''They misinterpreted us from the beginning,'' Kiedis snaps when asked about ancient history: the stripping onstage, down to nothing but tube socks; raging-hormone anthems like ''Party on Your Pussy,'' on 1987's The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. ''Enough time has passed and enough has been revealed about what we are capable of that you really have to be a fool to limit us to one thing: 'Oh, those are the assholes who go naked.' It was a spiritual experience,'' Kiedis insists, ''from note one.''
Flea confirms that. Even before he and Kiedis formally started the Chili Peppers in 1983, with Israeli-born Fairfax classmate Hillel Slovak and drummer Jack Irons, Flea says he and Kiedis were ''together, always, every day'' from their first day of class in 1977: ''I was a weird kid with no friends. Everybody called me a faggot. But my mom remembers me coming home from school and saying, 'Mom, Mom, for the first time, I've found someone I can really talk to.' ''
Both came from broken homes, by different paths. A native of Melbourne, Australia, Flea was four when he emigrated to New York with his mother, older sister and stepfather, a jazz musician. The family moved to L.A. when Flea was eleven -- the same age when Kiedis, born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, arrived in the city to live with his divorced father, John. A part-time actor also known as Blackie Dammett, Anthony's dad quickly initiated his son into the Hollywood noir life of music, sex, film and drugs -- a bizarre adolescence Kiedis later described in vivid detail in his 2004 memoir, Scar Tissue.
From the start, Kiedis and Flea had no secrets from each other. They talked about ''everything,'' Flea says, everywhere. ''We'd go backpacking, except we carried our stuff in paper bags. We'd be in the mountains for ten days, just walking, with one sleeping bag between us.'' The two also got into petty burglary -- breaking into back yards in Hollywood, stealing pots of homegrown marijuana. They ate in restaurants and ran off without paying the bill. They flashed old women and did hard drugs.
''We were trouble,'' Flea admits sheepishly. But there was ''a lot of love between us.'' And it ''never felt transient,'' even after Kiedis got deeper into heroin while Flea dabbled, then backed off altogether. ''I guess I've always been willing to deal with the bummers. Many times I've wanted to quit'' -- most recently, he reveals, during the recording of By the Way, when creative tensions between Flea and Frusciante got personal.
''John was set on doing things he wanted to do,'' Flea explains. ''I felt like he didn't give a fuck about what I wanted to do. I didn't feel like it was my family anymore.'' Flea quietly decided to leave after touring for the record, telling only his best friends outside the band and swearing them to secrecy. But in an airport one day, ''I mentioned something to John. He said, 'I know I hogged the overdubs on the record. I wouldn't listen to anyone.' '' Flea decided to stay.
It is a measure of how much -- and how little -- has changed between the Chili Peppers, in middle age, that Flea never told Kiedis until recently that he nearly split for good: ''Anthony and I have been in and out of being close, especially since we became successful. But the most painful part of quitting, and the thing that stopped me, was the idea of telling Anthony.'' (Smith had no idea Flea had come so close to leaving until I asked him about it: ''Really? Quit the band? No! I didn't know that.'')
''None of us have been hanging-out friends for a long time,'' Frusciante confesses, idly stroking his rough, Jesus-like beard one night in his home up in the Hollywood Hills. ''Maybe we know each other too well. When you're in a band, your lives are one life. You make the same money. You go to the same places at the same time. It's overload. It's better to have your own life to create your own identity. So when you do come together, you're not sick of each other.''
It has, in fact, come to this: Flea and Smith -- who roomed together on Smith's first tours with the band after he emigrated from Michigan and joined in 1989 -- are talking about sharing a daddies' bus, with accommodations for their respective families, on the Chili Peppers' upcoming U.S. tour. Flea and Frusciante, in turn, both practice Vipassana, a style of Buddhist meditation. ''There's no chant,'' Flea explains. ''You sit quietly and observe the images in your head.'' Flea, usually a motormouth, has gone to retreats where he managed to stay silent ''three days straight.'' Asked about religion, Kiedis -- who has been sober since the late Nineties -- simply says, ''I don't go for sects and denominations,'' although he is reported to be a follower of the high-profile branch of Jewish mysticism, kabbalah.