AS FATHERS GO, Flea doesn't exactly come off as the pipe‑and‑slippers type: After all, papa is a Red Hot Chili Pepper. The 32‑year‑old bassist's hair is a patchwork of Easter‑egg colors, he's covered with tattoos, and during this interview, he was sporting a T‑shirt emblazoned with the logo TEAM SATAN. But that doesn't mean he isn't every inch the doting dad. During a conversation just after the Red Hot Chili Peppers' blazing Woodstock '94 performance, Flea's favorite topic was quite obviously his 6‑year‑old daughter, Clara.
Parenthood has tempered the manic bassist's interaction with his fellow humans. "I used to say anything just to stir people up and make them angry," Flea says, "but now I'm much more thoughtful." But it hasn't by any stretch of the imagination softened his approach when it comes to music. There are no signs that that will change anytime soon. The Chili Peppers are currently working on their seventh album, and the band's Woodstock '94 appearance ‑ their first major show with new guitarist Dave Navarro, formerly of Jane's Addiction ‑ promptly silenced any tongue wagging about whether Navarro would fit in. "It started as a joke," says the bemused Flea. "And you know, here we are 12 years later."
“Musicians who didn’t pay attention to punk have a gap in their knowledge that makes it difficult to communicate in this day and age.”
Did you ever expect to become as successful as you have?
I remember‑when my biggest dream of fame was being able to play Perkins Palace, this place in L.A. that held 2,000 people. I thought, "One day, if I could just be in a band that could play there, that would be the ultimate." I never dreamed the Red Hot Chili Peppers would become a pop band. We've sold a lot of records and made all this money, you know? It's so crazy.
Has it been difficult for you to adjust to having money?
Definitely, because I grew up having a thing against rich people. I was like “Fuck those elitist bastards who think they're better than everybody else." And now I am one, you know? I had to learn not to blame people for having money. Even though I still feel more relaxed when there's not a lot of rich people around.
Do most of your friends have trouble making ends meet?
Yes. But the ones who are taking care of themselves spiritually are OK. They may live in a little fleabag apartment, but they're happy. But the ones that are strung out on dope and aren't listening to their hearts aren't.
Do you think it’s as easy for an artist to find a creative niche today as it was 10 or 20 years ago?
People may be more free to do things now, but because of the hugeness of the media, creativity is squashed more easily. Everywhere you go, there's giant billboards and televisions being forced down your throat.
What do you think about the power the media has over people’s lives?
In general the media is sort of like Big Brother. Like the O.J. thing. I'm sitting there watching the NBA world championship, which is like the pinnacle of my TV‑action year. And all of a sudden they cut it off and show a white Bronco going down the highway in hopes that this guy's gonna blow his brains out and we can all see it. Sure he's an American icon, but I don't need to see them chasing some guy down the street when my basketball's on.
You would've been about 5 when pop culture exploded in the '60s. Do you remember anything about that time?
I remember thinking hippies were cool. I remember walking down the street once with a buddy of mine. And we saw this painted psychedelic Volkswagen van with these two guys in it with really long hair. We were like "Hippies!" You know, flashing them peace signs and stuff. And they jumped out and started chasing after us: "You little fuckers, we're gonna kill you!" It scared the fuck out of me. They both looked like Manson, and they chased us for, like, half an hour.
What about the music from that time?
I liked Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong because I wanted to be a trumpet player. I heard rock music, but it sounded stupid to me [Sings] "My name is Michael, I got a nickel." [Laughs] Obviously I wasn't listening to the fly music. But when I met Hillel [Slovak, the Chili Peppers' first guitarist who died in 1988] he started playing lots of rock music for me, and I got into Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. And for rock music the '60s was without a doubt the most innovative, expressive time. To me the greatest thing that happened after that was punk rock. You can't be a relevant rock musician today without knowing punk rock and understanding it.
The beautiful thing about punk rock was the intensity, the energy. And punk deflated the whole bloated rock‑star thing. That was the ideology ‑ I don't think it was ever really like that. Any guy who was ever in a popular band wanted to get his dick sucked and make money ‑ except for maybe Morrissey. But I think that musicians who didn't pay attention to punk have a gap in their knowledge that makes it difficult to communicate in this day and age.
When was the last time you thought rock & roll was dead?
Maybe, like, three days ago. I'm not an avid MTV watcher or radio listener, but I do like to turn it on and look at it. A lot of bands are just regurgitating shit that they've heard. But as long as there's one guy playing and it's good, it's alive.
What do you face as a parent that your parents didn't have to deal with?
They didn't have to worry about AIDS. They didn't have to worry about me getting shot. There's so much more violence, you know? When I was a kid, there were gangs, but it was, like, every once in a while someone would get stabbed. Now it's guns and crack. And it's rough. I gotta get out of Los Angeles. I don't want my kid growing up there.
Do you think there's really a new generation gap?
There's definitely a gap. But at the same time, I'll say the corniest thing in the world and say that love transcends all that bullshit.
You sound like such an old hippie.
I know! I'm sorry, I don't know why I said that. But it's true. My thing has always been about love. All through my punk‑rock days and everything. It's my innocent, lame little belief that if you're not scared and if you actually have love for people, they're not gonna fuck with you. I'm not sure if I'm a total wuss or what. But that's how I feel.