The overwhelming first impression one gets of Anthony Kiedis’s autobiography is: Drug Memoir. Released in 2004, Scar Tissue (co-written with Larry Sloman, who also co-wrote Howard Stern’s Private Parts) did well sales-wise, ultimately hitting No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. There’s even an audio version read by Rider Strong (I repeat, Rider Strong). But Kiedis’s whopper of a memoir (~500 pages), was ultimately boiled down into a handful of talking points: band drama, women, drugs. Especially drugs.
That connotation has stayed with STish in the intervening decade, and so what I expected when I first bought my now-battered paperback edition for $1 at Strand circa 2010 was to get mired in a haze of substance abuse, to be taken through a Kerouacian whirlwind of gigs and girls and superstardom. At the very least, I kind of expected Kiedis to be a dick, an “author” because he was convinced of his own magnetism, not because he felt compelled to reflect.
Don’t get me wrong, Scar Tissue is about drugs. Kieidis has at one point or another been a frequent if not daily user of all the usual suspects (marijuana, cocaine, heroin) and, when using, will go for pretty much anything else in a pinch. He smokes his first joint at 11 years old; decades later, his tolerance for opiates is so high that ER doctors have to give him seven shots of morphine, a hospital record. Kiedis’s drug use is hard to read about, and to picture. It’s sad and desperate and nearly destroys his relationships, his career and his life many times. At its heart, Scar Tissue is indeed a drug book.
But what makes STish more is Kiedis himself. For one, his memory is sharp. (When talking addiction books, I always think about David Carr’s The Night of the Gun and the number of things Carr realizes he misremembered when re-reporting the years of his life he was using.) Kiedis recalls events and circumstances in detail—including the minutiae of his addictive behavior—and his reflections are introspective and poignant, the pseudo-inspiring sound bites of a creative intellectual who’s learned to Work the Program. In life, but especially in an autobiography, that kind of self-awareness is crucial: Kiedis seems to generally see through his own bullshit, and is comfortable acknowledging his role in the dissolution of any relationship or the failure of any endeavor. He’s also a good writer (or storyteller, depending on how the co-author relationship worked here), and comes across as aware of but not obsessed with his own fame. Drug addiction, after all, comes with self-loathing, and, by proxy, humility.
The weird thing is, I don’t even really like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, at least not enough to have ever purchased an album. I was a Blink 182 girl in my youth, prone to forays into ska and punk, a predilection that came with perks like super cheap concert t-shirts and a two-year obsession with jelly bracelets. RHCP were always around—they were the closers at a D.C. music festival my parents let me attend unsupervised in high school—but also always on the radio. I didn’t need to pursue hearing their music, and I was never particularly inclined to.
After finishing STish, I find myself listening to their songs anew (or I guess, a-first-time) and appreciating those of Kiedis’s lyrics that are explained in the book. In a way, I’m almost grateful to have not been much of a fan. To come to know a person before you know their work is rare when it comes to celebrities, and it made Scar Tissue more engrossing for me.
But of course, the book is interesting from a more voyeuristic standpoint, a window into the life of someone so conventionally and incontestably famous. STish is full of fun little They’re Just Like Us! tidbits, like that Courtney Love used to pick up Kiedis when he would hitchhike on Melrose (to this day he owes her $20), or that Billy Corgan’s email address was blackcloud@____.com (AOL? Probably AOL), or that Kiedis and Sporty Spice were at one point good friends. Moreover, the dynamic between Kiedis and RHCP bassist Flea—the duo met in high school and are the band’s anchors—is in and of itself fascinating, especially as they watch musical acts and friendships dissolve and regroup around them. STish is also, naturally, a trip down memory lane when it comes to America’s “alternative” music of choice in the late 1990s and early 2000s. (For reading/listening pairing on this one, I may or may not have seeded a Pandora station with Pearl Jam.)
Ultimately, Scar Tissue proves itself to be more than expected, an outlier in an otherwise predictable mountain of celebrity memoirs. Kiedis is a worthy narrator, and lets himself be vulnerable and self-deprecating while still capturing exactly what it is to be an addict, a romantic of sorts, and a world-famous front man. In reading his autobiography, I found myself rooting for Kiedis not as a musician but as a person, and I imagine that’s how he’s rooting for himself, too.
(PS: Now I’m wondering if I’ve totally dropped the ball by not reading more famous people memoirs. Hit me up with your favorites in the comments.)
TITLE: Scar Tissue
AUTHOR: Anthony Kiedis
PAGES: 465 (in paperback)
ALSO WROTE: Most of the RHCP lyrics
SORTA LIKE: The Long Hard Road Out of Hell (and probably Life?)
FIRST LINE: “I’d been shooting coke for three days straight with my Mexican drug dealer.”