Red Hot Chili Peppers
I almost feel bad for Nickelback.
I mean, they’re truly an awful band—it’s astonishing how they’ve managed to make a million-dollar industry out of one basic songwriting formula. But I don’t have the visceral hatred for Nickelback that pop culture suggests I should. Sure, making protest signs that say “Ted Cruz likes Nickelback” leaves a pretty sick burn, but Nickelback isn’t my go-to band when I need an example of just how reprehensible the depths of popular music can get. Maybe I’d feel different if I lived in the band’s native Canada, where their music is presumably harder to escape. But living in Southern California, I’ve grown to reserve my hostility and loathing for the one band whose music seems to cause a visceral reaction of almost physical disgust: The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
In Southern California, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are ubiquitous to the point of harassment. Their music is in constant rotation on any number of radio stations every hour of every day. Their nearly two-decade-old songs such as “Scar Tissue” and “The Zephyr Song” pollute the airwaves with their adult-contempo funk-rock melodies and Anthony Kiedis’ scat-tastic lyrical hand-jive nonsense. And while younger generations seem to find a way to try and out-awful the Chili Peppers’ soulless slap-bass meandering—like, for instance, whatever the fuck Twenty one pilots are doing—the Chili Peppers will always end up at the top of the garbage heap for one important reason: Longevity. Well after Twenty one pilots become regulars on the “Where Are They Now?” circuit, the still-animated corpse of the Chili Peppers’ relevance will continue to terrorize our ears.
I didn’t always feel this way. In the ‘90s, during my more innocent teenage years, I had a sort of soft spot for their album One Hot Minute. I’m not sure if it’s because the hit ballad “My Friends” was refreshingly free of frat-boy funk rock, or if I simply didn’t know any better, but at the time the Chili Peppers weren’t my sworn enemies. Fast forward seven years to 2002, during my junior year of college, wherein I’ve set my alarm clock to local alt-rock station 91X. I can pinpoint the moment that my Chili Peppers outlook went from gentle indifference to white-hot (chili) rage.
One groggy morning after what was likely too few hours of sleep, I’m wrenched from my slumber by a sequence of the most shrill and pointless lyrics I’ve ever heard: “Steak knife/Card shark/Con job/Boot cut.” On first listen I couldn’t really tell what I was listening to, I just knew it was shit. The culprit soon revealed himself: Anthony Kiedis follows up one batch of zingers with a couplet that’s even worse: “Skin that flick she’s such a little DJ/To get there quick by street but not the freeway.” I swear, at that moment, I could hear the faint whisper of Jim Morrison asking “who the fuck is this hack?” And because I live in Southern California—where the Chili Peppers are there to accompany you through every stage of life, from your first barbed-wire tattoo to naming your first-born child Dani California—I heard that song, “By the Way,” roughly eight million times since.
You might be starting to pick up on a trend here, namely that Anthony Kiedis is, essentially, the key element of the band that makes the difference between simply being bad and actually being the worst band on the planet. He’s easily the worst element of any given Chili Peppers song, whether it’s his cringe-worthy pronunciation in “Under the Bridge” (“take me to de place I looooove”), or the final moments of “Can’t Stop,” at which point the music drops out and all that’s left is Kiedis’ monotone staccato raps, which with each listen sounds increasingly like he has a kazoo in his nose. Certainly there are other So-Cal-centric bands whose music is comparably unbearable (Sublime, 311), but add Kiedis to either of those bands and watch how their music miraculously becomes that much worse. Under ordinary circumstances I’d probably say, “but he’s probably a nice guy,” but considering Kiedis has a sexual battery conviction on his record, I can’t even say that.
The rest of the band isn’t off the hook either. While Kiedis is arguably the squeakiest wheel, his bandmates do nothing to rein in his indulgences. Sure, Flea and Chad Smith are good at playing their instruments—I’m sure we all marveled when Flea slapped, popped and thumped his way through the “Star Spangled Banner”—but that almost makes their complicity in the matter even more infuriating. They can play better music; they simply choose not to.
For all of The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ musical crimes, the thing that puts it over the top is the fact that they’ve essentially become self-appointed musical representatives of the state of California. No fewer than 20 of their songs reference California or feature California in the title or are about a girl named California or were inspired by shooting heroin in California or whose lyrics have been made into a California-shaped tattoo on some dude’s bicep. They’ve been mother’s-milking the Golden State for decades and somehow haven’t come up empty yet. That’s impressive, on some level, but the problem is they’ve become inseparable from the state itself. So let me make it clear: The Red Hot Chili Peppers do not speak for us.
The state of local radio is in flux right now, with personnel turning over at an increasing clip, but one thing that will never change is the constant rotation of Kiedis and company bro jams. It’s like we’re living in George Orwell’s 1984, but Big Brother has Anthony Kiedis’ mustachioed smirk. As Nick Cave once said so perfectly and succinctly, “I’m forever near a stereo saying, ‘What the fuck is this garbage?’ And the answer is always The Red Hot Chili Peppers.”
The Red Hot Chili Peppers concert has been rescheduled for Tuesday, March 21 due to illness