By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It was just about a year and a half ago that Flea asked Weiss to help him start a music school, to be built around and run by Barry, Flea's oldest friend, "an amazing music teacher" who has a "gift with kids and for making people listen." Weiss, who has done a bit of this and a bit of that, including drumming for Thelonious Monster, had never helped build a school before, but as a true child of punk, it didn't occur to him that he couldn't. His own musical education was similarly DIY: "You sit in your basement apartment with a drum set, listen to Exile on Main Street, you play along with Charlie Watts, you start a band." But, he added, perhaps diplomatically, "Of course I realize that you have a much better chance of becoming a musician if you take lessons."
Sunset Junction was where Barry wanted the school to be from the start, but there was no room to let there at first. Then one day Weiss, across the street doing his laundry, "looked up and there was a For Lease sign. And me and Tree and Flea came here the next day and talked toä the landlord, and Flea was, like, 'We'll take it!' and I was going, 'Dude, I think you're supposed to, like, negotiateabout rents.'" They signed the lease in June 2001. Weiss and designer Wade Robinson checked out other music schools and music departments to learn the particulars and proportions of practice rooms, and to "make it so when someone came here, it'd be, like, 'Wow, I'm going to a really cool place, and I have respect for it; I'm not just going to some little cardboard room in back of a music store.'" Entering the arcane world of Building and Safety, of contradictory officialdom and endless red tape, he marveled to find himself, "an old punk rocker, dealing with City Hall." But "I never lost my temper or got upset about anything in the entire process. I just [reached] a point where 'Things will work out, don't stress about anything, it'll work out' -- and you know, it works out. This place was really meant to be here."
They will show you how to
play anything, whether it be
sitar, theremin or pennywhistle:
Sitar teacher Gabby Lang
"IT'S SORT OF ONE OF THOSE THINGS that can't really go wrong, the idea is so good," says Flea. We're sitting in the Casbah Café, down the block from the conservatory. Though Flea is only occasionally on campus, as it were, he serves as the genial house spirit -- it is unavoidably, in the press and fan chat, "Flea's music school," and his connection to it, if not specifically a drawing card, does add an undeniable patina of cool -- and he is literally its benefactor. "Overseer and financial . . . guy," is how he describes his role. He paid to renovate the space and equip the school -- the Oriental carpet in the main room came right off his living-room floor -- and continues to make up the shortfall in operating expenses, rent and salaries, though he hopes that will not be permanently necessary; in fact, they are now close to breaking even.
"Ideally I would love to teach," he says, "but I've been so busy with my band." (The Chili Peppers have just released their eighth album, By the Way, and are off to tour the world.) "As much as I wanted to create a place for people to learn music, I really wanted to create a place for teachers to work, too. I mean, to me, that's an equally valuable service."
For an extremely recognizable international popfunk megastar with a reputation for clownish mayhem, Flea, who -- astonishingly -- turns 40 this month, is pretty life-sized: sweet, sincere. He lacks that halo of self-consciousness the famous sometimes assume, and can sound almost apologetic when referring to "the whole rock-star thing" fate has led him to. As is not uncommon among people born with a surplus of energy and the physical strength to do some harm, his manner is gentle, almost careful, scrupulously polite. He spends a moment in silent reflection before he tucks into his spinach salad. "You don't have to wait for me," he says. Tattooed across his knuckles are the words L-O-V-E and . . . L-O-V-E.
He is decorated also with dolphins, elephants, the head of Jimi Hendrix, and the name of his daughter, Clara, who is now 13 and has finally -- her father is quite relieved to say -- "made the transition from the worst boy-band, Spice Girltype music to music that wasn't what was just being forced down her throat." Clara took some bass lessons at the conservatory, but then "she just kind of got out of the seriousness of it; and I'm not sure whether to force her to continue doing it or not. She was telling me, 'I don't want to go,' and I made her go -- 'You have to get a musical education, it's important' -- and once she started doing it she was, like, 'Listen what I learned how to do today,' coming home all excited. And then I'd play something -- 'Oh no, you're doing that all wrong' -- and she'd grab the bass from me."