There was a time when members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers greeted any mention of the Rock and Roll hall of Fame with derision.
The upstart L.A. punk-funk-rock band wasn’t much of a favorite of the music critics and other tastemakers who make up the hall’s nominating committee, which has yet to welcome such popular but critically dismissed acts as KISS, Deep Purple, Rush and Yes. (Just check the reader comments with any Rock Hall nomination or induction story.)
So, it was with much surprise this week that Chili Peppers bassist Michael “Flea” Balzary greeted the news that his band had been named in the 2012 class of inductees. The Chili Peppers have been invited to attend the induction ceremony at the Hall of Fame in Cleveland next spring alongside fellow inductees Guns N’ Roses, the Beastie Boys, Donovan, Laura Nyro and the Small Faces.
“It’s very emotional, and I’m not sure where the emotions are coming from,” Flea said by cellphone while in Vienna on tour with the band. The group's latest lineup also includes guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, who took over for John Frusciante; longtime singer Anthony Kiedis; and drummer Chad Smith.
Part of the mixed emotion stems from the 1988 drug overdose death of the group’s founding lead guitarist and Balzary's boyhood friend, Hillel Slovak.
“Hillel grew up loving rock and roll so much,” he said. “He hasn’t been here for some time, but I know how much it would mean to him. It’s a powerful thing."
There’s also the departure last year of Frusciante, a mutual split instigated by his desire to try other avenues of expression.
“He left us so many great gifts," said Balzary. "He’s a phenomenal musician and songwriter who gave so much to our band. All the feelings I have for him not being in the band any more... He really took us to a higher level.”
As Balzary told me for the story in today’s Calendar section, “It’s always been easy for me to pooh-pooh these awards — the [Rock] Hall of Fame too. But I inducted Metallica a couple of years ago, and it was really a beautiful thing to see as all these people were being inducted. It made me love it. I love halls of fame anyway — the Basketball Hall of Fame, the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“So I feel grateful for the recognition of what we have done," he said, "and for the hope and potential of what we’ll continue to do.”
However, he hasn’t fully abandoned his skepticism about joining a club that still hasn’t drafted some of his favorite artists.
“I can never claim to understand how anything of that works,” he said. “I think of some of the most important artists in the history of music who aren’t in, and it can make me feel like ‘That’s ridiculous.’ Nick Cave — he isn’t in, is he? He’s the greatest songwriter on Earth in the rock world, besides Neil Young, as far as I’m concerned.
“But I’m really grateful for it,” he added. “It makes me reflective about our career -- all the things we’ve been through, the love we’ve shared and how we’ve stuck to this thing. I feel choked up.”
And then there’s the bond Balzary feels with some of his fellow inductees.
“It’s really cool to be going in with the Beastie Boys, who I love, and Guns. When I was a little kid in my very first band with Hillel and Jack [Irons, the Peppers’s original drummer] and we were rehearsing in my bedroom, this kid who lived about a block away came climbing over the fence and sneaking in to my backyard. It was Slash. He lived one block away, but our bands came from very different scenes. We were more from the underground punk world. At the time, it was worlds apart.”
The Rock Hall recognition for the Chili Peppers couldn’t have come at a better time, Balzary said.
“Right now is a really great time for our band," he said. "We’re going through this rebirth and there’s a whole new excitement. We’ve been on tour for a few months, and these shows are feeling a lot like how it felt in the beginning, when we had all these new vistas in front of us.
“To have this come right now, it adds such a feeling of depth,” he said. “We’re always so caught up in the moment, we’re not always thinking of the last 28 years, or whatever it’s been. Everyone in the band might express it differently, but it feels poignant and beautiful and [the induction ceremony] should be a great, fun event. To be where we are right now, in a forward-looking place, it’s a really rich experience.”
Guns N' Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers among Rock Hall inductees
Critic's Notebook: Rock Hall honors the yin and yang of Los Angeles rock
Live from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony: Tom Waits, Dr. John, Darlene Love, Alice Cooper and Neil Diamond celebrate in New York
-- Randy Lewis
Photo: Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea performs in Stockholm in October. Credit: Jack Nackstrand / AFP / Getty Images.