A post about the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Heroin Addiction, and Poetry (with a Poem)

You might be asking yourself, “What in the heck do the Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP) have to do with Heroin addiction and poetry?” A lot, would be my answer. The RHCP have always intrigued me; especially their guitarist, John Frusciante. I remember hearing his melodic and rhythmic lines to their song, “Under the Bridge,” and thinking to myself, dang, that boy has Hendrix flowing in his veins! But, it turned out, in time, that he had heroin and cocaine also flowing through his veins.

During Frusciante’s absence, RHCP tried several guitarists, but to me, none approached Frusciante’s fluidity that complemented Flea’s thrust. But what made RHCP even more appealing to me is when Frusciante completed a stint in rehab and rejoined the band. I saw it then, and still do, as validation of my belief that talent can be quite useful in getting over an addiction. Plus, I think it’s awesome that heroin didn’t rob him of his enormous gift.

I know this because one night I plopped my rear end on my chair and channel surfed onto a RHCP live performance. It wasn’t a concert; it seemed like they were performing in a studio, in front of cameras and was appeared rather low key. When I found the show, Chad Smith and Flea were riffing against each other in a slow but funky improvised line.   Frusciante sat and played in a chair and the Shirtless Wonder, Anthony Keidis, bounced around in front of a mic. They then burst into a song with which I wasn’t familiar, but shook me to my core. The RHCP transcended this earth, both physically and spiritually and that transcendence actually flowed through the TV and took me with them.

It was like I was part of a living and breathing physical poem. During the show, I lost connection with where I was, instead, it felt like I was on a carnival ride that I didn’t want to end. Regardless of the band’s recovery status (I think I read that Flea and Keidis are sober, but I could be wrong), there was nothing related to Addiction in their playing. They were free in a way that I could only dream of being. Their movements were as lyrical as the words to their songs; their playing seemed to derive from a place that I’ve only heard about but haven’t had the privilege of visiting.

Though Frusciante has struggled with Heroin addiction, his playing showed no ill effects from the needle. Really, if he didn’t play, I get why he’d need to use: With that much soul, he needs an outlet. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be him without a guitar. It was like the guitar grew from his body and spoke far more eloquently than his mouth. Without his guitar, I’m sure that he needs something as strong as heroin to mute the need to express that he must carry with him.

During that show, I not only witnessed art, I became a part of it because there was no way I could watch without resonating. I had no choice: I picked up my pen a poetry notebook and let loose some words. Their energy spilled into me and welled up so much that if I didn’t get something on paper, I may have spontaneously burst into a sonic boom.

Anyway, heroin addiction has nothing on the Red Hot Chili Peppers. To me, they are both a poem in human and musical form that I could only dream of being and proof that music transcends Addiction even to heroin.

Here’s the poem that fell out of the resonance:

man — i wish i was that free

watching the Red Hot Chili Peppers makes me wish that I was

that free…

they ebb and flow like

human strobe lights

whereas I’m as stiff as a

dead branch…

hard to know where the bass ends and flea begins

and smith’s a howitzer on a chair.

they blend power and guts to form

delicate music soup…

not me, man—

I can’t get out of my head long enough to even

blend a milkshake…

to some, they may be a bit much,

maybe even a little weird…

but to me they are music

if music had flesh and bones…

man, I wish I was that free…


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