According to director Tony Kaye, a single word in the lyrics to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Dani California” — which is up for seven 2006 Video Music Awards, including Video of the Year — set the gears of his imagination into motion.
“It was the word ‘hippie,’ ” Kaye said of the line “Poppa was a copper and mama was a hippie,” which inspired the clip’s tactic of portraying the band in pseudo-historical performance footage from several different rock eras. “It was Anthony’s line that took me down that path.”
Originally, the Chilis had wanted Mark Romanek (Audioslave, Beck), who’d directed their 2003 clip for “Can’t Stop,” but he passed. However, as Kaye explained, the stars aligned quickly after he paid a visit to his pal, longtime Peppers producer Rick Rubin.
“I was at Rick’s house and he played me the track, and I said, ‘What if we did the passing of time, so there are different styles of rock — the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s?,’ ” Kaye recalled. “I wanted to sort of span the history of rock and roll, in a sense. And Rick loved that. Two weeks later, I found myself on the set, making it. That was the emanation, and brilliantly, it was caught by Rick, who immediately went into overdrive to get this thing made.”
While the song is actually about the premature passing of a character named Dani California, a poor girl from Mississippi who robbed banks and lived hard, the Peppers — Kiedis, bassist Flea, guitarist John Frusciante and drummer Chad Smith — refined Kaye’s idea and ultimately decided which bands and eras they wanted to celebrate. They selected the Elvis-era rockabilly of the 1950s, the British Invasion of the 1960s, glam rock, funk, goth, hair metal, grunge and a couple of others, including their current-day selves. Several of the honored bands — including the Beatles, Parliament-Funkadelic, the Misfits, the Sex Pistols and others — were chosen by the Chilis because, according to Flea, “They’re the great musical institutions of our lifetime.”
“We chose the moments in history we wanted to honor,” Kiedis explained. “The video was Tony’s idea, but we were a little bit more informed to the history of rock than anyone else that was working on it. So it was our duty to figure out which points we wanted to illuminate — which was difficult, because there were at least 10 other incredibly meaningful, exciting, beautiful and important points that we couldn’t hit because time and cash becomes a factor when you’re shooting a video.”
According to Flea, those genres included “hip-hop and disco, and the big mega-rock bands like the Who, Zeppelin. We couldn’t include mod or the ska movement. We did the best we could. We love rock music so much and it’s so sacred to us, we just wanted to honor it and bow before it and take our hats off to it. We would never f— with the sacredness of rock music. It saved our lives.”
(Presumably, the hair-metal era was chosen for comedic value.)
For the Misfits sequence, Flea channeled his inner goth while makeup artists painted his face white, so that he’d give the best performance he could. In an outtake from the video, the bassist is seen getting into character by repeating to himself, over and over, “Life is bleak. Life is pain. There’s no reason to get out of bed in the morning. Life is so terrible. We were born to die. I’m so goth, I’m dead.”
Kaye, best known for his work helming the 1998 feature film “American History X,” hadn’t shot a music video in more than a decade and had only directed two over the course of his career (Roger Waters’ 1992 clip “What God Wants, Pt. 1″ and Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train,” from the same year), said the shoot took just two days, lots of spirit gum and wigs, uncomfortable fabrics and turquoise belts. “I would spend 15 to 20 minutes on each section — or genre — of the video,” Kaye recalled. “It was like a train. In all my years, it’s probably the most extraordinary set of occurrences that sort of took place, and the whole thing went like a finely made Swiss watch.”
In fact, Kaye recalls just one on-set mishap. During the filming of the video’s closing segment, when the Red Hots perform as themselves, Kiedis began swinging his microphone over his head by its cord — and ended up clocking Flea in the back, knocking the bassist to the floor. He wasn’t injured, and later commented that it was more the surprise of the unexpected blow that bowled him over.
Apart from that, the shoot “was one of those rare things where everything went like a dream,” Kaye recalled. “And I think the beauty of this is, it really allows musicians to be musicians in their own right, as far as performances. Music videos are a very difficult format for a filmmaker to work in, because there are restrictions. You are working with people who are not necessarily actors, and you’re working with a soundtrack that is already done. So, these things provide restrictions for a filmmaker. But everyone believed in the idea, and it was terribly easy to execute. It sort of made itself.”
The experience went so well that Kaye said he’s working with the Peppers on the video for Stadium Arcadium‘s third single, “Snow ((Hey Oh)).” And the “Dani” clip has revived his music-video career, with offers rolling in from other bands. Perhaps most significantly, the video’s seven VMA nods include one for Best Director — Kaye’s first (see “Shakira, Chili Peppers, Madonna, Panic! Lead List Of Nominees For MTV Video Music Awards” ).
“I am very happy,” he said. “Before I’d directed anything, MTV was just starting out, so I have been very influenced by the style of music videos. To be recognized at this stage of my life is great. I think I’m finally starting to break through, and I want this to be the beginning. I’m overwhelmed by the whole thing.”