Flea: ‘There is joy in obsession. But I’m not sure it’s healthy’

The musician and actor, 58, on falling in and out of love with his band, growing from pain, and writing lessons from Patti Smith

I’ve always viewed life as an opportunity. That might be to explore or to learn. I’m never more excited than when I find a new thing to be excited about. That might be something as simple as table tennis – but if I get excited about table tennis, I want to become really good at table tennis! There’s no midpoint with me. I’m always searching for new ways to develop myself, whether they’re physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual or whatever. I like my drive.

My generation had an unhealthy relationship with drugs. This is going to sound like real old-man shit, but regarding the young generation, I don’t worry about them doing that. I worry about how much time they spend in front of computers and phones. I worry that living in the moment has been lost.

Relationships fascinate me. You learn so much from them. You could go live in a cave in the Himalayas and spend 50 years standing on one leg in a tree pose, meditating, trying to find yourself. Or you could get married.

I’m far enough away from childhood to have an objective view on it. It’s the reason I write about it in my book. My childhood is over. The band [Red Hot Chili Peppers] isn’t, which is why I didn’t write about it. The band is happening now. I don’t have any distance from the good parts and the bad parts of it yet.

I’ve been up and down about the band so many times. I’ve thought: “Can we continue without repeating ourselves?” or: “I don’t want to do it any more, I want to grow, I don’t want to be held prisoner by money, fame or power.” Then we’ll play a great show or write a song that has me tingling with excitement and I’m completely in love with it again.

There is great joy in obsession. But I’m not sure it’s healthy for me. Why do I get obsessed with certain things? Is it angst or fear, or a yearning to be understood? To connect with the divine and find the beautiful things in life? I think my story lies in trying to understand that about myself.

You can grow from pain if you don’t run from it. My book is absolutely part of the process of coming to terms with me. Things that people did in my childhood that were very painful. Things I didn’t like about myself. There are times in my life where I think I might have been disrespectful. It’s easy to rationalise behaviour like that. It’s a survival mechanism. We try to justify it to ourselves with reasons why we behaved in a certain way. But with humility and honesty you can grow. You can become better.

My favourite writers have a style. I think that takes a while to find. I thought my style was feverish ranting, but while I think there’s a time and a place for that, the best writing is enjoyable to read, too. Patti Smith helped me a lot. She told me, “Flea, it’s like making music. Sometimes you go off and you vamp. Sometimes you have to play an ensemble part. Sometimes you play a solo. All those skills can be applied to writing.” When I understood the parallels between the two artforms, I started to find my voice.

Acid for the Children, Flea’s autobiography, is published by Headline at £10.99. Buy it for £9.61 at guardianbookshop.com


James McMahon

The GuardianTramp

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