Johnny Depp in Berlin, 1993
Some movies make rock stardom look like hell. The reason it’s so hard to see Cocksucker Blues is not that it’s such an appealing advertisement for life on the road, but that it makes the lives of the characters in Glengarry Glen Ross look like a lot of fun compared to the Rolling Stones’.
Stuff belongs on the same shelf. Directed by Johnny Depp and Gibby Haynes in 1993, the unreleased short film is a documentary about the squalid junkie crash pad in LA that John Frusciante used to call home. Cameras drift through the house soaking in the bummer ambience as Frusciante’s Portastudio recordings play on the soundtrack. There’s no dialogue.
P’s self-titled debut on Capitol Records
If there’s a ghost in the movie other than Frusciante’s spectral presence, it’s River Phoenix. Depp and Haynes were bandmates in P, the group that was onstage at the Viper Room when Phoenix OD’d. According to Bob Forrest’s memoir Running with Monsters, Phoenix spent the days before his death at Frusciante’s house getting “deep into a major-league drug binge,” and even by drug-den standards, Forrest says the place was fucked up:
We all lived close to one another. Johnny only lived a couple minutes’ drive from Frusciante’s house and the apartment I kept nearby. The Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Haynes, when he was in town, mostly stayed with Johnny. Sometimes I’d stay there or at Frusciante’s. I was hard to pin down. River usually stayed at St. James’ Club on the Strip, a flashy, high-end art-deco luxury hotel, also known variously as the Argyle or the Sunset Tower. The Viper Room was our headquarters, but Frusciante’s place saw almost as much use, although things had started to take on a dark and forbidding atmosphere there. It still didn’t stop anybody from dropping by. If any of us were working or out on tour, Frusciante’s house was the first stop as soon as we arrived back in town.
Frusciante’s place offered something the Viper Room had in short supply: privacy. But that also made it a liability. What had started out as a party place had devolved and spiraled into some dank drug den. Walls were covered with graffiti. Furniture was damaged. Walls and doors had huge, gaping holes. There was a current there—bad vibes and degeneracy. It was out of control and the kind of place that could make the hardest of hard-core junkies blanch and run in the opposite direction.
In the final scene, Dr. Timothy Leary sits on a desk while Frusciante reclines on a couch, like analyst and patient: a happy ending. Below, watch Stuff as broadcast on Dutch TV.