The Joup Friday Album: ‘Niandra LaDes (& Usually Just a T-Shirt)’ John Frusciante

lrg-253-jfmakeupA mind is a terrible thing to waste, but damn if it isn’t fun to do so. Self destruction can be an expressway to artistic Nirvana, the catch is that you have to ultimately shed your physical self to get there, as someone who traded under that heavenly appellation would famously find out. ‘The dead do not improve’, just segue into a misunderstood and misappropriated Valhalla defined by the hands of a cumulative bastard- hack comprised of millions with their inaccurate imaginings. In 1991, on the last page of a British Metal magazine only just starting to reinvent itself as Cobain & Co’s hurricane gathered on the horizon, was an interview with John Frusciante that was epiphanic to my adolescent mind. It was my first glimpse at his idiosyncratic way of thinking – more outlandish and Dionysian than his bandmates could ever conceive of being. The interviewer completely failed to deal with his intellect (or at least, decided it would be funnier to feign ignorance and kowtow to the meat-headed readership), and Frusciante blew my impressionable young head off shoulders that had just recently known my ‘rebellious’ hair’s first contact.

At that time there was an agonising separation between oneself and the focus of your interests, which admittedly made one more appreciative of the contribution of an individual to the output of a collective, considering the only information you could garner about anyone at that time was through their art and the odd hit-and-miss interaction with the press. Frusciante spoke of metaphysical matters, Brian Eno soundtracked blowjobs, interference from invading inter-dimensional agents, and, most memorably, cave-based coitus with invisible Costa Rican women. Retrospection would reveal that Frusciante was likely out of his pretty little shaven head at this juncture, but further research would also provide evidence that John was predisposed to holding ad hoc audience with emissaries from other places before ever engaging in narcotics. I then made it my near-impossible mission to associate myself with the intricacies of this man’s spirit, but scarcity/recalling of his solo output meant it would be a few years before I could do so. The re-release of ‘Niandra LaDes & Usually Just a T-Shirt’ would prove this long sought-after peep hole into the Hollywood Hobo and the psychedelic and faltering mental health-spaghetti of his soul. These ‘songs’ are more akin to journal outpourings sprinkled over acrylic paint contained within cack-handedly pressed-together balls of neglected Play Doh by nicotine stained and guitar string-calloused fingers.

1997’s ‘Smile From the Streets You Hold’ (considered for inclusion as this piece’s focus but deemed a little too ‘advanced’ for the layman) was famously recalled and disposed-of by its author with accompanying admission that its release was largely an attempt to fund his ballooning drug habit, and finds Frusciante in a similar space to its predecessors but markedly more unhinged. Aesthetically it’s a similar crepuscular place as inadvertently invoked by the likes of Daniel Johnston’s ‘Hi, How Are You?’ and as such should be approached with caution via apocryphal disclaimer of potential mental danger or aural offence for the sensitive or ignorant respectively.  Honest to God, Frusciante sees spirits. There are ghosts within these recordings, intimidating Demons too (the ‘Glycerine Clown’ of ‘Untitled #5′ and warped oratory expeditions of giggling acquaintances on ‘Untitled #8′ from ‘Usually Just a T-Shirt’ spring to mind) but they also provide a field recording of the purest distillation of artist and art; abstract guitar meanderings, soulful and organic, unadulterated access to the spontaneous torrent of his unfiltered creativity, sometimes primal and unnerving wails, partially formed ideas on the cusp of whatever unfathomable landscapes his mind was occupying at the time.

“Tell your problems to zero, he’s got nothing to hide.”

Frusciante would eventually shed teeth, and even flesh as his gums succumbed to drug use and he took off tattoos from shooting cocaine during his exile from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Somewhere during those lost years though, he stopped shedding himself and decided to get high on sobriety and released a still insular and Lo-Fi solo-sounding, but more accomplished and streamlined outing with 2001’s excellent ‘To Record Only Water for Ten Days’ .  d65f0088a5254e944c64c115b0d72229

You have to wonder if it wasn’t somewhat exploitative of the rest of the band to bring John back into the fold that had proved his undoing. While he might have breathed a little extra life into the wavering Chili Peppers, and arguably proved the catalyst to their ascendency of being the biggest band on the planet, Frusciante admirably remained prolific as an artist in his own right and, thankfully, eventually decided to devote himself to his own vision entirely by leaving the band at the height of their popularity and bankability. While Kiedis finds new ways of (what sounds to my ears like) rapping the alphabet supported by Frusciante’s protegé and replacement Josh Klinghoffer, John consistently creates output both under his own name and side projects such as Ataxia, whose frequent releases are well worth submersing oneself in.


Documentary ‘Stuff’ documenting Fruciante’s lowest ebb. Dir: Johnny Depp

“…Hillel asked me, ‘Would you still like the Chilis if they got so popular they played the Forum?’ I said, ‘No. It would ruin the whole thing. That’s great about the band, the audience feels no different from the band at all.’ There was this real kind of historical vibe at their shows, none of the frustration that runs through the audience when they jump around and can’t get out of their seat. I didn’t even watch the shows. I’d get so excited that I’d flip around the slam pit the whole time. I really felt like a part of the band, and all the sensitive people in the audience did too.” ~ John Frusciante

Mr Baker, would you do us the honours of next easing us into weekend?

Chester Whelks

Chester Whelks

Chester Whelks is a peripheral figure on the fringes of existence. Predominantly bothering the local music scene of his native Manchester, England, he has a very finely attuned Justice-button, and knows how to call a spade a ‘Multi-Purpose Murder/Concealment Device’.

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