This week’s Free Ride* muses on the lyrics of Give It Away by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Today is the birthday of former RHCP guitarist John Frusciante, someone I have to admit I had never heard of until recently venturing into ITunes alt rock radio to get acquainted with the music of the 90s. And then I see that Frusciante is in the top 20 of Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 greatest guitarists of all time (a much maligned list, to be sure, in terms of the order and who got left out, but I won’t quibble here over the asinine evaluation that put David Gilmour down at #82.)
Give It Away came off the Chili Peppers highly successful 1991 album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The music came from a jam session between Frusciante and Flea, and vocalist Anthony Keidis provided the words:
Greedy little people in a sea of distress
Keep your more to receive your less
Unimpressed by material excess
Love is free, love me, say hell yes
Give it away give it away give it away give it away now
If we can believe the apocryphal story, Kiedis was inspired to write the lyrics by an experience he had with a girlfriend who was helping him kick a drug habit. At one point he commented on a jacket in her closet that he fancied, and she responded by giving it to him. He was somewhat confused by this act of generosity, and she explained to him the value of altruism. This was reportedly a completely novel concept, and it blew him away, changing his life forever. When I read that story, it struck me that, if true, it shows how much I take for granted. Having grown up in church and boy scouts and a family that taught us that true freedom included the freedom from material possessions, the freedom to be generous with our stuff, I figured these values of giving were just part of the human DNA. To come back to earth and remember that there are significant chunks of our culture bereft of these values, and to see how a simple act of giving a jacket away could have such a liberating effect, is a good learning for me now. And it frees me up to appreciate the lyrics that come from such a random act of kindness:
Of course the altruism story might be a complete fiction, and the lyrics might be nothing more than your run of the mill homage to sex and drugs. Either way, it does tell me something about the quality of music in the 90s that these are lyrics from a song won the Grammy for best Hard Rock Performance in 1993 (I don’t mean to go back to my 70s classic rock era snobbiness). But in the spirit of freedom and generosity, I’ll keep listening, and maybe even try to learn some Frusciante shredding on my guitar.
*Free Ride is a Saturday blog from Stan Dotson that takes a different artist or song each week and muses on lyrics of freedom. You can click on the live links in the post to hear the music referenced in the blog. If you have a favorite “freedom” song (it could be any song that has the word free or freedom in it), feel free to suggest it in the comment box below. As always, your feedback and comments are welcome.