but this place is just right.
Celebrity Instagram pages are an easy depression trap to fall into. If I stare too long at a page I either end up dwelling on the fact that I’ll never have this person’s body because I’ll never have this person’s money, or if their posts are candid bordering on the unhinged, I begin worrying that they’re not taking care of themselves properly. Is this simply what happens when you have money and power? So when my friend first DMed me a July 25 video from Flea, the bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, announcing he’d started a book club, I expected it to be something to laugh at.
What I found instead: a rock star sincerely imploring his almost 700,000 followers to join him in reading Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon, a book authored by a black woman, written completely in 1927 black vernacular, about the interviews she had with the last living survivor of The Middle Passage. In the video, Flea smiles into his phone’s front-facing camera, wearing one pair of horn-rimmed glasses and zero shirts, yet still manages to come across as genuine, almost serious. The book club, he writes in the caption, will be conducted over Instagram Live. I have watched it at least ten times.
The appeal of the 56 year-old bassist’s online presence is ultimately simple: Flea loves art so completely, so truthfully. And, at some point, he decided he would use his social media — his influence, if you must — to uplift artists he loves. And when he uses it for something else, it’s to post a poorly edited video where he explains his plan for the day is to play for children and, “channel all the love and light in the universe — through the fingers, through the hearts, through the amplifiers! This is gonna be some electric, psychedelic, mind-blowing shit.” It is a major plus to me that he evidently doesn’t have a social media manager.
My relationship with Flea began in 2006, when the main way I bonded with my dad was by watching him play Zelda: Wind Waker with sweet tunes playing instead of the game’s actual soundtrack. At that time, we were really into “Beverly Hills” by Weezer. When Christmas rolled around, I decided to buy him the album “Beverly Hills” was on, so we could play it in full while breaking pots for money. Somehow when my mom and I arrived at Best Buy, I convinced myself the song was actually a Red Hot Chili Peppers song, and bought the Peppers’ album Stadium Arcadium even though I couldn’t find “Beverly Hills” as I desperately searched through the tracklist. It was okay, because it turned out “Snow (Hey Oh)” would actually be a huge jam for us.
I forgot all about Flea for years, until, on a mission to watch all of Keanu Reeves’ movies, my roommate and I turned on My Own Private Idaho. And there he was. A tiny man, with a big heart, and a great lisp, doing a faux-Shakespeare thing I kind of hated. His acting career, much like his Instagram, was infinitely charming, if a little goofy — he’s appeared in Back to the Future II, The Big Lebowski, Back to the Future III, Baby Driver, and the kids TV show The Wild Thornberrys. Even before then, Flea has been everywhere. I started working on a project researching the L.A. music scene in the late ’80s, and you can’t read an article without thinking about The Red Hot Chili Peppers. They appear in the gossip columns, hanging out with every band that wanted to party, going to shows (rock, country, jazz, it didn’t matter), and playing repeatedly with Jane’s Addiction, Fishbone, Thelonious Monster, Red Kross, and anyone else who might have become someone. They were ubiquitous in Los Angeles, and that connection never went away.
These days, whenever Flea makes an appearance in Los Angeles, online, or in the media, it’s always calming. I look for him when I get breakfast in Silverlake. I check out books from the library upon his recommendation. I wait patiently to see a new story. The funny thing about it, I don’t really love his music (it turns out I was really just into Red Hot Chili Peppers for my dad). But I’m obsessed with the energy that Flea puts out into the world. I’m addicted to the idea that anyone can get a kick of what seems to be genuine hope, goodness, light, whenever they want, just by going to instagram.com/flea333. Chances are, if you make a comment with a question he thinks is interesting or relevant, he’ll respond. Flea carries the special title of The Only Very Online Older Rock Star, But Not In A Sad Way.
Flea has what you want from an aging rockstar and rarely get: humility, kindness, and an interest in raising voices of marginalized artists. I’ve gotten so much from his posts. Book recommendations that range from Toni Morrison’s Jazz to his own upcoming book, Acid for the Children. I learned that the mulberry is the hardest fruit to harvest. I found out that Susan Orlean wrote a book about a fire I’d never heard of. I’m now on the lookout for the next James Turrel exhibit. I now know that Flea’s most treasured possession is a first edition of Jane Eyre. I would die on the cross for him.
Also, luckily, after the most recent book club (a discussion on Paulette Gile’s News of the World) a fan taught Flea how to save his Instagram Live stories and highlight them, so hopefully from here on out those will be available for posterity. If nothing else, they’ll be there for me on a rough day.