9 Nov 2019

Flea: a Red Hot Chili Pepper remembers his wild childhood

From Saturday Morning, 9:07 am on 9 November 2019

Red Hot Chili Peppers' co-founder and bassist Flea (aka Michael Balzary) talks to Kim Hill about love, drugs, friendship, healing and Acid For The Children – a searingly honest memoir about his formative years.


Flea Photo: supplied

Flea, who is now 57, was born in Melbourne, moved with his family to New York aged 4 , then – when his parents split – to Los Angeles.

There, his new stepfather turned Flea on to music but was also a junkie prone to terrifying fits of violence. Flea found family on the LA streets and became a 'street rat'.

"I was unwatched and wild and nobody checked in to see what I was doing or what was going on. I was just in the street, getting up to stuff.

"[My family] didn't know how to love me in a way that was consistent or nurturing or in any way normal, but I did feel that they loved me.

"They did the best with the tools that they had – unfortunately the tools were small blunt instruments that they didn't know how to use well."

Writing Acid For The Children allowed Flea to take a hard look at why he'd "acted like an asshole" when he was younger, he tells Kim Hill.

"I had to be honest with myself … I acted like an asshole and I was hurtful and thoughtless.

"A lot of this book is me searching for my compass and me figuring things out. Sometimes you have to misbehave to learn your lesson and it wouldn't be honest of me to not include that in my book."

Anthony Kiedis and Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers,1989.

Anthony Kiedis and Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers,1989. Photo: CC BY SA 30 Rob C. Croes

When Flea met future Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis he was 15. The connection was instant and powerful, he says.

"We were best friends, we were inseparable, we were like brothers, we did everything together.

"With kids, sometimes it's almost like animals meeting in the jungle when they take to each other."

Flea says he hadn't tried to understand their complex relationship – which he likens to two magnets that are pulled together as they push against each other – until he started writing the book.

"I know that I love him and I know that he loves me and I know that we're very different people who look at the world in different ways and because of that … our relationship can be very antagonistic and full of hurt feelings and tense times, but it's like this force of nature has always kept us together from the get-go.

He has chosen not to read Kiedis's best-selling 2004 memoir Scar Tissue.

"Mostly because I know how different we are and how different our views are on shared experiences. I didn't want to read it and be upset or something then walk into a room to write a song with him and be upset about reading something that bothered me.

"I picked it up once or twice right in the beginning and flipped through it… one thing I was like 'oh that's so sweet of him to say that about me' and another thing I was like 'how can he say that? that's really insulting' and another thing I was like 'that's not what happened!'

cover of the book "Acid for the Children" by Flea

Photo: supplied

On the cover of Acid For The Children, a 12-year-old Flea smokes a joint on a nude beach.

Drug-fuelled mayhem sometimes helped open his mind, Flea says, but more often slowed down his process of making sense of the world.

Drugs also stopped him doing the things he loved best – music and basketball.

"[Heroin] hurt me right away. I'd get up the next morning and want to go basketball – which was the happiest thing in the world for me – and instead, I'm sitting around going 'I don't feel that good..."

"Those moments of not being able to do the things I loved really guided me and I think saved me from being a junkie or really taking a turn for the worse."

Flea's first child (photographer Clara Balzary) was born when he was 25 and still using drugs – her arrival changed his perspective.

"At first it was like I won't do drugs around her, but if I'm on tour on the other side of the world I can go do drugs and just be straight when I'm at home.

"But then it dawned on me that energetically I had to be present for my kid – whether I was on the other side of the world or not."

Around that time, Flea says he gave up drugs for good  – and made a commitment to ride out all the feelings he'd previously tried to run away from.

"It was crucial that if I was going to develop as a person and age with any sort of gracefulness I needed to feel everything no matter how much it hurt, no matter how many sleepless panic-attack nights I had, I needed to feel it all and walk through to the other side of it.

"I made a pact with myself that, no matter what, I was not going to run away from my pain and I was going to feel it. I swore that to myself and that's what I've done.

"I know that from consciously feeling the pain I've become a much better person."

Flea says his professional success has been accompanied by many personal screw-ups – as a boyfriend, a friend and a father – but his relationship with Melody Ehsani (an LA designer he married two weeks ago) shows him how far he's come.

"I have this relationship that's really fulfilling for me – a really deep, soulful connection. If I had not gone through all my missteps – relationships and breakups that were really painful for me… if I had of drank or done anything else to cover the pain up, I never would have put myself in a position to really be ready to have a conscious, truly connected relationship.

"It really gives me faith that good things come to those who wait."