- Kicking Bear, John Trudell, and Anthony Kiedis (of the Red Hot Chili Peppers)“Show Indians” and Pop-Cultural Colonialism
One evening in the summer of 1989, at the inception of my twenty-second year, I walked up the steps of the Mount Royal Tavern in downtown Baltimore. Passing through the doorway, I gazed up as usual at the ceiling, a replica of the Sistine Chapel—God giving life to Adam through fingertips that never fully touch. From there my eyes moved around the room to the bartender, the painting of the three Graces, and tables of Maryland Institute of Art students, street punks, Rastafarians, and hippies. I was looking for my friends, the members of the band the Allmighty Senators (at least one of whom was of Native American descent), when I heard a familiar click in the jukebox as the next song loaded and played.
It was “Higher Ground”—a new version, not the familiar Stevie Wonder version. It was faster and funkier, with a posthardcore LA edge. All of the bar’s talking, chatting, laughing, conversing, and divulging voices were overshadowed and ceased to matter. The voice of the lead singer, Anthony Kiedis, boomed out, “People, keep on learning . . .” There was a jolt in the room as glasses and bottles clinked continually in the warm July night. It was the type of evening when, regardless of your attire, sweat poured down your frame from a ninety-nine-degree day that refused to cool down. I gradually made my way through the crowd to the jukebox, midway through the bar, not quite to the pinball machine and back booth. I had to know who was singing this song. My eyes kept meeting the hand of God giving life to Adam as I drew toward the jukebox.
I finally stood before the glowing Technicolor wonder, face to face with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ album cover. A woman resembling the [End Page 182] Virgin Mary smiled and cradled the tattooed, pierced, and half-naked band. Their singer, Anthony Kiedis, was a visual fusion of musician Iggy Pop and actor Joe Dallesandro. The name of the album was Mother’s Milk, and it seemed to fit neatly into this freakish universe as the music radiated and undulated into the woodwork and brick. I stood halfway in the bar and halfway through my life on a foot inadvertently tapping to the crescendo.
I knew something was different about their sound. They were a fusion of hardcore, funk, jazz, and reggae, strung together with a voice that melted into the music as if it were another instrument. It was a voice that unleashed a Pandora’s box of Generation X counterculture, that teetered on the edge but never quite fell into the nebulous abyss below. Anthony Kiedis, in a sense, was the phoenix rising over and over again out of the ashes of his own despair, reflecting this in his lyrics and voice.
Spawned in 1983 from the late 1970s LA punk and hardcore scenes, the Red Hot Chili Peppers followed in the wake of seminal bands like X, Black Flag, and the Germs, slightly predating the early 1990s Seattle grunge sound, with Nirvana, Sound Garden, Pearl Jam, and Mud Honey. The Chili Peppers were not as self-consciously political as their hardcore contemporaries, yet politics was still in their sound.
From its inception, Generation X was a collection of fragmented people who did not fit in with their peers, their parents’ expectations, or the conservative political climate of the 1980s. Extremely individualistic, many punk rock Gen Xers believed in and worked to build some classless utopia beyond social status or skin color using nothing but boundless youth, idealism, and anger. And music was just one of the tangible “manifestation” of this belief. Other manifestations included skateboarding, zines, film, art, and writing or simply attending shows while moving against the grain of the larger American society in a way that was much more in step with the maverick Beats of the 1950s. For over thirty years, American Indians, Alaskan Natives, and Hawaiian Natives have also actively participated in the Generation X and Y countercultures alongside non-Native participants.