Decay Becomes Him

Ex-Chili Pepper John Frusciante sleepwalks through a rock and roll nightmare

"This is not the tape of my new record," he explains. "This is a tape of the things that are on my new record, but not all of the things are on the record. It's got a lot of things that aren't on the record, but the things I'm gonna play you are on my new record."

He hits play and turns up the volume, and the room fills with a song that sounds as though it has been lifted from an old Sergio Leone spaghetti Western; it's beautiful and eerie, feedback and restrained frenzy, lyrics slinking in between the off-kilter melody. "Kill your mama, kill your daddy," goes one particularly memorable phrase. The song is followed by an instrumental that seems to turn in on itself -- a solo reverie filled out by backward tracks and other ethereal effects. It's haunting music, quite literally the unexpurgated sounds of Frusciante's demons come to life, an unedited electronic reproduction of the sounds inside his head.

As he listens to his music, Frusciante seems once more tangled inside the notes. He closes his eyes and seems to nod off, letting yet another freshly lit cigarette burn to its end and deposit its ashes all over him. But when the songs end, he snaps to life again.

"Heroin emphasizes whatever you are," Frusciante explains. "Like, if you want to record music, it'll help you concentrate on that more, but if you want to lie in bed and not do anything, it'll help you do that better. It helps you do anything better you want to do. At least for me, not for other people. A lot of people -- close friends of mine who are clean, and I'm glad they're clean -- they know that when I'm clean I lose the sparkle in my eye, I lose my personality, I'm not happy, I'm kinda empty. My head works differently than most people, so consequently drugs affect me differently."

Frusciante insists that he wants to get on a stage again -- the last time he performed was at L.A.'s Viper Room the night his closest friend and champion and protector, River Phoenix, died outside its doors -- and that he wants to assemble a real band to perform his pop songs, the ones that go verse-chorus-verse instead of just verse. And he still would like to release tapes of the Three Amoebas jam sessions he recorded with Flea and Porno for Pyros drummer Stephen Perkins years ago. Katznelson says he'll try to help Frusciante get his music out there, book a few gigs, make him some money so he doesn't keep getting kicked out of home and hotel. But he realizes it isn't going to be easy: There are never any guarantees with a man who's slowly committing suicide while no one does anything to stop him.

"A lot of artists have their own demons, and he's one of them," Katznelson says. "If I made judgments on people because of their lifestyles, I wouldn't work with anyone. I work with a lot of artists who have problems -- illegal substances or personal demons -- but one is just as problematic as the other."

In the end, Frusciante is just another gifted musician who plunges a needle into his arm every few hours -- between playing and painting, between reading and writing, between preparing a new CD and finding a new home, between living and dying. Since Phoenix's death, most of Frusciante's other close friends have abandoned him, sometimes after trying to intervene and save his life; they're too tired of watching him decay in front of them, too sick of watching him unapologetically kill himself. He knows they don't like being around him, but he doesn't give a fuck.

"They're afraid of death, but I'm not," he says. "I don't care whether I live or die.

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