No matter how awesome you think you are, you have come nowhere near the sheer volume of drugs which Anthony Kiedis has consumed, nor have you had as much incredible sex with as many spectacular women. That, roughly speaking, is the theme of Kiedis’ autobiography and, if even half of what he says is true, it’s hard to imagine that anyone will ever be able to trump him in either endeavour.
For those who do not know, Anthony Kiedis is the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a merry band of funksters who have over the course of a career spanning two decades broken down a startling number of musical barriers in the mainstream and produced some fantastic music along the way.
The most damning indictment of the book is that there is literally no narrative structure here; Kiedis does not impose any sort of dramatic development on his story, so unless one is familiar with the outlines of Chili Pepper history, this is just one really, really, really long picaresque. And I use that word in its strongest pejorative sense: this is 465 pages of “this happened; then this happened; then this happened; then this happened; then this happened; then this happened; then this happened; then this happened; then this happened; oh, and then this happened; did I mention that this happened? No? Anyways, then this happened; then this happened…” and on and on seemingly ad infinitum.
Which is too bad: the Chili Peppers’ story could make for fascinating reading. They let their freak flag fly and eventually the music-buying public wandered over, trying to figure out what these guys were up to. They never really compromised their music, with even their poppiest tunes (except for the execrable One Hot Minute) slanted just slightly off-kilter to what the rest of the mainstream was doing. And the personalities in the band are, to put it mildly, eccentric: Kiedis is the beautiful, rapping, flowing, sex god, drug addict, front man; bassist Flea is the manic musician, the kind of guy who would probably be terribly unsettling to sit beside on the subway, but who, by all accounts, has a heart of gold; current (and former… it’s a long story) guitarist John Frusciante is a drug-damaged artiste; and Chad Smith, the drummer (of course) is the odd one out, the guy who doesn’t seem to fit in so well. Very little of this comes through in Scar Tissue; for example, Smith, who has been drumming for the band for more than fifteen years is barely mentioned, and almost no interactions between Kiedis and Smith are recounted, other than a drunken near-brawl in a hotel.
The story of the band really needs to be told by an outsider. Kiedis’ account (and yes, I understand that it is an autobiography, but come on) is too relentlessly solipsistic: other people function so tangentially to the story that they end up being props. One of the more chilling moments in reading the book is realizing that the overdose death of Hillel Slovak (the Chili Peppers’ original guitarist), who Kiedis refers to as his best friend and “soulmate”, prompts approximately a page of reflection from Kiedis. That’s it. After that, it’s on to further bouts of drug-taking, startlingly dysfunctional relationships with women and occasional musings on sobriety. More than anything this is the story of a raging drug addict who happens to be in a successful band. Unfortunately, the drug addict’s story (and, really, eventually they’re all the same) can’t sustain itself for the length of the book: it just becomes monotonous.
After plowing through the book, I still can’t decide whether to like Kiedis or not. There definitely were times when you recoil from him: self-absorbed; a remorseless juvenile delinquent and petty criminal; destructive to those around him. But, bizarrely, he still generally comes across as an alright guy. There’s an interesting story to be found somewhere in here, but Kiedis isn’t the one to tell it.
Grade: (For Chili Peppers fanatics) B
(For everyone else) D