No one would ever accuse the Red Hot Chili Peppers of being reserved in their sexual exploits. Whether it’s lyrically in songs like ‘Suck My Kiss’ or through their own recollections in memoirs like Anthony Kiedis’ Scar Tissue, the Chili Peppers cultivated an infamous reputation for carnal desire and lecherous, even perverted ideals. To some, this was just an image, but for others, it was more than just a pose.
In 1989, during the band’s Mother’s Milk tour, Kiedis was convicted of sexual battery after a show at George Mason University. According to the accusation, he exposed himself and touched his crotch to a woman’s face against her wishes. Kiedis was also convicted of indecent exposure and was fined $1,000 on each misdemeanour charge. An archived contemporary article from The Washington Post confirms the charge.
Kiedis claimed that the incident was “blown way out of proportion by both the media and the prosecution” immediately after the incident. “It was a playful thing that happened backstage – there was never any harmful intention,” he added. “Speaking for my band and myself, we’re all very friendly people who would never want to hurt anybody or make people uncomfortable.”
It wouldn’t be the last time that the Chili Peppers would be caught up in harassment claims or accusations of inappropriate behaviour. In a 2016 essay, former Epic Records executive Julie Farman detailed how two of the Chili Peppers harassed her in the company’s storage room in 1990. That same year, Flea and Chad Smith were arrested for lascivious behaviour, battery and disorderly conduct in 1990 after picking a woman out of the crowd and allegedly trying to rip off her bathing suit. The band had a reputation for being sex-obsessed party animals, but the music business too easily brushed it off as a personality gimmick, not an indicator of real life actions.
It’s not like the band themselves have ever denied their actions. In Scar Tissue, between its moments of jumping off roofs and shooting up heroin with his father, Kiedis acknowledge his sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl when he was nearly a decade older. “The next day we drove to Baton Rouge, and of course, she came with us,” he said. “After we got offstage, she came up to me and said, ‘I have something to tell you. My father’s the chief of police and the entire state of Louisiana is looking for me because I’ve gone missing. Oh, and besides that, I’m only fourteen'”.
Keidis continued: “I wasn’t incredibly scared, because, in my somewhat deluded mind, I knew that if she told the chief of police she was in love with me, he wasn’t going to have me taken out to a field and shot, but I did want to get her the hell back home right away. So we had sex one more time.” If you’ve ever wondered if Kiedis has any remorse about the incident, refer to their 1985 song ‘Catholic School Girls Rule’ for your answer.
You can find pictures and clips of the Chili Peppers in their heyday going beyond the realm of “lovable horny scamps” and into the realm of “unwarranted harassers”. As late as 2006, Kiedis was still writing songs like ‘She’s Only 18’ with lines such as “she took the shortcut to being fully grown”. In Scar Tissue, Kiedis admits that his relationship with British actress Ione Skye started before she turned 16. The more you look into the Chili Peppers’ real life actions, the more uncomfortable and downright illegal most of them seem. Having a sordid history is nothing new in rock and roll, but being serial offenders, and then proceeding to write songs about it is on a whole other level.
So what is to be done? Is Kiedis overdue for a reckoning? Perhaps, but that seems unlikely by this point. The claims against the Chili Peppers – despite being publicly available – haven’t really stuck to any of the members. That goes especially for Kiedis, who continues to be one of rock music’s most popular figures. It would seem like any of their alleged (and confirmed) behaviour wouldn’t be accepted in the modern day, but different sets of social circumstances shouldn’t be an excuse to forget or forgive sexual harassment or assault. View the Red Hot Chili Peppers any way you want, but before canonising them as alt-rock heroes, their darker side should be acknowledged as well.