There is a scene in Funky Monks, the 1992 documentary about theRed Hot Chili Peppers that was filmed during the making of BloodSugar Sex Magik, where a rail-thin and anxious-looking 21-year-oldJohn Frusciante crouches on an L.A. rooftop, expounding on his knowledgeof the "fourth dimension" to the camera. He has a shaven head and hesquints in the sunlight. Some months later, Frusciante left the ChiliPeppers altogether. Now, twelve years later, Frusciante is at a stage inhis life where he can take his own time in the studio to record his solowork. Upon being asked when he started recording his upcoming LP,Shadows Collide With People, Frusciante says it was "whenRadiohead were across the hall recording their latest album" and betweenthe Chili Peppers' Californication and By The Way tours.That would be somewhere in between May 1999 to June 2002 to you and me,but Frusciante does not reason like the rest of us.
At 18 years old, in 1988, Frusciante clinched the lead-guitar slot inhis favorite band, local L.A. scenesters the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Hehelped propel them into rock history with his songwriting -- though heshared co-writing credits with bandmates Flea, Anthony Keidis and ChadSmith on virtually every Blood Sugar Sex Magik tune, hisguitar-playing was the driving force on brilliant hits like "Under TheBridge" and "Breaking The Girl." Then, in the middle of their world tourfor that album, he quit, dropping out of the Hollywood limelight almostcompletely. Rumors swirled of madness, death and suicide, and the truthwas not far off.
Frusciante famously holed himself up in the Hollywood Hills for threeyears, bent on heroin addiction. His self-abuse became so legendary thatfriends like Johnny Depp and the lead singer of the Butthole Surfers,Gibby Haynes, made a short film, Stuff, about a day in Frusciante's life-- a harrowing testament to the demise of the tortured creative mind.Never released, the movie is available on the internet at www.jftab.com.
During this dark time, Frusciante released two solo albums, NiandraLaDes and Usually Just a T-Shirt in 1995 and Smile From theStreets You Hold in 1997 (the first for drug money, he laterclaimed). Both are difficult and occasionally unlistenable, but theyeach have moments of genius. In 1998, after rehab, Frusciante surfacedand re-joined the Chili Peppers, helping pull them out of theirpost-Blood Sugar Sex Magik lull on the sublimeCalifornication. Following the years of chemical abuse andrehabilitation, Frusciante's physical appearance had changed drastically-- he had gained weight and his skin was shot, like Jim Morrison didtoward the end -- but he received skin grafts to remove needle scars anda new set of teeth and soon he was back to normal. Two years later, hereleased the compact, beautiful solo album To Record Only Water ForTen Days.
Frusciante's fourth solo record, Shadows Collide With People(Warner Bros.), is his most accomplished yet. Alternative recordingtechniques and electronic sounds are pitted against his masterful guitarplaying and fully-formed vocals. It is an extraordinarily open andrevealing work. Melancholy lyrics indicate that he still has demons, butit seems that his prodigious talent has become less of a burden. In"Carvel", the opening track, he sings, "Heaven receives you and sendsyou back/ Sending a dummy to my God" and then hints at acceptance: "Upand down that's how energy stays alive/ And I wouldn't have it any otherway."
Like his other solo work, Shadows is strikingly different fromthat of the Chili Peppers. "There are definitely people who like my solostuff and not the Red Hot Chili Peppers. My songs are written down andthat's what they are. They get recorded in an hour. I don't changeanything," he says, pointing out that this is a contrast to theperfected pop of the Chili Peppers.
His raw and passionate style of "capturing" music in its most simpleform has attracted collaborations, notably with the late Johnny Cash.Uber-producer Rick Rubin asked the Man in Black to cover Depeche Mode'ssong "Personal Jesus" before he passed away last year. Upon hearing it,Cash needed help translating the electronic original into an acoustictrack. Rubin contacted Frusciante, who took on the task with ease. "Irecorded it in the amount of time it takes to play the song, and I sentit to Rick," Frusciante explains. "And Johnny sang along with thescratch vocal. I never met him!" The track is now available on Cash'sAmerican IV: The Man Comes Around (Universal).
Frusciante has many celebrity admirers. Past lovers includemodel-actress Milla Jovovich and art kid Stella Schnabel, and VincentGallo asked Frusciante him to score his controversial movie The BrownBunny before the script was even written. "Every time I wrotesomething really sad I put it aside for [Gallo]," says Frusciante,insisting that despite the controversy film caused at the Cannes FilmFestival, the movie is a misunderstood and beautiful masterpiece thatwill be appreciated in due course. None of the music he wrote made itinto the actual film, but the soundtrack album (available via TowerRecords... in Japan! Clickhere to purchase!) that accompanies The Brown Bunny willfeature four of Frusciante songs. In the album's liner notes, Gallowrites: "Every day [during filming] I would listen to John's music... Howand why when the film was done it did not include John Frusciante'smusic is difficult to explain. In a sense it is unexplainable. I did,however, make a film to John's music and John did make the music to myfilm."
This kind of worship and involvement in the pop-culture underground onlyenhances Frusciante's cult status. In keeping with this outsidermentality, he recoils at the current, corporate-influenced state ofmainstream arts. "The incredible thing is that the industry of music andfilm are really suffering," he says. "It doesn't make any sense."Thankfully for him, he belongs to one of the most lauded bands in theworld, so he needn't feel too guilty. In any case, he has the hundredsof songs in his head that he promises to record eventually. Until then,let's hope he can keep this perfect balance.
Visit www.drowninginbrown.com for moreinformation about all things Brown Bunny, including Vincent'sliner notes.