LOS ANGELES CAN CHEW a person up and spit him out. Anthony Kiedis and Dave Navarro, two founding fathers of alternative rock, should know; in their new books, Scar Tissue and Don’t Try This at Home, respectively, they find themselves trapped like loveless Geppetto in the belly of the beast. Yet despite their constant power struggles with a revolving door of bandmates in Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction, fathomless intake of heroin and cocaine (Navarro admits to shooting coke 100 times a day at his peak; Kiedis has been in and out of rehab for junk more often than he’s stuck his dick where the sun doesn’t shine) and destructive relationships, Kiedis and Navarro have if not necessarily triumphed then temporarily escaped from the temptations that will haunt them forever. Their stories are intimate and candid, frustrating and hilarious, overwrought and engrossing, promising of death but a celebration of life.
High times begin for 12-year-old Kiedis when he passes on a wholesome childhood with his mother and relocates from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to West Hollywood to eke out an existence with “Spider,” his drug-dealing, wannabe-actor dad. Days later, Spider hands him a joint, his first, sparking a substance-abuse problem that Kiedis, now 41, still struggles to tame. Spider’s influence over his shadow doesn’t end there: Later that year, a cocksure Kiedis smooth-talks Spider into releasing the buxom 18-year-old he’s flirting with so young Kiedis can have a shot at losing his virginity to her. Kiedis’ penchant for women from that point on is voracious.
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This lifelong attraction to sin likely would have put Kiedis six feet under had it not been for his crutch, fellow Fairfax High alum Michael Balzary (a.k.a. Flea), and the distraction that is the Chili Peppers. Written with the assistance of Larry “Ratso” Sloman (Howard Stern’s collaborator on Private Parts), Scar Tissue is still thick with Kiedis’ curious, colorful voice — though the memoir ultimately suffers from redundancy and grandiosity, and even more so from a lack of editing. Nevertheless, the storyline is so extravagant, readers probably won’t be deterred by the author’s verbosity and obsession with using the words soulful, aura and psychedelic.
Don’t Try This at Home oozes with the same decadent themes but is more an art project than a biography. It’s the late ’90s, and Flea has just broken the news to Navarro that his stint in the Chili Peppers is over because Navarro is using again and Kiedis is trying to get clean. Instead of working on his solo album, Navarro holes up in his Hollywood Hills home, where for one year he flushes himself down the toilet with drugs and prostitutes. Former New York Times music critic Neil Strauss is along for the hell-ride, documenting Navarro’s descent while playing shrink.
The result is a disparate combination of arcane conversations and half-baked interstitials penned by Navarro; but Strauss constructs enough of a narrative to keep readers from drowning in the late-night/early-morning psychobabble. Scattered between the text are photographs of an array of visitors — Angelyne, Marilyn Manson and Kurt Loder, among others — who succumbed to having their pictures taken in the photo booth that Navarro bought to provoke an impromptu environment similar to Andy Warhol’s Factory. Once Navarro gets sober, these images stare back at their owner and allow him to refute the hypothesis that he posits at the beginning of the book: The only people who stick around for the long run are the people who get paid — the cleaning lady, pizza delivery man and drug dealer.
SCAR TISSUE | By ANTHONY KIEDIS with LARRY
SLOMAN | Hyperion | 465 pages | $24.95 hardcover
DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME | By DAVE NAVARRO and NEIL STRAUSS | ReganBooks | 253 pages | $29.95
12-year-old Kiedis and the hand that rocks the joint (a.k.a. Dad)
Kiedis and Navarro on . . .
Kiedis: “I pulled off the mask and dove into the audience while I was still singing. The band was in a great groove, and this hot little club girl, cute as can be, grabbed me, dropped to her knees, yanked off my stretchy fabric pants and started giving me a blowjob right on the spot. I appreciated the gesture, but I didn’t have the time or the inclination to have sex right then, I wanted to rock the place out.”
Navarro: “Well, for me, if I go home with a chick that I just met, I pretty much assume that caution has been long thrown to the wind and we are following a mere short-term impulse, nothing more. A night like that can be a fantasy come true, given the right set of circumstances. It can fully backfire, though: Imagine waking up or ‘coming to’ the next day with some cat-thing crawling over your face, mascara clogged in the corners of eyes, breath and body emitting an unpleasant stench, putting on the ‘night before’ clothes, realizing the fact that there is a picture on the dresser of one of my friends (or even of me, for that matter, although the most horrific and terrifying possibility would be if the picture were of Anthony Kiedis) . . .”
Kiedis: “So we had sex one more time, and she gave me an interesting compliment that I never forgot. She said, ‘When you make love to me, it’s like you’re a professional.’”
Navarro: “So do you want to come up to the house and see my Basquiat?”
Kiedis: “I don’t believe that drug addiction is inherently bad. It’s a really dark and heavy and destructive experience, but would I trade my experience for that of a normal person? Hell no. It was ugly, and there is nothing I know that hurts as bad, but I wouldn’t trade it for a minute. It’s that appreciation of every emotion in the spectrum that I live for.”
Navarro: “As long as I can get clean and strong, I’ll be okay. I don’t care about being high. I don’t have a bad life. I’m not a depressed guy. I just want to be able to perform well — and look good doing it.”
Rock & Roll
Kiedis: “In the great tradition of rap, I wrote a verse about my sexual prowess, and I called myself ‘Antoine the Swan,’ for no other reason than it rhymed. For years and years, people would come up to me and ask, ‘What’s the real thing behind the swan? You got a curve in your dick?’ In a way, it was an ironic reference, because my dancing style was so ungraceful and unswanlinke. I would attempt the physical maneuvers of a prima ballerina, and I’d wind up crashing or knocking over a table or pulling the curtains down.”
Navarro: “My next record, if I do one, I want to be like a suicide, with a funeral and everything. The first half will be me whining, and the second half will be someone missing me and telling me what it was like at the funeral: who went and how many minutes the eulogy lasted and what I looked like in my coffin. I just thought of it today. Maybe I should write the first half of the record, then really commit suicide and have somebody else write the second half. But how will I get to hear it? What if I don’t like what they’ve done?”