Red Hot Chili Peppers Teach It's Okay For Tastes to Change
I cannot stand the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
And that's why I love 'em.
I should explain: These days, I think the band's tepid blend of funk, punk, and alternative rock conveys none of the highlights of those forms. I think it's pretty much bland porridge. I didn't always think that, though. And because of that, the Red Hot Chili Peppers taught me one of the most important things about being an avid music consumer and fan.
I'll rewind a bit.
I was in middle school in the early '90s, and the Chili Peppers were my favorite band. They seemed insouciant, irreverent, and cool. It helped that my best friend, Leif, and I considered ourselves weirder than the kids who were into predictable bands like Metallica, Bon Jovi, and GN' R. No, in an unfortunate preview of exclusive attitudes to develop in high school, we fancied Faith No More, Nirvana, The Cure, Ned's Atomic Dustbin, and Primus — bands not underground by any stretch, but when you're in middle school, you take what you can get. We affirmed our desire for individuality by latching onto bands our classmates Just Didn't Get.
I'll occasionally listen to some of the records from that time, and I usually make it through 10 seconds or so of each song before skipping. I don't like the music anymore, but I remember liking it, and I remember the middle-schooler who liked it. Mother's Milk, the Chili Peppers' 1989 album, was my first encounter with the band. I loved the mix of melody and weird harmonies, the funky cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground," the playfully strange "Magic Johnson." From there, I dug back into the back catalog, binging on the aggressive, bouncy funk of 1985's Freaky Styley and The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. Plus, hey, the band set a Dr. Seuss book to song with "Yertle the Turtle," and I that was perfect for a preteen not quite out of childhood but eager to enjoy "grownup" bands.
Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991) was a high point — an album that I wore out. I pored over pictures of the band's tattoos in the liner notes to the cassette (!!!) and had to have a talk with my mom about the Parental Advisory sticker. It was the soundtrack to a few years of friendship with my crew. It was great. And though Blood Sugar was by far my favorite album of the time, it was its follow-up, 1995's One Hot Minute, that taught me one of my most valuable lessons — that it was okay to dislike something by a band you liked.
Up until that album's release, I "liked" the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I was on their team. They were one of my favorites, and that's all I needed to know. But One Hot Minute — a transitional release, with Jane's Addiction's Dave Navarro on guitar — threw me. It didn't sound like the band I'd known. The lyrics seemed lightweight, the music wasn't interesting, and I thought it was just that I wasn't giving it the time it needed. I realized, though, that I just didn't like the album, and that led me down the path of thinking critically about individual pieces of art — songs, albums, movies, etc. — on their own terms. It also taught me that liking a band didn't need to be a defining aspect of one's personality. Despite being an immature band (socks on cocks, guys?), the Chili Peppers were instrumental in my becoming a mature music listener, lover, critic, and consumer.
So, the band's coming up on its 30th anniversary. At the time I started listening to the Chili Peppers in the early '90s, the Rolling Stones also had been around nearly 30 years, and they seemed impossibly old, irrelevant, and unrelatable. I wonder if that's how the Chili Peppers seem to kids today. Probably not, I'm sure the show this week will be packed with people in their teens and 20s. I won't find out — I won't be there. Everything the band's put out since the '90s has sounded bad to me, and I have no interest in revisiting the early stuff. I'll probably be at home not listening to the Chili Peppers — but I'm so glad I used to like them, and then stopped.
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