10/2004 The Observer (Music)

Note: The magazine was too large to fit on the scanner so the centre of each page has been copied and a full transcript has been provided below- there is no interview with Anthony Kiedis; it is just extracts from his autobiography, Scar Tissue.

Transcript:

Anthem for dumb youth

Anthony Kiedis, singer with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, discovered sex and drugs at the age of 12 thanks to his dad, pot-dealing friend to the rock aristocracy of Seventies California. This exclusive extract from the year’s most sensational autobiography tells it all – including what it’s like to have Cher as a babysitter

I was born in St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on the first of November, 1962. My mom wanted to name me after my dad, which would have made me John Kiedis III, but my dad was leaning toward Clark Gable Kiedis or Courage Kiedis. In the end, they settled on Anthony Kiedis, which was an homage to my great-grandfather. But from the start, I was known as Tony.

When I was three, we moved to California and I have vague recollections of the first apartment that the three of us shared, but in under a year, my parents had split up. My dad’s budding career as a film director got derailed in 1966, when he ran into a cute young roller-skating carhop who introduced him to pot.

When I was about four, my dad and I were on one of our outings, walking down Sunset Strip, when he suddenly stopped and gently blew some pot smoke into my face. We walked a few more blocks, and I was getting more and more excited. Then I stopped and asked: ‘Dad, am I dreaming?’

‘No, you’re awake,’ he said.

‘Okay.’ I shrugged and proceeded to scamper up a traffic light like a little monkey, feeling slightly altered.

Once my dad got into pot, he started hanging out at the music clubs that were part of the new scene on Sunset Strip. Correspondingly, we saw less and less of him. Each summer my mom and I returned to Grand Rapids to see our relatives. Grandma Molly and her husband, Ted, would take me to Grand Haven Beach, and we’d have a great time. During that stay in the summer of 1967, my mom met a new man at Grand Haven. After they spent some time together, he talked her into returning to Michigan with him, in December 1967.

Every so often, my dad would make an unscheduled visit to Michigan. He’d show up with a lot of heavy suitcases, which he stored in the basement. I realised from trips to California that he was involved in moving huge truckloads of marijuana, but it never registered that when he came to visit, that was what he was up to. I was just euphoric that he was there. And he couldn’t have been more different from every other person in the state. Everyone on my block, everyone I’d ever come into contact with in Michigan, wore short hair and short-sleeved button-down shirts. My dad would show up in six-inch silver platform snakeskin shoes with rainbows on them, bell-bottom jeans with crazy velvet patchwork all over them, giant belts covered in turquoise, skintight, almost midriff T-shirts with some great emblem on them, and tight little velvet rocker jackets from London. His slightly receding hair was down to his waist, and he had a bushy handlebar mustache and huge sideburns.

My mom didn’t exactly embrace my dad as a good friend, but she recognised how important he was to me, so she was always pleasant and facilitated our communication. He would stay in my room, and when he left, she would sit down with me, and I would write him thank-you notes for whatever presents he’d bought me, and tell him how much fun it was to see him.

By the age of 10, in the fifth grade, I had also begun to show some entrepreneurial talent. I would organise the neighbourhood kids, and we’d put on shows in my basement. I’d pick out a record, usually by the Partridge Family, and we’d all act out the songs using makeshift instruments like brooms and upside-down laundry tubs. I was always Keith Partridge, and we’d lip-sync and dance around and entertain the other kids who weren’t quite capable of partaking in the performance.

I was always looking to make a buck or two, so one time when we had the use of a friend’s basement, I decided I would charge whatever these kids could come up with – a dime, a nickel, a quarter – to come down there to attend a Partridge Family concert. I set up a big curtain and put a stereo behind it. Then I addressed the crowd: ‘The Partridge Family are basically shy, and besides, they’re much too famous to be in Grand Rapids, so they’re going to play a song for you from behind this curtain.’

In sixth grade, I started coming home for lunch, and my friends would congregate there. We’d play spin the bottle, and even though we had our own girlfriends, swapping was never a problem. Mostly we just French-kissed; sometimes we’d designate the time that the kiss had to last. I tried to get my girlfriend to take off her bra and let me feel her up, but she wouldn’t give in. Somewhere late in the sixth grade, I decided that it was time to go live with my dad. My mom was at her wits’ end with me.

When i left michigan aged 12 in 1974 I told all my friends I was moving to California to be a movie star. But as soon as I started driving around with my dad, singing along to the pop songs on the radio (which I wasn’t particularly good at), I announced: ‘I’m going to be a singer. That’s really what I’m going to do.’

I had been there only a few days when my dad called me into the kitchen. He was sitting at the table with a pretty 18-year-old girl he’d been hanging out with that week. ‘Do you want to smoke a joint?’ he asked me.

Back in Michigan, I automatically would have answered no. But being in this new environment made me adventurous. So my dad got out a thick black American Heritage Dictionary box. He opened the box, and it was full of weed. Using the lid as a preparation area, he broke off some of the pot, letting the seeds roll down to the bottom of the lid. Then he took out some rolling papers and showed me exactly how to roll a perfectly formed joint. I found it fascinating.

Then he lit up the joint and passed it to me. ‘Don’t take too much. You don’t want to cough your lungs out,’ he counselled.

I took a little drag and then gave the joint back to him. It went around the table a few times, and soon we were all laughing and feeling really mellow. And then I realised I was high. I loved the sensation. It felt like medicine to soothe the soul and awaken the senses. There was nothing awkward or scary – I didn’t feel like I had lost control – in fact, I felt like I was in control.

Then my dad handed me an Instamatic camera and said: ‘I think she wants you to take some pictures of her.’ I instinctively knew that some form of skin was about to be exposed, so I said to her: ‘What if we pull up your shirt and I’ll take a picture of you?’

‘That’s a good idea, but I think it might be more artistic if you just had her expose one of her breasts,’ my dad said. We all concurred. I took some pictures, and no one felt uncomfortable about it.

My priority that fall was to get into a good junior high school. I was supposed to enrol in Bancroft, but when we went to check it out, we saw that the building was in a shady neighborhood and scarred with all sorts of gang graffiti. The place just didn’t scream out: ‘Let’s go to school and have fun here.’ So my dad drove us to Emerson, which was in Westwood. It was a classic California Mediterranean building, with lush lawns and flowering trees and an American flag waving proudly in the breeze. Plus, everywhere I looked, there were these hot little 13-year-olds walking around in their tight Ditto jeans. ‘Whatever it takes, I want to go here,’ I said.

What it took was using Sonny Bono’s Bel Air address as my own. One of my dad’s former girlfriends, Connie, had left him for Sonny, who had recently split with Cher. But everyone stayed friendly, and I’d met Sonny on my previous visit and he was fine with the deception, so I enrolled.

The Sonny and Cher Show was probably the biggest thing on television then, and Sonny was always generous about ensuring that I’d get whatever extra care I needed. One time I was at his Bel Air mansion during a star-studded Hollywood party. I didn’t care about the Tony Curtises of the world at that point, so I started going up and down in the mansion’s old carved-wood elevator. Suddenly, I got stuck between floors, and they had to use a giant fireman’s axe to free me. I knew I was in big trouble, but Sonny never screamed at me or demeaned me in front of all the adults who were watching this rescue. He just calmly taught me to respect other people’s property and not play in things that weren’t made to be played in.

At the same time, my bond with my dad got stronger and stronger. As soon as I had moved in with him, he instantly became my role model and my hero, so everything I could do to bolster the solidarity between us was my mission. It was also his. We were a team. Naturally, one of our bonding experiences was to go on his pot-smuggling escapades. I became his cover for these trips. We’d take seven giant Samsonite suitcases and fill them up with pot. At the airport, we’d go from one airline to another, checking in these bags, because at that time they didn’t even look to see if you were on that flight. We’d land at a major airport, collect all the suitcases, and drive to someplace like Kenosha, Wisconsin.

On our Kenosha trip, we checked into a motel, because my dad’s transactions were going to take a couple of days. I was adamant that I wanted to go with him when the deal went down, but he was dealing with badass biker types, so he sent me to a movie, which turned out to be the new James Bond flick, Live and Let Die. The transactions took place over a three-day weekend, so I wound up going to that movie every day we were there, which was fine with me.

We had to return to LA with 30 grand in cash. My dad told me I’d be carrying the money, because if they caught someone who looked like him with all that money, he’d be busted for sure. That was fine with me. I’d much prefer to be part of the action than be sitting on the sidelines. So we rigged a belt piece, stuffed it with the cash, and taped it to my abdomen. ‘If they try to arrest me, you just fade away,’ he instructed me. ‘Just pretend you’re not with me and keep on going.’

We made it back to LA, and I later found out that my dad was only getting $200 a trip to mule that pot for friends. I also discovered that he was supplementing that meagre income with a nice steady cash inflow from a growing coke-dealing business.

There were a lot of people coming by, but not as many as you would think. My dad was fairly surreptitious about his dealings, and he knew the risk would increase with a lot of activity. But what his clientele lacked in quantity, it sure made up for in quality. There were plenty of movie stars and TV stars and writers and rock stars, and tons of girls.

It was hard to convince me that we weren’t living large, especially on the weekends, when my dad took me out nightclubbing, where he was known as the Lord of the Sunset Strip. (He was also known as Spider, a nickname he had picked up in the late Sixties when he scaled a building to get into the apartment of a girl he was fixated on.)

Sunset Strip in the early Seventies was the artery of life that flowed through West Hollywood. People constantly jammed the street, shuttling between the best clubs In town. There was the Whisky a Go Go and Filthy McNasty’s. Two blocks from the Whisky was the Roxy, another live music club. Across the parking lot from the Roxy was the Rainbow Bar and Grill. The Rainbow was Spider’s domain. Every night he’d get there around nine and meet up with his posse.

We’d be at the Rainbow most of the night. He didn’t stay put at the table the whole time, just long enough for his anchors to arrive to hold down the table, and then they’d all take turns making the rounds within the restaurant bar area, or going upstairs. I always loved the upstairs club. Whenever one of my dad’s girlfriends would want to dance, she’d ask me, because Spider was not a dancer.

The night wouldn’t be complete without cocaine, and it became a great sport to see how clandestinely you could consume your blow. The experienced coke hounds were easy to spot, because they all had the right-pinkie coke fingernail. They’d grow that pinkie at least a good half-inch past the finger and shape it perfectly, and that was the ultimate coke spoon of the time. My dad took great pride in his elaborately manicured coke nail. But I also noticed that one of his nails was far shorter than the rest.

‘What’s up with that one?’ I asked.

‘That’s so I don’t hurt the ladies down below when I’m using my finger on them,’ he said. Boy, that stuck in my mind. I was the only child present for all this insanity. For the most part, the adults who didn’t know me just ignored me. But Keith Moon, the drummer for the Who, always tried to make me feel at ease. In the midst of this chaotic, riotous, party-life atmosphere where everyone was screaming and shouting and sniffing and snorting and drinking and humping, Moon would take the time to be still and take me under his arm and say: ‘How you doing, kid? Are you having a good time? Shouldn’t you be in school or something? Well, I’m glad you’re here, anyway.’

All of this was taking an emotional toll on me, in ways that I couldn’t even articulate. Even though I had friends at Emerson school, and I was going to the Rainbow on weekends as my dad’s sidekick, I was alone a lot and starting to create my own world. I had to get up in the morning and go to school and be a guy in his own private bubble. I didn’t mind it, since I had this space to pretend in and create in and think in and observe in. Sometime that year, one of the neighbour’s cats had kittens, and I used to take one of the fluffy white kittens up on the roof of the garage apartment behind us to hang out with. He was my little friend, but at times, I would scold that kitten, for no reason other than to exert power over him. During one of these scolding sessions, I started thumping the kitty in the face with my fingers. It wasn’t anything deadly, but it was an act of aggression, which was strange, because I’d always been an animal lover.

As soon as I moved in with my dad, the idea of having sex also became a priority for me. Girls my age at Emerson wanted nothing to do with me. My father had a succession of beautiful young teenage girlfriends whom I couldn’t help fantasising about, but I couldn’t quite get up the nerve to approach them. Then he started seeing a girl named Kimberly.

Kimberly was a beautiful, softly-spoken 18-year-old redhead with snow-white skin and huge, perfectly formed breasts. She had an ethereal, dreamy personality that was typified by her adamant refusal to wear her glasses despite terrible nearsightedness. I once asked her if she could see without them, and she said that things were very fuzzy. So why didn’t she wear the glasses? ‘I prefer the world unclear,’ she said.

One night shortly before my twelfth birthday, we were all at the Rainbow. I was high as a little kite on a quaalude, and I got up the courage to write my father a note: ‘I know this is your girlfriend, but I’m pretty sure she’s up for the task so if it’s okay with you, can we arrange a situation where I end up having sex with Kimberly tonight?’

He brokered the deal in a flash. She was game, so we went back to the house, and he said: ‘Okay, there’s the bed, there’s the girl, do what you will.’ My father’s bed was bizarre to begin with, because he had piled four mattresses on top of one another to create an almost thronelike effect. He was a little too present for my taste, and I was nervous enough as it was, but Kimberly did everything. She guided me the whole way, and she was very loving and gentle, and it was all pretty natural. I can’t remember if it lasted five minutes or an hour. It was just a blurry, hazy, sexy moment.

It was a fun thing to do, and I never felt traumatised then, but I think subconsciously it always stuck with me in a weird way. I didn’t wake up the next morning going, ‘Geez, what the hell was that?’ I woke up wanting to go brag about it to my friends and find out how I could arrange for it to happen again. But that was the last time my dad ever let me do that. Whenever he’d have a new beautiful girlfriend, I’d say, ‘Remember that night with Kimberly? How about if …’

He’d always cut me off. ‘Oh, no, no, no. That was a one time deal. Don’t even bring that up. It’s not going to happen.’

Around that time, I also had the wonderful experience of being babysat one night by Cher. I was in the eighth grade and still hanging with Sonny and Connie from time to time, and for some reason, they got jammed up, so Cher volunteered to watch me for the night. We camped out in her bedroom, having a heart-to-heart talk for hours on end, really getting to be friends for the first time.

After a while, it was time for bed. Because it was a large house and I might get spooked being alone, Cher let me crash on her bed until Sonny and Connie arrived. In my mind, there was a bit of tension – not that I was going to make any moves on this woman, just the idea that I’d be in bed with such a gorgeous creature. But I thought it was OK because we were friends.

Then Cher got up to go to the bathroom and get ready for bed. It was dark in the bedroom, but light in the bathroom, so I watched her take off her clothes, all the while feigning to be on my way to sleep. There was a woman’s naked body, and it was long and slender and special and just thrilling. Not that I had the wherewithal to want some physical relationship with her, but in my mind, it was a stimulating and semi-innocent moment. After she put on her nightgown, she walked back into the room and got into bed. I remember thinking, ‘This is not bad, lying next to this beautiful lady.’

Sex was still pretty sporadic for me at the age of 13. But even then there wasn’t a kid I knew who was getting laid. Every one of my friends was destined to stay a virgin for the next few years, so part of the joy for me was going to school the next day and telling my friends, ‘Hey, I spent the night with a girl.’ They were like, ‘Whoa, that’s beyond comprehension.’

I’ll never forget my first day of high school. I arrived at Uni High and checked in with my counsellor to get my class assignment. Then she dropped the bombshell. ‘Tony, I know you’ve been going to Emerson for three years under a false address. Because you don’t live in the district, you can’t go to school here.’

I didn’t know it then, of course, but that was one of the most eventful twists of fate I’d ever experience.

I went home to figure out which high school was in my district. It turned out to be Fairfax High, a sprawling school on the corner of Fairfax and Melrose. I went there the next day and felt like an alien in a sea of people who already knew one another. Because I was a day late, a lot of the classes I wanted were full. I didn’t know any students, I didn’t know any teachers, I didn’t even know where the cafeteria was.

I started filling out my class forms, and when they asked for my name, I impulsively wrote ‘Anthony’ instead of ‘Tony.’ When roll was called, the teachers all called out ‘Anthony Kiedis,’ and I didn’t correct them. I just became Anthony – this slightly different guy who was more mature, more in control, more adult.

Once again, I started befriending all of the loneliest and the most unwanted kids in school. My first friends were Ben Tang, a scrawny, uncoordinated, huge-bespectacled Chinese kid, and Tony Shurr, a pasty-faced 98-pound weakling. About a month into the school year, Tony and I were talking in the quad at lunchtime when a tiny, crazy-looking, gap-toothed, big-haired kid came waltzing up to Tony, put him in a headlock, and started roughing him up. I couldn’t tell at first if this was friendly fooling around or if the guy was bullying my best friend at Fairfax, so I erred on the side of friendship. I stepped in, grabbed him off Tony, and hissed, ‘If you touch him again, you’re going to regret it for the rest of your life.’

‘What are you talking about? He’s my friend,’ the kid protested.

It’s weird. Even though we were starting off on this ‘I’ll kick your ass’ aggressiveness, I felt an instant connection to the remarkable little weirdo. Tony told me his name was Michael Balzary, soon to be known beyond the confines of Fairfax High as Flea.

Mike was another outsider at Fairfax. He had been born in Australia and was painfully shy and insecure, so I assumed the alpha role in the relationship. This would be the dynamic that would continue for a long time, and it would be a beautiful thing, because we shared so much together. However, it would also carry an aspect of resentment for him, because I was kind of a bastard and a mean-spirited bully at times along the way.

Mike’s mom was a real sweetheart, even if she had a bizarre Australian accent. But for the first few months I knew him, Mike kept talking to me about his older sister, Karen, who was back in Australia. ‘She’s a wildcat,’ he’d tell me. ‘She’s really hot. She’s got a million boyfriends, and she’s the best gymnast at Hollywood High. She went streaking in the middle of a citywide competition.’ I had to meet this Balzary sister.

Later that school year, Karen finally showed up. She was young and foxy and incredibly forward. By then it was common for Mike and me to sleep over at each other’s houses. In fact, Mike’s room had two tiny cot beds, one for him and one for me. His family had a hot tub in the backyard, and one night Mike, Karen, and I were in the tub drinking some wine. Karen’s hand was continually wandering over to me under those bubbles, and when Mike called it a night and I was about to do the same, Karen grabbed me. ‘You stay,’ she implored. Time to meet the sister.

Karen immediately took charge. She started making out with me, then took me back to her bedroom, where she spent the next three hours introducing me to a variety of sexual experiences I hadn’t thought possible.

The next day Mike asked, ‘How was my sister?’ I spared him the details because, after all, she was his sister, but I did thank him profusely for introducing us. Years and years later, he came to me and said: ‘We’re really good friends, but this is something that’s been bothering me for years. While you were in the room with my sister, I went outside the house and was peeping through the window for a few seconds.’ By then I couldn’t have cared less, but it was probably a good thing that he waited as long as he did to tell me.

‘We’re the red hot chili peppers, goddamn it!’

Anthony Kiedis reflects on further highs and lows in the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ career:

1983 The fledgling band meet a lawyer for the first time. ‘We decided to moon the lady at reception. “We’re the Red Hot Chili Peppers, goddamn it, and we want to see Eric …”, and we dropped our trousers.’

1988 Original guitarist Hillel Slovak dies of a heroin overdose:

‘I went into denial. He was my best pal, but I was dying of the same thing that killed him.’

Drummer Jack Irons leaves:

‘Jack said: “I don’t want to be part of something where my fucking friends are dying.” We understood.’

1991 The band’s masterpiece, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, is released.

‘We all knew we were doing our best work yet and we had created something that was real and strong and beautiful.’

1992 Guitarist John Frusciante leaves:

‘I resented him for abandoning our musical comradeship.’

1997 While in India, Kiedis visits the Dalai Lama.

‘He cupped my hand in his hand and looked me in the eye. “Anthony. Welcome to India … we have to get a picture of you and I.”

“If there’s anything I can do let me know,” I said.

“If [Beastie Boy] Adam Yauch ever calls you to play a festival for us, please make yourself available.”‘

1998 Frusciante returns: ‘One day in April, Flea went over there and they sat together and listened to records. Then Flea popped the question: “What would you think about coming back and playing in the band?” John just started sobbing and said: “Nothing would make me happier in the world.”‘

· Extracted from Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis published by Time Warner Books on 21 October at £17.99. © Anthony Kiedis 2004.

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