Trigger Warning: This article gives detailed descriptions of acts of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Writing about Red Hot Chili Peppers’ documented history of sexual misconduct is an agonizing experience. Between the punk funk of their Hillel Slovak days, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and their post-Dave Navarro work that can be more or less looped into one playlist at this point, their music makes up core foundations of my youth.
Maybe it should have been obvious. Red Hot Chili Peppers used sex and shock value as a central part of their artistic identity, the naked clown princes of punk funk. It went beyond the stage and studio, with the Chili Peppers almost always exhibiting eccentric behaviour in interviews and at award shows. Moments like when Anthony Kiedis inducted Talking Heads into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, equating his first time hearing “Psycho Killer” to the first time a woman has her period, has always given me the creeps. Still, nostalgia sets in. There’s no way your favourite childhood band could be capable of being bad people, right? Not only is this wrong, but it turns out there’s decades worth of evidence on public record.
On April 17th, a reddit thread under r/HollywoodReceipts was started by u/babadorkdetailing a long history of sexual harassment and assault perpetrated by the Chili Peppers. Police charges, convictions, and testimonials date back to the 90’s on the matter. Shockingly, a lot of evidence comes from Kiedis’ own admission. His iconic 2004 autobiography Scar Tissue shows Kiedis seemingly incriminating himself, admitting to having sex with a 14-year-oldgirl multiple times.
Kiedis’ writing, whether it be his ode to her in “Catholic School Girls Rule” or the subject matter of Scar Tissue, shows a complete lack of remorse for the numerous underage women he admits to having relations with. There is a section in the book where he describes driving to rehab with former girlfriend and British actress Ione Skye in the car, driving recklessly to scare her. He describes the relationship as “emotional terrorism” on his part. While this description hints at a degree of self-awareness and remorse for his actions, it does not excuse them or fully account for his wrongdoings. In Scar Tissue, Kiedis admits to dating Skye a few days before her 16th birthday, meaning Kiedis would have been approximately 24 years old at the time. The book also contains a topless photo of Skye without an age specified.
Kiedis also admitted to having sex with someone after “about five hours of nonstop subtle loving coercion.” How none of this was criticized during the period of the book’s initial release is indictive of an insidious societal apathy for sexual predation. The buck doesn’t stop at Kiedis.
The existing record of behaviour includes incriminate every member of the Chili Peppers. In a YouTube clip from The James Whale Radio Show, the whole band is shown physically harassing actress Cleo Rocos at the end of the episode. Rocos appears visually uncomfortable as Whale aggressively tells the band to stop.
Where there is no video footage or direct admission, there is a paper trail. A Washington Post article from 1990 details a case in which Kiedis was convicted of sexual battery and indecent exposure “resulting from a backstage incident a year before.” This article and also an article from the Orlando Sentinel details a show in Florida where bassist Flea picked up a woman from the crowd onto his shoulders. Drummer Chad Smith joined Flea and “pulled the woman's bathing suit bottom partially off and started slapping her buttocks.” The woman fell off his shoulders. Flea began to kneel over her, started grabbing at her, and demanded that she perform oral sex on him. Flea and Smith were escorted off the premises by security. Flea was charged with battery, disorderly conduct, and solicitation to commit an unnatural and lascivious act. Smith was charged with battery. In a 1992 Rolling Stone interview, Flea would go on to say there was nothing sexual about the Florida incident and that it was not assault. An edited video of the performance exists:
During the same time period, Julie Farman, a former associate director of media and artist relations for Epic Records recounted a meeting with RHCP that led to her being sexually harassed by two unspecified members of the band. After the meeting, she took the two unnamed members to Epic Records storage room to show them where boxsets and CDs were kept. They pressed up against her and “told[her] about all of the ways [they] could make a super sexy sandwich.” Farman ran out of the room distraught.
Would cancelling the Chili Peppers help? In some ways, maybe. It could help bring to light more stories of misconduct that have failed to rise to the surface. It may also force the Chili Peppers to engage ingenuine self-reflection. Great thinkers such as Mariame Kaba have contributed to a recent propelled national dialogue on the concept of restorative justice, which focuses on putting the victim’s healing at the forefront of the issue. The perpetrator must admit to their wrongdoing, make whatever reparations necessary to the victim, and go forth on a path of education to reappraise their wrongdoing and not repeat it. The Chili Peppers, at least Flea and Kiedis, have been documented to showcase complete denial of their reprehensible behaviour. There is an argument that cancellation could be a catalyst for self-reflection on their parts.
REVISITED: Abolishing Prisons with Mariame Kaba - Why Is This Happening? with Chris Hayes| Podcast on Spotify)
The cancel police can only do so much though. In the wake of Marilyn Manson and Armie Hammer, it has become clearer than ever that the industry systematically fosters an environment whereabusive personalities can flourish. Volatile behaviour is romanticized and used to sell band t-shirts. Publisher, Hyperion knew of the content in Scar Tissue before they released it and they did anyway because it was a lucrative product. Cancelled personalities will only be replaced by personalities that are equally as problematic and abusive until the system that allows this kind of personality to become successful is properly addressed. The Chili Peppers deserved to be properly scrutinized for behaviour that has been ignored by the media for years, but cancelling them would do little in the name of genuine change.
In the class, she's taking notes
Just how deep, deep is my throat
“Catholic School Girls Rule”
Freaky Styley, 1985
Like a ram getting ready to jam the lamb, she whimpered justa little when she felt my hand,
on her crotch so very warm, I could feel hergetting wet through her uniform…Unzipped and slipped ooo that’s tight,
I swatted her like no swat team can, turned a cherry pie right into jam
“Sir Psycho Sexy”
Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)
She took the short cut
To being fully grown”
“She’s Only 18”
Stadium Arcadium (2006)
So I found her in the quarter
Good God, how I adored her
Oh she made me feel so cozy
When she told me I could call her Rosey
“Apache Rose Peacock”
Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)
I’ma linger on your block and
Give the finger to a cop and
Pick a lock before I knock and
Set you up to get on top
“Get On Top”
She's the kinda girl
Who changes her mind really quick
She's the kinda girl who
Won't just let things sit
“No Chump Love Sucker”
The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987)