photo by nacrowe
ACID FOR THE CHILDREN (GRAND CENTRAL, 2019) by legendary RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS bassist FLEA is a poetic, thoughtful memoir that looks back on an unconventional childhood and attempts to make sense of how such influenced his life path. structurally this book is connected by a series of brief vignettes which adroitly mimic the fractured manner in which we carry our memories and define our self perception. i think for an artist that is celebrated for both his musicianship and his sensitivity, this was a good choice in that it allowed him to express his life in brief impressionistic chunks that don't necessarily need to relate to one another, but in totality relate a unique perspective on the author.
one prominent theme is the idea of parenthood. his conception, particularly of fatherhood, is complicated in that his mother leaving a conservative but principled husband for a bohemian failed jazz musician presented to contradictory models for manhood, both of which informed his self-perception.
this push and pull of discipline versus expression is seemingly everywhere in this book. jazz versus punk rock. his sensitive nature versus acting out without consideration for others. in a previous review (linked HERE) of bandmate ANTHONY KIEDIS' memoir SCAR TISSUE (HYPERION, 2004) i railed against him being an arrogant egoist who essentially mooched off his supremely gifted rhythmic section. at the close of this book, FLEA puts his dear friend in proper perspective, explaining that his non-musicianship provided the proper context to showcase the lightning in a bottle nature of their creative spark. it were these very qualities that i seemingly misread that unlocked their potential in that it forced them to come up with their music from a new angle, a different perspective. and i respect that.
reading this memoir, which again only dealt with his childhood up to the first RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS gig, made me consider my own similar upbringing as a THIRD CULTURE KID. though the term is never uttered in this book, to me the whole thing screams it. his constant search for a surrogate family is a common experience for those who move all the time, as FLEA surely did in transferring from AUSTRALIA to upstate NEW YORK to LOS ANGELES. his need for connection through the arts, first as a listener and furious reader and then as a musician and thespian, in a sense shows the fruits of his pursuit to find an extended safe zone. THIRD CULTURE KIDS are famous for being able to make connections and despite his insecure trepidations initially in each new locale, he found connections through basketball, music, mischief and (unfortunately) drugs.
ultimately this memoir is artfully written in a way i had hoped for as a fan of his music. my hope is that he follows this up with another one that takes us through his experiences with the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS and the 90s ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosion.
one can hope.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
when i was in graduate school at TEACHERS COLLEGE we were asked to come up with a metaphor for how we ran our classroom. my response: my classroom was like an ORNETTE COLEMAN record in that from the outside it sounded unstructured and chaotic, but underneath it all there was an effective classroom with purpose and communication.
COLEMAN was the foremost purveyor of what became known as FREE JAZZ. much like in FREE VERSE poetry (WALT WHITMAN, T.S. ELIOT, WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS) words are left untethered by expectations regarding rhyme, meter and structure, FREE JAZZ was unshackled by notions of key, mode, pace, rhythmic structure, etc.. in essence participants were forced to listen to each other which with intent since there was no road map or safety net to rely upon. in my opinion this is the very defining characteristic that makes jazz JAZZ: improvisation.
its basically chaos theory in practice: out of chaos comes order.
that was one of my organizing principles regarding lesson plans in my english classes. make things messy. i always felt that learning should be about discovery. give them the tools and let them learn to apply. supplemental instruction only after being forced to work with peers through a problem first. in my opinion this reflects REAL LIFE.
unfortunately at the moment in american education it is more about memorization or far worse, the attempted deduction of the most appropriate answer based on reverse-engineering the intent of a test writer. everyone i know that still teaches does test prep consistently in class a matter of not committing career suicide. we are developing a generation of test takers and not practical problem solvers. breaks my heart but i loss that war.
but i still look to COLEMAN as a beacon of that beautiful chaotic noise of discovery.