When the Red Hot Chili Peppers burst onto the Californian scene in the 1980s, their music mystified and electrified audiences. Was this a rock band? Punk? New-age hip-hop? In Acid for the Children, the band’s bassist and co-founder Flea sheds light on origins of the band’s iconic sound, including such memorable singles as “Can’t Stop”, “Suck My Kiss” and “Californication”.
This memoir is a debut book for Flea – who was Australian-born as Michael Peter Balzary. It details his turbulent formative years, spanning from Australia to New York and landing (somehow always on his feet) in the streets of Los Angeles. His parents’ messy divorce left Flea with a step-father who played double bass in a jazz band, and Flea inherited a passion for the same funky music during marijuana-fuelled jam sessions at their house. Flea originally played the trumpet, and only took up electric bass when high school mates including Hillel Slovak (the RHCP’s first guitarist) and hype-man Anthony Kiedis (RHCP singer) needed a man for their first band Anthym.
Los Angeles was in the grips of heroin and crack epidemics and the writer, now two decades sober, makes no attempt to sugar-coat his own heavy drug use. (Cue “Californication” lyrics: “destruction leads to a very rough road, but it also breeds creation”.) There are a few taut mentions of Kiedis’ heroin addiction, which was detailed in Kiedis’ own autobiography Scar Tissue, and Slovak’s overdose death in 1988. Interestingly, Flea stops short of labelling himself an addict.
Flea writes in much the same way he plays music; untamed and scatty in places but totally gripping. The only disappointment in this page-turner is that it covers Flea’s life up to his 20th birthday. It leaves readers at a frustrating cliff-hanger as the RHCP take the stage for their first live show in 1983. Like every great RHCP album, surely there will be a follow-up.