The Forum — the slightly decrepit, strangely Roman arena on the corner of Manchester and Prairie in Inglewood, California — first opened its doors on December 30, 1967, and has, in the years that followed, played host to both the "Showtime" Lakers and the Gretzky Kings, not to mention just about every L.A.-area concert you've ever heard of, or were too drunk to remember. Parts of Led Zeppelin's live How the West Was Won were recorded here, as were live albums by Cream, Steppenwolf, the Bee Gees and P-Funk, to name just a few.
Over the course of its existence, it's been known alternately as "the Fabulous Forum," "the Los Angeles Forum" (even though it's in Inglewood) and, in a move of corporate branding so subtle most locals didn't know the difference, "the Great Western Forum." Now, it's mostly just an oval located in the center of an asphalt ocean in a less-than-desirable part of town. The Lakers and the Kings bolted for the shiny new Staples Center in 1999, and the live shows dried up soon after. A church owned it until last year and now people just jog around it. It is a fate unbecoming of such a legendary venue, really — a slow decline into obsolescence and calisthenics — and yet, this is how these things tend to go.
Michael Balzary and Anthony Kiedis — the slightly graying yet strangely sculpted half of the Red Hot Chili Peppers — first opened their doors (or, you know, were born) on October 16 and November 1, 1962, respectively, and have, in the years that followed, arisen from the L.A. punk scene to achieve the kind of heights few in the music business can dare dream of: 65 million albums sold worldwide, nine Hot 100 singles in the U.S., and seven Grammy Awards, to name just a few. Over the course of their existence, the pair have been known as Flea and, well, Anthony (or maybe Sir Psycho Sexy). They have recorded some of the most celebrated albums of both the alt-rock heyday — namely, Mother's Milk and Blood Sugar Magik, — and the uncertain times that followed (1999's Californication), and they most certainly do calisthenics. And yes, you can probably see where I'm going with this.
Because it's not exactly difficult to draw parallels between the three entities: The Forum, a grandiose (and somewhat gaudy) monument to '60s idealism and the excesses that followed, Flea and Kiedis the poster children for the decay that set in once that idealism gave way to cold hard fact, when those excesses devolved into plain old addictions. All three grew preternaturally old beneath the hazy sunshine of Southern California, and all three proudly wear the scars that came with that aging. They have each witnessed incredible highs and crushing lows, triumphs and tragedies, and they are all still standing. And because of that, both the arena and the Chili Peppers, which Flea and Kiedis formed in the obtuse shadow of the arena back in 1983, have become Los Angeles icons, the kind with pock marks on their faces and dirt beneath their fingernails; the real kind.
In fact, about the only difference between the Forum and the Peppers seems to be that the latter is still fully operational. Other than that, they belong to each other. And yet, it is perhaps due to nothing more than grand cosmic coincidence that the Peppers have chosen the Forum as the rehearsal spot for their upcoming world tour, a very big endeavor in support of their very big I'm With You, the first new Chili Peppers record in more than five years. Or at least that's what they told me on Wednesday when I stopped by to host the premiere of their brand-new "The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie" video.
"We just got the call to show up to the Forum for rehearsal and were like, 'Yes, that's a good place to do it!' " Kiedis said. "They needed space to goof around with our stage and our lights ... [but] I was warming up in one of the cavernous bowels of this beautiful institution, and I looked up and there was a great old photograph of [former Lakers' guard] Nick Van Exel, charging me with the ball, number nine, looking me down, big head, big heart, big eyes ... remember the time he got the ref?"
Of course, I got the feeling, based on the second part of that statement, that it wasn't mere coincidence that brought the Chili Peppers to the Forum, nor was it a love of Lakers ball (though, to be fair, Flea did point out that "This building is the home of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Byron Scott, Norm Nixon [and] many, many Bob McAdoos"). Instead, it was something much bigger; a love for the old building, or even a sense of purpose.
After all, the Forum was where they learned how to be musicians, much like the long lost Club Lingerie, the punk spot operated by the late Brendan Mullen, who is eulogized on I'm With You's "Brendan's Death Song." It is where they underwent several passages of manhood. In a way, they grew up here.
"The second rock show I ever saw here was with [Anthony]," Flea laughed, peering up at the vaulted ceiling. "We came in here to see the Who, we snuck in, and we snuck in to see Queen here, too."
"We used to not have any money was the thing, but we wanted to go to the shows," Kiedis smiled. "So we'd get right up to where they let you in at the turnstile, and we'd get down and go [through], and if they'd catch us, God bless 'em. But they never could."
So, in a sense, without the Forum, there probably would be no Red Hot Chili Peppers. Which is why they treat the place with such reverence, why, during rehearsals, they joined drummer Chad Smith and new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer to tear through old songs with a fury usually reserved for the actual live shows. It was almost as if they were paying tribute to the old ghosts that haunt the twisting corridors, or, more probably, to the bands that have brought the roof down over the past four-plus decades.
It was an amazing thing to watch, and I couldn't think of a more fitting setting. After all, the Forum and the Red Hot Chili Peppers share a bond much stronger than you could possibly imagine. They are both survivors. And to witness the band still operating at their peak, nearly 28 years after they first began, well, it somehow fills you with hope for the venerable old venue too. After all, the Forum deserves a comeback too, or at least a better fate than folks jogging around its perimeter. And maybe, in some small way, the Chili Peppers' rehearsals — buoyant, fun, funky and, most important of all, loud — can help breathe new life into the old place, to lift it up and set it back on its feet. You get the feeling Flea and Kiedis feel a sense of duty to try. After all, it's the least they could do.