August 22, 2011


Raining in the ‘80s

We may never know what the video Kreayshawn directed for the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie" looked like. Instead, they've released a clip directed by Marc Klasfeld. On the face of it, it looks like a pretty straightforward performance video. But "Rain Dance Maggie" is a song packed with little shout-outs—hints of what listeners might associate the Chili Peppers with—and Klasfeld's video throws in a few allusions of its own to other music.

The first and most obvious is that it's not just a performance video: it's footage of the Chili Peppers playing the song on a rooftop. That immediately brings to mind the Beatles' gig on the roof of the Apple Building on January 30, 1969—their final public performance, and the set that formed the core of their Let It Be album and the climax of its companion film. (Here's a take on "Get Back" from that show.) Any rooftop performance is now understood to refer to that one—see, for instance, U2's performance on an L.A. roof for their "Where the Streets Have No Name" video, a trick they've occasionally repeated.

The "Rain Dance Maggie" roof is, in fact, specifically an L.A. roof—the clip was shot at Venice Beach, and includes a prominent shot of the waves in the distance. (Why would anyone want to "make it rain" there? The only reason someone in Venice Beach's weather would want to call for rain is metaphorically: perhaps it's a salute to the Chili Peppers' stripper fan base.)

There's another tip of the hat to Los Angeles early on, from an actual hat: the cap Anthony Kiedis is wearing early in the video, with the logo of Off!

The Chili Peppers drifted pretty far away from punk rock as we know it a long time ago, but Off! are hardcore punk true believers—a newish but seriously old-school L.A. quartet, fronted by Black Flag's original singer Keith Morris. 

Their songs are all roughly a minute long and involve the other three members—Burning Brides' Dimitri Coats, Rocket from the Crypt's Mario Rubalcaba and Redd Kross's Steven McDonald—pretending that everything that happened in music after the first couple of Black Flag singles was all a bad dream.

But then there's the question of Maggie herself: any "Maggie" in a song is going to call to mind Rod Stewart's "Maggie May," a song from a young man to his older lover. (Even if you know the song by heart, click through for the video, a live 1971 performance by Stewart with his band the Faces.) And the other prominent "Maggie Mae" in rock history is another Let It Be thing—the fragment of a traditional song that ended up on that album. Maggie's body, Kiedis sings, is "delicious vinyl": the label Delicious Vinyl's star has faded a bit in recent times, but it was a little powerhouse of L.A. music for a couple of years at the end of the '80s, releasing hip-hop hits like Tone Loc's "Wild Thing" and Young MC's "Bust a Move."

As for Maggie's friend (and Kiedis's potential threesome-mate) Tugboat Sheila, Kiedis sings that she's "into memorabilia." Is that just another allusion to '80s nostalgia, or does he mean Soft Cell's 1980 synth-pop single? Probably the former, but it's fun to imagine it's the latter.

There's one final, surprising allusion saved for the final minute of "Rain Dance Maggie": new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer's cycling five-note obbligato. In tone and style, it recalls an idea that's turned up in a few places in very different kinds of music--maybe most prominently in King Crimson's 1981 instrumental "Discipline."

A similar guitar line appears in composer Steve Reich's piece "Electric Counterpoint" (most famous in Pat Metheny's recording, but played in that link by Luis Orias Diz).

The most telling line of the whole song, though, is "I want to rock you like the '80s." That's a curious choice. To rock somebody like the '90s is to celebrate the grunge era in which the Chili Peppers rose to power; to rock somebody like the '70s is to embrace the conflict between arena rockers and punk insurgents; to rock somebody like the '60s is to invoke Baby Boomer triumphalism; to rock somebody like the '00s is sort of an insult.

The '80s, though: that was a time, as far as the Chili Peppers are concerned. It's not a decade that has much of a reputation as a golden age of rock (aside from the punk rock ancestors of Off!), but it's the time when they were young and full of vinegar and fire. "Rain Dance Maggie" comes on like a come-on, but it's ultimately a song of nostalgia. It's an evocation of a lost power dynamic, when a Maggie could be an older lover impressed by youth, not a young dancer hoping to make it rain.