25 Years Later: 'BLOOD SUGAR SEX MAGIK' and Finding My Power

by Victoria Barrett

 Image via  Warner Bros.

Image via Warner Bros.

Some time around the beginning of my freshman year in college, the sentence "I'm not really friends with a lot of girls" may or may not have passed my lips. Picture Marion from Raiders of the Lost Ark drinking men under the table, but in party rooms at frat houses singing along to "Suck My Kiss" instead of some Mongolian hellhole bar. Instead of the popular girl, by this point, I was aspiring to Cool Girl, though of course we hadn't named and defined the Cool Girl yet. I'm ashamed to admit for how many years that sentence might have been uttered, to men, by me. And the frat boys were impressed by the drinking. They were even more impressed by the girl singing every word of the vulgar jock rock they were playing way too loud to be good for our long-term hearing.

Read more: On the Outskirts of Cool — 9 Months Pregnant at an L7 Gig

I've always struggled with the labeling of Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and most of the Red Hot Chili Peppers discography as "jock rock," largely because Keidis and company looked and behaved less like typically toxic masculine stereotypes than most of the rest of the rock and roll canon. They were another powerful experience for me of being drawn to art and people outside the realm of the safe, the conventionally attractive. The video for "Give it Away," like "Smells Like Teen Spirit," reconfigured my understanding of attraction, of the power of magnetism that was not necessarily attached to someone who fit the movie-star mold. Keidis's spittle and cracked tooth were things to hide in my pre-1991 conception of bodies and appeal, and there they were, front and center, set off by metallic body paint and lipstick.

 
 

Read more: 25 Years Later: 'NEVERMIND' and a Cheerleader From the Burbs

What did I want from RHCP after I watched that video? Not sex — or anything so blatant. I wanted their power, the strength of their confidence, their ability and willingness to show up on TV in nothing but socks. They had enough confidence in their own sexuality to faux-fellate one another on live TV and dare you to call them... anything.

There's a hell of a lot to not love in the RHCP catalogue, and on Blood Sugar Sex Magik in particular. That confident sexuality plays out in pretty gross ways in any number of songs, and there's plenty beyond sexism if you're looking for it. This wasn't new to me; after hearing "Taste the Pain" on the Say Anything soundtrack I had bought Mother's Milk and listened to it plenty, swallowing my considerable reservations so I could keep on trying to be that Cool Girl. But there was something else, too: when I sang "Hit me/You can’t hurt me" in those fraternity rooms, I felt just a little bit of that power flow through me. I was daring the world to do what it could to me, a dare that wasn't always wise, but lived in my conception of myself as someone Cool, yes, but also tough as nails, a quality I would need over and over again in the years ahead. 

 

Victoria Barrett's fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Glimmer Train, Salon, PANK, and other outlets. She lives and writes in a house full of men and boys (even the pets) and tries not to feel too bad about it.