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Spirituality and Music: Why Flea is More Than Just a Musician


Written by Stef Curran


Unless you've been living under a rock since 1982, you know the magic of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Even if you aren't a fan, you definitely still singalong to a handful of huge hits that this band has turned out when they play on the radio. With an insane combination of funk, punk, soul, hip-hop, and rock, the Red Hot Chili Peppers brought forward a very distinct sound that has blown the roof off of any place that had one since the 80's. Spanning their career, they have had many internal changes, struggles, and roadblocks, but they are able to do what not many other bands can do in overcoming these differences and pushing the music onward.


The members that make up the Red Hot Chili Peppers all offer a different vibe and energy, which is what makes them have that unique factor that you can see and hear. The voice of my youth, Anthony Kiedis, takes on the vocals with a power and passion, but the ability to be soft and open. Chad Smith drums with precision, skill and gusto, fueling the steady yet sturdy heartbeat of their music. John Frusciante, the subtle and smooth guitarist, brings a romantic feel to even the hardest of riffs, making the solos almost appear in front of your eyes. And then, there's Flea.


THE FLEA EXPERIENCE


Born Michael Balzary, known to the world as Flea, this hyper young boy has transformed into one of the most inspirational musicians of our time. In a band, traditionally the bassist isn't the stand out character on stage, often personified (sometimes mocked) as the "sway in the background, holding down the fort" member. Flea took that incorrect notion and flipped it upside down. Flea is the true definition of "no fucks given" when it comes to performing. Known for crazy jumps, wacky outfits (if he's even wearing clothes), and over the top persona, Flea's character on stage begs you to come closer and connect. Not only are his bass lines crisp, solid, and the funky driver that lifts their songs into the atmosphere, but he as a musician is a beautiful example of how music touches everyone differently, and sometimes it becomes a spiritual pathway.


Before we get into the spirituality of music, I want to recount the first time I ever heard a Red Hot Chili Peppers song. I shouldn't say first time, because technically the first song I heard was Californication, the title track on the album that was released in 1999. Californication was released as a single in 2000 when I was just five years old.



I have a brother who is seven years older than me and I would rummage through his CD collection finding albums that I thought looked cool. I don't remember the day, what I was doing, what I was wearing, but I remember looking up at the TV that was playing Canadian channel Much Music and being hypnotized by the music video for Californication. I was only six or seven years old when I saw it, but I was taken by it. I don't think I looked away. After the video, they showed the album cover, and I knew that it was in my brothers collection. I ran to get the CD and my CD player, and popped the album in. I don't know how I got to selecting the fifth track on the album, but I remember hearing Get on Top for the first time.


Get on Top is a much tougher song than Californication, not something I was used to as I was pretty deep into Britney Spears at the time. It was the first time I really felt connected to the sound I was pumping through my ears, and a lot of connection came from Flea's bass line. I didn't know what a bass line was, I didn't know how music was created for that matter, but I remember hearing that opening with the bass line that felt like a train slamming through a tunnel with just enough space to slide through untouched. Now as a bass player I look back at this moment and really dedicate my love of rhythm to Flea, who allowed me to hear how important it was when I was five. I've moved through many genres throughout my life, but Red Hot Chili Peppers have always been like a friend I can come back to when I'm lost.



WHY DOES FLEA MATTER?


So, what makes Flea's bass lines so important? What makes him so special? To answer these questions, let's go back to Flea's beginning.


If you haven't read Flea's book Acid for the Children, I highly recommend it. Flea walks readers through his life, and not even so much the history of the band itself, but his personal history and connection to music. I sat down and read this book, and was blown away at how genuine and honest Flea is as a person, which ultimately comes out through his music. He is down to earth, honest with his past, the choices he made, and his emotions as he travels through the journey of youth to adulthood. In the book, Flea speaks about his stepfather and the first time he saw him play music, and how that moment ignited the passion within him.


Walter Urban, Flea's stepfather, was a jazz musician who played an upright bass. Flea recounts in Acid for the Children that his stepfather, while a troubled man, showed him this beautiful release through music while watching Urban play jazz with his bandmates. Seeing his stepfather, a man who struggled with alcoholism and outbursts of violence, find comfort and peace while playing jazz music resonated with the young Flea. This begins the spiritual connection to music, seeing the calmness and purpose that music has throughout our body and mind more than just at surface level. Music can cure aliments that don't have remedies yet. It can act like a therapist, a friend, a guide, and so much more when we open ourselves to dig deeper within the music we listen to.


Flea's bass lines are powerful, and a great piece of that power comes from the heavy knowledge and love he has for all genres of music. Flea talks about this on his podcast This Little Light while speaking to producer Rick Rubin, saying that he loves all forms of music but sometimes certain artists or songs aren't producing the vibe he is looking for. This doesn't take away from the importance of the role that music plays in the grand picture. This love and respect for music is reflected in the nature of Flea's bass lines, pulling from many sources and not being afraid to really fly high with the music he creates. This love allows the bass lines to be unique, in a way that when you hear one, you just know it's Flea.


NOURISHING THE COMMUNITY


Photo from guitarworld.com


Knowing how much music has changed his life, Flea decided to open Silverlake Conservatory of Music, a music school located on Hollywood Blvd, LA. Silverlake Conservatory of Music was created after LA slashed budgets to arts programs, prompting Flea to act, establishing this non-profit Conservatory to give opportunities through scholarships for kids whose parents are not able to afford music lessons and classes. Through donations, instrument donations, and more, Flea and co-founder Keith Barry, along with a great board of directors and staff, are able to nourish young artists who may have never gotten the chance to explore their passion for music, and continue to grow the community while providing music education. This non-profit speaks to the impact that music had on Flea, highlighting the importance of nourishing the interests and talents within all artists.


Check out the Silverlake Conservatory online:


Some artists want to keep their craft and the feelings it creates close and shut out from the world, but Flea is constantly showcasing that healing power of music and art, and continues to push it back into the world so others can find that spiritual connection that had such an impact on him. On his podcast, This Little Light, which benefits the Conservatory, Flea interviews other musicians and collaborators on their connection to music. From artists like Finneas, Patti Smith, Cynthia Erivo, and Thundercat, Flea dives deep into the shared spiritual connection to music, where it all started for them, and what they love most about it.



PEACE AND LOVE, ALWAYS


From being one of the best bass players to grace the music scene, to being a spokesperson and hero for the kids who feel like there isn't a place for them in society, to finding the love and connection that can burn within us from the music around us, Flea is a shining example of what music is at its core. It's something to be shared, something to feel, something to shout out, and most importantly, it's something to love and lean on. Whatever our personal connection is to religious or spirituality, it's true that we can all find it hidden between the notes on a staff, and that's exactly what Flea is all about.





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