Monday, April 28, 2008

Zat Ees A Scary Man

My first CD purchase in France was not 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'. It was actually the Red Hot Chili Peppers blockbuster 'Blood Sugar Sex Magic'. I listened on headphones at FNAC in downtown Orleans a stones throw away from the statue of Joan of Arc that sits in the center of the city.

I had been on the fence with the Chili Peppers up until that point. I thought they had an interesting SOUND, sure, but none of their songs really moved me. They did Stevie Wonder to the max on 'Higher Ground' but nothing they had written could even come close to that.

But I could tell from the first that this album was different. This album had SONGS. It wasn't surprising to me that the mainstream embraced the band on the heels of this collection. Anthony Kiedis was stretching his vocals out to include actual melody instead of manic barking; tempos varied greatly which increased their sonic palette; and the melancholy/sexy content of the lyrics was also a sign of great growth.

It was produced by Rick Rubin who must have sold several souls to different devils over the years. His list of collaborators is mind-boggling. Johnny Cash, The Beastie Boys, Neil Diamond, System of a Down, The Dixie Chicks, Justin Timberlake, AC/DC, Slayer, Metallica, Kanye West, Shakira, Sheryl Crow, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Mick Jagger, Run DMC, The Cult,and Weezer.

Take a second and go back over that list please.

Not only do I want to be him I want him to produce my album. Just putting that out there in the universe.

In any case, the 'Blood Sugar Sex Magic' album was some sort of zeitgeist moment. The Chili Peppers were underground but they weren't rock. They took elements of funk, rap, hip/hop, and soul and put it all on steroids and surfboards. The sound of the album is is as if you are in a giant comfortable room with the band scattered to the corners, their sound meeting right over your couch.

Turns out the Chili Peppers were immediately going to tour the world and explode this album out to its farthest incarnation. This tour turned them into international superstars instead of catchy oddballs. They played Paris and a few of us made the trek from Orleans to catch their act.

They played a cavernous old club to a mostly teenage French crowd that seemed to identify more with an American aesthetic than whatever French rock scene was the order of the day. But none of them seemed prepared for the opening act.

Henry Rollins is something of a demi-god to the punk movement. Childhood friends with Ian MacKaye who virtually invented American hardcore with Minor Threat, Henry Rollins parlayed his status as most intense fan into a singing slot with the West Coast hardcore giants Black Flag. Their singer had disappeared in a puff of smoke, or been shot, or had joined the Marines. Their tour was only half over. Henry Rollins jumped onstage and promptly made everyone forget Dez Cadena.

Once Black Flag imploded for the 87th time, Rollins set out on his own, doing 750 push ups before the Army even thought about shooting those commercials in the morning. Rollins Band was a punishing conglomerate of jazz precision and angry angst.

Rollins Band took the stage minus Henry and started grinding music to a pulp. After a few minutes of this assault, out strolled Henry himself. Clad only in black workout shorts, he looked like a block of granite lathered with Vaseline. His tattoos seemed to be barely contained by his skin and each muscle articulated his anger separately. He then took both hands around the microphone and attempted to choke the life out of it for the next 45 minutes.

You could feel the crowd hush like a bunch of kids confronted by a bitter substitute teacher.

They were all psyched to get on the Red Hot Chili Pepper bandwagon and along came the Anti-GI Joe to obliterate all memory of that fun-time band and replace it with the power and drudgery of a piston pumping pile-driving factory of steel.

Oh sure, the Peppers eventually took the stage and did their best to return the equilibrium that had been sent to work camp and abused. But make no mistake, Mr. Rollins left his mark. I felt lucky to have escaped his notice.

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