Scar tissue and all

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For a while, the Red Hot Chili Peppers was what was getting me out of bed in the morning. The music is infectious and full of life — Anthony Kiedis’ technically unrefined yet powerful voice blasts to some of the strongest bass and drums of both the 20th and 21st centuries. 

My dad used to play the band’s music for me every morning throughout my childhood. This was reserved for mornings when I didn’t want to go to school — which was almost every morning — and my eyes would slowly open to the opening track of “Stadium Arcadium” or “By the Way.” This was when CDs were still a thing, and I subconsciously memorized the songs in the order they were positioned on the album. As one track faded, I would begin to hum the opening of the next — it was hard-coded into my memory. I think he excused the profane and explicit nature of the songs for the effect they had on the both of us — they were a source of shared solace. 

As I write this, I am in the process of re-reading frontman Anthony Kiedis’ autobiography, “Scar Tissue.” He tells all about his incredible life, from battling a crippling heroin addiction to the stories behind the band’s most famous songs to the changing dynamic between the members of the band. It is a miracle that Kiedis is still alive, well and whole, and perhaps the even greater miracle is that he is able to tell his story so candidly. He admits his idiocies and personal failings with the same objectivity as he details his greatest successes. It is the voice of pure honesty — a voice reflected in his band’s music. 

With every song, every album, there is an overwhelming sense of emotion. Not all of its music is as blindingly happy as “Give It Away” or “Can’t Stop.” Some tracks are full of grief — mourning the loss of a band member to addiction, for example — channeling the most powerful emotion into an earnest piece of music. Even if I can’t personally relate, I can still sense the effort and energy put into each track — that’s an incredible feeling. 

The band channels the intensity of its emotion into its music, whatever it may be about — heartbreak, joy, loneliness, infatuation. As I write this column every week, I feel a little bit like I’m doing the same thing. To pen something that is personal and laden with emotion is not just to immortalize it, but to share it with the world. I’d like to be as honest as Kiedis about my shortcomings and as comfortable with voicing my lows. That is how art is able to reach people, regardless of whether they can personally or individually relate to it. 

For both my father and me, the Red Hot Chili Peppers has been comfort music. A long, hard day or a particularly daunting morning was easily fixed by putting an album on loud. We’d play the CD, and on the amplifier, you could hear every faint note of percussion, the soft strums in the background and the delicate bass. 

The Chili Peppers and its music have become a part of me in more ways than one. I love the music and the sound for what it instinctively evokes in me, but I also love the band’s philosophy. Honesty is freeing — it is the shedding of shame, of guilt, of embarrassment and it’s an acknowledgment of what has happened and what is to be. It is probably one of the hardest things to achieve. The Chili Peppers’ inherent honesty translates to a kind of goodness: an earnestness to tell stories and a commitment to authentic, personal art. 

Perhaps that is what lifts me — there is something so joyful about treating emotion as ephemeral instead of as an anchor, to let it pass and to let it remain for as long as it wishes, treating it similar to a new, fascinating visitor instead of as a burden. 

As I follow the band’s journey, I don’t think that the path to happiness is linear. I’m not even sure if happiness should be the destination. In his book, Kiedis said it best: “This is my story, scar tissue and all.” 

Megha Ganapathy writes the Monday A&E column on learning and growing from experiences with art. Contact her at [email protected].