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BOOK REVIEW: Acid for the Children – The autobiography of Flea, the Red Hot Chili Peppers legend by Flea

| 27 April 2020 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Acid for the Children – The autobiography of Flea, the Red Hot Chili Peppers legend by Flea

Headline Publishing Group
November 2019
Paperback, $32.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-Fiction Books / Biographies & True Stories / Arts & Entertainment Biographies

90% Rocking

Flea from The Red Hot Chilli Peppers is renowned as a madman bass player, often playing sans shirt. An image of a strong, literary voice is not one that immediately springs to mind, yet his memoir, Acid for the Children, cements this notion. In his book, Flea is an absolute natural at writing, and provides a spirited account of his strange, formative years.

A pang of concern furrows my brow when I wonder if I will hurt anybody’s feelings in the telling of my story. I know I’ve gotta express the movements that shaped me.
I speak only for myself.
I hope my book can be a song.

Bein famous don’t mean shit.

This book begins with a foreword from the Godmother of Punk, Patti Smith. She writes some beautiful poetry about the artist that was born Michael Peter Balzary. It is obvious that Flea is a fan of Smith’s because he peppers his biography with lyrical interludes. It means this book is less of the “blood, sugar, sex, magik” of those traditional rockstar memoirs, and more Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes.

Frozen tundra and bitter cold feels so good……. the two bull moose face each other, eyes ablaze, the rest of the world disappearing…….every atom vibrating, they charge crashing heads entangling antlers crackling rhythms crackalabackalabop (sic) they pull back and bash again, for love they engage, for respect they untangle and charge again baaam (sic) slam what damn that shit is hard charging, it hurts but they are so intensely alive and their legend rises with every collision…Only the wild animals know their own story, but it is not knowledge that drives them, they are beyond thought, they can only feel the purpose from the power of nature driving them to crash again and again into their beloved brother, their family in these desolate northern wilds, they have to do what they do, they have no choice, for all of history has brought them together in the now. There are no questions. It is what nature has done.

And so it is with me and Anthony Kiedis.

To say that Flea’s early life was chaotic is an understatement. Balzary was born in Melbourne in 1962 and his family moved to America in 1967. His mother, Patricia, comes across as a rather selfish woman. She leaves her stable marriage to Balzary’s father and runs off with a volatile jazz musician named Walter Urban Jr. The latter lived with his parents and had a violent temper. Flea and his sister Karyn were largely unsupervised growing up, and the former experimented with drugs and became a street rat.

As dysfunctional, imposing, and wounded as Walter was, he was also my angel. No, he was not a strong guiding figure who taught me to navigate through situations as they arose who helped me transition from a boy to a man. He was just too much of a mess. I’d soon learn he was a drug addict and a drunk who’d never have it together enough to live his dreams, build his bridges, or connect the dots. He was not steady enough to be there for himself or for anyone else in a consistent way, and he was violently unpredictable. But he showed me what it was to turn pain into beauty.

This book is not very linear. Balzary jumps around through time and space, relying on themes and instinct to drive things forward. Some of the chapters are short and sharp, and this offers a great energy and frantic pace to the proceedings. In the book, we learn that Flea had few bass lessons, and he brings this same intuitive and free-wheeling style to crafting his prose. The results are visceral and entertaining.

L.A. was a huge concept to wrap my mind around, but I was excited, and embraced the change. My vision of an ideal life was running around outside all the time half naked (that has not changed) and it seemed like I would have a pretty good chance of it there. They also had the Dodgers, Lakers, and Rams, and that all sounded cool. California was another world, palm trees, sunshine, beaches, TV actors, Jerry West, Anita-Bryant-Mickey-Mouse-Club-SUNKIST-Oranges, bears, and giant redwoods.

Those people looking for a detailed account of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ exploits may come away somewhat disappointed. Balzary ends proceedings before the band really break through. He does describe his relationship with Anthony Kiedis and the late Hillel Slovak, an early guitarist for the group. This book doesn’t chronicle the band’s career, Flea focuses on his childhood instead. This includes the years living in a household with an erratic artist for a stepfather, and how his family moved from Melbourne to L.A. via New York.

I was in love with Hillel. His Picasso face, long curly hair and slim physique, the red Messenger guitar slung over his shoulder, his rock star aspirations. Man, he was awesome. He was a great addition to Anthony and me, a little more poetic, flowing with pen, paintbrush, and guitar. Anthony was the tough handsome actor with the contrarian confidence, I was the shy insecure crazy one with the funky groove, and Hillel was the artist. Hillel made me feel like I was a part of something special, that we shared magic bonded by a secret understanding.

A lot of people are likely to compare Flea’s book with Kiedis’ Scar Tissue. It is obvious from Flea’s work that the two have very different personalities, even though they are bonded together like brothers. Whereas Kiedis focused a lot on the band’s drug taking, Balzary describes this alongside his other passions like: music, art and literature. Flea is a charming and affable weirdo, the kind of humble guy you’d love to sit down and have a drink with.

Hillel, Jack, Alan, and I sat excitedly gathered around the radio. We’d recorded a demo tape and a station called K-WEST was going to play one of our songs as part of a special Sunday night program for little local bands…We sat ensorcelled, hearing ourselves on the radio for the first time ever. The music existed in another form, taking a life of its own. The concept made me dizzy. It ended, and we erupted in laughter, I jumped around the room. “Hahahahah! A neat little ditty!”

I still feel like that when I hear our music on the radio. Such a trip something so personal and close to us, gone off to live its own life, becoming different things to different people.

Acid for the Children is a revealing memoir that celebrates Flea’s full uniqueness of being. He offers us some very personal vignettes about his life, and is funny and heartfelt at different moments. This book is ultimately one that is brimming with so much charm and soul that once you get started you will find you can’t stop.

Category: Book Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her website is at:

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