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Fresh Pepper
by Arty Nelson
Bikini - June/July 1994

Itinerant writer Arty Nelson Grinds the Newest Chili, Dave Navarro

"What's the sound pick up like?"


"I can edit...that's part of the deal," he says and we're off. Last minute shopping on the eve of the isle of Kona. I'm with Dave Navarro, once of Jane's Addiction, now of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Lunch. We're sitting in some diner where the help gets paid to dress blue collar and the tables are filled with people who pay a lot of cash to dress like junkies. I love it. It's noisy, it's fake, and the LA city smoking laws get taken with a grain of salt. Americana. LA. The 90's. Life in the little/big city. Everywhere I turn, great ideas for TV shows are being batted around, "It's about these two cops...One's old and dishonest 'cause he just doesn't care anymore...And the other one's young and tries. Aw shucks. Real hard...they hate each other...but they love each other too...maybe TOO much...". Everywhere I on the edge... vegetarianism. Born to die in the apocalypse-ridden-earthquake-shaken, smog-shrouded desert-turned-lie that is the city of the angels. You can say what you want about this town, but one thing I'll fight you to the death over is that really fucking good music has come out of here in the last couple of decades, and if it didn't come out of here, then it moved here and hung out for a while. I'm drinking a glass of ice tea and looking around the restaurant. It's mainly about the look. To my right is a line of tables with 47 versions of Marlon Brando before he gained weight. And hey, let's face it, Brando wasn't even truly home until he put on that last 70 pounds. It's all about being skinny and having a goatee, and carrying around some sort of notebook so that people'll think you're always coming up with good ideas. I came with a mission: see really sexy women and talk to Dave Navarro before he goes off to completely submerge himself in the Chili Pepper creative process.

"I'll have a protein blast," Dave says to our daffodilish waitress--the same scream-skinned brunette who I've pined over for months. She knows I'm not famous because I shave too much and she could care less about how nice I try to be when I order. As a matter of fact, I think she hates me for it. I ask Dave if he's ever seen anything like it, such a brutal display of indifference for a guy who's trying to get the time of day from a woman.

"I haven't...I've never seen anything like it."

What I need from you for this interview, Dave, is nothing. The stage is set. No rules. No expectations. No nothing. I look around...13 girls looking like blue jean models have circled the pay phone. From what I can gather, one of the new hip jean companies is having an open audition for the next girl who looks like a really famous DEAD movie starlet and hair appointments have to be made. The only problem is that all the girls are named either Tia or Sonja and the booking's getting all mixed up. Everything's getting all mixed up and the meters running. I need to come up with an angle on this story quick or the sun's gonna rise and I'll feel shame. Life in Tinsel City and no angle. How dare I! Why can't I be the guy who plays guitar just like he's ringing a bell. Oh, the words, too specific, why can't they be notes?

"You got what you bargained for."

So you're going to Kona?

"...To write music...We've been writing but not for like a month...I don't think I can eat anything on this menu...I don't want a salad...I want something substantial, fat-free, and filling...nothing bloating."

What bloats you, dairy?

"Everything...everything's bloating."

It's a good point, and one that all people should be aware of. Food bloats. Crack kills. War is not an act of love, but some wars can be lovely. Photos appear via Kodak wunderkind Steve Stickler. The word is good. Nice shots, much praise and celebration. The whole back section of the restaurant leans forward as the pictures are flipped through. I hear a jr. agent calling his service to get an ID check on our table. 'Ah yeah...I'm at the hippest diner in Hollywood and I need to know who these people are at the back guy looks famous and the other two look scared...yeah...that could be him...He did get a haircut didn't he...Is he represented...By us...How long do they have him for...'. Dave eyes the photos. While I spill ice tea down the front of my wife-beater T-shirt, Stickler looks proud about his photos. He knows he's got a good thing goin' on.

"I'd like to call this one raging Dave...these are really good, Steve."

I order a cobb salad. I choose the tarragon and confer with my running mate as to the status of such a lite herb selection. Tarragon, tarragon, wasn't that a position in yoga for quite a few years...herbs, meditation, kung fu movies...

"I'm not familiar with the tarragon dressing...I'll have some water 'sans gas'."

Dave tries to bum a smoke but gets refused by the girl-girl couple next to us. They throw a mocking look over at our table and snickeringly cough, 'It's our last one.' Everything about them cries extra pack in purse but we're gender incorrect. If we looked like Annie Hall gone punk, we'd be in. Photographer Steve tries to hide his porta-phone in attempt to appear non-ambitious but it's too late. We know he cares. Dave gets some lentil soup in addition to his gasless water. To the waitress of my dreams, I'm an empty chair. I wonder if our viciously cute waitress could avoid me more. My table mates show no mercy.

"Not unless she sent Steve and I notes asking us if we'd like anything the way, is this really the interview?"

The food comes, itt's good. We eat, we laugh, we talk about people we know and movies we want to see, and pretty maids all in a row. The salad tastes great. Dave doesn't like his soup, and Steve let's me eat his fries. Then we leave the diner and jump in Dave's truck to go to Rexall for supplies, and to Good Guys for a new phone. Steve leaves us to start a new life as a magazine editor. We pull up to him in traffic but he doesn't see us. He's engrossed, nothing matters but the traffic light and the dials on his portable phone. Mesmerized.

"He's just looking at his phone, thinking 'God, this is a nice phone'."

It's shameless and shameful at the same time, but only because it's all true. All of it, everything's true. That's why life is truly horrible. Everything you've ever heard has been true at least once, and we hate ourselves collectively for it. A tape goes in the deck. Dave playing Led Zep with 4 Non-Blondes. Misty Mountain Hop, if I remember correctly. The fucking guy, Dave, can play some guitar. I mean isn't this what it's all the end, the guy can shred a 6 string the way other people who get paid to play, only talk at. The Beverly Connection appears and we motor into a parking spot. The tape's rolling, pearls of wisdom and insight are spilling over into the mike with each chord strummed. 4 Non-Blondes sounds good. We get out of the truck and stumble into the Rexall. Shopping. We get shaving cream, a pen, and a notebook. Then we go for a veggie drink inside the mall. There's a stand inside that has some guy churning up fresh vegetable and fruit drinks at all hours of the afternoon. The guy looks like he could be a cabby in New York, but came west looking to crack a new market. I want to ask him about his life, but then I'd have to show him that I care, and I'm not willing to be that vulnerable at this point in my life.

"You have to do it fresh-squeezed 'cause that's when the nutrients are alive."

So I drink it all at once, throw it back fast? The thing's brutal. One sip was enough to show me that but I pretend to want to understand about why vegetable drinks are good.

"Pretty fast?"

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

"Are you serious with that?"

No, I think that's what they say in bank job interviews. Do you still have the big silver boots from Jane's?

"I basically threw everything away that I had."

The cape?

"Yeah...I got rid of all the garb..."

The old clothes from Jane's questions are a good segue back into the past. A whole past present thing. Yesterday, tomorrow. Compare, contrast, why me kind of thing. It's time to get down to it. I point out a girl in a white rhinestone cowboy outfit and dreadlocks. Use it as a diversion so I can ask really non-imaginative career questions. Bob and weave, duck and move, Sonny and Cher.

How do you feel about playing these days?

"I'm digging it a lot... I wear jeans, no shirt, no shades. Just rock...I wanna ride bikes...I wanna be with my girl...I wanna read here and there...experience relationships...all that shit, that's all I care about really...Being back in touch with my family...We're [Peppers] gonna go to Hawaii for a month, take a break, go back to Hawaii for another month, then we'll come back and cut an album'll be a long process.

We leave the mall, but not after I kill the aftertaste of the veggie with a sugary espresso. We drive around the neighborhood so I can hear the whole Zep tune, beginning to end, and then end up at Big and Tall Books for a finale Q and A. The waiter looks like more of a rock star than anyone we've seen all day, but it's OK because I've never had a crush on him. We order a couple of pellegrinos and watch the rush hour traffic mount. A woman approaches the table and claims conversation time. I turn off the recorder, it's all very hush hush, and then I let that baby rip again.

"I'm pretty comfortable these days...I'm basically concentrating on learning how to be a human being...which I know nothing about..."

I ask if trying to eliminate some of the chaos takes away from the process, (it sounds good, very Kurt Loder circa 1982 when he was doing all the Rolling Stone interviews.) One of those process questions, it's not about playing music, it's about the process. The waif chain-smoking and reading script sides next to us, gives me an approving glance.

"Well, you see the thing is [back in Jane daze] life was so chaotic and the band element was so chaotic that it was hard to be like...What's the word I'm looking was hard not to judge myself...Granted the chaos really fed what the band was all about, but I always feel like, there's always gonna be chaos to tap into...for that you know, no matter what's goin' just doesn't have to run my life...So it's like I can start to enjoy the creative process as opposed to being effected by it in a negative way."

Getting out of the petty chaos and getting on to other stuff, more sublime, like being a vulnerable person? There's that damn word VULNERABILITY again, all I have to do is write it once and I'm forced to touch myself below the neck.

"Absolutely..for me, my whole life right now...I'm re-learning how to do all those's made my life more enjoyable, that's the bottom line, you know..."

And the Chili Pepper process is different than Jane's? The waiter is pretending to clean salt and pepper shakers at the table in front of us so he can listen to our conversation. I order a biscotti to get him out of our hair.

"It's an apples and oranges thing...2 different things about different things...I haven't REALLY gotten that deeply involved in the Peppers process to articulate what the differences may be..."

Hawaii's gonna be like a boot camp almost?

"Yeah, a crash course in Pepperdom...I've kind of just put aside all feelings and expectations. At first, I was really nervous about it, and then, I was insecure about it, and then I was really excited about it, then I was convinced it was gonna be the greatest thing in the world. You know, and when I get too comfortable feeling it was gonna be so great...then I get nervous again...then I get bored of being nervous...It's a never ending cycle. I've kinda gotten outta that, it's gonna be what it's gonna be. I've decided not to feel the pressures, and the magnitude of the expected new album...just kind of do it, and if it works, that'll be fabulous, and if it doesn't that'll be that...I'll do something else...Doing the Deconstruction thing [with Eric Avery, former Jane's bass] got more into the creativity and more into the artistic side, and it wasn't so much about the playing...That's what was missing for me, you know...I just wasn't playing like I love to..."

Lots of experimentation?

"Which is cool, which is very cool, I'm happy and proud of it...but you know...I'm happy to be able to get the best of both worlds."

Deconstruction was like a catalyst?

"Definitely, and a way of re-tapping into what I like to I kinda lost all perspective on the music thing and I didn't know if that's what I wanted anymore...[Decon] was just a great experience all the way around, it just kind of like hurled me back into that world...and at my leisure...which was cool and it was a training ground for what I'm about to embark on..."

The Jane's schedule was pretty rigid?

"Yeah, and it wasn't fun anymore. What ends up happening, it seems at least...You deal with a million phonecalls and a million people, management etc....criss-crossing, and the end result is that you get the opposite thing that you wanted...Spend all this manpower and energy to get the opposite thing done...That becomes a nightmare...and you start going, this isn't what I wanted to do...This isn't what my dream was...You know what I mean?...It get's really fucking frustrating...and that's part of the whole game..."

The nightmare of dealing with it.

"...Yeah, it's almost like let's see how I can describe things...You get used to it...Like you move to LA and you're blown away by the traffic, but you get used to it, it becomes second nature...You end up getting where you need to go anyway...You can either let it take control of your life, or you can give it it's 2 cents and just go on with what you wanted to do anyway...The end result is that things still don't get done the way you wanted all the time, but luckily most of the stuff does. With the Decon project, it was a good learning tool for me 'cause in the Jane's business thing...Yeah, I had the accountant and the manager and the things but I didn't run any of it...I didn't have any say about it and now I've learned that I do...And it's just that simple. There's still stuff goin' on with Decon that's taking forever to get accomplished, and the miscommunicated signals. It kinda becomes a joke...Sometimes I make phonecalls just to see what kind of obscure nonsensical thing is gonna be thrown at me that has nothing to do with anything...But somebody's losing sleep over it..."

Now with the Chilis, I always think of you really coming from a traditional hard rock base, like a Zep - Jane's had that apocalypse about it, like The Who and Zep. I don't necessarily think of the Chilis that way, it's more of a funk.

"That's the thing, I think there's more of a diversity to those bands you're talking about, in terms of kinds of things they did. They did a lot of different types of music whereas the Peppers kind of do one thing really well, and we're starting to embark upon other things pretty well too..."

Blood Sugar Sex Magik definitely showed signs of change and diversity, the timing could be perfect for your style to show up?

"Yeah, and how that effects my personal playing is I that I feel like I'm a diverse guitar player and I can play a lot of ways but I don't know one specific way, you know...I haven't mastered one way...I just play several different ways, OK...And that's gonna be interesting to bring to them because I'd like to mix it up on the next record...A little bit more than they already have..."

And they have been on like 'Breaking the Girl'?

"I loved that tune...To be honest, I can't listen to a band that's the same all the way through, you now what I mean, I can't listen to a whole record. That's why those Led Zepplin albums are still great."

You can only do the sequel thing so long unless you're Meatlof.

"And then you gotta wait ten years before it's good again...I gotta roll..."

We get up to leave, no eyes turn. A day spent, places to go, like Kona, or maybe just East Hollywood. The traffic's building, the sun's nearing last call, and the time has come to give up trying to figure some of it out...