From the very first chapter of his autobiography, Flea makes it clear he won’t be telling a story of rock glory.
But he was originally a jazz trumpeter, who only picked up a guitar to help out his friend, Hillel Slovak.
Hillel gave him one lesson, telling him to pluck the strings with two fingers “alternately, like they were walking,” and three weeks later, Flea made his stage debut with Anthym.
“I’ve never been very technical,” he explains. “I came at it more from jamming and and creating rhythms that were unlike anyone else’s. I would be drooling because I was so lost in it.”
He says the Chili Peppers approached songwriting in a similar way, prioritising instinct over songcraft, until guitarist John Frusciante joined them for their fourth album, Mother’s Milk, in 1988.
“Honestly, our songwriting really went up a level when John joined the band. He had a lyricism in his playing, but he also understood how to structure a song. I really learned a lot from him.”
He set up his own music school
He may not have studied music formally, but the school marching band played a crucial role in Flea’s story.
“For me, a wild-assed street kid, the only reason I showed up to school was to play the trumpet,” he says.
But the year he graduated, a new law in California decimated school funding, with arts and music classes the earliest and biggest casualties. So, in 2001, Flea decided to open his own music school, the Silverlake Conservatory .
“Music really saved my life as a kid, so I just wanted there to be a hub for kids to get together and play,” he says.
“They talk about school being the ‘Three Rs,’ – reading, writing and arithmetic, but at our school, we always talk about the ‘Three As,’ – academics, arts and athletics.”
“I meet adults now who are like, ‘Hey, when I was 12 years old, I went to your school and it changed my life’. That really means a lot to me.”
Anthony Kiedis is his best friend, and biggest antagonist
Anthony Kiedis, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ wild-eyed frontman was, Flea says, his “missing link”.
“He was unlike anyone I had ever met,” he writes. “Among my friends, I was the guy who was always trying to do something that would freak people out. Then I met Anthony and he matched me step for step”.
Their bond was watertight, but the relationship was stormy. Flea recalls one trip to Michigan where the duo started trading insults. “It started out lightly and humorously, but became meaner and more personal, preying on each other’s insecurities, doing our best to humiliate and hurt each other,” he recalls.
In his own autobiography, Scar Tissue, Kiedis called the relationship with Flea “bizarre and sometimes dangerous”. So was the bassist wary of re-opening old wounds?
“I hesitated to write it,” the musician admits. “Obviously I want to be respectful to him but this is the story, man.
“When I look back, I can still feel all that pain – but in the end, that’s the thing that makes our creative relationship what it is, do you know what I mean?”
The Chili Peppers just wanted to make people laugh
Flea’s book ends in 1983, as the Chili Peppers play their first gig under the name Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem.
With just one song in their repertoire (Out In LA), they fill the stage time by dancing to the Jonzun Crew’s electro-funk hit Pack Jam.
“When we started the band, everything was about what was funny to us,” he explains. “We really loved this song, so we came up with a dance routine in our living room, going, ‘This would be so fun!’
“And, you know, it was the most fulfilling experience, artistically, that I’d ever had in my life.”
He says that, 36 years later, the band’s goals are the same.
“It goes through ups and downs and phases. There’s times when it’s gruelling work – but when we get those moments where it’s hilarious and we’re all tingling and laughing, it’s the greatest thing in the world.”
One last thing…
Flea didn’t want to write a memoir at all. If he’d had his way, the star’s first book would have been very different.
“What I’d actually like to write is a fiction book about the life of whales. Like Watership Down, but for whales.
“I’ve been thinking about it. I was just on a five-day backpacking trip and I was thinking about it the whole time.”