Californication: Video Games, Moon Landings, Star Trek, Kurt Cobain, and Star Wars

The song "Californication" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers incorporates allusions to video games, moon landings, Nirvana, Star Wars, and Star Trek.

I haven’t played video games in any meaningful way since I was a teen back in the 1980’s.

1980’s Video Games

Some of the games I remember playing with my friends and really enjoying include the following:

A couple of my schoolmates even became experts at Pac-Man and other more obscure video games. One schoolmate, Bob, an upperclassman to me at the time, was so good at recognizing and memorizing patterns that he mastered Pac-Man and some other video games seemingly effortlessly.

I was book smart, but not good at playing video games; he wasn’t book smart, but was excellent at playing video games (among other things). Essentially, we both had above-average-to-high IQ’s that manifested differently.

Californication

That said, if the video game Californication that’s featured in the 1999 music-video song with the same name by the Red Hot Chili Peppers were a real video game, then I’d be willing to play it. It seems to depict a virtual reality game with images from my former stomping ground (San Francisco; Golden Gate Bridge).

Music Video

“Californication” by Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP)

By the way, even though I just posted the official music video, which depicts the fake video game, I highly recommend your visiting the article that follows and viewing the second music video in that post (also here). It is a live version of “Californication” played at Slane Castle (Ireland; August 2003).

Flea (bassist) and John Frusciante (lead guitarist) provide a two-minute improvised introduction to the song; sheer musical guitar genius! Don’t get me wrong, I probably could play almost as well as they do. I’d just need a better guitar. And a bit more talent.

Oh, and Flea is seemingly wearing a pre-Halloween skeleton costume, so the timing of this post is fitting.

Song’s Meaning

Per the article “The Dark Meaning of ‘Californication’ by The Red Hot Chili Peppers” shared on the blog “American Songwriter,” this is the overall meaning of the song:

“Californication” is a song about the underbelly of American society. There’s deceit, plasticity, and desperation under the gilded face of the American Dream. The Red Hot Chili Peppers saw that California represented these extremes—both the elaborate gilded nature of it all and the darkness underneath. In essence, it’s a song about the rot that lies just underneath the surface.

Verse 4 has the most interesting allusions – it refers to the allegedly fake moon landing(s), Star Trek, Cobain (Nirvana), and Star Wars.

[Verse 4]
Space may be the final frontier, 
but it's made in a Hollywood basement.
And Cobain, can you hear the spheres
singing songs off Station to Station?
And Alderaan's not far away, 
it's Californication.

The blog I referenced and Genius Lyrics explain these lines.

First line:

Anthony Kiedis appears to reference the conspiracy theory that the United States never actually went to the moon. Instead, it is believed that the Moon landing was just fabricated, and filmed using props in a Hollywood studio. The most popularised idea is that director Stanley Kubrick filmed the set-up using the techniques he had perfected while filming 2001: A Space Odyssey.

These lines may also allude to Star Trek, as the introduction to each episode began with:

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise.

The idea that something as vast as space could be artificially manufactured in a cramped basement highlights the truly limitless scale of Hollywood falsities. The sadness evoked by imagining that there is nothing beyond us, and nowhere left to explore, matches the overall melancholic tone of the song.

Second line:

Kurt Cobain was the frontman of Nirvana who killed himself rather than deal with the “Californication” lifestyle. Following Kurt’s death, Nirvana’s drummer Dave Grohl1Dave is from my hometown of Warren, Ohio; we would have been classmates, but his family moved to Virginia before grade school began. became the lead singer of the Foo Fighters, a band named after unexplained spheres of light found behind U.S. planes in WW2.

Nirvana covered “The Man Who Sold The World” by David Bowie in the MTV Unplugged [album] recorded shortly before Kurt’s death. So the Foos doing songs from Bowie’s album Station to Station would be a fitting tribute (although they had done with Bowie himself another song). Put this all together, and you get Anthony asking his former friend Kurt if he can hear his old bandmates playing songs for him in his memory.

Third line:

In Star Wars, the Death Star demonstrates its planet-destroying capabilities in Princess Leia’s home planet, Alderaan. While the famous opening line of Star Wars states this is happening “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” Alderaan was actually done by a bunch of special effects wizards in a Van Nuys warehouse. And of course, the symbolic meaning of California housing a planet being destroyed (which as the “Don’t Californicate Oregon” showed, people were afraid that the spreading of Californian values could perform in a way) can also be found.

And, allow me to mansplain one more line, the first line of verse 5, since I wrote about this topic on a business-oriented blog:

Destruction leads to a very rough road, but it also breeds creation.

This line references the concept of creative destruction that economist Joseph Schumpeter wrote in his 1942 book, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy.

Closing Words

Now you.

What is your interpretation of the song’s lyrics? What video games are your favorites? What are some other bass/lead guitar players that play especially well together?

Footnotes

  • 1
    Dave is from my hometown of Warren, Ohio; we would have been classmates, but his family moved to Virginia before grade school began.

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