Red Hot Chilli Peppers is a four-man band made up of Anthony Kiedis, the lead vocalist, Chad Smith, the drummer, Flea, the bassist, and the guitarist, John Frusciante. It is one of the most popular rock bands of the rock era. The genres that they specialize in include funk rock, rap rock, alternative rock, and even funk metal. As of 2021, they’ve won around 6 grammy awards and were also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 2012.
Their song “Dark Necessities” was released in 2016, after the lead singer of the band Anthony Kiedis was announced to have successfully quit drugs. The song was a commercial success, partly due to the band’s legendary status in the music industry. Moreover, the song was a testament to the fact that the band still had fire left in them, and they were not out of the game just yet.
What does the title mean?
The song “Dark Necessities” by Red Hot Chilli Peppers is about the dark side of creativity. It’s a well-known fact that creativity spawns from both our negative side as well as the positive one. In a sense, the darkness that everyone holds inside them has to be acknowledged to fuel creative expression. Genres such as metal and hard rock often creatively express the artist’s traumatic experiences. That’s why quite a few people consider heavy metal and hard rock to be dark music. And they’re not everyone’s cup of tea.
Verse 1 – What does it mean?
“Comin’ on to the light of day, we got
Many moons that are deep at play so I
Keep an eye on the shadow smile to see what it has to say
You and I both know, everything must go away
Ah, what do you say?
Spinnin’ knot that is on my heart is like a
Bit of light in a touch of dark, you got
Sneak attack from the zodiac but I see your fire spark
Eat the breeze and go, blow by blow and go away
Oh, what do you say? Yeah”
The first line is about Anthony’s addiction to drugs. During the production of this song, Anthony got sober. Thus, he’s a new man in a new light. The most important word in the first verse is “shadow smile”. A shadow smile is a faint smile, the meaning of which cannot be easily decoded. The narrator in the song also refers to everything being temporary. This is a common theme for artists recovering from drug addiction. In fact, it’s a common theme in the “psychonaut” community itself. Another interpretation of the third line can be about Anthony’s drug battles. He could mean that, in the end, drugs also go away. Nothing in this world is permanent including drugs and addiction. Thus, even though the theme of this song is quite dark, this line is particularly inspirational for those struggling with addiction. By “spinning knot”, Anthony means the knot that is tied to a fishing rod. He means that his heart has been captured by a force that is helping him beat his demons. The contrast created between light and dark is a nod to him coming out of a dark phase in his life. Drug addiction has recently been categorized as a medical issue. When this song was released, that wasn’t the case. At that time, it was more or less seen as a taboo and a sign of the individual’s moral weakness. Thus, those who struggled with addiction had a hard time adjusting to normal reality. Anthony too required the help of an unknown force (probably rehab) that took him out from the dark place he was stuck in. The last line about the Zodiac is a reference to the infamous Zodiac killer of North Carolina who is claimed to have murdered 37 people. For Anthony, the cravings for cocaine are like a sneak attack from the Zodiac. They pop up from nowhere and take over Anthony’s mind without any warning. His sober self is reflecting on his addicted self as he sees his life go away “blow by blow”. Cocaine is also known as ‘blow’ on the streets. And blow can also be a wordplay on attack (punch or strike). Cocaine has destroyed him one blow at a time, but the spark of someone or something’s fire has instilled hope in him.
What does the Chorus mean?
“You don’t know my mind, you don’t know my kind
Dark necessities are part of my design and
Tell the world that I’m falling from the sky
Dark necessities are part of my design”
The chorus is perhaps the perfect description of most extremely talented artists who succumbed to addiction in their prime. Their minds were often difficult to understand, and their actions unpredictable. As they say, genius and crazy go together. From Kurt Cobain to the Rolling Stones, every great artist or band has had their demons. By “dark necessities”, RHCP probably mean that to sustain their lifestyle that included constant tours, music production, there were some dark things such as drugs which were necessary. Their creativity made use of the darkness inside them and they sustained it with the use of drugs. The third line is about the fallen angel or Lucifer. Anthony compares himself to the angel who fell from the grace of God. One can consider creativity and talent to be something similar to God’s gift or natural. However, abusing it by being sucked into the cutthroat environment and unhealthy lifestyle of the industry has caused many artists to fall from grace. This fall can mean multiple things including overdose, burn out, fights with bandmates, and the breaking of spirit itself.
Verse 2 – What does it mean?
“Stumble down to the parking lot, you got
No time for the afterthought, they’re like
Ice Cream for an Astronaut, well, that’s me looking for we
Turn the corner and find the world at your command
Playin’ the hand, yeah”
In the second verse, Anthony vividly describes the experience of getting the ‘fix’ of drugs. As an addict stumbles down the parking lot craving for a hit, he doesn’t think about anything. The drugs in question are like ice cream for an astronaut. Ice Cream for an Astronaut was a product that was similar to the foodstuff Astronauts took with them. It was an ice cream that melted in the mouth (similar to most frozen foods taken by Astronauts to space). It was also claimed by the company that their ice cream was, in fact, consumed by astronauts in space. However, that was untrue. Anthony can mean here that a hit for a junkie is like an ice cream in space. It seems that they don’t get it much, and it’s very alluring. However, it doesn’t fulfil their craving as just like the aforementioned product, it’s made of lies. RHCP have had a history of making songs that question the status quo and accepted lifestyles of consumerism, Hollywood, etc. The last line is about succumbing to these very lifestyles as the shine and glitter of Hollywood lures young artists in.
What does the Bridge mean?
“Do you want this love of mine? Darkness helps us all to shine
Do you want it, do you want it now?
Do you want it all the time? But darkness helps us all to shine
Do you want it, do you want it now?”
In the bridge, Anthony puts forward a question to everyone who envies him. Do they really want to take his place, now that he has laid bare all his demons in front of them?
Verse 3 – What does it mean?
“Ah, pick you up like a paperback with the
Track record of a maniac so I
Move it in and we unpack, it’s the same as yesterday
Any way we roll, everything must go away
Oh, what do you say? Yeah”
The first line of the third verse is a reference to Anthony Kiedis’ memoir of the name, “Scar Tissue”. This was also the name of a song by RHCP. He mentions that his track record is perhaps due to all the drugs he has used. Without continuing down this disturbing line of thought, he changes the subject and starts to “roll”. Here, he means rolling a joint using paper as he considers the possibility of everything going away in the end. So, why not live life in the moment? A justification quite common among users of psychoactive substances.
All in all, it’s an amazing song that is as dark as it can get, subject-wise. However, it is still quite inspirational, considering the fact that Anthony was finally able to beat his demons. Moreover, it’s must-listen for any rock fan as it induces a sense of 80s and 90s rock nostalgia.