PUBLICATION: The Roanoke Times

15 Minutes with Flea

by Madelyn Rosenberg

It is the end of Flea's time off.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers' bass player has just returned from a full day at the mall with his daughter, Clara. Then it's four newspaper interviews in a row on this last night before the band begins the first three weeks of its U.S. tour.

"No rest for the rock stars," says Flea, whose band performs tonight at the Roanoke Civic Center.

Fresh on his mind: malls."I can tell you that I hate malls," says Flea (born: Michael Balzary). "Once I was backpacking in the woods for 10 days, and I came out at a place, you know, that families go and camp. And they were giving a lecture on bears in Yosemite. They said, 'Be careful of bears, you can be mauled.' And Hillel Slovak yelled out, 'I HATE MALLS.' I just thought of that."

He's nice, Flea is. Thoughtful. He's reading Khalil Gibran's "The Prophet," and he's tired of media people filling in the gaps of his life, a neat, magic-eight-ball summing up of him and the band.

He has mentioned this in his on-line tour diary, a series of sometimes-spiritual stream-of-consciousness epistles that includes how much he misses 11-year-old Clara when he's on the road and the rant about the press.

"You know, it's always difficult to be misunderstood," Flea explains. "No one likes being misunderstood whether it's by a friend or someone you don't know. But when it's by a magazine, they write in stuff that they have no idea what they're talking about. They have their angle and they color in the rest. People alter the course of history doing that s---."

This article will not alter the course of history. And while it will address the band's history, it will mostly focus on 15 minutes with Flea, a founding member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Flea got his start in punk rock, playing with bands like Fear before forming the Peppers in 1983 with vocalist and high-school friend Anthony Kiedis, guitarist Slovak and drummer Jack Irons. They played around Los Angeles and waited for the world to notice. They played naked. People noticed that.

In 1985, the group was signed to a major label. Some people noticed, others didn't, and the band's first albums did not achieve commercial success.

By the time the band did achieve that success, with 1989's "Mother's Milk" and 1991's "Blood Sugar Sex Magick" the band had already seen heroin addiction and the death of Slovak. Irons had left, replaced by Chad Smith.

Guitarist John Frusciante, who had taken Slovak's place, left the band in 1993 to battle his own drug addiction. He rejoined, the victor, in 1998, in time to record last year's "Californication," a radio and academy favorite. "Scar Tissue" won a Grammy for Rock Song of the Year.

The band members were red hot, again. Survivors, like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Aerosmith and the rest of them. Only those guys are in their 50s now. The Chili Peppers are not. Flea, in fact, is 37.

And today, he's happy.

"Today I feel so great I feel like I'm a baby," he says. "There's days I feel like I'm a mess. If you go through growing periods in your life, you go through pain. I've been through lots of ups and downs. But as I gain perspective ... sometimes, the worst parts are the best parts, because they make you grow so much into something more beautiful. You can really shed some skin and turn into something great. I'm just grateful for the whole thing. I'm just grateful to be alive and drawing breath."

The Chili Peppers' return this year to touring has gone well. Sold-out crowds, including Roanoke.

They have a good relationship, particularly Kiedis and Flea, who met when they were 15. "It's amazing to have been through so many things with him," Flea says. "He's my brother."

And perhaps foremost, there is the music, which has also grown and changed as the years have passed.

"When we first started we were just emoting, in this pit of excitement," Flea says. "It was WAAAAAHHH, this total banzai explosion."

In time, the band learned to use those explosions and dynamics. The music took on more layers. "One thing leads to another, and you find different paths, different streams that lead to the ocean," Flea says. "I feel great, great, great about it. I feel we're doing something that's unique and new and exciting and has a lot of depth and feeling. I feel like it's our experience and we're relating it to the world. There's not a lot better you can do than that."

It's hard to have an objective perspective on the band, he says.

"But I know that I love the band and I feel very, very comfortable in that position right now. I feel comfortable with what I do and who I am."

What he does goes beyond the music Flea also has been in a number of movies, from "Dudes" to "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and "The Big Lebowski." He turned down a role this year in exchange for touring, but hopes to pick up another when the touring stops.

His best-known role is probably in ''Suburbia,'' a movie that depicts a punk tribe of dropouts from middle-class Los Angeles.

This is how Flea sees Los Angeles.

"It's pretty disgusting," he says. "Overcrowded and full of materialistic, f---ed up, power-hungry people. The air is terrible. But there's some great music here, some great art and great food, and interesting people who've managed not to have their souls polluted by the more spineless parts of show business."

This is how Flea sees Virginia, where he performs tonight: "Does the world 'Septimus' mean anything to you?" he asks. He was recently in Australia, where he met a young girl named Virginia, and he played her "Sweet Virginia" by the Rolling Stones. Soon after, he went to his father's house and a woman asked him what he knew about Virginia (answer: not much) and that same night, he was reading Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway" in which a character is named Septimus. Later he watched a video in which a character was also named Septimus.

"I keep thinking when I get to Virginia I'm going to meet someone named Septimus," he says.

(Maybe, but we doubt it).

And finally, Flea offers the last word on wheat grass juice, an oft-discussed, must-have on the band's concert rider.

"It's just good for you," Flea says.

Back to the index.