The name John Frusciante is synonymous to many with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Although Frusciante is best known for his work with the RHCP. His influence and significance go way beyond. Frusciante is one of the rare musicians who has tried his hand at many genres during his career. In his extensive solo work, he has offered music from rock, and electronica to hip-hop. Besides accolades and accomplishments with the chili peppers. Frusciante also became a prominent figure in underground music. Back in ‘94, he published his first album “Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-shirt”, he evoked interest in many people that wouldn’t necessarily dig chili’s music. Although his debut album presented who he was at the time, rather than who he’ll become as an artist. Even then Frusciante stood out from his contemporaries with his exceptional songwriting, catchy but unique melodies, and also with his interest that extends far beyond the world of rock music.
Themes in John Frusciante’s Music
Frusciante’s outlook on music and lyrical style is quite different from what you would expect from a top 10 list rock star. He has developed his philosophy, a quasi-religion whose essence is being in synergy with the life force, expressing ineffable through music. That’s the main theme of many of his songs. It’s the inner life inside one’s mind and going deep within oneself. To Frusciante making music is reaching higher dimensions and opening yourself up to the unified field where all the creativity dwells. He doesn’t see himself as a composer of music, nor does he considers himself as an owner of the music. He stated, “I’m just a medium to express ideas”. To him, music isn’t separated from the life force itself. It’s all part of a much bigger cosmic scheme.
Interest in esotery may not be unique to Frusciante only. Other artists share similar interests and lyrical styles. The exceptional thing about Frusciante is that his interest in otherworldly things is based on personal experience he had in the early 90s. Frusciante almost died back in ‘96 due to a blood infection. He stated on more occasions that he hears voices; “Spirits have been talking to me, telling me what to do”.
Frusciante, unlike many musicians who never managed to battle the addiction, became even more alive after he almost died.
Near death, experience has certainly shaped him. In his lyrics themes like death, rebirth and self-transcendence are clear indicators of what he went through.
He also adopted some religious concepts. For example, in “One more of me” he is influenced by the Buddhist concept of oneness.
“Now that the day has come I see myself as everyone”
In some other songs for example “The will to death” he is influenced by 19th-century philosopher Schopenhauer and his idea of will. The line goes:
“The will to death is what keeps me alive
It’s one step away, step away
Limitations are set
Only then can we go all the way, all the way”.
When answering fans in a 2004 Q&A, he stated; “I’m interested in expressing myself lyrically in such a manner that’s impossible with talking”, He adds; “I’m not interested in telling a love story or story about people like for example in the Beatles songs”.
His aspiration to transcend classical narrative and to use language as texture to convey emotion rather than as a tool to convey a story, distinct him stylistically from conventional rock music. In which songs are about external factors (social, political, interpersonal) and their relation to people’s lives. With Frusciante that isn’t the case.
John Frusciante was always open-minded about creativity and art in general. His eclectic style is the mixture of figures that at first, may seem unrelated to one another. Like Marcel Duchamp, Leonardo Davinci, and Jimi Hendrix. He also mentioned some writers that influenced him.
Some of them are; Nietzche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Alister Crowely and Zen master Jiddu Krishnamurti. Frusciante also said that some movie directors, actors, and actresses help him survive his darkest days. He mentioned John Cassavetes’ and Stanley Kubrick’s movies as one of his favorites.
Some lyrics and brief interpretation
To better understand John Frusciante’s philosophy, let’s explore some lyrics. I’ll share with you what I think it means.
“Put it on a flat space height will make it thin or wide
Seen from a distance objects hide in plain sight”
Shining dessert, Enclosure, 2014
It’s about our subjectivity. It tells us that the meaning of things is highly dependent on perspective. We need to open our minds to see the truth.
“If the seasons which change were all still
It’s so easy to see life would fail
Whatever slips out of our hands
Will find its way back to us once again”
Enough of me, Empyrean 2009
It tells us that we should not force things in life. Life moves in circles like seasons. All we desire will eventually come back to us due to the circular movement in the universe.
“Empty the name that you sign
Of the given that I means mine
Like the shape is a shell
And the inside is whole
You behold, you behold”
Shelf, Outsides 2013
It’s about letting go of our ego. Our name and physical appearance are just an illusion. We are much more than our body that we feel so attached to.
“Lean in to walk
There’s nothing missing from life”
A Doubt, 2004 The Will to Death
It’s about never being completely satisfied, always something “missing from life”. We shop nevertheless, live our lives and enjoy every moment.
“And all the laws were laid down twice
And the clouds were doubled in the sky
And being tall meant lacking height
And being wrong was being right”
An Exercise, 2004 The WIll to Death
Things in life sometimes get absurd without any particular reason and our ability to grasp what is happening. We should learn to enjoy things as they are.
“Mistakes help one see
That you make your own surroundings
Life is a dream and is made by
Inwardly seeing what you want it to be
Success has its trappings
You judge yourself based on how you think you’re seen
And you may guess how you’re spoken about
And try to fit into a box ‘till you can’t get out or move freely about
Respect who you are inside
Let your heart be your guide
What other think says nothing about you
Just how you relate to what they’re going through”
Mistakes, 2012, Pbx funicular intaglio zone
It’s about being self sufficient. Being true to oneself. Without worrying what anyone has to say.
“So each day would be new I build you to sleep
That’s the idea of dying but you’ll just have to see
You can do what you want or so you think
But till you stop all your thoughts
You are tied to your surroundings”
God, 2009, Empyrean
Every new day is a new chance. We can start things over and make our lives better. It’s a gift we all get everyday. We should seize every day to live how we want to.
“Wind up space to go place to place
Dream that you died
It takes you out of your mind
The black walls of space take me all the way”
Wind up space, 2001, To record only water for 10 days
Accepting death as a natural part of life, something the same as birth. Dying is like going to sleep and never waking up. Being born is like never going to sleep but waking up.
“You’ll be there in the slaughter
Freeing me when I’m cornered
Being arrested by the mind cops
They’re the only ones worth changing what you do for
And I’ll try
To be in line
I guide my fate
And what it’s good for there’s no telling
It’s a flood”
The Slaughter, 2004, Shadows collide with people
It’s about self-sabotage. When we are determined to follow our hearts, despite fear, we always make it somehow. We get “saved from the slaughterhouse” Our minds and beliefs are only things that are holding us down. We should be aware of “cops in our mind“.
Talking about art in general it’s important to point out that art can help people make sense of their lives. The intention of art is to express the ineffable. That’s why art plays an important role, it helps us cross boundaries, and it allows us to reconceive our point of view. Frusciante does the same. He expresses his wisdom through abstraction and contradictory statements, accompanied by beautiful harmonies. He manages to fuse his experience of higher dimensions into his songs, without ever falling short to elicit awe in the listener.
Although the intention of this text is to share an admiration for John Frusciante’s art, I’m encouraging you to appreciate any form of art as it certainly helps in many ways.
As Fruscainte said;
“We’re really lucky to live on a planet that has so much music. We could be living on some bland planet that had no music, no movies, no books, just a bunch of people going around having jobs and things like that. To me that would be a really miserable place, you know, to me music is what makes this world a really fun place to be, you know?”