Interviewer: Jordan Tappis
I had the privilege of sitting down with Anthony Kiedis, chief lyricist and lead vocalist of The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Within minutes of beginning our cyber discussion, I became hyperaware that I was in the presence of a changed man, that is, an individual whose experimental struggle for survival has crystallized his personal evolution. Kiedis possesses a unique blend of honesty and eloquence I have never before encountered in the interview setting. One gets the sense that he has nothing to hide, that somewhere along the road of perseverance, most of the walls that separate humans from one another had been knocked down. He seemed completely unafraid to expose himself regardless of the outcome – a rather bold position given his professional status. I was especially impressed by Kiedis’ candor as we discussed the ups and downs of his enigmatic music career, his acclaimed autobiography Scar Tissue, the joys of becoming a father, his much publicized struggle with drugs and alcohol, and the forced humility that comes with beginning something new. Enjoy.
Jordan Tappis: How are you today, sir?
Anthony Kiedis: I’m a little sore in the back and shoulders from yesterday’s long-board session. It was a super easy, family-style break, so I know the ache will pass by the time I,m sippin’ my second cup. My 3-month-old son, who was cuddled under my arm, woke up before I did today, so I got to come to to the sounds of his “coos” and “cahs.” His smile hits me in the eyes like little cupid arrows. I can’t complain. Looking out the window I see the North Shore of Oahu with an unobstructed view of Pipeline. This has to be one of nature’s best winter water shows on earth, and it puts me in a mood of humbled promise. I’d better say a prayer and meditate on being a more patient and loving boyfriend today. Yesterday, I was a bit of a jerk.
JT: What were your childhood dreams / aspirations?
AK:In some ways, my childhood is still tapering, so the dreams and aspirations keep coming. I do remember returning home to Michigan from a father/visit/trip to 1969’s Los Angeles and telling my best friend, Joe, that it was only a matter of time before I would be moving to California to fulfill my destiny as a movie star. It was a sign of many fruitless shortcuts to come — skip the whole learning-a-craft bit and get right into the movie star role. A few years later, I tapped into the science of life and thought I could become an adventurous marine biologist who would work with all sorts of nature’s underwater creations. At the genius age of 11, I had gone to a low budget marine institute on the island of Bimini in the Bahamas. Seeing sawfish, sharks and dolphins had a heavy impact on my imagination. Next came the “I think I want to be a singer” dream when I was about 13 years old. Driving around with my psychedelic dad in his ’61 Austin Heely, I would get right into it with the radio and sing along with the likes of Barry Manilow and Carl Douglas(Kung-Fu fighting). I also had occasion to witness Iggy Pop on stage at The Whiskey in the early/mid-’70s, as well as shows by Blondie, The Psycho Sluts, Deep Purple and The Turtles. Oddly enough, that dream completely faded. I didn’t rehash it again for another five years or so, which at that point was a quarter of my life span. As for my aspirations, I think they changed with the wind. I really wasn’t into aspiring. I liked skateboarding, but mainly because the was the most fun way of getting places. I liked the company of older women for the same reason I liked skateboarding. I suppose if I get more thoughtful about this question, there are some other things that come up. I aspired to see that my father was safe and successful. I aspired to roam the world doing things my way and not to get caught. We can revisit this later if you like.
JT: What experience /artist sparked your intitial love of music and how did it manifest?
AK:Inspiration is a weird thing. People expect music to be inspired by other music. Sometimes it is and sometimes it’s 101 other things that turn you on to the magic of creating song and sound out of thin air–thin air, which is actually rich in spirit, rhythms, feelings, melodies, and possibly even preexisting tunes from other dimensions.
For the record, I just realized I misread the question–“initial love of music.” My mom played music in the house on Paris Street in Grand Rapids, Mich., from 1969 to 1973. She wasn’t spinning the cutting edge of the era, but as she cleaned the house, we would hear Carly Simon, Rod Stewart and Carole King. It wasn’t enough to turn my interest toward playing music, but it did soothe my heart. A.M. radio of that same era got me pretty pumped up singing along to Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress and Brandy, but I think it was hearing Frankenstein by Edgar Winter in the middle of the night that kind of revved my little engine into a realm of inspiration. Still, there was no definitive connection with the artist that made me want to craft a jam. It wasn’t until after moving to West Hollywood in 1973, into the bungalow dwelling of my father, where the world’s most interesting artists and streetniks would actually gather, that I started identifying with the sparks that would later come to life in my own musical experience. Even then I remained more driven to skate, alter my mind, dream about girls and run roughshod with my amigos. Going to shows with my dad was enlightening, but it didn’t yet click. Going to see Black Flag and Devo, and Echo and the Bunnymen was as mind expanding as a newborn baby taking his first steps, but it wasn’t until I fell in love with a band called Defunkt at age 19 that I finally connected the dots to the point where I knew I wanted to make other people feel the way this band was making me feel. At that same time, I was living with Flea, who was playing music in a band called What Is This. We discovered a flood of new music that drove us into elation nightly. Then I got a hold of a Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five cassette tape and I know that my career path had been paved–paved with what and whom, I had no idea. Anyway, it was a combination of everything that worked its way into why I would eventually start rhyming and thinking in terms of song. Living on the streets, a love for my comic heroes at that time (the Marx Brothers, Woody Allen, Richard Pryor and The Three Stooges), my fascination with the spiritual electricity caused by dancing, and even the colors of the Hollywood sunrises. A tightknit brotherhood was a defining factor as well. My friends Flea, Jack Irons and Hillel Slovak being right by my side was huge, as in eventually I caught the bug by proxy, osmosis and a contagious blend of lucky stars. I know that this answer is all over the place, but that’s life.
JT: Do you have any notable career highlights?
AK: Career highlights …they come when you least expect them and often when no one is looking–well, no one except your Maker. Show No. 1 at the Rhythm Lounge was highlight No. 1. We played one song because we had only one song. The club promoter asked us back the next week and humbly requested that we bring two songs. We obliged. Highlight No. 2 was recording a five-song demo tape for $300 produced by Spit Sticks (the drummer of Fear). We haven’t topped that recording yet. The staggering amount of highlights and lowlights that came to pass over the next 25 years was astronomical-life, death, resurrection and everything in between. Eventually, I came to realize that the ultimate highlights took place when we were in our funky little North Hollywood rehearsal space called The Alley. The highlights were, in fact, the moment that creation took place. Sometimes that would happen on my end when I was alone driving and the right words came to me, or the emotionally correct melody to rub righteously across John’s inventive chord would make itself known. They happened when Flea would plug in and begin to play a bass line that he had been mining the night before, and we all knew what to do. Those are the highlights where you feel as if you actually got a smile out of God. The other weird highlights were fun, too, but not nearly as long-lasting. You can get a soulful rush out of being part of live performances where everybody becomes a carpet of connected energy. Sometimes watching songs take on lives of their own all across the lands can feel exhilarating. For me, even something as transient as selling records can be a highlight-at least for a moment. I know what the real highlights are. I feel fortunate that I don’t have to feel compromised regardless of commercial success. My abilities and options as singer/songwriter are limited to the inspiration I am able to find. I am not versatile enough to be able to create something for the wrong reasons. I also feel like by the time we all have our say with a song it has been protected by musical democracy. My band loves the oneness with creation. I can tell when we’re all in that moment when we’re strolling down the path of highlights. I believe the option exists for our finest highlights still to come.
Other more listable career highlights:
*Patti Smith joining us on stage for a show in London
*The moment we bonded with Rick Rubin as our producer
*John Frusciante returning to the band in early 1999
*Singing with George Clinton on stage at The Palladium
*Living with George Clinton in Detroit in 1984-85 as he produced our second record Freaky Styley
*Jack Irons returning to the band for Uplift Mofo Party Plan
*Finding Chad Smith in a sea of drummers