Red Hot Chili Peppers, a Los Angeles-based rock band, released two albums in 2022: Unlimited Love and Return of the Dream Canteen. The song “Black Summer,” from their debut album, has become yet another smash in their extensive catalog. But it was the band’s 1991 hit “Under the Bridge,” from their influential album Blood Sugar Sex Magik, that catapulted the Red Hot Chili Peppers to fame. The band was formed in 1982 and is most known for its four main members: singer Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, guitarist John Frusciante, and drummer Chad Smith. And it was their single “Under the Bridge,” with its message about a life engulfed in drugs, that catapulted them to stardom. The Overpass Nobody knows which bridge Kiedis is referring to in the song as of yet. He’s provided some information, but he hasn’t revealed the actual site. Kiedis has confirmed that it is in downtown Los Angeles.
Sleuths such as Mark Haskell Smith have claimed that the bridge is in the city’s MacArthur Park. Others argue that it can’t be true because Kiedis has stated that it’s beneath a freeway. Some claim it’s in the Belmont Tunnel, close to MacArthur Park and the Interstate Highway 10 overpass. But no one can be certain except Kiedis. In his 2004 biography, Scar Tissue, he didn’t even answer the question.The Mothers While the song’s message is mostly depressing about drug use and squandered time, one of the most encouraging stories to come from “Under the Bridge” is that Frusciante’s mother and some of her friends are singing on the big choral arrangement at the end. The song, which was produced by legendary artist Rick Rubin, needed something extra, so the guitarist enlisted the help of his mother and a friend who were both in a choir. Gail Frusciante and her friends are really mentioned in the credits. Yes, one of the most emotional, raw, and destructive songs of the ’90s features a rock guitarist god’s mother on vocals.
The Poetry If it hadn’t been for Rubin, who helped create Def Jam in New York City and has worked with groups like Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys, the song might never have existed. He collaborated closely with RHCP to create Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Rubin, who is recognized for bridging the gap between rock and rap, was a natural fit for the crossover southern Los Angeles band. When Rubin was visiting Kiedis one day, he came across a poem the frontman had written titled “Under the Bridge.” Kiedis discusses drug usage and loneliness in it. Rubin thought it was lovely and knew it had to be turned into a song. So, with trepidation, Kiedis presented it to the band and sung it. Flea and Frusciante, the bassists, then began experimenting with their instruments until they got a start. Kiedis did not believe the song would succeed since it was too melancholy and emotional for him. But his instincts were incorrect. The opening guitar part of Frusciante’s song “Little Wing” was influenced by Jimi Hendrix and his song “Little Wing,” which is nearly sacred when it comes to rock riffs. “Under the Bridge” was finished by the time the band moved inside Rubin’s recording studio, known as “the Mansion,” to work on and finish Blood Sugar Sex Magik.
The Substances The poem Rubin discovered was about Kiedis’ drug use and the loneliness he was feeling. The most famous phrase from the song is perhaps, “Sometimes I feel like my only friend / Is the city I live in / The City of Angels / Lonely as I am / Together we cry.” That sense of being disconnected from everyone while still being in tune with the larger space around you is a very poignant thought. Combine that with the increased isolation caused by drug usage, and you get a song with a lot of drama. Kiedis writes in Scar Tissues on what he lost during that time, including his relationship with his former girlfriend, actress Ione Skye. “I’d had this beautiful angel of a girl who was willing to give me all of her love,” he wrote, “and instead of embracing that, I was downtown with fucking gangsters shooting speedballs under a bridge.” Kiedis eventually became sober. He chose the music and his bandmates, as well as the “place” about which he sings in the chorus: “I don’t ever want to feel / Like I did that day / Take me to the place I love.” Truly, the time he spent addicted to drugs was one of, if not the, lowest points in his life. In his biography, he even admits to lying about being engaged to a gang member’s sister in order to obtain entrance to a drug house and score.
The Publication When the band released “Give It Away” as the first single from their 1991 Blood Sugar Sex Magik, record executives went to see RHCP in concert to figure out what to release next. When “Under the Bridge” was supposed to begin, Kiedis missed his cue, but the audience miraculously began to sing the song. He apologized to the executives after the show, but they were pleased. If the audience knew the song so well, that would be the following single. Despite any reservations, the song became a hit. When he saw that poetry, Rubin was correct. The song was on the Billboard Hot 100 for 26 weeks. And the album went platinum. The Legacies Gus Van Sant, who later directed films such as Good Will Hunting, directed the song’s music video. Van Sant recognized Flea from their collaboration on the film My Own Private Idaho.
“Under the Bridge” has been referenced in a variety of pop culture contexts, including a lyric sample from Mos Def’s 1999 Black on Both Sides album, in which he sings, “The city I live in is beautiful Brooklyn.” Six years before, “Weird Al” Yankovic made a reference to the song in “Bedrock Anthem.” Finally, the song (like Kiedis) has two lives. The lovely artistic side, with the wonderful guitar riff and melodious hooks, and the drug-addled side, with the toxins sweating out of every pour. And the salvation that may follow. If you’re fortunate.