Recently, awake in the middle of the night, due to the poor personal choice of drinking diet soda right before bedtime, I decided to browse my local library. The fact that it is now possible to “visit” the library at 3 A.M. while having a stomach ache is fantastic. Technology is truly a wonderful thing. Browsing the electronic library shelves for immediately available life stories, I downloaded “Acid for the Children”, which is the autobiography of Flea, also known as Micheal Balzary, bassist of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
Biographies are an often overlooked genre, one that can appeal to lovers of both fiction and non-fiction alike. The old line “truth is stranger than fiction” is dead on. Many times, true life can be more interesting than fantasy. As creative people, (which I think is an inclusive term that includes everyone) taking inspiration from the stories of other creatives or historical figures, or just plain regular people, can be a great way to spark your own creativity. It can also teach us how much time and effort really goes on behind the scenes to attain success or happiness. Nothing good occurs overnight and sometimes you need to work through the pain to get to the pleasure.
A Gem in the Rough
Now, let’s return to the 3 A.M. reading:
I was expecting an interesting read. What I was not expecting was Flea’s brilliant writing skill, vulnerability, and ability to convey abstract ideas that resonated. He is a bit of a closet philosopher!
Of course, there was much about the drugs and craziness that went with the music lifestyle, and it was fascinating, but that wasn’t the main take away from the book. He doesn’t glorify the “rock and roll lifestyle” (I use that term loosely). He just presents the story of things that happened. If anything, the message in that regard was…. You can achieve what you are trying to without the drugs. It is harder but much more real and worthwhile. Look at the things that happened to my friends and learn from them. Learn so you don’t need to learn these things the hard way. The things that are hard in life are those that are worth reaching for.
Of course, Flea was much more poetic about these messages and less blunt than this, but this writer is more of a bulldozer type and lacks subtlety when delivering her thoughts.
Whether you believe in fate or destiny or in man’s ability to chart his own path; it is interesting to see how people end up where they get to. How the decisions they make affect their life stories. When messing up things doesn’t necessarily mean the end. How we all sometimes regret our actions. We can have intentions of being kind and loving but, don’t quite always hit the right mark. Reading other people’s life stories somehow can make you feel better connected with yourself. It can help you realize, it isn’t just me who feels or felt that way.
As one of my favorite bosses once said to me when we were going to see an important client, “Everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time in the morning.” Everybody, no matter how successful or famous they are, has their struggles. We are all human, we all make mistakes.
A Connection with Nature
One of the unexpected portions of Flea’s life story was his strong connection with nature. It is such a contrast to the Hollywood lifestyle that you wouldn’t necessarily expect him to have such strong feelings. When I read his thoughts on nature I thought, Ahhh… he gets it… The way he put it I haven’t ever been able to find the words to express, so, I will quote him here. I too have:
“witnessed a nature so majestic that I felt whole. I melted away and became a part of it all. I felt insignificant, just another little component of all the nature around me….All my worries were put into perspective by the enormity of the natural world.”
A beautiful, and no matter your religious affiliation, spiritual experience of being one with your surroundings, feeling the vastness of it all.
This feeling of awe that nature can invoke is one of the great themes of art. Trying to express this emotion, is one of the pinnacles that art can strive for, whether the medium is visual, auditory, or kinetic.
We don’t need no education… or do we?
Another part of the story that was touching was when Flea goes back to speak at his old high school, where he attributed his band class with keeping him in school and enabling him to complete his education. When he visited the school, the instruments he remembered were gone and the school’s arts funding had been cut drastically. This part, more than the waste of human potential from drug use, more than the craziness of the neglect some of the kids in the book experienced, made me tear up. Why? Because it was avoidable. Having resources for kids in schools is important and the benefit outweighs the cost. Prevention is always less expensive than the cure.
When Flea goes on about how not every kid has the same type of intelligence I agreed with him. We can’t as a society go into every kid’s home and make them have a perfect life. I mean, we could try, but realistically that isn’t going to happen, and quite honestly the idea seems a bit invasive. But, what society can provide, in my opinion, is a good education. We can give every child the tools to succeed if they choose to pick them up. A varied and rich education, for all children. Not just for the rich, not just for the privileged. Education is the difference between a peaceful and loving world and a barbaric one. Good teachers should be paid more and shown respect. Sorry to go off here on a bit of a rant, but education is something I feel strongly about.
Flea’s later work in founding a free music school was to be applauded, but it was sad that it was necessary in the first place.
Finding Commonalities in Unexpected Places
The ability to relate to other perspectives and cultures is another lesson to be learned from biographies. By reading and understanding one person’s story, we can start to understand their broader culture in a digestible context. Even if we don’t agree, we can start to understand other opinions and viewpoints.
For instance, many of the people in Flea’s youth are affected by drugs and alcohol. Biographies set in the art world often discuss this topic. It is easy to label or judge people. When you read about people with drug and alcohol issues as friends and family or as people who love music, or reading or science they become more than just their label.
We can also learn how people can change. During one period of their life, they may be one way, but through their experiences or actions can grow or decay into another.
People are layered creatures. They are usually neither all good, nor all bad. What we can learn from the life stories of others are goals to aspire to, things to avoid, and hopefully some empathy.
Other Life Stories to find Inspiration from
Recommended below are some other biographies I’ve read in the past. These featured life stories aren’t just from “artists” but, interesting people to gain perspective from.
I’ve included an Amazon affiliate link to each recommendation (including Flea’s “Acid for the Children”), mainly for the sake of convenience, but if you prefer, these are all readily available from your favorite bookseller or local library.
- Nelson Mandela – Long Walk to Freedom, The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela Someone I really respect lent this book to me, telling me that it was their favorite book. It was a worthwhile read that will not be forgotten.
- Greg Mortensen – Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace. I read this as a selection for a book club that I was briefly part of. When it was assigned I thought, Oh great…. a book about tea, this is going to be lame. But it wasn’t lame at all, it was very entertaining and broadened my understanding of a part of the world I knew very little about.
- Elton John – Me: Elton John Official Autobiography I very much enjoyed reading about Elton’s creative process and colorful life story. This book was just overall fun to read.
- Nien Cheng – Life and Death in Shanghai An autobiography told from a unique viewpoint in China’s history.
- Jane Hawking – Travelling to Infinity Written by Stephen Hawking’s ex-wife, an interesting perspective on living with a genius.
What do you Think?
Are there any biographies you’ve read that have broadened your horizons or touched you in a personal way? What are your recommendations?