Sunday, March 17, 2013

Red Hot Chili Peppers -- "Californication" (1999)

It's understood
That Hollywood
Sells Californication

We're going to try something a little different today.  Pay close attention, boys and girls.

1.  "I Wonder as I Wander"

"I Wonder as I Wander" is a Christmas carol that folklorist and singer John Jacob Niles wrote in 1933.  It's based on a song fragment he heard a girl sing at a meeting of evangelical Christians in an Appalachian town.  

I mention "I Wonder as I Wander" because it is an apt description of how the typical 2 or 3 lines post is created.  There's a lot of wondering on the part of the author, and there's even more wandering.  

2. Portemanteau

The literal meaning of the French portmanteau word portemanteau is "it carries the cloak."  The plural of that word, of course is portmanteaux.  

3.  Portmanteau

A "portmanteau" -- I'm not sure why the "e" at the end of the first syllable of the French word disappeared -- is a coat tree or coat rack:  

It also means a type of luggage that opens into two equal halves:

4.  Portmanteau words

A "portmanteau word" is a combination of two (or more) words or morphemes (semantic units that may or may not be stand-alone words) into a new word.  For example, "brunch" is a portmanteau word that combines "breakfast" and "lunch," and means a meal that has certain characteristics of both.  (FYI, "brunch" was first used in the British humor magazine, Punch, in 1896.)  "Spork," "infomercial," and "turducken" are other examples of portmanteau words.

Some city names are portmanteau words -- e.g., Texarkana (which is divided by the Texas-Arkansas state line), Calexico (a California city on the Mexican border), and Mexicali (a Mexican city on the California border).

The names of "supercouples" are often turned into portmanteau words -- "Billary," "Bennifer," "Brangelina," and "TomKat" are examples.

"Frankenword" is another term for a portmanteau word, but usually connotes a somewhat awkward or clumsy one.

Don't confuse portmanteau words and syllabic abbreviations, which are words formed by combining the initial syllables of other words -- e.g., "Nabisco" (originally the "National Biscuit Company") or "SoHo" (a New York City neighborhood located south of Houston Street)

5.  Californication

"Californication" (a portmanteau word that combines "California" and "fornication") was originally used in Time magazine several decades ago.  It had nothing to do with sex per se -- rather, it was a pejorative term used by residents of other states (particularly Oregonians) to describe the unbridled growth and development of California in the fifties, sixties, and seventies.  

"Don't Californicate Oregon" bumper stickers began to appear on the cars of Oregon residents who didn't cotton to California-style urban sprawl and traffic, and were afraid that immigration into the state (particularly immigration from California) would spoil the idyllic way of life enjoyed by residents of the Beaver State.

6.  Californication

Californication, which was the Red Hot Chili Peppers' seventh studio album, was released in 1999.  It was produced by the legendary Rick Rubin.

"Californication" is track six on the Californication album.  It's not really about California as much as it's about Los Angeles (especially Hollywood), and it doesn't have much good to say about it.

"Californication" is about the gap between reality and the myths that Hollywood has sold to the rest of the world.  The movies are full of special effects and computer-generated imagery ("CGI").  But the unreality of southern California goes well beyond the world of the movies.  L.A. is also the plastic surgery capital of the world, and if you live there, it's no big thing to "pay your surgeon very well/to break the spell of aging."

7.  "First-born unicorn"

"First-born unicorn," a line from "Californication," appears to be a reference to Dorothy Stratten, the 1980 Playboy "Playmate of the Year," who was murdered by her estranged husband after she left him and moved in with Peter Bogdanovich, who had directed Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, and several other movies.  Stratten was 20 years old when she died.

Dorothy Stratten
Bogdanovich, who was 41 at the time, later wrote a book about Stratten titled The Killing of the Unicorn.  I haven't read the book, and I don't know if it explains why Bogdanovich refers to Stratten as a unicorn.  The unicorn is a legendary creature that is a symbol of purity and grace, and I assume that Bogdanovich felt that it was a fitting metaphor for Stratten.

In 1988, Bogdanovich -- who was then 49 -- married Dorothy's younger sister, 20-year-old Louise Stratten.  (It has been reported that he began sending her expensive gifts in 1982, when she was a 14-year-old junior high student in British Columbia, where Dorothy had grown up.)  They got divorced in 2001.  

Peter Bogdanovich and Louise Stratten
Dorothy Stratten is the subject of a number of songs other than "Californication," including two songs by Bryan Adams.  (Both Stratten and Adams are natives of Canada.)  

Two movies about her brief life and death were produced in the early eighties.  Jamie Lee Curtis portrayed her in Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story, which aired on NBC in 1981.  Bob Fosse directed Star 80, a 1983 theatrical release that starred Mariel Hemingway.

8.  Mariel Hemingway's breast implants

In the 1982 movie, Personal Best, Mariel Hemingway portrayed a college track star.  If you've seen it, you know that Hemingway had an athletic figure with very small breasts.  

Mariel Hemingway in Personal Best
Before appearing in Star 80 the very next year, Hemingway had breast augmentation -- she didn't go for stripper-sized implants, but her breasts are significantly larger in Star 80 than they were in Personal Best.  Hemingway later denied that she got the implants for the movie, but you have to believe that she got them in hopes of giving her movie career a shot in the arm.  (Hemingway's implants later ruptured, and she had them removed.)  

Après les implants
I'm going to get on my soapbox for a very brief rant.  It's astonishing to me that beautiful women like Mariel Hemingway feel the need to have breast augmentation performed.

Apparently there were males out there who didn't think Mariel Hemingway was attractive and sexy because her breasts were smaller than average.  In my opinion, she didn't need breast implants -- those men needed brain implants.

9.  Californication (part two)

That's enough wondering and wandering for one 2 or 3 lines post.

Next time, we'll introduce you to the Showtime television series that's also titled Californication and discuss another Red Hot Chili Peppers song that seems to be very relevant to that show.

Here's "Californication":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon:

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