The album that saved Red Hot Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante’s life
John Frusciante may well be one of the most underrated guitarists of all time. His work with the Red Hot Chili Peppers has often been overlooked thanks to its incredible commercial success but there was a time when he could hardly bring himself to play.
During the mid-90s as Frusciante’s drug addiction spiralled and his place in the band was rescinded the guitarist feel into a dark place. One album and its incredible simplicity soundtracked the experience and, in the middle of the dark times, somehow managed to keep him moving toward the light.
Speaking with Vinyl Writers, Frusciante opened up about the power of Joy Divison’s iconic album Unknown Pleasures and how it managed to keep his head above water while providing a distillation of what makes great art. The guitarist provides a heartfelt and touching recollection of how the album helped him.
“I am not a person to regret things, but there’s nothing to sugar-coat: the phase of my life that I went through in the mid-90s after leaving the Red Hot Chili Peppers shouldn’t be an inspiration for anyone,” writes Frusciante as he details the loss of control that led to his lowest point. He recognises how lucky he is to be alive.
The point in his career coincided with a personal low moment and the famed guitarists dropped playing the instrument entirely. Instead, “music was only of passive importance to me as a listener. Back then, I played the music of two bans again and again, and to this day they are the only real constant in my musical life: Depeche Mode and Joy Division.”
The selection may seem obvious for such a dark moment, but Frusciante confirms it ran further than that. “Not so much because their dark music suited sinister phase so well, but because of their sense for simplicity. Unknown Pleasures is no virtuoso album. Bernard Sumner for sure was no Hendrix or Zappa on the guitar, also not later on with New Order.”
Frusciante, instead, recognises how deep the impact of such a record can be without the need for such overtly textured or layered songs. “Unknown Pleasures creates an enormous impact with the smallest means, the album benefits from its shortcomings. This is a true art and a priceless perspective: the result can be so much bigger than the stake.”
It’s a poignant line and one which offers an insight into the world of Frusciante as he tried to recover and rediscover his art. He kept that idea in mind as he learned “to play guitar again.” Later as part of his solo show, Frusciante covered ‘New Dawn Fades’ from the album as “my way to say thank you.” Below you can see that very performance.