On june 14, 1998, the prodigal son came home. When the Red Hot Chili Peppers walked onstage at the Tibetan Freedom Concert at Washington DC’s RFK Stadium, it was with guitarist John Frusciante, the man who had deserted them mid-tour six years earlier and spent the ensuing period in a full-blown drug hell.
It was Frusciante’s highest-profile appearance since reconnecting with his estranged bandmates earlier that year. But this was more than a reunion: It signified the return of man who had journeyed to the brink of death.
The band played just three songs that night: “Give It Away,” “Under the Bridge” and “The Power of Equality.” But the truncated setlist didn’t matter. What mattered was that the band and Frusciante had emerged from a decade of drama intact. The Red Hot Chili Peppers were whole again.
John Frusciante was 18 years old when he played his first gig with the Chili Peppers, in November 1988. His new bandmates were barely a decade older, but it felt like they’d lived many more lives than he had. Singer Anthony Kiedis and bassist Flea had formed the band with guitarist Hillel Slovak and drummer Jack Irons in 1983. They were the ultimate good-time party band, the exuberance of their songs mirrored by the chaos of their lifestyle. But the good times screeched to a halt in June 1988, when Slovak died of an overdose at the age of 26.
Frusciante was his obvious replacement. He had discovered the Chili Peppers when he was 15 and was a regular at their L.A. club gigs. He knew their songs inside out and aced his audition. “I realized that I wanted to be a rock star, do drugs and get girls,” Frusciante told Guitar Player.
He joined a band who were still grieving and, in Kiedis’s case, wrestling with demons. Despite his own hedonistic ambitions, the teenage Frusciante barely even smoked pot, prompting his new bandmates to nickname him Greenie.
The Chili Peppers’ first album with Frusciante, 1989’s Mother’s Milk, was their most successful yet, selling 500,000 copies in the U.S. But it was 1991’s Rick Rubin–produced BloodSugarSexMagik, that turned them into superstars. It was a measure of their success that both Nirvana and Pearl Jam opened for them in late 1991.
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