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Red Hot Chili Peppers: From naked jokes to rock icons

The Red Hot Chili Peppers burst onto the music scene in the 1980s as a group of funky punks who could rock and rap. The crazy fellas, who didn’t appear to own a shirt between them, were a boisterous oddity that was equal parts Iggy Pop, George Clinton, and Grandmaster Flash.

Red Hot Chili Peppers
Red Hot Chili Peppers

To many, they were ultimately a gimmicky party band infamous for playing with nothing but tube socks over their genitalia, not to be taken seriously. And there was always the possibility that they might crash and burn as a result of their own heavy partying: founding guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a heroin overdose in 1988.

Against all odds, however, the Chili Peppers made it to the “Otherside.” And, 38 years after their self-titled debut, the band will be recognized with the Global Icon Award at the MTV Video Music Awards, which will be held on Sunday at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Add this to their extensive list of accomplishments, which includes eight additional VMAs (including the prestigious Video Vanguard Award in 2000), six Grammys, and entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.

Who would have guessed that the Chili Peppers would wind up being a slam-dunk for the rock hall way back when?

The Global Icon Award comes as they continue to sell out stadiums on their “Unlimited Love” tour, which is named after their newest album, and as the dynamic pair of vocalist Anthony Kiedis and bassist Flea approach their 60th birthdays.

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When I saw them earlier this month at MetLife Stadium, it was evident that their fan base crossed decades and genres, with hipsters and prepsters in attendance. Even though they are now rock’s senior statesmen, Kiedis and Flea still despise shirts — and they can both carry off the bare-torso look.

Red Hot Chili Peppers
Red Hot Chili Peppers

As I saw the Chili Peppers being hugged by both old and new fans, I was struck by the reality that few other rock bands these days could fill a stadium. Rolling Stones, U2, Coldplay, and Foo Fighters (when they hopefully recover from the loss of drummer Taylor Hawkins).

At a time when rock has seen better days, the Chili Peppers provided a welcome jolt to the genre with the release of “Unlimited Love,” their first album since 2016. And they’re not slowing down, with their second LP of 2022, “Return of the Dream Canteen,” due out on Oct. 14.

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Both albums saw guitar star John Frusciante return to this great band after leaving for the second time in 2009. He has undoubtedly contributed to the Chili Peppers’ deeper melodies and musicality since initially joining them for their 1989 breakthrough “Mother’s Milk” and subsequently their 1991 hit “Blood Sugar Sex Magik.”

And here’s hoping that these unexpected idols can’t stop grooving at the VMAs on Sunday.

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