Twenty five years ago, the Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP) released Blood Sugar Sex Magik, which included the popular, radio-played tracks “Under the Bridge” and “Give It Away.”
I recently added a couple of songs from the album to my workout playlist, and glory day memories are flooding back into my mind each time one of those songs comes on.
At the time the album came out, I was a sophomore in high school. The same year my brother Jon asked me learn the bass guitar and start playing in his band Creamy Velour.
As I learned, I naturally drifted toward inspiration from those who are doing it better. And bassist Flea quickly became one of heroes when I was learning bass.
I listened to Blood Sugar Sex Magik on repeat for days if not months. I loved every song on the album, and would finger the bass rhythms on my knees, or steering wheel, or wherever. I wanted to learn to slap and pop. I practiced for hours on ideas that I thought were very similar to Flea’s abilities.
Back then, however, I was also astoundingly in love with Jesus and my faith, and many of the lyrics challenged my faith, especially those sexual in nature.
The mention or topic of Sex — especially from a secular source — could single handedly twist my psyche into a guilty sweaty mess. Where I come from Jesus was literally everywhere. Teachers, parents, leaders told me he was “omnipresent” (everywhere at the same time) which supposedly should cause calm and security. It meant you’re always protected.
Omnipresence also became a large reason I dumped the faith.
If God/Jesus/the Holy Spirit is everywhere, that means when a child is dying of leukemia on a hospital gurney, those three fuckers are standing there watching him or her suffer.
People trapped in a burning building. Those three are there. Laughing? Crying? Maybe. But they’re definitely impotent.
A man running down hundreds of people with a truck in Nice, France, those three were there. Watching. Arms crossed. Impotent.
A black man became our president … hey wait, those three were there. Fist bump. Wiggle fingers.
Omnipresence to an adolescent meant Jesus did everything I did.
My Buddy Jesus.
He also listened to the same music I did.
One song, “Sir Psycho Sexy,” I could repeat the lyrics to … up to a point … and then I’d stop. I figuratively shoved my index fingers into each ear and hummed, “Lalalalalalala!!!”
Here are some lyrics from the second verse:
Deep inside the garden of Eden
Standing there with my hard on bleedin’
There’s a devil in my dick and some demons in my semen
Good God no that would be treason
Believe me Eve she gave good reason
Body looking too good not to be squeezin’
Creamy beaver hotter than a fever
I’m a givin’ ’cause she’s the receiver
I won’t and I don’t hang up until I please her
Makin’ her feel like an over achiever
I take it away for a minute just to tease her
Then I give it back a little bit deeper
Can you imagine me, singing “Standing there with my hard on bleedin'” arm in arm with Jesus as we swayed back and forth?
To a 16 year old Christian, that shit was a train wreck. In one moment, you’re singing along. In another, you’re hoping no one else knows how well you sing a long. Even with headphones on — and no one but Jesus could hear the lyrics — the power of guilt overwhelmed me. But Flea’s bass lines were too important not to listen to. And there was my struggle. The utilitarian thought that there was a greater good involved.
I’ve long since given up on Jesus. It’s a concept that doesn’t work for me. I’m not really sure how it works for anyone, but I get it at the same time. As an insider, I thought it was the best, and told many about it, and brought several to similar beliefs.
The transition away was largely thanks to conceding that my life was much more secular than religious. The concepts and ideas that drove most of my decisions weren’t Biblical logic or informed by Biblical ideas. Biblical ideas aren’t very clear and they certainly aren’t advisable for modern living. For example, marriage is a confusing mess in the bible. And if it weren’t for observing my grandparents grow old together, watching my gramps take care of my gram in sickness and declining health, I would have never understood the importance of marriage. I would have likely lived single my entire life.
Or race. Race in the bible is a tough one. At one end, you have one culture enslaving another. And when the Jews were enslaved, that sucked. But when the Jews enslaved others, okay! You have God’s approval of enemies made of Jews versus everyone. Or everyone versus the Jews. Slavery was okay. Bashing babies against rocks, thumbs up! And then you have Jesus, entering the world from heaven through a magikal birth canal. He commanded to embrace other races, other cultures, other ideas, the downtrodden, the assholes, the sick, the poor, everyone.
It’s those little commandments of enemy love, equality and forgiveness that also informed my decision to evaluate and evacuate the faith.
I knew the bible better than most people, I scoured it for answers to my often debilitating questions, and was surprised by others insistence that the God and the Bible were clear, not confusing, and never inconsistent.
The power of equality.
The opening track on Blood Sex is called “The Power of Equality.”
In my teenage years, I would have told you that’s what Jesus taught and thought. But if you observe the current zeitgeist among religious folks, equality isn’t for everyone. It’s only for like-minded folks with a penchant for saying, “We get on our knees for Jesus.” You’re free — but only free to think exactly like us about the economy, race superiority, abortion, gay marriage, and whether or not to say “Merry Christmas” or not.
The lyrics from the song go:
American equality has always been sour
An attitude I would like to devour
My name is peace, this is my hour
Can I get just a little bit of power
The power of equality
Is not yet what it ought to be
It fills me up like a hollow tree
The power of equality
What was great about growing up in the Bible belt, in an above upper middle class neighborhood and attending an evangelical private school, it was a constant white out. White was everywhere. There were two black people in my my class during certain periods of my school career. But for the most part, our ability to stay away from any people of color was easy.
One time at the mall, there was a wall devoted to posters depicting history lessons created by local school children. My Dad and I were staring at the wall when he said, “Notice there are no black kid’s names on any of the work.”
I stopped and looked at him, and stared back at the posters. There were three — what I would consider obvious — black names. I pointed it out. There was silence.
I’ve never forgotten that moment. And it returns for many reasons. The names of the children weren’t even on my radar. I was probably critical of the art or materials used. Or looking for any inaccuracies. But that was the height of some of my experiences that read even remotely like racism.
I mean, I saw little bits of racism here and there. My first job was at a little sandwich and ice cream shop. My boss Hubert scheduled me four times a week; Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Tuesdays and Thursdays, I was the only white guy working with another black busboy, two black waitresses, a black dishwasher and a black cook. With my Puerto Rican blood, the sun darkened me every summer to a deep brown and more than once I was asked of I was black. I have big hair and I’m cool, so I figured that played a role.
But I’d see racism at work between our boss and my coworkers. My Tuesday and Thursday coworkers weren’t treated as well as the Monday, Wednesday and Friday staff.
You also saw a bit of racism in the way customers were perceived. If a black family sat inside at a table, waitresses wouldn’t take good care of them, because they either don’t tip or don’t tip more than change. It was a stereotype, but even my black waitress friends knew it and loathed it.
Percentage wise, you saw more black customers come to the counter for takeout.
But the level of racism I experienced and observed wasn’t anything to shake a stick at. I was nonplused by it. A word here. A phrase there. I heard of racist acts and may have heard some racist locker room talk, but I was taught to raise the bar of public discourse, so I either spoke out against it or quietly moved on if it wasn’t worth my time.
I also blame my bubble, though, for not being able to perceive racism. When O.J. Simpson was on trial, my little pathetic excuse for a brain and for education was completely naive to the entirety of the race issues in the United States.
I largely thank my experience abroad in France for opening my eyes a little bit to being able to decipher racism and how it exists. I mentioned above that I tan well. In France, I looked a little bit Mediterranean and a lot Arabic. The woman who housed me called me, “un Arab” or “l’Arab.” To my face. It was the first time I witnesses nationalism on a French vs. Islam scale.
Though, it wasn’t until I moved out of the south that I saw racism and violence in this country. In my 20s, I was in a bar in Chicago one night and some construction guys started a fight with some of my black friends from work. The racist slurs these white guys were throwing broke my mind. City life was supposed to be anything but racist.
But these white guys were punching for dear life at my friends because they thought race was a reasonable factor to start beating on strangers in public.
The long and longer of it
I could go into far greater detail about other forms of inequality. As a recovering evangelical, I had to move far to overcome thoughts against homosexuality and all kinds of diversity. I didn’t realize how much of a racist I probably was and still am thanks to an upbringing of white, male privilege. And when all you get to do is be all white and privileged, most people never realize what white privilege actually means. I can only thank summers of tans and the occasional odd look or unkind word for even a smidgen of understanding.
I’ll wrap this post up with a cut and paste of more lyrics from the “Power of Equality” song. Or listen to it above or here. This song was 25 years ago. Current public relations show that we are no further forward, if not years backwards. And it hurts my head.
Right or wrong, my song is strong
You don’t like it, get along
Say what I want, do what I can
Death to the message of the Ku Klux Klan
I don’t buy supremacy
Media chief, you menance me
The people you say cause all the crime
Wake up motherfucker and smell the slime
Blackest anger, whitest fear
Can you hear me, am I clear
My name is peace, this is my hour
Can I get just a little bit of power