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As lead singer and songwriter for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Anthony Kiedis has lived life on the razor's edge. Much has been written about him, but until now we've only had his songs as clues to his experience from the inside. In Scar Tissue, Kiedis proves himself to be as compelling a memoirist as he is a lyricist, giving us a searingly honest account of the life from which his music has evolved.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are that rare breed of rock band: critically lauded and popularly embraced by millions of fans, their albums consistently sell into the stratosphere - their CD Californication sold over 13 million copies alone.
Now, in Scar Tissue, Anthony Kiedis defies the rock star clichés. In his telling, we can see everything he has done has been part of a passionate journey. Kiedis is a man "in love with everything" - the darkness, the death, the disease. Even his descent into drug addiction was a part of that journey; another element that he has transformed into art. Scar Tissue is a fascinating account of a fast-lane life, addiction, and a moving story of eventual recovery and redemption.
"Me, I'm from Michigan"
I'd been shooting coke for three days straight with my Mexican drug dealer, Mario, when I remembered the Arizona show. By then, my band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, had one album out, and we were about to go to Michigan to record our second album, but first, Lindy, our manager, had booked us a gig in a steakhouse disco in Arizona. The promoter was a fan of ours and he was going to pay us more than we were worth and we all needed the money, so we agreed to play.
Except I was a wreck. I usually was whenever I went downtown and hooked up with Mario. Mario was an amazing character. He was a slender, wiry, and wily Mexican who looked like a slightly larger, stronger version of Gandhi. He wore big glasses, so he didn't look vicious or imposing, but whenever we shot coke or heroin, he'd make his confessions: "I had to hurt somebody. I'm an enforcer for the Mexican mafia. I get these calls and don't even want to know the details, I just do my job, put the person out of commission and get paid." You never knew if anything he said was true.
Mario lived in an old, eight-story brick tenement downtown, sharing his squalid apartment with his ancient mother, who would sit in the corner of this itty-bitty living room, silently watching Mexican soap operas. Every now and then, there'd be outbursts of bickering in Spanish, and I'd ask him if we should be doing drugs there-he had a giant pile of drugs and syringes and spoons and tourniquets right on the kitchen table. "Don't worry. She can't see or hear, she doesn't know what we're doing," he'd reassure me. So I'd shoot speedballs with granny in the next room.
Mario wasn't actually a retail drug dealer, he was a conduit to the wholesalers, so you'd get incredible bang for your buck, but then you'd have to share your drugs with him. Which we were doing that day in his tiny kitchen. Mario's brother had just gotten out of prison and he was right there with us, sitting on the floor and screaming each time that he tried and failed to find a working vein in his leg. It was the first time that I'd ever seen someone who had run out of useful real estate in his arms and was reduced to poking a leg to fix.
We kept this up for days, even panhandling at one point to get some more money for coke. But now it was four-thirty in the morning and I realized we had to play that night. "Okay, time to buy some dope, because I need to drive to Arizona today and I don't feel so good," I decided.
So Mario and I got into my cheesy little hunk-of-junk green Studebaker Lark and drove to a scarier, deeper, darker, less friendly part of the downtown ghetto than we were already in, a street that you just didn't even want to be on, expect the prices here were the best. We parked and then walked a few blocks until we got to a run-down old building.
"Trust me, you don't want to go in," Mario told me. "Anything can happen inside there and it's not going to be good, so just give me the money and I'll get the stuff."
Part of me was going, "Jesus Christ, I don't want to get ripped off right now. He hasn't done it before, but I wouldn't put anything past him." But the other, larger part of me just wanted that heroin, so I pulled out the last $40 that I had stashed away and gave it to him and he disappeared into the building.
I'd been up shooting coke for so many days straight that I was hallucinating, in a strange limbo between consciousness and sleep. All I could think was that I really needed him to come out of that building with my drugs. I took off my prized possession, my vintage leather jacket. Years earlier, Flea and I had spent all our money on these matching leather jackets, and this jacket had become like a house to me. It stored my money and my keys and, in a little nifty secret pocket, my syringes.
Now I was so wasted and chilly that I just sat down on the curb and draped my jacket over my chest and shoulders as if it were a blanket.
"Come on, Mario. Come on. You've got to come down now," I chanted my mantra. I envisioned him leaving that building with a dramatically different pep in his step, going from the slumping, downtrodden guy to the skipping, whistle-while-you-work, let's-go-shoot-up guy.
I had just closed my eyes for an instant when I sensed a shadow coming over me. I looked over my shoulder and saw a hulking, big, dirty, crazy-looking Mexican Indian coming at me with a huge, industrial-sized pair of cut-your-head-off giant scissors. He was in mid-stab, so I arched my back as forward as I could to get away from his thrust. But suddenly a skinny, little jack-o'-lantern Mexican bastard jumped in front of me, holding a menacing-looking switchblade.
I made an instantaneous decision that I wasn't going to take it in the back from the big guy; I'd rather take my chances with the scarecrow killer in front of me. This was all happening so fast, but when you're faced with your own death, you go into that slow motion mode where you get the courtesy of the universe expanding time for you. So I jumped up and, with my leather jacket in front of me, charged the skinny guy. I pushed the jacket onto him and smothered his stab, then dropped it and ran out of there like a Roman candle.
I ran and I ran and I didn't stop until I got to where my car was parked, but then I realized that I didn't have the keys. I had no keys, no jacket, no money, no syringes, and worst of all, no drugs. And Mario was not the kind of guy to come looking for me. So I walked back to his house, but nada. Now the sun had come up and we were supposed to leave for Arizona in an hour. I went to a pay phone and found some change and called Lindy.
"Lindy, I'm down on Seventh and Alvarado and I haven't been asleep for a while and my car is here but I have no keys. Can you pick me up on the way to Arizona?"
He was used to these Anthony distress calls, so an hour later, there was our blue van pulling up to the corner, packed with our equipment and the other guys. And one deranged, sad, torn-up, filthy passenger climbed aboard. I immediately got the cold shoulder from the rest of the band, so I just lay down lengthwise under the bench seats, rested my head in the center column between the two front seats, and passed out. Hours later, I woke up drenched in sweat because I was lying on top of the engine and it was at least 115 degrees out. But I felt great. And Flea and I split a tab of LSD and we rocked out that steakhouse.
Most people probably view the act of conception as merely a biological function. But it seems clear to me that on some level, spirits choose their parents, because these potential parents possess certain traits and values that the soon-to-be child needs to assimilate during his or her lifetime. So twenty-three years before I'd wind up on the corner of Seventh and Alvarado, I recognized John Michael Kiedis and Peggy Nobel as two beautiful but troubled people who would be the perfect parents for me. My father's eccentricity and creativity and anti-establishment attitude, coupled with my mother's all-encompassing love and warmth and hardworking consistency, were the optimal balance of traits for me. So, whether through my own volition or not, I was conceived on February 3, 1962, on a horribly cold and snowy night in a tiny house on top of a hill in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Actually, both of my parents were rebels, each in his or her own way. My dad's family had migrated to Michigan from Lithuania in the early 1900s. Anton Kiedis, my great-grandfather, was a short, stocky, gruff guy who ruled his household with an iron fist. In 1914, my granddad John Alden Kiedis was born, the last of five children. The family then relocated to Grand Rapids, where John went to high school and excelled in track. As a teen, he was an aspiring Bing Crosby-like crooner, and an excellent amateur short story writer. Growing up in the Kiedis household meant that my granddad couldn't drink, smoke cigarettes, or swear. He never had a problem conforming to that strict lifestyle.
Eventually, he met a beautiful woman named Molly Vandenveen, whose heritage was a pastiche of English, Irish, French, and Dutch (and, as we've recently discovered, some Mohican blood, which explains my interest in Native American culture and my identification with Mother Earth). My dad, John Michael Kiedis, was born in Grand Rapids in 1939. Four years later, my grandparents divorced, and my dad went to live with his father, who worked in a factory that produced tanks for the war effort.
After a few years, my granddad remarried, and my dad and his sister had a more conventional home life. But John Alden's tyranny was too much for my dad to bear. Dad had to work in the family businesses (a gas station and then a drive-in burger joint), he couldn't play with his friends, he couldn't stay up late, he couldn't even think of drinking or smoking cigarettes. On top of that, his stepmom, Eileen, was a devout Dutch Reform Christian who made him go to church five times during the week and three times on Sunday, experiences that later embittered him toward organized religion.
By the time he was fourteen, he had run away from home, jumping a bus to Milwaukee, where he spent most of his time sneaking into movies and drinking free beer in the breweries. After a while, he returned to Grand Rapids and entered high school, where he met Scott St. John, a handsome, rakish, ne'er-do-well who introduced my father to a life of petty crime. Hearing the stories of their exploits was always depressing to me, because they were so unsuccessful. One time they went to a nearby beach, stripped down to their boxer shorts in an attempt to blend in, and then stole someone's unattended wallet. But there was at least one witness to the crime, so there was an immediate APB on the beach for two guys in boxer shorts. They got nabbed and had to spend the whole summer in jail.
At the same time that Jack, as he was known then, and Scott were raising hell in Grand Rapids and beyond, Peggy Nobel was leading what looked like a life of conventional propriety. The youngest of a family of five, my mom was the embodiment of a midwestern sweetheart-petite, brunette, and cuter than the dickens. She was very close to her dad, who worked for Michigan Bell. She always described him as a sweetheart of a man-wonderful, loving, kind, and fun. Peggy wasn't as close to her mom, who, although brilliant and independent, followed the conventions of the day and eschewed college for life as an executive secretary, which probably made her a little bitter. And, as the rigid disciplinarian of the family, she often clashed with my mom, whose rebellious attitude took some unconventional routes. My mom was enthralled with black music, listening almost exclusively to James Brown and then Motown. She was also enthralled with the star athlete of her high school class, who just happened to be black-a pretty taboo romance for the Midwest in 1958.
Enter Jack Kiedis, freshly back in Grand Rapids from a jailhouse stay for a burglary in Ohio. His sidekick Scott was stewing in the Kent County jail for a solo caper, so my dad was on his own when he went to a party in East Grand Rapids one night in May of 1960. He was reconnoitering the talent when he looked down a hallway and caught a glimpse of a small, dark-haired angel wearing white-fringed Indian moccasins. Smitten, he jostled people and rushed to the spot where he'd seen her, but she was gone. He spent the rest of the night trying to find her, but was content just to learn her name. A few nights later, Jack showed up on Peggy's porch, dressed up in a sport jacket and pressed jeans, holding a huge bouquet of flowers. She agreed to a date to see a movie. Two months later, after obtaining permission from her parents, the still-seventeen-year-old Peggy married Jack, who was twenty, on the day before her parents' thirty-fifth anniversary. Scott St. John was the best man. Six weeks later, Peggy's dad died from complications of diabetes. A few weeks after that, my dad started cheating on my mom.
By the end of that year, somehow Jack convinced Peggy to let him take their brand-new blue Austin Healy and, along with his friend John Reaser, drive to Hollywood. Reaser wanted to meet Annette Funicello, my dad wanted to be discovered and become a movie star. But most of all, he didn't want to be tied down to my mom. After a few months of misadventures, the two friends settled in San Diego until Jack got word that Peggy was seeing a man who had a monkey back in Grand Rapids. Insanely jealous, he drove 100 mph without stopping and moved back in with my mom, who was just innocent friends with the primate owner. A few weeks later, convinced that he'd made a huge mistake, Jack moved back to California, and for the next year, my parents alternated between being married and being separated and between being in California and being in Michigan. One of those reconciliations led to an arduous bus ride from sunny California to freezing Michigan. The next day, I was conceived.
I was born in St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Rapids, five hours into November 1, 1962, just shy of seven and a half pounds, twenty-one inches long. I was nearly a Halloween baby, but being born on November 1 is even more special to me. In numerology, the number one is such a potent number that to have three ones all in a row is a pretty good place to start your life. My mom wanted to name me after my dad, which would have made me John Kiedis III, but my dad was leaning toward Clark Gable Kiedis or Courage Kiedis. In the end, they settled on Anthony Kiedis, which was an homage to my great-grandfather. But from the start, I was known as Tony.
I left the hospital and joined my dad, my mom, and their dog, Panzer, in their tiny new government-funded home in the country outside of Grand Rapids. But within weeks, my dad started getting wanderlust and cabin fever. In January 1963, my granddad John Kiedis decided to uproot the entire family and move to the warmer climes of Palm Beach, Florida. So he sold his business and packed up the U-Haul and took his wife and six children, plus my mom and me. I don't remember living in Florida, but my mom said it was a pleasant time, once we got out from under the yoke of the abusive patriarch of the Kiedis family. After working at a Laundromat and saving some money, my mom found a little apartment over a liquor store in West Palm Beach, and we moved in. When she got a bill for two months' rent from Grandpa Kiedis, she promptly wrote to him, "I forwarded your bill to your son. I hope you hear from him soon." Mom was working for Honeywell by then, pulling in sixty-five dollars a week, one week's worth of that going toward our rent. For another ten dollars a week, I was in day care. According to my mom, I was a very happy baby.
Meanwhile, my dad was alone in his empty house in the country.
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