A couple of weeks ago, I threw out my back while leaning over in the shower, merely shaving my legs, though no one nor the light of day cares if I did. This is what it means to be 50-something.
In time, I’ve rehabbed my way back to a comfortable seated position after weeks standing or walking – the only way to manage the pain. I looked at my sleepless nights as time to read some books I’d had on my desk for a while, including Flea’s memoir, Acid for the Children (2019, Grand Central Publishing).
You may know Flea by his parasitic stage name and for his bass-thumping beats behind Red Hot Chili Peppers’ catalog of work. He’s a founding member of the band. Unexpectedly, Flea – born Michael Balzary – ends his memoir just as the band begins its trajectory toward decades-long fame and international popularity. He begins it where he started – suburban Australia, his birthplace – and leads the reader on a wild journey from Australia to Rye, New York, and settles in the hedonism of late-’70s/early-’80s Los Angeles.
We ride along as his family splinters, through his parents’ divorce, and as his Dad retreats to Australia. He speaks of a childhood spent in search of a father figure, and how his mother hitched herself to a struggling substance-abusing musician – who, despite having some redeeming qualities (like introducing young Flea to jazz) was never a stable substitute.
His childhood story is partly about discovery – discovering rhythm, musical genres and musical instruments, new bands, and the chicks who swooned for them. We see Flea’s musical tastes evolve, expand, become refined. He opines on the virtues of complex jazz. He confesses to being a late-comer to rock and an unapologetic Led Zeppelin fanboy. For the rest of us who weren’t part of the L.A. music scene, he makes us feel like we were there, alongside him, in the pit, experiencing bands like X, Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys, and FEAR – a local band that made him anecdotally famous before RHCP hit the big time. He recalls his first listen to Sugarhill-produced hip-hop and what it felt like in his very core the first time he heard Public Enemy’s bass drop.
In a way, the memoir is also a tale of untraditional family and forgiveness. Flea narrates his story by linking together formative years and influential characters he encountered along the way. He speaks of lifesaving friendships with passion, reverence, gratitude, and awe. He learned to seek out relationships that transcend superficiality, that have their own rhythm and palpable energy, like what he’s had with RHCP front man, Anthony Kiedis.
Contrition is a running theme throughout the book, and Flea – the middle-aging man today – has clarity about his shortcomings, mistakes, and unbridled recklessness of his youth. His wild-child antics read more like street-kid felonies.
And, of course, there were the drugs. Copious amounts, readily available, a smorgasbord of drugs, alluring, emotion-tamping, mind altering, psychotic-episode inducing drugs – many of them injected into his veins with shared needles.
By the time Flea sat down to pen Acid for the Children, he was 27 years sober.
Like with any rock star or musical icon, fans likely think they know Flea by the music he makes and his on-stage funkified persona, but he peels layer upon raw layer back for the reader to see here. In defiance of his good fortune, his has been a hard life, a hard-lived life. It could’ve, should have, hardened him. But that is not how the story ends.