Saturday Night Live has a long history with musical guests, welcoming the likes of Nirvana, David Bowie, Paul Simon, Radiohead, Lana Del Rey, Kanye West, and Patti Smith onto their stage over the years. While some of their musical acts are among the lesser-known variety, others are mammoth stars. Truly, they can run the gamut.
In addition to some of the fantastic performances, SNL has also welcomed some hijinks to the stage — we’re talking everything from Lana Dey Rey’s hiccupy first live performance to the scandal of Sinead O’Connor ripping up a picture of the pope on live television. The show has seen as much controversy as it has powerful musical performances and as many banned artists as triumphant ones.
This being said, it might not shock you to learn that once, guitarist John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers tried to sabotage his own band on the iconic stage. The group were beginning to find fame and a position on the grand stage of SNL in the early 1990s was an assurance of their upcoming rock dominance. But what exactly does it mean to sabotage a performance, and why would he do something like that?
This wasn’t the first time that Frusciante looked to upturn the fortunes of his band and his bandmates in an apparent act of commercial defiance. In fact, this is just one example of a habit he made a part of his stage routine around that time as he struggled to align his own values with the skyrocketing market value of the band.
Following Red Hot Chili Pepper’s fifth album, Blood, Sugar, Sex Magik, catapulting them to star-powered success by selling seven million copies in the US and more than 13 million worldwide, John Frusciante had a tough time dealing with the attention and pressure. He prefered the experience of promoting their previous album, which saw moderate success and became disillusioned with what the band were trying to be. He had joined the group to be rock revolutionaries, not play by the rules in the hope of more record sales.
Frusciante’s displeasure with the success of the album manifested in his resentment toward the band’s global hit, ‘Under the Bridge’, which is still one of their most popular tracks. It’s not unusual for bands to find fault in their most popular tracks. More often than not, those are the songs that groups find most difficult to continually connect with. However, to actively sabotage the song was a different entity entirely.
Most artists would simply groan with displeasure whenever the song was played live but the guitarist took things to a new level. During live performances, Frusciante purposely tried to throw vocalist Anthony Kiedis off by playing extended intros and wrong notes, and by shifting into different octaves and keys without warning leaving the entire band in his wake.
When the time came for the band to feature as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live in 1992, Frusciante clearly saw an opportunity to make his point on a grand scale so he did the same thing that he’d been doing at smaller shows but in front of millions.
Anthony Kiedis resented Frusciante for the performance and even wrote about it in his book, Scar Tissue. Regarding the live show in question, he had this to say, “I had no idea what song he was playing or what key he was in. He looked like he was in a different world […] We were on live TV in front of millions of people, and it was torture. I started to sing in what I thought was the key, even if it wasn’t the key he was playing in. I felt like I was getting stabbed in the back and hung out to dry in front of all of America while this guy was off in a corner in the shadow, playing some dissonant out-of-tune experiment. I thought he was doing that on purpose, just to f*ck with me.”
Even though the song is an indisputable hit, John Frusciante is one of many artists who seemed to tire of their most popular tracks quickly, joining the likes of Kurt Cobain and Paul McCartney with his attitude towards some of their own radio-friendly jammers.
If you want to watch the full performance and see what went down for yourself, you can check it out right here.