see the struggle he was facing reflectedin his music. Initially, the band started as a funk rock band using syncopated rhythmsand instruments like the drums, guitar, and bass to create their unique sound.After Anthony got clean and the band replaced their beloved guitarist, therewere a few changes to the band’s sound.
They went from a funk rap rock highenergy sound to a more alternative rock sound, but still making sure to notlose the spunky funk influence they had on previous albums. Two songs inparticular address the struggles he was facing, one, “Under the Bridge” andsecondly, “Scar Tissue”. They both address his addiction in two different ways.Under the Bridge addresses the pain and the loss he experiences through theaddiction, while Scar Tissue addresses the process of his getting clean and therepercussions of doing drugs. The two songs along with many others address thestruggles of addiction and go to show how they can be channeled in a positiveway. For the band that positive way was in music where they began promoting asober lifestyle and addressing the dangers of the drug culture found in themusic industry.During the times Anthony was tryingto get sober, but found himself slipping back into doing drugs, he would channelhis frustration and struggle into music.
When he was sober, his lyrics wouldtalk about the exhilaration of life and being happy and clean, really enjoying andoptimizing his life. When he was going through periods of struggle, you couldsee it in his lyrics as well. He would write about the inner demons he wasfacing and how he was so desperately trying to get help. He called these songshis cries for help, yet no one had taken notice(Kiedis, 2015). Two of the most important and influential songsof his career, Under the Bridge and Scar Tissue, address the before and aftereffects of his drug addiction, where he went wrong, and how he was feeling inthe stages of recovery. “Under the Bridge” is a song offThe Red Hot Chili Pepper’s first big album, BloodSugarSexMagik.It addresses the downfall of his life due to the influence of hard drugs likeheroin, cocaine, and speed.
The song opens with Kiedis describing the lonelinesshe 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 wouldshut out everyone that cared for him and isolated himself to no one but himselfand the city of Los Angeles. He further addresses where he knew he had given uphis life in exchange for a life of hardship.
“Under the bridge downtown, is where I drew some blood. Under the bridgedowntown, I could not get enough. Under the bridge downtown forgot about mylove. Under the bridge downtown, I gave my life away.” (The Red Hot ChiliPeppers, 1999).
In these lyrics, heappeals to the emotion of his audience. They show the repercussions of drugs andwhat they can do to you. Drugs have the power to change who you are as a personand turn you into someone you never wanted to be. “It takes away a lot of thethrill of killing yourself when people are looking for you and you’redisappointing them, because it is a lot of fun when you’re out there killingyourself.”(Kiedis, 2015) In his autobiography, Scar Tissue, he further explainsthis quote and talks about how the thrill of the chase and the things you’reputting 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 hehad been so embedded in.
He wanted to show the world that even a rock starcould succumb to the realities of the drug culture that music presents socasually.The second song mentioned above, “ScarTissue”, encompasses his life as a whole, hence the title of his autobiography (TheRed Hot Chili Peppers, 1999). Scar Tissue alludes to things that happened inhis 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 andemotionally. He had to live with these scars and grow to make something ofthem. The problem with this tissue is that not everyone can always see thescarring or know if there is a problem.
Drug addiction is such a personal andemotional battle that it can be hard for others to recognize your struggle. “Withthe birds I share this lonely view”, draws on the fact that because people can’tsee or understand your hurt you can be left feeling alone (Rubin, 1999). Artistshave used drugs in music to talk about the greatness and the happiness you shouldfeel when you’re partying and doing drugs, but artists don’t talk as much aboutthe emptiness they can bring you once the party is over. Today Anthony Kiedis still promotesand lives a drug free lifestyle, trying to be healthier. He has tried throughhis lyrics to show that doing drugs and living that lifestyle isn’t as great asartists have made it seem. He has received a lot of backlash from his book bypeople who didn’t want the public to know the extent of their drug usage andactions, but he doesn’t regret his publication at all. The book has been ableto give the pubic an honest report of his life and help others with a drugproblem to try and get clean as well (Wenn, 2016).
Additionally, the bookbreaks the stigma that doing drugs are cool, carefree, and all fun, even forfamous musicians.Unfortunately, Anthony’s music hasn’tended the drug culture in the music industry. According to the NationalInstitute on Drug Abuse, there has been an 8.2% increase in drug use between 2002and 2013 (Addictions). Incredible artists have died from drug abuse, like JimiHendrix, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, and Lil Peep. Though I do agree with free expression inmusic, I find that the younger audiences listening to music with drug referenceand glorification of living a life of partying can have a negative influence onthe younger generation. With the introduction of socialmedia, 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 dieddue to an over dose on Xanax. On his social media accounts, he posted countlessphotos and videos of him ingesting anxiety medications rather casually. Themusic industry is still strongly connected to drug culture and it is still veryprevalent.
Artists have an influential role and are greatly looked up to by society.Artists today have the potential toimpact 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 ofdrugs.
Through his lyrics and autobiography, Anthony Kiedis put a rift in thedrug and music culture that had developed in the late 60s and 70s. He hasartistically given hope to members of society, by standing as a public figurewho has come out publically about his drug use and his ultimate victory overthe disease. Additionally, he successfully drew on the emotions of the audienceshowing the negative effects of doing hard drugs in the hopes that he caninspire a younger audience from even starting down a path of abuse.
The funkrap rock band living a life of intense partying transformed into one of thegreatest rock bands who spoke out publicly of the dangers of drug usage intheir lyrics.