So grateful to the lovely generosity of Kristin for this magazine <3
From the introduction
Anthony Kiedis speaks like a philosophy professor or a therapist, politely listening before talking, contemplating and then, losing it with that cool pirate laugh that reminds you that he knows some things, has seen some things and that his band The Red Hot Chili Peppers are still among rock’s hardest acts to follow.
President, kings and dictators make proclamations that their subjects must obey, but celebrities make presidents, kings and dictators. And, while heads of state can be strictly adhered to, their authority is usually only as strong as the army behind them. Conversely words spoken into a microphone by a sweaty human backed by four or five other sweaty and generally harmless individuals armed with nothing more than guitars, keyboards and drums are willingly followed more than any monarch or politician in our time. There is probably no more powerful voice in our world than that of a rock star.
Imagine the temptation for a rock star to play Simple Simon with 50,000 people. Simon says, “Put your hands in the air.” Simon says, “Twist and shout.” Simon says “Vote for John Doe.” Come on, we’ve all been victims of Simon’s voice while very few have actually stood in his place. Anthony Kiedis, the front man of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, understands the game better than most of us. He has moved millions with a punk, funk hip-hop sound that he helped create about two decades ago.
And while that sound has essentially remained the same, it has been refined. It, along with him and his band mates, have matured, dried out and hit richer, fuller notes that convey a more meaningful dialogue fueled on raw adrenaline and, and, once, other intoxicants. This has been followed by the great and strange discovery of self. The road to utopia is fraught with sorrow and littered with bottles and pipes and damage and friends, but the toll need not be extracted forever. For Kiedis and The Peppers it is time to move on emotionally, spiritually and musically. But if you unwrap their latest CD, don’t expect it to contain a sleepy medley of hypnotic mantras. There is still enough energy to light a city, any city, your city. But it’s a controlled energy this time around, and one that can nearly guarantee a safe landing.
Risen Magazine: What are your earliest memories of hearing music?
Anthony Kiedis: Wow, it was definitely a very emotional experience from the beginning. Although I wasn’t conscious of finding any particular music, the music that found me, whether I was riding around in the car with my mother or hanging out in the basement making model cars with my friends, whatever seeped in, there were things that definitely spoke to me and got me into that fantasy world and made me a little crazy, in a good way. A lot of it was from the 60s and 70s, when I was a little boy listening to AM radio. That’s what was piped into my life. So, Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head was a song that I would hear on my way to school and I would sing it over and over. Then I remember getting hit with Wings when I was in fifth and sixth grade.
I went out and actually bought a 45 which was Neil Young’s Heart of Gold and I played it on this white, plastic turntable that I had in my bedroom. I would sit there and play it over and over and over and I just felt it. The ironic thing about that was later in life I would be completely against Neil Young for a period of time. Where he just seemed like the most boring, crusty, slow hippie, the opposite of everything I wanted to be about when I was a punk rocker. I went to see a movie he made called Rust Never Sleeps and I actually fell asleep. And I thought, Oh that’s just some really forgotten dinosaur music that’s not for me. Cut to about three or four years later, I fell so deeply back in love with the music of Neil Young that it affected my whole life. And I started discovering each one of his records and going through each of his songs, and seeing what an ultra-inspired, super genius of sound this guy was, which seems funny to me since that was the first record I got, then I hated it, then I thought it was the greatest thing ever.
RM. Maybe older musicians are parental to younger musicians in a way. Like Mark Twain said, “When I was 14 years old my old man was so ignorant I could barely stand to have him around, by the time I turned 21, I was amazed by how much he’d learned.”
AK: [Laughs] Going against things was a big part of the experience, because I didn’t so much have the parental part to rebel against. It was awkward for me cuz my father was a rebel and it’s hard to rebel against a rebel. I didn’t grow up with the straight-laced kind of square, no-musical-taste kind of father, I grew up with a dad who was an outlaw gangster and a criminal and had impeccable taste in music. I grew up listening to people like Roxy Music and The Ramones and Harry and Led Zeppelin, The Who, a really interesting selection of great music. My house was full of posters of The Who and Andy Warhol stuff. Rebelling against him would have been like getting into Journey, [Laughs] which I couldn’t do cuz they were too popular and anything too popular… I had a weird sort of ego disorder where I didn’t want to anyone else, especially the popular masses. Later I discovered that can be more of a pain in the ass in the long run. Again, it was an important put of the process.
RM: If you react against the mainstream you’re still being controlled by them.
AK: Yeah, but at a certain age it’s productive. It gives you fuel and energy. You might not have anything to say otherwise. We actually wrote a song called Never mind. It was early 80s, this was when Hillel Slovak [deceased guitar player who played with The Red Hot Chili Peppers] was in the band for the first time. It was all Never mind this band, never mind that band, never mind the Gap Band, never mind the Zap Band, never mind the funk scam, never mind Duran Duran; never mind Hall and Oates… All of this music that I was against. Later I realized I actually like all of that music, but at the time I had to have something to write about, cuz all of that music was popular. The Sex Pistols had a very strong never mind message and later on Nirvana would lay down the definitive never mind message in a new way.
RM. Were you ever afraid to let people know that you might like a Carpenters song?
AK: Yeah, probably as a teenager. For the record, The Carpenters drive me crazy. I love ‘em to death. That music has gotten me through huge periods of my life where all I wanted to hear was hear Super Star. Pretty early on in the process, as soon as the original punk rock era turned a corner, it became sort of popular in my circle to embrace so-called guilty pleasure music, and not be so closet about listening to things that you thought were uncool a few years earlier.
Especially when John Fruscinate [sic]came into my life, because never before had I met a person with such an incredibly broad spectrum. He took broad spectrum to a whole new level. He was listening to the sweetest, quietest, most delicate as well as the most gnarly of the throbbing gristle raw style and every shade in between. We like it all; anything that’s real is up for grabs.
RM: Somewhere along the line the arts were seized by the darker part of it. In many circles it’s considered nonintellectual to like softer things. Like the new sin is being sentimental.
AK: Sure. I never quite jumped in with both feet into that philosophy. Again, John was instrumental in showing me that there was nothing non-soulful or unintelligent about liking something sentimental. So, somewhere in like the late 80s I began to embrace it all. You never know what’s going to make you cry, so you may as well be open to anything, cuz crying is damned good for you.
RM: It takes a lot of courage to cover a Hendrix song; how do you think he would have reacted to your rendition of Fire?
AK: I guess I’d have to say that he would have been into it cuz it wasn’t a complete replica of his song; it was faster and a bit more furious in a tempo sense, and it was clearly done with heart and conviction, and I think that he would have been absolutely fascinated by some of the more underground, heartfelt changes that music had gone through, and we were certainly part of that. Hillel was a fantastic spirit, and I’m sure that Jimi would have been into his methods.
RM: Is there anything you’d like ask Jimi Hendrix?
AK: I’d want to talk to him about his sexual experiences. There’s a little alleyway in London and there are these little placards that say. “This is where Jimi Hendrix slept,” and I know he was a beloved young man, during a time when people of that age had a really deep impact on the world. When you think about it, young men today aren’t having that kind of cultural impact that they did in the mid to late 60s. Jim Morrison, Janice Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and all these really young and wildly potent musicians were changing the world around them. I knew that he was dating the most beautiful girls in London at that time and it would be fun to talk to him about girls and his take on romance and things like that. Musically it would be a little obnoxious to go up and start asking him too many questions.
I did sit down with James Brown last June cuz we were playing shows with him in London. We were asked, “If you could play with anybody, who would it be?” and Flea wisely suggested James Brown. Our agent made a call and sure enough James Brown was alive and well and had a band and was in good form ready to bring his party to London.
I didn’t want to be that guy who forced himself upon his experience, cuz I know what it’s like to be on the road and you need your space. So, finally he summoned, and when he did I came to his dressing room and we sat down and instead of having a How you doin? handshake encounter and then goodbye. He said, “Let’s sit down,” and I said, “Good idea.” We got into it, and I asked him, “What was it you heard musically as a young boy that made you want to get into music?” I loved his answer, cuz it’s music that I’m into, which is Louis Jordan. He said he was about 15 when he started listening to him, and he couldn’t believe that someone from my world was into Louis Jordan. We started talking about his songs, and he said, “I’d love to hear you guys cover Beans and Cornbread and I said, “I love that song.” And he said, “How do you know Beans and Cornbread?” and said, “I don’t know, but we listen to it.” He was into that and Nat King Cole and he sang that in a very crooner style. I thought, s—t! And he said, “Yeah, I can sing all kinds of styles.” It was a profound moment. I’ve met a lot of incredible musicians along the way, but I’d have to say that sitting down with James Brown in the spirit, in the flesh, in all of his incredibleness was a real highlight.
RM: Do you pray?
AK: I do, out of necessity.
RM: What about at of thanks?
AK: The first part of prayer to at every morning is thanks, but I consider that a necessity.
RM: Do you have any organized beliefs?
AK: It’s pretty disorganized and I prefer to keep it that way. I guess there are some principles that I attempt to incorporate in my life so that I feel better. Letting everyone have their own belief system is the most important thing, instead of ever attempting to impose my belief system on anyone else, because I know that I don’t know anything. I can always learn something, not figuring that I have it all figured out cuz that gets pretty boring.
RM: You’re quite philosophical; did it ever bother you that The Chili Peppers were considered nothing more than a party band?
AK: I don’t think I lost too much sleep over it, but it never sat right with at when I would hear that description of us. I mean I definitely like the idea of being part of a great party and getting people enthusiastic about dancing and singing and sweating and feeling good. That’s one of the reasons I got into playing music, because I wanted music to make people feel as good as it had made at feel. But when we got lumped into this college, frat boy, kegger, testosterone macho thing, I was like Wait, that’s not us, it really doesn’t describe us right. Just because we don’t wear so many clothes or jump up and down a lot, that doesn’t necessarily equal macho or frat boy. I always thought there were many different dynamics to what we did and that was just one, and if you would listen to us under a microscope you would hear a lot more.
RM: What was it like to watch addiction creep into the band?
AK: Well, I saw addiction creep into my life and that of my friends before there ever was a band. It wasn’t like there was this energy that was specifically infiltrating a band environment. I don’t think that being in band necessarily creates addiction or is a fertile breeding ground for addiction. People often assume that if you’re in a band or in show business that the potential for addiction is greater. I disagree, because I know so many drug addicts, so many of my friends and acquaintances have been addicted to drugs or selling drugs and the percentage seems very well spread out among all walks of life, all races, all creeds, colors, sizes, shapes, social statuses. It’s never seemed to me to go along with being in a band or working in a restaurant, or whatever. It definitely had an impact on our band, that’s for sure.
Before we ever even made a recording in early 1983, Flea came and found me sleeping on the floor of an office building and I had been on a terrible, rampaging binge for days. I had slept through a practice or something. He came in and said, “I can’t be in this band with you anymore, we have to call it quits because you’re just too f—ked up. I still love you, you’re still my friend, but there’s no way this can work.” I kind of sprung out of my stupor and I actually told him that words: “But I was gonna’ be the James Brown of the 80s!”That’s how cockamamie my thinking had digressed into. He was like “James Brown of the 80s! All right, we’ll give it another slot.” There was something about the absolutely retarded response that I offered him at that point, that made him go This guy’s a lunatic, I’ll stick with him for a little while longer.
RM: Billy Bob Thornton old me, “When you’re famous you’re on trial all the time.”
AK: [Inhales deeply] It doesn’t bother me. I guess I don’t buy into it. Maybe I’m a little bit blind and a little bit ignorant, cuz I just don’t think about it so much. I go out with this girl now, and she’s an absolute loving angel, sweetheart, an absolute fine piece of God’s handiwork, this girl. She’s just real. I never think about what she has to go through, but she goes out with all of her girlfriends, and they all talk s—t about me… Oh that guy, don’t you know? And she doesn’t really believe it, but at the same time it does affect her, and she’ll ask Did you do bla, bla, bla with this girl? and I’ll say I don’t even know that person. There’s this whole rumor mill, gossip mill, lies mill that I’m not even aware of until someone points it out to me. I feel bad for her that she’s subjected to that incessant nonsense, but I kind of go on about my merry way without even thinking twice about it.
RM: Do you have a belief that you were born to be a musician?
AK: No, I think I was really in the right place at the right time. If I would have taken a left instead of a right, I don’t think it would have happened. I felt like I needed a specific set of circumstances to facilitate this experience for me, cuz I had failed miserably along the way with several types of musical instruments to the point where acting and crime and self-destruction were my main goals in life, at about the age of 19.
RM: What sorts of crime?
AK: Stealing. About a year later I had the realization that every time I took something I was actually taking from myself. Up to that point, it was just a survival mechanism. I liked the lifestyle, the rush. I got kicked out of University High School in West LA on the very first day. I’d been going to a junior high school that funneled into a high school with a false address, as a child. Then they sent me to the school in my neighborhood, which was Fairfax. Up to that point, I had tried playing clarinet, tuba, piano. I joined the choir and went nowhere with any of it. But when I went to Fairfax, I instantly stumbled into a crowd of guys who had been playing music since they were young uns. I didn’t think I wanted to do that. I thought, How cool, my friends play music. I thought I’d get into acting and sort of party and watch my friends play music, never thinking that I would join them in that reindeer game. But one day, two years after high school, as fate would have it, someone said Why not let Anthony be the singer in the band for a day? Everyone was like Yeah that would be cool. He’s a freak; he’d look good with a mic in his hand. So that’s how my whole musical experience began. If I would have stayed at University High School and hung out with my other friends I might not have…But, of course it was meant to happen, cuz it did happen.
RM: Do you remember your first beer?
AK: My first beer I was 2, and I only remember it from a picture. I started trying to drink beer again when I was 11, and didn’t have great success because it was a bitter. But I saw my dad with a long-neck Bud, and I thought I’m drinkin a longneck, and I would take it and think What’s he drinking that stuff for, it’s horrible tasting, and I would actually pour a little down the drain so it would look like I drank more than I did. By the time I was about 13 or 14, I had found a way to get three or four beers in me and experience that initial glorious alcohol burr.
RM: What keeps you sober?
AK: Um, daily maintenance. It’s not an incident or a memory or a piece of knowledge; it’s just having been taught what to do on a daily basis. It’s just like eating and drinking and sleeping to do things that help you survive and not wanting to hurt myself like that again.
RM: Alice Cooper talked about throwing up blood from alcoholism, and what he said was that he nearly died trying to live his image. He said, All my friends: Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janice Joplin, they all died trying to live their image.” Have you seen that?
AK: That was a different time. When I got turned on to sobriety, I saw that that there was an image that I was a lot more interested in cultivating. Not the sober guy, so to speak. Initially I thought that the entire world should get sober with me, but I soon realized that it just wasn’t for me anymore, or for people who have alcoholism in them. It became a lot more interesting to be myself and wake up in the morning for better or for worse and think This is me and I’m so happy to just be me. And not to be that tortured little bitch that has to change the way I feel because I don’t feel okay. It’s great to feel just okay.
RM: Do you think that Geronimo have been into The Chili Peppers?
AK: This is actually Sitting Bull [pointing to tattoo] and Chief Joseph [indicating other arm]. Geronimo was a bad ass. [Whistles] Geronimo might have been a more likely fan [Laughs]
RM: Do you think Chief Joseph would have understood?
AK: Our gift was to create something so powerful and unique and to make people happy, and that became our job, to make people happy, to create energy that would make people enjoy this experience in the world. I didn’t even realize it until recently that that was what we had been doing for 20 years, was creating this energy, and having a deep impact on a lot of lives. People let me know all the time. Every time I’m standing on a street corner, someone will come up and say, “I never would have made it through this,” or “That was the greatest period of my life…” With Chief Joseph, he was about reducing suffering and enhancing the quality of life of the people around him. We have that in common. It’s really hard to say what he would have thought of electrified noise. [Laughs.]
RM: What would you get into a fight.
AK: I hate fist fighting. It always makes me sick to my stomach. It scares me and it’s always painful. That are a lot of people out there equipped to do hand-to-hand combat. Still, I’d like to think that I’d fight to defend people who can’t defend themselves.
RM: Did you ever brawl as a kid?
RM: How did you chip your tooth?
AK: Microphone. Constant microphone damage.
RM: Have you ever reconsidered doing a song because you thought some kid was going to take it wrong?
AK: Not much. I know that my motives are not to make people fed bad, and if they take it the wrong way there’s nothing I can do about it. There was a time when I was writing a song and I used the word retarded. I was actually complimenting myself and used it in a nice way. I asked Rick Ruben about it and he just laughed. I don’t know if he was winding me up, but he said, If you use that you’re going to hear about it.” As it turned out the song got scrapped, and I didn’t have to worry about it.
RM: When the Black-Eyed Peas used that word it was like, Let yourself go.
AK: It’s great that that’s become a complement, because there is something for sure wonderful about the energy that retarded and Downs syndrome people have. Sometimes I’ll look at someone with Down syndrome and realize that that person is the happiest human being in 20 square miles. I look at other people who are stressing, worrying and concerned and there’s this guy or girl who’s smiling about the simplest things in life. I was on a plane recently with this kid and he’d get up to use the restroom and he’d be bursting with joy walking from one place to another, walking, smiling, skipping and I’m like That guy’s happier than me, for sure.
RM: What makes you cry?
AK: [Inhales deeply] Hopefully a lot of things. Being on an airplane is generally a tear-inducing space for me. I don’t even know why. I’m looking down on the world through the crowds [sic. Clouds?] and get into a crying space and it’s really good.
RM: Have you ever cried on stage?
AK: I can’t remember specifically, but it seems that everything has happened to me at least once on stage, so I would guess yes.
RM: Do you ever play something where you connecting and they’re getting it?
AK: That does not cause me to weep. Weeping comes from a different place for me; sometimes just the silliest little place in a film, no one else in the theater is crying. I hate to sound too goofy, but it’s usually when people show other people compassion. That word has so much of a stigma, cuz it seems so goody two shoes.
RM: Have you ever intentionally written a pop song, just to sell units, or written a song you don’t believe in?
AK: No, never. Don’t think it’s possible. I’m not against writing a pop song. If a good pop song came to me, I’d be happy, but not just to sell units, never. And thank God it hasn’t, cuz that seems like a nightmare of a trap to walk into. Fortunately I’m not sitting there writing songs by myself. By the time everyone puts in their two cents…There’s no way that everyone could be having a bad idea at the same time, so there’s a little bit of a failsafe mechanism of that happening.
RM: Do your fans get you?
AK: No, I don’t think so, but I really don’t expect them to. I don’t think that anyone gets me, let alone someone who doesn’t know me. They may get something; they may get a part of me. They get a moment or an interpretation.
RM: Is that lonely?
AK: Sure, but it’s not a constant, and I’m not even against lonely. Lonely can be very inspiring. I don’t know too many people that feel “gotten” entirely by people. Every once in a while you have a girlfriend or a friend that gets you, but that’s very rare to me.
RM: What do you look for in a friend?
AK: I don’t really look for anything. Sometimes friendships happen that surprise me. Friendships always seem to develop when I least expect it. The general term thoughtfulness comes to mind, having a friend who is thoughtful about other people.
RM: How many pushups can you do?
AK: In one go?
AK: If my life depended on it?
AK: I think I could probably get, in a one-time only, gun-to-my-head situation I could probably knock at 75. The pushup is an exercise that I gravitate toward, but I’m remarkably inconsistent with any sort of exercise.
RM: What about with life in general; are you inconsistent?
AK: Yup, not real patterned. Not real disciplined. I like the idea of being disciplined.
RM: Do you think a lot of musicians are ADD?
AK: [Laughs] Yeah, I can see that.
RM: If you could put one thing on your car, or let’s say a headstone…
AK: On a head stump?
RM: No, headstone.
AK: Wait, I don’t think I want a bumper sticker slogan on my headstone.
RM: No, if you could make one statement.
AK: Bumper sticker or headstone?
RM: One statement on your headstone.
AK: [Laughs] I guess I’d have to go for the contrarian point that you’re never going to sum up life in a bumper sticker or a headstone. Life Is not about trying to find an answer or a definitive statement. It really is just about the experience. You’re never going to get the answer, there is no answer, just enjoy the ride. It’s not going to boil down to just one quick line.
RM: Where do you see yourself in 10,000 years?
AK: Ten-thousand years? [Laughs] I hope that we tour for the rest of my life; it’s not going to be 10,000 years, but at the rate we are going, the cycle of writing and recording and touring and taking large breaks in between, suits me just fine. It gives me something to do, and I have all the freedom in the world to do nothing when I want to do nothing. In 10,000 years, I hope to find myself in love, wherever that may be.
Anthony Kiedis’ biography, Scar Tissue is assailable through Hyperion in record stores or online. The latest Red Hot Chili Peppers CD, By the Way, is an the Warner Brothers label and ran be purchased in record stores or online.