Dear Blood Sugar Sex Magik,
I’m sitting here attempting to put down in words how much you mean to me. As if you’d need reminding. And it’s not as if you’ve gone anywhere. Neither have I… but every relationship needs a little spicing up from time to time. A kickstart to the shared heart.
Before you came along, I don’t think I actually had a musical identity. I merely absorbed whatever my brothers listened to and developed a copycat taste of my own via osmosis, like most people with cooler older siblings seem to do. But I remember that first time you turned up, in a math class in year eight, through a covert Discman that clearly wasn’t being hidden very well. The black and silver album by that underpants band from The Simpsons with the long and funny name. It quickly wrenched on some valve inside of me when I heard it for the first time. It felt more real than what I had listened to up until then, which was all merely background music, the aural equivalent of junk food or the bland fruity paste we feed to babies.
Maybe it was because it was something that was mine, an album that I experienced independently instead of being thrust into its surroundings while someone else played it. The music—exciting, loud, complex but accessible—was like seeing vivid color after years of monochrome, in full fidelity even through Mark’s tinny headphones. Something powerful but catchy, with virtuoso performances that were both completely impossible to imagine playing myself, and yet, clearly doable at some point down the line if I worked hard enough. I’m sure I’m painting that image too fantastically, and the reality was much more mundane, but that’s what it feels like when I look back.
You’re like a healed-over scar that’s started to blend into the color of my skin. The sweater that has somehow only become more comfortable as the years have gone on and the knit has completely unravelled. The desire line winding through an endless plain of grass, guiding every step that passes through. The wall that’s had a million coats of paint over the years—completely different from the first time I saw you, but still the same, still there.
For some strange reason it’s the low-key moments that really stick out when I turn my mind to you, those little slivers of an otherwise long-forgotten day that pop up out of nowhere and, because of your presence, turn what should have been suburban teenage monotony into quietly memorable events that have remained like bright waypoints in my memory: Heading southwest through Camperdown, imagining the music video to “Power of Equality” that would be seen nowhere except for the TV station on the inside of my brain.
The very brief but vivid memory of listening to “I Could Have Lied” outside of that bridal store near the old house on Norton Street, where for some reason the imagery of cigarette smoke through an open window on a warm night would force itself into my head when it never had before, and would continue to affect every subsequent listen of the song. That’s the “I Could Have Lied” store now; I don’t even know what its real name is, and I walked past it every day for fifteen years.
The three hundred dollars in hard-earned wages sent to a French journalist for his advance copy of the album, for ten seconds of new music (money very well spent). The old kitchen mortuary table, where a pirated version finally got replaced with the real thing on Dad’s work laptop—the first CD I ever paid for myself —and the discovery that there was an entire other half to you, somehow missed by that late-night 128kb Kazaa download from months before at Lockie’s house. Long stretches of endless summer days, as school came to an end, and the smell of the concrete factory attached itself into every boiling breath of wind off Blackwattle Bay, while I baked inside the music room trying to learn the guitar solo to “Mellowship Slinky in B Major” for my end-of-school exams. Dragging a vinyl version of you across the United States, the regret of your impulse purchase a twelve-by-twelve cross to bear, turning every plane and bus trip into a nightmare of square, flat Tetris. All moments that are defined even further by a certain, specific chunk of music being blasted from a speaker, or a headphone, or a car stereo, or from my own quickly calloused fingers.
I remember once I drove down to Melbourne, on a whim with two friends. It was October 2012. The reasons for doing so were silly; we were picking up a friend (that I had met maybe twice) who planned to move up to Sydney and, for some reason, they were unable or unwilling to fly. We lost touch soon after. As far as I’m aware, they’ve already moved back. I don’t know what the point was. It was just something to do.
We did a chunk of the driving after work on a Friday night, through the stop-start streets of Sydney’s west before all the roads with their rivers of break lights plummet south and the world opens up a little. At about nine p.m., I gave up driving, started pounding the warm beers we brought with us and let someone else take over while I sat in the back of the car, lying in the lap of a friend of mine that I had to pretend I wasn’t in love with, watching the street lights going past outside get blurrier and blurrier.
My distinct memory of that hour or so is listening to Blood Sugar Sex Magik on the car stereo, and Mark in the driver’s seat, piping up about halfway through the title track, “Man, I forgot how good this album was…”
I didn’t get it. He was the one that introduced me to you.
I sat up, leaned over into the front seat, and tried to get across the confusion that I felt.
“How could you ever forget?”
You’re like the lone building left in my life after a cyclone; a trail of destruction might surround us both, and many things might have come and gone in the meantime, but there you are—strong and resilient, your underlying makeup all still inherently fresh and exciting. Every beat, every snare hit, every movement of thumb or finger or foot or breath transferred to metal and magnetic tape; every angelic choir, every blend of instrumentation, every ghost and grace note, every cheeky backup vocal, all committed to some deep part of my memory, ready to be drawn up when necessary. The reason for so many of my other interests. A shelter in the storm that I’ll always be able to come home to.
And if things go south, and one day I wake up and recoil from the sight of you, or worse, if the thought of you conjures up nothing at all, if the idea of slap bass suddenly doesn’t excite anything in me, if Kiedis’s babbling finally gets under my skin, if “Under the Bridge” doesn’t start any drunken sing-a-longs long after I should have gone to bed, if Flea turning on the envelope filter in his line for “Sir Psycho Sexy” becomes something other than the greatest moment in recorded music history… Well, we’ll have to see what a life without you around sounds like, but I suspect it would be lacking a certain something.
Here’s to twenty-five more years, old friend.