Scar Tissue (2004)
by Anthony Kiedis with Larry Sloman

It probably seems like hyperbole to say that Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis's autobiography is on par with the best work by Kerouac, but it's no lie. Kiedis has a comparable gift for language, and he certainly has as good or better stories. He writes like he's lived – balls-out, fearless, frequently with impaired judgment, and imbued with a contradictory fusion of spiritual sincerity and out-and-out violence. This is as an infectious a read as any of the best heroin Kiedis ever scored under any literal or metaphorical bridge.

It frequently reminded me of Kerouac's The Subterraneans, as in both cases, the degenerate and dispossessed lifestyle is a chosen one. (I should also mention that I don't much like Kerouac.) Kiedis came from a modest childhood, but enjoyed some of the most bizarrely privileged (and uniquely traumatizing) teenage years I've heard of. I mean, how many kids can say they slept nude with Cher during their impressionable youth? I didn't manage that until I was well into my 20s!

Living with his drug-dealing and wild-sexin' dad out in L.A., Kiedis spent his formative years continually exposed to the stuff of dreams/nightmares – a wild ride that culminated in a modestly successful child acting career long before he'd find his calling creating some of the weirdest funk music ever made. By the time he gets to high school and starts hanging out with Flea and the gang, he's already lived a much fuller life than most of us.

With so many unfathomable contexts and motivations in his younger years, it's not altogether surprising that he found his way to heavy womanizing and deep, deep, deep drug abuse. What is surprising (though not uncommon with addicts) is how very long Kiedis took to start understanding his patterns, and how much longer he took to do much about it.

And given most of his seductive tales, I'm not sure I blame him. He writes with such verve that the Scar Tissue ultimately succeeds both as a powerful advocacy for drug use and for recovery. He seems to have enjoyed both sides of the coin to the fullest.

In the end, I wasn't convinced Kiedis had ever really faced his demons down, because as his testament winds its way toward the end, he's gone through the cycle of addiction so many times that he starts sounding a bit like the Ancient Mariner, drawing you in for just one more drug story before catching himself with a disingenuous self-help apologia. But recovery does work like that … sometimes rehashing the old stories are as effective a way of not using as going to a meeting, or whatever.

Strangely, for a man who's made his living writing words, Kiedis is revealed to be a much weaker lyricist than you'd expect, especially given the directness of his prose. When he includes song lyrics to bolster the narrative, you see how very little of himself he really puts into his songs, and how high-school-notebook even the best of his lyrics are when you see them in print. It makes me wonder just how much shadowboxing Scar Tissue is compared with reality. Though he sounds like he's pulling no punches, there's an element of hostage-holding to his narrative, offering up a modicum of humility only when it will serve to make you still like him.

Whatever misrepresentations or sins of omission he may have perpetrated here, I must say I quite enjoyed the book, and found Kiedis's literary persona to be ingratiating and frequently witty. He's a bit of a name-dropper, sure, but when you've had so much name pussy, you've earned that right, clearly.

Review by La Fée