Music has always been my soothing sound of salvation. Whenever I needed some immediate comfort or just words of wisdom I reached for the dial and my music always seemed to save the day. Fifteen years ago, stuck in traffic on Highway I-35 in San Antonio, was no different. I was trying to decide whether or not I should finally move out of my parents’ house to live on my own in New Orleans.
Looking back, it was probably a no brainer but for a cowardly lying lost soul literally trapped with trepidation in rush hour traffic in San Antonio, I needed a sign, something to help me make my mind up. While I was waiting for inspiration, I found myself having a panic attack. I tried calming myself by singing the next song that came on the radio. I recognized Anthony Kiedis’ lyrics as I tried comforting my attack by crooning the words as “Under the Bridge.” I turned up the dial just waiting for my anxiety attack to subside on the underpass.
As I was stalled in traffic, I quickly realized it was no coincidence that “Under the Bridge” played on the radio. At that moment, Anthony’s lyrics reflected an impatient yearning for me to live in a place where I could plant my own roots and find myself in a city I could call my own, that wasn’t San Antonio. When I finally caught my breath, an instant moment of serenity came to my face as cranked up The Red Hot Chili Peppers on my car stereo. Listening to “Under the Bridge” on that highway sealed my fate. The hit song from Blood Sugar Sex Magic was the last sign I needed to leave San Antonio. A few weeks later, I packed my car and made it to New Orleans. I spent the next decade moving around until I finally made it to my City of Angels.
The story behind Anthony’s song was more poignant than my own moment of clarity, as Kiedis explained in his autobiography Scar Tissue—“I felt I had thrown away so much in my life but I also felt an unspoken bond between me and my city. I’d spent so much time wandering the streets of L.A. that I sense there was a spirit of the city, who had me in her sights and was looking after me. Even if I was a loner in my own band, at least I felt the presence in the city I lived in.” Anthony felt like an outcast in his band because during the making of Blood Sugar Sex Magic, the rest of the Peppers were dabbling in excess while Kiedis was seen as the goody-two shoes straight man. It was this feeling of isolationism that inspired Anthony to get in his car and drive around his beloved city of L.A.” I started free styling some poetry in my car and putting words to a melody and sang all the way down the freeway. When I got home, I got out my notebook.”
I love the fact that “Under the Bridge” originally was a poem and that Kiedis came up with his famous song while driving in his car. The amazing fact was that Anthony’s words might have remained one of the greatest unread poems if it wasn’t for fate and a little coaxing by producer Rick Rubin. “What’s this?” was Rubin’s response when Anthony first read his words to “Under the Bridge” Kiedis replied—“Oh, that’s not for the Chili Peppers, it’s not our style. It’s slow, melodic and dramatic.” It was actually Rubin’s encouragement that persuaded Anthony to take “Under the Bridge” to his band mates. Kiedis described the scene in Scar Tissue, when he wrote—“I sang it to them […] after I had finished, they got up and walked over to their instruments and started finding the beat and the guitar chords for it.”
Flea described the magic when “Under the Bridge” came to life in the studio, as he explained— “John Frusciante and Anthony had a melody and Chad Smith and me added what we could to it. John’s Mom came in with her church group and sang the backing vocals at the end. It was trippy seeing all these women up there singing, “Under the Bridge downtown.” John and I were playing together at the end and we had one of those great moments when you’re looking at each other and the music’s flowing through you. The odds of that happening are a zillion to one. We knew we had the take. I knew that it was good but I never thought it would be a hit.” Flea said remembering the moment The Chili Peppers took Anthony’s slow, melodic and dramatic poem and made it an epic number one hit.
I like to think Anthony’s love of the City of Angels sparked Kiedis to pen his most famous Chili Peppers song. All my fellow Angelinos know what I’m talking about, there’s a reason why we live in one of the most expensive housing markets in the nation. There’s s a certain mystical aura in that keeps us here. And the Chili Peppers reflect this. Rubin talked about the band influence of Kiedis, Flea, Smith and Frusciante as unit when said—“I saw the Chili Peppers as being like The Beach Boys in some ways. They represented Los Angeles, a place of dreams.” So true, Rick. It was that magic moment in the recording studio in Los Angeles that captured the song I heard on the radio on that day that set me on the road from San Antonio to my eventual destiny with the West Coast of California.
In 1992, The Red Hot Chili Peppers created the song that would help me to make one of the most important decisions in my life. When I hear those opening chords of “Under the Bridge,” it reminds me of the right choice I made, turning towards the right direction on my road less traveled by and this has made all the difference, to me, in my life. “Under The Bridge” is more than just another number one hit single, Anthony’s song and John Frusciante’s classic spark like riff sent me on a journey that led me to this imperfect Southern California paradise, in this city of Los Angeles, I now call my home.