"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
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
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
"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
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
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.
Excerpted from "Scar Tissue" by Anthony Kiedis. Copyright © 2005 by Anthony Kiedis. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.