Thoughts of Californication
The world is a place of rules and regulations that are enforced by society and also built into the very being of our existence. For instance, one doesn’t float away when he/she jump or transform into other animals at will (or at all). Yet this doesn’t restrict the minds and imaginations of people. People every day push rules and regulations to the limit and accomplish the improbable or impossible of their dreams. When such dreams come true, the reaction may be described in language using a plethora of poetic devices. One such group of dreamers who exemplify the use of poetic devices is the Red Hot Chile Peppers.
When The Red Hot Chili Peppers released their album ‘Californication’, “We were all thrilled when we finished work on the album,” (Scar Tissue 421) Andrew Kiedis, lead singer of the group, said in his biography and personal account of his experiences with the band. He goes on to say, “We felt like a forest that had burned to the ground and then new trees had sprouted from the ashes” (Scar Tissue 421. Before the album’s release followed by the 7 platinum and numerous gold awards it received by, the Red Hot Chili Peppers had experienced everything from loss, to mixed priorities, to drug induced trances. The release of their album ‘Californication’ started a turn-around for the band. The message of their dreams, starting back in 1978 when the band was formed, hit home in a place that dreams were always thought to come true: the West. This is clearly reflected in the song ‘Californication’, which is the title song of the album ‘Californication’. ‘Californication’ tells dreamers that anything is possible. More specifically anything is thought to be possible in the state of California. All this is done while pushing the thought that the longing for a dream is something to strive for through the use of metaphors, paradox, and repetition. Without analyzing these poetic devices, the true meaning of the song cannot be grasped.
The most abundant poetic device that the Red Hot Chili Peppers use is metaphors. The opening verse cuts right into references to California, more specifically Hollywood. The metaphors used to describe its splendor give a rough interpretation that one would see from the outside looking in. The opening lines, “Psychic spies from China/ Try to steal your mind’s elation/ Little girls from Sweden/ dream of silver screen quotation/ And if you want these kinds of dreams/ It’s Californication,” can be interpreted by connecting the first two lines with high-octane action movies while the third and forth lines to depict the longing people have to be in the spotlight and, if only once, to be famous. Then the fifth line states that the mere fact of wanting these dreams is Californication, as is finished in the sixth line. It goes farther than this though. Diving deeper, one can relate the fact that China is a much censored state with the fact that such restrictions tend not to bring “elation” (or happiness to people). Yet, after saying this, it says that the longing of the girls in Sweden to be famous is the concept of Californication. Such a use of metaphoric speech is effective because it causes the listener to think and ask questions about meaning and relevance. No one says something just for the sake of saying it. So the real question (as well as a question that is on one’s mind when thinking hard and blank about it) is what is this “Californication” and what does it have to do with this abundance of metaphoric speech?
Californication is the idea that there is no limit to what one can do; an idea that anything and everything can happen. It is elaborated in the next six lines of the verse that goes as such: “It’s the edge of the world/ And all of western civilization/ the sun may rise in the East/ At least it settles in a final location/ It’s understood that Hollywood/ Sells Californication”. Line by line, the place where this feeling is enacted out the most is on the edge of the world, meaning that its concepts and belief system is not like the rest of the world. Then this concept is shared by “all of western civilization”. Note how the text says that the sun rises in the East and settles in the final location. The use of the word “the” implies that the destination is already decided. If this is true, one can say that the song is showing how that everything begins and ends, however different the journey during the day is. The next line goes back to show the connection with Hollywood, saying that people dream of aspiring to do what Hollywood shows or to be in the light themselves, and Hollywood sells these dreams to the people. The first two lines of the third verse play parallel to this idea. The lines as follows, “Destruction leads to a very rough road/ But it also breeds creation”, shows the path set forth by Californication. As it is the idea of change and pushing limitations, it also shows that the destruction of one thing, The sun “settling in its final location” leads to the rise of something new, the sun rising in the East. Thus it is showing that out of the chaos where no rules seem to imply, rules will again begin to form simply because it is a natural balance that nature will enforce, meaning that there is a cycle that goes around again and again. This balance that consists of one extreme going to the next shows the unpredictability of the world, and also that the world truly has no limits within the ideology of Californication. One can see with that example that there are other times a metaphor is used to convey some loose relationship to the knowledge that the song wishes to bestow upon its listeners. All this insight has been extracted because of the way the metaphors give the listener a better perspective on the artist’s true feelings and what they are trying to get across.
Another poetic device whose use effectively demonstrates the message behind the song is paradox. The chorus holds, if not somewhat graphic and vulgar, an example that supports the very basis of Californication. The second line, “Hard core soft porn”, shows in paradox that anything is permitted and that opposite ends come together. This line is also telling how opposites are one in the same and that one cannot exist without the other by the matter of comparison. Applying that insight, one can say that if everything felt the same, nothing would be either hard or soft, thus instilling the effectiveness this paradox has on the meaning of the song.
As in the chorus, other paradoxes embed themselves in the fibers of the song. The second verse further shows the ideology of this concept called Californication in the first two lines: “Marry me girl be my ferry to the world/ Be my very own constellation”. Such a statement is paradoxical because the singer wants the girl to connect him with the world or reality, yet he wants her to be his constellation or a place far from the world/reality where he can escape to. This paradox is possible because of Californication, or the sense that these opposites could coexist with one another. Further interpretation leads to the idea of another thought embedded in Californication’s principles, and that is the idea (reiterated again) that paradoxes exist within such a world.
At first glance, a listener may not notice, but when looked at in further detail, the repetitious nature of the songs colorful verses reminds the listener again and again the true meaning behind its words. The last four lines of the first verse depict the unquenchable need that many celebrities have to get plastic surgery every three years. The lines: “Pay your surgeon very well/ to break the spell of aging/ Celebrity skin, is this your chin/ Or is that war you’re waging”, show how this need to change and wage war against the effects of getting older change who you are and, in turn, still does not stop you from dying. Yet the belief that it does further becomes a part of this Californication. Though one cannot escape the predestined fate of death, people dream and try to overcome that fact. This dreaming of the impossible, again, is a definition of Californication. The last five lines of the third and final verse, “Pay your surgeon very well/ To break the spell of aging/ sicker than the rest/ there is no test/ but this is what your craving”, talks about the need to constantly change, even though there is nothing wrong, and so is the drive of Californication. The feeling of dissatisfaction and the longing for more is the very essence of dreams. Without thinking something needs to change, even if it truly does not, implies the concept of dreaming for a different future to no ends, described in full as an element of Californication. One will notice how the simple repetition of the first two lines in each example gives an emphasis on the theme of fate. Such an emphasis is crucial in showing the significance of what they each bring out in their message.
Repetition does not just stop in that one instance. Even though it is common knowledge that chorus would be repetitious, to find a repetition within this repetition is not as common. It comes down to two words: “Dream of Californication”. The statement alone is telling the listener to dream about dreaming about unlimited possibilities. As curious as it sounds, it is not silly. In fact, it is a very real thing that many people don’t think about. The chorus is saying dream about having dreams. Dream about wanting the impossible, and then go out to the one place that can give it to you if you try hard enough: California. Again, it can be seen that the use of repetition is a great way to embed insight into the minds of the listeners.
From every word of every line, to every line of every verse, the use of poetic devices offer a more startling insight of a world without limits. The listener may never look at music in the same way. The listener creates a dream of infinite possibility and promise from the images of metaphors, paradoxes, and repetitious verses that are presented in the song- Californication.
Kiedis, Anthony. “Scar Tissue”. Hyperion. New York 2004.