August 2002, Spin magazine (USA)
thanks to Caroline for typing it out
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Flea has electric blue hair today, which makes his blue eyes really pop. "This journalist asked me yesterday why I dye my hair," he says. "It's either that or Grecian Formula."
At 39, The Red Hit Chili Peppers' bassist has had one nervous breakdown, one stress-related illness (he "fell apart" for about a year following the band's breakthrough album, 1991's Blood Sugar Sex Magik), one divorce, and one child (Clara, 13). He is a full-time single father,a yoga practitioner, and ten years clean and sober. "Being a dad is a top-important thing to me," he says. "I really want to be her friend."
Sitting on a couch in Los Angeles' swanky Hotel Bel-Air, Flea eats takeout Thai after a long silent prayer. He cultivates little of the rock-star, wind-in-his-hair, Satan-in-his pants mystique - instead, he's an excitable motormouth and quick to tear up. ("I cry at the news all the time," he admits.) He's also given to happy freakouts, like a recent Christmas meltdown in Australia (where he was born and has a beach house). He explains it his usual way, by spitting run-on sentences like flaming watermelon seeds. Raising his eyebrows and grinning, he resembles Chet Baker's crazed little brother.
"One night I put on X's Los Angeles [the 1980 punk classic] really loud, and I just had a total epiphany about why I wanted to play rock music in the first place. I started jumping around and threw my plate against the wall ! I was smashing shit. My daughter was like, 'Papa ! What's the matter with you ?' I threw myself on the ground. I was on the verge of tears, but also of ecstasy."
What X means to Flea is deeply rooted in L.A. Before Jane's Addiction, hip-hop, or Beck, X were an L.A. band who rocked heroically and poetically about the L.A. we all lived in but never saw in movies. That L.A. was an ethic cacophony without equal; economically dysfunctional, yet throbbing with immigrant energy. It was dingy and romantic, tinged with bohemian squalor and dreams of Hollywood immortality, infected by a chronic loneliness.
"You know what L.A. is to me ?" Flea asks. "It's that bird that goes, oh-ah-oooooooh, oooh-oooh." He mimics the low coos of a mourning dove. The Peppers captured all of that melancholy and joyless drugging in their early-'90s ballad "Under the Bridge," and some of it on 1999's quadruple-platinium Californication, a bittersweet mix of sexy, sunny exhuberance and grown-up regret. The album's MTV hit was the mid-tempo wail "Scar Tissue," whose video showed the physically battered band members driving a dusty convertible through the desert. It also featyred exquisite vocal harmonies and slide guitar lines from prodigal memeber John Frusciante.
Frusciante's emergence on Californication (after a six-year absence due toa near-fatal drug addiction) has deepened the emotional core of the band's music. "John being back makes a huge difference," says producer Rick Rubin. "He's brimming with ideas, and he lives and breathes music more than anyone I've ever seen in my life." Frusciante's songwriting has helped Flea and singer Anthony Kiedis (whose voice sounds better than ever) capture a more complete vision of their L.A. "The soul of this city is a huge part of who we are," says Flea, "and I think the soul of this city is an old and beautiful thing."
The new album, By the Way, wonderfully evokes L.A.'s, and the Chili Peppers', essence, both damaged and optimistic. Swooning, beachy harmonies, Beatlesque chord progressions, Motown drumming, new wave synths, non-scmatlzy strings. Plus, Kiedis' daring and expresionistic lyrics just sound much more personal. ("He really outdid himself," says Rubin.) There are '60s and '80s currents throughout, thanks mostly to Frusciante. (He handeles all keyboards, vocal harmonies, and guitars.) The Chili Peppers talk about "serving the song" (Flea) and "getting out of the way of the song" (drummer Chad Smith). They're listening to one another, and their sound is changing. BY the Way's sonic vibrancy, as well as its maturity, sounds like a band being reborn.