Q&A: Flea Talks the Chili Peppers' 30th Birthday and His 50th

The bassist on becoming a Hall of Famer, collecting rare books, and three decades of nonstop funk

Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers performs in Nijmegen, Netherlands.
Greetsia Tent/WireImage
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers performs in Nijmegen, Netherlands.
By |

Next year, the Chili Peppers will turn 30 – but they're celebrating a little early: On March 29th, they kick off a 25-city U.S. arena run in support of their 10th LP, I'm With You – their first with new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. (The tour was postponed from January due to singer Anthony Kiedis' foot injury.) And on April 14th, bassist Flea, Kiedis and drummer Chad Smith will hit Cleveland to join the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "I'm excited," says Flea, checking in before a show in Barcelona. "It's going to be a really cool, special night." After that, the band will get back to rocking stadiums on a summer tour of Europe. "It took us a while to get solid with Josh – there's so much improvisation in our band that it's like establishing a new vernacular," says Flea. "But we're fucking on fire, man!"

50 Greatest Live Acts Right Now

You're a maniac onstage. How will you come down after tonight's show?
I have my rituals. After I walk offstage, I'll go to the dressing room and meditate. Then I'll eat, go to back to my hotel and go on a 3 a.m. hourlong walk through Barcelona. Then I hit the hay. I used to panic on tour, lose it and fall apart and crumble, but now I have it down to a science.

How'd you find out about the Hall of Fame induction?
I got a text from Chad saying, "Congratulations." As the days have gone by, it feels more and more beautiful. Yesterday I was talking to [former drummer] Jack Irons, who sat next to me in sixth grade and will go in with us as a founding member. And I think about [former guitarist] John Frusciante and everything he gave us, and our old manager, Lindy Getz, who drove the van all night when we were sleeping in shitty motels. I never reflect on anything, but it's really emotional.

2012 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Premieres on HBO

Anthony said the most emotional part was remembering your late guitarist Hillel Slovak, who died in 1988.
I never would've played bass if not for Hillel. I was a jazz trumpet player, and he said, "Dude! You should learn how to play bass and be in my band." Two weeks later, we were onstage at the Troubadour. Anthony, Hillel and I raised each other, and they schooled me on Zeppelin and Hendrix. Hillel really loved rock & roll. He lived for it, so going into the Hall would have been a dream. To share this moment with him in the spirit world is sad and tragic, but also beautiful.

The induction is also a testament to your enduring partnership with Anthony.
We have inspired each other and competed with each other and loved each other over the years. He probably doesn't remember this, but one time when we were 15, I had these goofy clothes on that my mom bought me at Sears, and I said to Anthony, "Do I look cool?" He said, "Yeah – but anyone could wear that. You're a unique person. You should wear shit that feels like something that only you wear." It might sound small, but that moment informed me as a musician. I needed to do what felt beautiful to me.

I've heard you collect books. What kind of stuff?
Since I was seven, as soon as I finished one I'd pick up the next – book after book, nonstop. I have lots of books. As far as first editions, my heavy hitters are William Burroughs' Junky, Bronte's Jane Eyre and Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.

When did you get that tattoo of Jimi Hendrix on your left bicep?
It was 1981, and everyone was talking about this great tattoo artist in town. I was probably smoking ajoint and said, "I want a Hendrix tattoo!" I remember afterward my mom or my stepdad said to me, "Do you know the psychological implications of tattoos as your life goes on?" [Laughs]

Have you figured out your Hall of Fame speech?
No idea. I inducted Metallica [in 2009], and that might have been long-winded. It's cool that we're going in there with friends like the Beastie Boys and Guns n' Roses, who came up with us in L.A. Steven Adler and I played football in the street when we were 12. I remember rehearsing in my bedroom with my firsthand, and some kid climbed over the fence of my backyard and peeked his head in the window to see who was rocking. It was Slash.

You're turning 50 in October. How do you plan to celebrate?
On acid, running down the street naked, howling at the moon.

This story is from the February 2nd, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 1149: February 2, 2012