By Anthony Keidis
I've never been a rabid fan of The Red Hot Chili Peppers. They've always inhabited a peripheral position among my record collection. I own a copy of Mother's Milk, Blood Sugar Sex Magic and One Hot Minute, but none of them have ever gotten heavy rotation on my stereos over the years. The problem being that, in my mind, the Chili Peppers are masters of the single but struggle to compile enough material to produce a competant album. The closest they came was Blood Sugar Sex Magic, but even that is a struggle to get through in one sitting.
So I was a little apprehensive about reading Anthony Keidis' biography, Scar Tissue. Couple that with my reservations about reading rock and roll biographies about known drug addicts and you have a very reluctant reader. But it came highly recommended, so I gave it a whirl. Since I went in with no expectations, I would rate the experience of reading Scar Tissue as good overall, but just barely.
Turns out Anthony Keidis is either one of the most genuine souls in rock and roll or his years of relapses has turned him into one of the best smooth-talkers in the business, able to sell ice to an Eskimo. While I was rooting for the former throughout the book, by the end I was fairly convinced of the latter.
The first third of the book chronicles Keidis' turbulent childhood straddled between Michigan and California. Growing up with his drug-dealing father exposed the young Anthony to a bevvy of sex and drugs at a very young age (and no small amount of jealousy from this reader). As with virtually every rock and roll biography, this is by far the most interesting part of the book. I had no idea that Keidis was essentially living with Sonny Bono through his junoir high school days.
The second third of the book chronicles the formation and emergence of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the L.A. punk scene in the early 1980s. I liked that they defined convention at the time and played a unique brand of funk in a scene dominated by glam metal and to hell with what the scene dicatated. The rise of the band co-incides with Keidis' descent into the world of heroin and cocaine addiction, which, as I have written before, is such a cliche it's almost boring if it weren't about the very real suffering of a human being. Before he finally kicks his habit (for the first time) prior to recording Mother's Milk the book reads like "Knock Me Down" on perpetual repeat.
The segment devoted to his first clean stint (the time period between the recording of Mother's Milk and the end of the Blood Sugar Sex Magic tour) is also a fun read. Keidis is a bit of a world traveler and I enjoyed is recollections about trekking through Borneo, touring Japan and his irrational and incomprehensible love for New Zealand.
It's when Keidis relapses for the first (of too many to count) times that this book derailed. I hate to complain about the narrative of a biography, but the story went from slightly repetitive to a broken record of scoring drugs, driving to a motel and getting high for a few days then flying somehwere warm, weaning off the drugs, playing a few gigs, attending to a few responsibilities, repeat. I'm not kidding, this formula went on for over 200 pages. In the meantime people were born, people died, he changed girlfriends and guitarists more often then I change my underwear and his band recorded two albums.
This is not to say that the book was without merit. In fact, I found myself revisiting a lot of Chili Pepper albums while reading this book. While I still maintain that they have never recorded a great album, I had forgotten how good many of them were. Also, I found that I had never really given them thir place among the great rock and roll acts of all time, which they most certainly are, if not in the studio, certainly for their brazen live performances. I was especially pleased to not that Keidis wrote specifically about a show in Toronto that I attended in the late nineties (a free show at the corner of Yonge and Dundas). That was kinda cool.
Also, the first half of the book was devoid of that smarmy self-help remorse that so many former addicts have. He's recollections of a childhood and early adulthood consuming drugs and playing rock and roll were entirely without regret or remorse. I liked that he could look back fondly on a time he would not necessarily like to revisit rather than spent that portion apologizing to everyone and their brother about the pain and suffering he put them through. That makes great psych couch conversation but terrible reading.
But the book ultimately falters. It was when the 12-step philosophies began to creep into the narrative that things really took a turn for the worse. While the recollections on band life, touring and his travels remained fun to read, his intellectual musings on the nature of addiction and healing got nauseating (granted, I have never had a heroin problem so who am I to talk). Lots of new-age, self-help mumbo-jumbo and psuedo-religious ramblings that only served to prove that his years of drug intake had done their best on his brain.
As I mentioned to the guy who leant me the book, you can't help rooting for Anthony Keidis throughout the book. He seesms so genuine. Each time he cleans up you are hoping it will be his final detox only to have him disappoint you time and again. But the end when he (supposedly) cleans up for the last time, I could barely manage to feel anything for a guy who had thrown away so many chances.
Anthony Keidis is a really lucky man. Not because he is the frontman of one of the world's most successful rock and roll outfits, although that is certainly pretty cool. He's lucky because he has continuously been surrounded by people that never gave up on him. Despite lying, cheating and abusing them, his family, friends and bandmates never abandoned him. Considering his behavior over time, he should count himself blessed to have a support network as dedicated. If only he was that dedicated to himself.
Scar Tissue. It's the One Hot Minute of rock biographies. Full of promise, an all-star cast, some really, really spectacular moments, but in the end fails to inspire much beyond a curt nod to say, "Yep. I've read that now. What's next?"