Chili Peppers dig up roots in "Oral/Visual History"

Fri Nov 12, 2010 7:10pm EST

The Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis performs during the Live Earth concert at Wembley Stadium in London, July 7, 2007. REUTERS/Stephen Hird

The Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis performs during the Live Earth concert at Wembley Stadium in London, July 7, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Stephen Hird

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Michael D. Ayers

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Most artists cringe at the idea of showing compromising photos taken in public, but rockers the Red Hot Chili Peppers relish the idea.

In fact, they've compiled many of those moments in their first book, "The Red Hot Chili Peppers: An Oral/Visual History."

The coffee table hardback, which recently hit bookstores worldwide, examines the band's storied career, starting with their early days in the Los Angeles underground punk rock scene through their rise to arena favorites in the 1990s and 2000s.

Known for alt-rock hits such as "Under the Bridge," "Give It Away" and "Scar Tissue," the band's early days were steeped not only in music, but in drug use, nudity and cross-dressing.

Chili Peppers bassist Michael "Flea" Balzary told Reuters that along with serving as a biographical account of the band, the book revels in a past where culture still existed within a localized scene and the band was just one more act among many.

"We started our band in 83 -- the Internet phenomenon of constant documentation didn't exist then," Flea said. "But still, we took pictures and we were a part of a scene that people took pictures of. (It) was a real colorful situation. There was a vibrant underground music scene, and it was very creative and not regimented or divided up into a bunch of different cliques, like it is now."

Throughout the band's early days, they had a few key personnel changes -- notably original guitarist Hillel Slovak died in 1988 of a heroin overdose. Original drummer Jack Irons permanently left the band soon after.

Lead singer Anthony Kiedis and Flea then recruited guitarist John Frusciante and drummer Chad Smith, the lineup that would record their first Gold album, 1989's "Mother's Milk" and 1991's breakout, "Blood Sugar Sex Magik."

WILLING TO TAKE TIME

For their success, Flea credits not only the band's willingness to incorporate a variety of musical influences into the group's sound, but also the record industry's willingness to nurture and develop artists over the course of many albums.

"When we first signed with Warner Bros, they believed that when you sign a band, it was because you believed in them," he said. "And it made your company better, because it gave your label depth and integrity. Those days are over, and that's a shame. It bread a much more interesting style of music, especially in the big corporations."

"As fate would have it, our career continued on in a pretty dynamic way," Flea continued. "We've been through a lot of different aesthetics and scenes."

As the Chili Peppers' ascent into the mainstream continued after the release of "Blood Sugar," they continued to wrestle with Kiedis's drug use as well as Frusciante's disdain for the fame that surrounded the band.

Frusciante left in 1992, but rejoined in 1998; in July 2009, he quit again and was replaced by Josh Klinghoffer.

Now, as they approach their 50s, the Chili Peppers are currently working on their 10th studio album, and look at their "Oral/Visual History" as a nostalgic window into their future.

"A picture book by its nature is a nostalgic thing," Flea said. "Going back through time and looking at those memories, it's very emotional. It gives you a bigger picture of the future and what's important.

"Looking a picture of Hillel Slovak, who we loved so much and was such a huge part of our creative existence. You look at that and think about the times I was being petty about stuff, I could've been spending beautiful moments. So I'm grateful for it in that way."

(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

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