Under The Bridge
The Song that Nearly Never Was…
‘Under The Bridge’ was originally written as a poem when Anthony was at a particularly low point in his life. Driving home from a pre-production session for RHCP’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik album he started to think about the changes in his life;
“I was driving away from the rehearsal studio and thinking how I just wasn’t making any connection with my friends or family, I didn’t have a girlfriend, and Hillel wasn’t there,” he says soberly, referring to Hillel Slovak, the band’s original guitarist and a close friend since high school, who died of a heroin overdose in June 1988.
“When I got home that day, I started thinking about my life and how sad it was right now. But no matter how sad or lonely I got, things were a million percent better than they were two years earlier when I was using drugs all the time. There was no comparison. I was reminding myself, ‘Okay, things might feel fucked up right now, but I don’t ever want to feel like I did two years ago.’
“In the end it wasn’t like I was writing in any sort of pop-song format,” says Kiedis. “I just started writing about the bridge – and the things that occurred under the bridge.” Rolling Stone June 1992
Kiedis never intended for the poem to be anything more than a personal recollection but fate was to play a hand;
I [Rick Rubin] was at Anthony’s house, and he was showing me some books of writing he had done. And I was going through the notebooks and I found this “Under the Bridge” thing. And I was like, “This looks really good. What is this?” And Anthony’s like, “Well, it’s a poem, and a song, but it’s not a Chili Peppers song.” And I was like, “Why not?” And he’s like, “Well, that’s not what we do. We’re a funk band and I rap, and this isn’t that kind of song. This is more of a personal song.” But I pushed him. I said, “Let’s just explore where it goes.”
And I remember Anthony was embarrassed to show the song to the other guys in the band. But he sang it to John [Frusciante, the guitarist] and John came up with his part. Then he played it for Flea [the bassist] and Flea came up with his part. And it ended up being a really good song—even though they didn’t realize how good it was until people starting responding to it. Rick Rubin interview Newsweek 2013
The reluctance to perform the song lasted right up until the recording:
“I remember going up to do Under The Bridge and just thinking, Oh my God, I can’t believe I have to sing this,” he says. Brendan O’ Brien [engineer] made it as comfortable as humanly possible. I’d be on edge and insecure, trying to let the spirits flow through me, and he’d be on the other end of the headphones, laughing at me and laughing at himself.” Q Magazine 2005
The Song That Was … Massive.
‘Under The Bridge was included on RHCP’s 1991 Blood Sugar Sex Magik album. ‘Give It Away’ had been the first single released from the album and a follow up single was needed. The Chili Peppers’ record company, Warner Bros., were suggesting ‘Under The Bridge’ and they sent representatives to a RHCP concert to work out if it should indeed be the next release.
At the concert, John Frusciante started to play the song but Anthony missed his cue and remained silent. However, the audience began to sing the song instead;
“At first I was mortified that I had fucked up in front of Warner’s people… but it turned out they were way more impressed with the audience singing it than they ever would have been if I was singing it. I apologized for fucking up but they said ‘Fucking up? Are you kidding me? When every single kid at the show sings a song, that’s our next single’.
‘Scar Tissue’ by Anthony Kiedis; pages 284-5
As a result, ‘Under The Bridge’ did indeed become the second single from Blood Sugar Sex Magik. It was released on March 10th 1992. The song became a massive hit peaking at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and it was later certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. It reached Top 20/30 in some European countries too on its original release, peaking higher (e.g. number 13 here in the UK) on its reissue in 1994. The song still continues to be featured in various ‘best of’ lists that are compiled.
The single’s success was increased with the release of an accompanying video directed by Gus Van Sant which gained massive airplay on music channels such as MTV. The video also won awards e.g. “Viewer’s Choice Award” and “Breakthrough Video” at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards. As a result of all of this exposure, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were catapulted into the big time.
The Song’s Content
Under the bridge downtown
Is were I drew some blood
Under the bridge downtown
I could not get enough….
Obviously, the song refers to Anthony’s drug addiction and that fact he took drugs ‘under the bridge.’ He’s explained the bridge reference in several interviews, e.g. ;
“I ran into some fairly unscrupulous characters involved with miniature Mafioso drug rings, and the hangout for one of these gangs was this particular location under a bridge. I ended up going there with this gang member, and the only way that I was allowed to go under this bridge was for him to tell everybody else that I was getting married to his sister. You had to be family to go there. Rolling Stone June 1992
Under the Bridge Downtown…
The song’s popularity has generated a lot of interest and discussion into where the actual bridge might be but Kiedis has always refused to give an actual location:
“It’s downtown,” he [Anthony Kiedis] says warily, gesturing vaguely at a distant spot on the glittering Los Angeles nightscape outside a high-rise Hollywood hotel room, “but it’s unimportant,” he adds sharply. “I don’t want people looking for it.”…
As the interviewer in that interview, David Fricke, goes on to comment,
“… Kiedis is understandably reluctant to turn the bridge into a pop-music tourist attraction. For one thing, it was, and still is, on L.A. street-gang turf; casual visitors are not suffered gladly. For another, it was under that bridge that Kiedis’s life bottomed out a few years ago under the weight of a severe heroin addiction.” Rolling Stone June 1992
However, that hasn’t stopped people using clues gained from various interviews and from Anthony’s own book, ‘Scar Tissue’, to try to work out a location for the actual bridge. Suggested locations within Los Angeles include MacArthur Park, the Belmont Tunnel (near to the same park) and more recently an article in the LA Times suggests its the overpass where Interstate Highway 10 (the Santa Monica Freeway) crosses over Hoover Street close to downtown LA:
1. In case you didn’t know, the backing vocals were provided by John Frusciante’s mother and her gospel choir. While recording, Rubin had decided that a choir was needed and John told him that his mother sang in a church choir;
“John’s mom came in with her church group and sang the background vocals at the end,” says Flea. “It was trippy seeing all these smartly dressed middle-aged women up there singing Under the bridge downtown. John and I just looked at each other. It was one of those great moments.” Q Magazine 2005
2. The song was covered in 1998 by UK girl band All Saints. All drugs references were removed from the song and some lyrics were changed as a result. It was released as a double A side (with another cover, “Lady Marmalade” originally released by Labelle), and reached number one on the UK singles chart.