The Gift of a Clean Slate

“Life can only be understood backwards but it must be lived forwards.”

Søren Kierkegaard

 

John Frusciante was at the lowest point of his young adult life. Fame and success had wrecked him, and he spent his waking hours just barely existing in his home.

A few years before, he had lived his dream of playing in his favorite band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. In a short span of time, this dream turned into an unbearable nightmare when their album Blood Sugar Sex Magik became an unexpected breakthrough hit — with tracks such as “Under the Bridge” and “Give it Away” being hailed by critics as the new bedrocks of funk rock.

Their massive success left him confused and unprepared. He didn’t know how to make sense of their newfound lifestyle and freedom. As he would later reflect, he “didn’t know how to be successful.”

He slid into a depression and decided to leave the band. Yet, his malaise only worsened as he began consuming heroin and cocaine at all times, spending nearly $500 every day to feed his addiction.

News broke of one of his close friends, actor River Phoenix, who died from an overdose, but it did little to faze his own addiction. He continued to be aggressively addicted to drugs for years, to a point where his friends and former bandmates were “absolutely sure (he) was going to die.”

A journalist who visited his home was horrified by his appearance. He wrote, “His upper teeth are nearly gone now. They have been replaced by tiny slivers of off-white that peek through rotten gums. His lower teeth, thin and brown, appear ready to fall out if he so much as coughs too hard. His lips are pale and dry, coated with spit so thick it looks like paste.

“His hair is shorn to the skull; his fingernails, or the spaces where they used to be, are blackened by blood. His feet and ankles and legs are pocked with burns from unfiltered Camel cigarette ashes that have fallen unnoticed; his flesh also bears bruises, scabs and scars. He wears an old flannel shirt, only partially buttoned, and khaki pants. Drops of dried blood dot the pants.”

When Frusciante was right on the verge of death, he had a live-saving thought — he could try to quit drugs cold-turkey. He told himself that if he didn’t feel any better in twelve months’ time, he could go back to the false comfort of being an addict and await his death.

He checked into rehab and slowly began his journey to recovery. He started adopting healthy habits such as meditating and sticking to a good diet. He even underwent dental and skin graft surgeries to mend the damage he had done on himself during his years of addiction.

Meanwhile, the Chili Peppers were struggling. They had recently fired Frusciante’s replacement, and were considering calling it quits.

Yearning for the same level of musical chemistry they had together — and impressed by Frusciante’s positive changes — the only way they could picture themselves moving forward was if they could get him back in the band.

They went on to work on their album Californication. Especially for Frusciante, it was as though they were starting over with a clean slate.

Due to his past addiction, his guitar skills had gotten rusty — but he saw it as an opportunity for him to pursue a minimalist playing style — one in which he could convey his most visceral emotions in a few uncomplicated notes.

Thanks to his consistent meditation, he had gotten more creative, as he was better able to let his mind wander. As he said in an interview, “If you shut off your brain you will notice that music exists beyond anything that we perceive with our five senses.”

His focus improved as well, as he could zone into tiny details whenever he studied music. Dissecting Jimi Hendrix’s music, for example, he remarked that “In the first few months that I was meditating, I made the most progress I’d ever made. I felt like, ‘Jesus Christ! I’m learning exactly what he’s doing,’ and not only learning it but I’m learning to feel it the way he was feeling it and I’m learning to hit the string in the same way and to put the same vibrato on it.

“It’s not enough just to make a mental observation of what kind of vibrato you think he was using, you’ve got to feel it the way he was feeling it. That didn’t happen to me until I started meditating.”

Frusciante worked on two more albums with the Chili Peppers, open-mindedly tinkering with different soundscapes and styles in his playing.

He later left the Chili Peppers again to pursue his solo work in electronic music. And in 2019, he was approached yet again to rejoin the band.

Even though he hadn’t written a rock song in over 10 years at that point, he had another new, clean slate to work with. It was another opportunity for him to tinker again, to bring even more unique gifts to the table.

With their new album, Unlimited Love on the way, they recently released their highly-anticipated single titled “Black Summer”.

 


 

Every one of us experiences regret in some context in our lives. We might beat ourselves up with the harrowing thoughts of: “If I had only done this, things would’ve been different” or “If I had known what I know now, I wouldn’t have done that.”

But there’s a sort of paradox to regret, isn’t there?

You might feel like you want to turn back time and reverse your decisions. But deep inside, you know that you don’t really want to. Because that would also mean reversing the valuable lessons you’ve learned from having gone through that moment. If you did that, you wouldn’t be the person you are today.

So it’s worth reminding yourself that you did the best you could at that moment — being who you were, and where you were at in that time.

You didn’t have the knowledge or skills that you have now, and you weren’t ready to make the changes that you embody today.

Plenty of times, the most meaningful insights that we get, and the greatest changes we make only come once we’re brought down to our knees. Just as John Frusciante sings in his song, The Past Recedes, “To be here, you first got to die.”

Starting over with a clean slate isn’t so bad. You get to discover yourself, you now have more skills, and much more love and compassion to give to others. I can tell you that you even get an unmatched high or excitement from being dedicated to something much bigger than yourself.

John Frusciante was once asked about whether he was troubled about the “dark period” of his life when he was overwhelmed by success and nearly died from his drug addiction.

But as he explained, he doesn’t see it as a dark period. It was instead, his rebirth. He learned to value that period of time, no matter how horrible it was, by focusing on the person he wants to be today.

He said, “If you’re an artist, I don’t think you ever put anything that’s ever happened behind you. Everything that’s ever happened to me culminates in everything I do thereafter.”

You will fall on skinned knees, again and again, because that’s just the way it is. But every time you do, it’s an opportunity for you to get back up and try something different.

You might end up falling again, but this time, you can fall better.

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