Only Human

I first met Chad Smith on April 9, 1989 at The Fillmore Auditorium, in San Francisco, shortly after he made his debut on The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ breakthrough album, Mother’s Milk. We were about to publish Chad’s very first solo interview in my former mag, Drums & Drumming, and I’d come to The Fillmore witness the spectacle of this emerging phenomenon.

Primus, at the time still little more than a local band, opened the show — their first appearance at The Fillmore — and I was suitably bewildered by their amalgam of impossible beats, bass pyro, and guitar squonks. After a set change, The Chili Peppers stormed the stage and elevated the room’s blood pressure to perilous heights with their now legendary (and exhaustively plagiarized) fusion of funk, punk, and Y-chromosomes. “Wow,” I thought to myself. “These guys are going to be huge. We really should have given Chad a bigger story.” And of course we would, many times over.

Afterward, I mulled around the dressing room door, waiting for nonplussed security guards to allow backstage pass holders into The Fillmore’s inner sanctum. Suddenly, Smith appeared wearing a black leather jacket and headscarf, a huge grin plastered across his face. “Hey Chad,” I called after him, and introduced myself. We were soon winding down the narrow hallways backstage, and spent a little time getting acquainted. It was difficult to reconcile this friendly, jovial guy with the raw powerhouse I’d just seen thrashing onstage.

Chad and I stayed in touch as the band’s reputation continued to skyrocket. Gold records, constant MTV coverage, world tours — it was all coming together. Eventually Chad began telling me about songwriting sessions for The Chili Peppers’ next album (the then-unnamed Blood Sugar Sex Magik). I had a hunch it would seal the deal on the band’s superstardom. The next time we spoke, I promised Chad a cover story.

Then the unthinkable happened. In early 1991, the economy slowed to a crawl as a nasty recession kicked into overdrive. In short order, our parent company shut down every magazine that wasn’t turning a profit. Our entire staff got laid off. I was devastated.

A few days later, my phone rang at home. It was Chad. He’d heard that D&D had closed and called to see how I was doing. We talked for a while, Chad offered a few consoling words, and we signed off.

I couldn’t believe what happened. As far as Chad knew, there was little chance that I could help promote his drumming career anymore. But that didn’t seem to matter. He wasn’t worried about cover stories. He just wanted to see if I was okay. I’ll never forget that moment of compassion. Not ever.

Chad Smith isn’t a rock star. He’s a human being, with all the potential to achieve greatness or submit to weakness. But above and beyond everything else — he’s a good guy.