Kiedis, the singer and lyricist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, has already immortalized the spot in "Under the Bridge," the stark and uncommonly pensive ballad-at least for the usually sex-mad, funked-up Chili Peppers-that unexpectedly drop-kicked the band into the Top Ten. But Kiedis is understandably reluctant to turn the bridge into a pop-music tourist attraction. For one thing, it was, and still is, on LA street-gang turf; casual visitors are not suffered gladly. For another, it was under the bridge that Kiedis's life bottomed out a few years ago under the weight of a severe heroine addiction.
"I was reaching a demoralizing low, just kind of hanging out on the streets and doing my thing and not much else, sadly to say," Kiedis explains in a subdued, slightly gravelly voice quite unlike his aggro-stud stage bark. "I ran into some fairly unscrupulous characters involved with miniature Mafioso drug rings, and the hangout for one of these gangs was this particular location under a bridge. I ended up going there with this gang member, and the only way that I was allowed to go under this bridge was for him to tell everybody else that I was getting married to his sister. You had to be family to go there. That was one of just hundreds of predicaments that I found myself in, the kind that only drug addiction can bring about," Kiedis says with a shrug. "It's not that that one place was more insidious than other places. But that's just one day that sticks very vividly in my memory. Like, how could I let myself get to that point?"
Kiedis, a muscular young buck with ruggedly handsome features and long, ironing-board-flat hair, had been clean for some time-since August 1st 1988 — when he turned that memory into song during preproduction for the Chili Peppers' latest album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Except he was suffering from another kind of withdrawal.
"I was driving away from the rehearsal studio and thinking how I just wasn't making any connection with my friends or family, I didn't have a girlfriend, and Hillel wasn't there," he says soberly, referring to Hillel Slovak, the band's original guitarist and a close friend since high school, who died of a heroin overdose in June 1988.
"The only thing I could grasp was this city," Kiedis says. "I grew up here for the last twenty years, and it was LA — the hills, the buildings, the people in it as a whole-that seemed to be looking out for me more than any human being. I just started singing this little song to myself: `Sometimes I feel/Like I don't have a partner...'
"When I got home that day, I started thinking about my life and how sad it was right now. But no matter how sad or lonely I got, things were a million percent better than they were two years earlier when I was using drugs all the time. There was no comparison. I was reminding myself, `Okay, things might feel fucked up right now, but I don't ever want to feel like I did two years ago.' In the end it wasn't like I was writing in any sort of pop-song format," says Kiedis. "I just started writing about the bridge-and the things that occurred under the bridge."
Fortune had been smiling broadly on Kiedis and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Thanks to "Under the Bridge," Kiedis, drummer Chad Smith, guitarist John Frusciante, and bassist Michael Balzary- who is better known by his longtime nom de punk, Flea-were enjoying the mainstream success that had eluded the band through nine years, five albums, one EP, two record labels, several personal changes, Hillel Slovak's death and Kiedis's near self-destruction. Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the Chili Peppers' Warner Bros. debut, was over the million-selling mark, while the band's EMI catalog, including the 1989 gold album Mother's Milk, was kicking up shelf dust. This summer the Chili Peppers were to seal their chart victory by topping the bill over Ice Cube, Ministry, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam on the 992 edition of Perry Farrell's traveling mosh & roll festival, Lollapalooza.