Why John Frusciante is the guitar hero of this generation
Not exactly car related but its for a contest
(Skip 8 paragraphs down if you want to cut to the chase, starting with "This is where I start explaining why this all matters.")
Before you start reading, this is for a competition that Robert Percy is doing, the link to his article is here. Anyway, yes I am fairly biased on this because in reality this fits my generation and those a little older than me better than those who are kids today, but if you grew up in the 90's/00's then this 100% should apply to you. So let's get to it. And I actually cited sources for this one so there will be a lot of parentheses (let's just hope I didn't miss anything).
Now, yes I am well aware that the Red Hot Chili Peppers are far from the best band in the world, and have been referred to as the "herpes of music", which in all honesty probably describes them pretty well. But that's not what this article is about. This is about the kid who brought the band to the front page of the world, and then left, the man who came back and made the world hum some of the most iconic guitar riffs ever, the man who to this day still inspires more than he knows.
Aged just 19 and becoming an ever better guitarist, a young John Frusciante was set to audition for Frank Zappa's band. Yes, that Frank Zappa. At 19. And he probably would've gotten in, especially with the way he could play. Unfortunately, he decided that "[he] wanted to be a rock star, do drugs and get girls, and that [he] wouldn't be able to do that if I was in Zappa's band."(Rotondigic) At this time, he was making friends with D. H. Peligro (Dead Kennedys drummer) and Flea (RHCP bassist) (Mother's). As it happened, the chili peppers were Frusciante's favorite band at the time and he knew all of the guitar parts for their music (which I'll never really understand because a lot of their music in the 80's was pretty bad if you ask me). But much like all of his other favorite bands at the time (Germs, Dead Kennedys, etc.) the Red Hot Chili Peppers were some variant of a punk group. Unlike the other bands though, their guitarist, Hillel Slovak played in a much more funky style. Sadly, in 1988 Slovak would die in his room of a heroin overdose. Which left arguably the most fitting spot for the young Frusciante to step in (Kiedis). Drugs, check, girls, check, rock, close enough (and he could already play the guitar parts).
I know this doesn't really fit in with what this is about but trust me it's important.
And thus began the downfall of potentially one of history's greatest guitarists. They recorded a few albums with John, first "Mother's Milk", which took the band in a new but arguably much more listenable direction. And then everyone's favorite, "Blood Sugar Sex Magik" (released on the same day as Nirvana's "Nevermind" so I guess that was a pretty important day). This album only really has 2 or 3 songs that we still hear today, but boy do we hear them a lot. I mean, it's pretty easy to see why. If somehow you can listen to "Under the Bridge" or "Give it Away" without either playing some air-guitar or singing along, you need to see a doctor. The rest of the album was a lot of funky and interesting songs that never really got much attention (aside from "Suck my Kiss"), and that shows exactly what Frusciante was trying to do. He wanted to play guitar in the way he wanted. "Under the Bridge" was never intended to be a big hit, but the guitar intro and verse were so damn catchy that it couldn't be anything but a hit. So when the band started getting the world's attention, he wasn't happy (Kiedis). On stage, he would purposefully butcher the song to make it worse (watch the SNL version from 1991). Eventually, he just quit right in the middle of their tour, and flew home after the show that night (Red).
This is where things get hard to talk about. Without his band, Frusciante fell into an intense state of addiction. He was doing some pretty hard drugs in the band, and it only got worse once he left. I won't talk much about this, mainly because it is really hard to having seen what he was like at the time. If you watch any footage of him between '91 and '97 you better be able to handle seeing people near death. Johnny Depp and Gibby Haynes (of the Butthole Surfers) made a short documentary on him, which is tough to watch (it's called "stuff" if you're interested). He was severely depressed, and living in a place where hard drugs were never very far away. He said "I was very sad, and I was always happy when I was on drugs; therefore, I should be on drugs all the time. I was never guilty—I was always really proud to be an addict."(Sullivan) Not exactly a great way to live. His friends at the time (around '93) weren't much help either. He was living with River Phoenix (actor from "Stand by Me" and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" among others) who he would do copious amounts of drugs with. One night, Phoenix was going to go and play with the Chili Peppers since the both of them were still friends with Flea. Only a few hours before the show, Phoenix was found on the sidewalk having convulsions and was rushed to the hospital. He shortly thereafter died from his overdose (Tim). Now without his best friend, and ever growing signs that he needed to stop, he grew more and more depressed. This is clearly heard in his music at the time. In 1994 he released "Niandra LaDes and Usually Just A T-Shirt", which he claims was released when he wasn't on heroin (Niandra), but I don't believe that for a second, just listen to it.
As the years went on, he was listening ever more to the voices in his head. And one day (around '98), they miraculously told him he needed to stop. Which he promptly did. Just like that he quit heroin cold turkey. He ended up checking in to rehab for his intense crack addiction, but he got over that too. Flea had also been checking in on him and with the Chili Peppers on the verge of ending, asked the band about John joining back. The Chili Peppers had once again lost a guitarist, not to death this time, but they had all fallen back to drugs while Frusciante was out of the band. Having gotten clean and turned to Christianity (John) (if you saw that coming you should go buy some lottery tickets). Around 1998, John Frusciante came back to the Red Hot Chili Peppers (Kiedis).
This is where I start explaining why this all matters. Sorry I wrote so much but I felt it was important.
Now that we've gotten all of the important backstory out of the way, let's talk about what makes this man a legend. My first example I already touched on earlier, and that is his ability to make melodic guitar riffs and solos like no one else. I can guarantee you right now that if I was to play the first two notes of any of their big hits you'd be able to tell me the name of the song, and maybe even sing it. But then you might ask, "Well doesn't the singer and everyone else in the band have a fair bit to do with that too?". And then I would encourage you to try the same from any song on an album without him. His guitar playing, unlike that of Kurt Cobain or really any grunge guitarist, is still just as pleasing to the ear today as it would've been 29 years ago. Notice how all of their hits all start with his isolated guitar? Seriously, "Can't Stop", "Scar Tissue", "Snow", the list goes on. He has an incredible ability to draw you in with little effort.
Second, is his ability to make simplicity pleasing to the ear. For those who don't play guitar, the solo for "Dani California" might sound very difficult to play. Trust me, it is very much the opposite. John Frusciante is a very lazy guitarist when it comes to technicality (and in general, he rarely wanted to tune his guitar). Unlike the man he most looked up to, Jimi Hendrix, whose music he could play from a very young age, he didn't revolutionize much of anything. Hendrix was one of the most technical and interesting players in history, but Frusciante was and is much "looser" when it comes to his play style. He is too loose to be a funk-only guitarist (which he never really played until he first joined the band), but too funky to be a rock-only guitarist. Listen to his solos live, especially for songs like "If you have to ask" or "Snow" and you'll see pretty quickly the repetition of blues licks. Not a bad thing unless you're trying to be someone that really cares more about what they're doing than how it actually sounds.
Lastly, and I could probably say more but I think this article has gone on long enough. He has lived the life of the rock star. At a younger age, he did plenty of drugs and had sex for 3 meals a day. He made it clear to the world that the didn't want to be famous and cared more about his art than fame. His old self was killed off by drugs, and he came back to the front page of the world with a spiritual outlook on life (John). And lastly, he rocked the world for years.
So in conclusion, I'd love to talk with you guys in the comments because I'm sure I've either missed something or simply chosen the wrong person in your eyes. All I really have left to add is that it's incredible that all of this music was made thanks to a man that most people wouldn't recognize anywhere, much less his name. I'm sure many of you didn't know the band ever had more than one guitarist they recorded with, much less four. They really aren't like any other big rock band in that sense. Unlike the names from the same time, Kurt Cobain and Chris Cornell, for example, Anthony Kiedis, John Frusciante, Flea, and Chad Smith probably aren't names you think of when you think of history's biggest rock bands, much less the 90's or 00's. And if you're looking for a complete list of all of the guitarists they've had over the years, you'll have to look that one up because it really deserves its own article. But you really should check out his solo work if the RHCP music isn't for you.