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Chili Peppers’ Wild Onstage Antics Belie The Potent Force Of Their Music

John Frusciante, guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, wants people to know he’s not all that weird – not so weird, at least, as you might think if you watch the band’s videos.

“Anybody who acted like that in daily life would be a complete goofball,” Frusciante said in a recent telephone interview. “In daily life we are mellow. We’re not loud. We like playing pool.”

But he is equally emphatic in denying that the Peppers’ maniacal stage persona is trumped up for the camera.

“Our type of weirdness comes completely naturally,” he said. “When jumping around and acting crazy, it’s a reaction to the music, because the music is very energetic.”

Natural or not, it is a potent force and, as one might expect, it occasionally gets them into trouble. Last March, during a performance at Daytona Beach, Fla., bassist Michael “Flea” Balcary and drummer Chad Smith were arrested after they jumped into the audience and, according to wire service reports, accosted a woman.

Frusciante said he can’t talk about that episode because of litigation. But he said the incident has “been blown out of proportion by the press. Anyone who knows or understands us knows we would never do anything to hurt anyone…We’re about peace and love.”

Press dispatches, however, portrayed the episode as anything but a love fest. Wire services reported that during the show Balcary picked up a woman and began to spin her around on his shoulders, while Smith pulled her bathing suit to one side and began to slap her bottom. When they fell down, Balcary knelt on the woman’s legs and yelled profanity at her before she cried for help and the band was escorted away.

Frusciante tells it a little differently. “We all went into audience because we were lip-syncing, and when we lip-sync something, we don’t like to pretend we’re really playing. We just have fun with it. We all just jumped into the audience. And we were doing this horsey-back thing with one guy on another guy’s shoulders.”

Frusciante acknowledges a woman in the audience was eventually involved in the “horsey-back thing,” but he insists there was no harm intended.

“There was no cruel intent,” he said. “She wasn’t hurt. Nobody was hurt.

“I don’t like being thought of as a sexist or a chauvinist or whatever,” Frusciante continued. “I’m a very loving person, and so is everyone else in the band. It’s sort of depressing to see ourselves depicted otherwise.

Without excusing such behavior, it should be noted that the Daytona affair detracts from what is the most important dimension to the Peppers phenomenon, and that’s their music. It’s been called funk-metal and punk-psychedelic, but none of those labels can describe the Dionysian fury of Peppers’ unique sound.

Frusciante sounds completely serious when he says his musical mentors range from Hendrix to Stravinsky to The Germs. He describes the band’s music as “emotionally complex. It’s not the kind of thing that you turn on while doing your dishes. It’s not wallpaper music.”

Indeed not. The Peppers produce pulsing, machine-gun rhythms overlaid with howling vocals and screeching guitar. Still, Frusciante likes to think there are subtleties in their music as well.

“Woody Allen said, `Anything worth understanding can’t be understood with the mind.’ That holds true of our music. Our music isn’t so one-dimensional as some. It’s not heavy metal. Not punk. Not funk. It’s not any one style. It’s an expression of our lives, joys and sadness.”

A casual listener will likely miss those nuances, but it would be a mistake to conclude that the Peppers’ bombastic musical stylings and wild onstage antics reflect a lack of lyrical content.

“Our lyrics range from the struggle of the American Indian on the reservation to the joys of just being with a beautiful girl. Or the joys of friendship.”

No matter what you may think of the Peppers – either musically or morally – there’s no denying they are one of the up-and-coming bands of the ’90s. Their newest album, “Mother’s Milk,” has been certified gold and has spawned two hit singles, “Knock Me Down” and “Higher Ground.”

Such trappings of success are not lost on Frusciante.

“I am very happy I was born at the time I was born. I’m very happy with the fact that we are one of the greatest bands of all time, and we are certainly the greatest band in the world right now.”

As an afterthought, he adds, “I think I’m doing a great service to mankind.”

— Brett DelPorto

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