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Book Review: Flea’s ‘Acid for the Children’ Is a Portrait of a Chili as a Young Punk

The compelling new memoir by the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist is a coming-of-age bromance in the vein of Patti Smith’s ‘Just Kids’

Will Hermes Nov 07, 2019

Flea. Photo: Sven Mandel/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY SA

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Born Michael Peter Balzary, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist and spiritual adviser is the sort of rock star who begins his memoir, Acid for the Children, weeping at musical beauty in an Ethiopian church, blurting earnest declarations about his “endless search to merge with infinite spirit” and his surrendering “to the divine and cosmic rhythm,” and offering the summary observation that “bein’ famous don’t mean shit.” Call him disingenuous. Still, you’ll most probably want to hug him before you’re 10 pages in.

Flea’s got a compelling, vulnerable, self-interrogating writer’s voice; his editor on the project was David Ritz, who’s abetted some great music memoirs and biographies (see Aretha: From These RootsDivided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye, etc.), generally focused on finding his subject’s beating heart. That must’ve been a breeze with Flea, whose outsize heart appears regularly here — on his sleeve and occasionally in his mouth. He waxes romantic about a beloved sweater made for him by his maternal nana (actual name: Muriel Cheesewright), digs for memories of his early years in Australia, the son of a government worker posted to the consulate in New York City in 1967. There, he comes into consciousness, as his parents split up and his mom takes up with a wild-man jazz bassist (yes, there was evidently some rub-off).

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Young Flea, semi-neglected, gets his mind blown by be-bop, learns about substance abuse, and heads off wide-eyed into boho America, eventually landing on the West Coast, where he wets his bed, smokes angel dust, fails with girls, and eventually discovers the L.A. punk scene, where he cements his outcast status and finds his place in the world. After a stint with hardcore troublemakers Fear, he launches a band with high school pal/ bro-soulmate Anthony Kiedis — and that’s where the book ends.

As the memoir Just Kids, by Flea’s pal Patti Smith, was at its core an artist’s love story between her and Robert Mapplethorpe,  Acid for the Children is an artist’s love story between Flea and Kiedis, who meet as 14-year-olds and cleave like opposing magnetic poles. “The way I bonded with my friends had always been intense, but with Anthony,” Flea writes, “it was next-level shit — the spirit of adventure, the street hustle, the getting high, the art, the philosophy, the burning desire to make something happen. Nothing I did freaked him out, and I’d freaked out every friend I ever had.” The book will disappoint heads looking for rock & roll war stories from the Chili Peppers’ heyday. But like Just Kids or Chronicles: Volume One, these prefame narratives focus on the human behind the art, and like those memoirs, it’s part of an ongoing narrative project that, based on the evidence, should be worth following.

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