Flea Turns 50: How Music Saved His Life and How He's Paying it Forward

LA can be brutal.

What am I doing here? Why am I so far from home, living in an area primarily dominated by people trying to be famous? The stereotypes far too often ring true.

But when I arrived at Flea's Los Feliz house a few hours before his 50th birthday party and The Silverlake Conservatory of Music Fundraiser began, I had a feeling I'd remember everything I love about the sometimes seemingly morally decrepit city.

This place can be magical. Here I am about to get a chance to spend an equal amount of time as Rolling Stone and CNN with one of the most legendary and charismatic bass players of all time, discussing a subject he actually wants to talk about.

And that's just it. Seconds after meeting him, it became very apparent how near and dear the Silverlake Conservatory of Music was to the overwhelmed Flea.

"Anything worth doing good takes a little chaos," he told me.

The goal of the night was to raise a significant portion of the money needed to purchase a new building for the Conservatory. Artist Dana Louise Kirkpatrick made the invitation for the evening (above), and managed to wrangle art pieces by Raymond Pettibon, Shepard Fairey, Banksy and Takashi Murakami amongst others for a silent auction. Bidding wars took place between Edward Norton, Tony Hawk, Rick Rubin, Owen Wilson and other guests (especially UFC's Dana White) ready to drop a pretty penny for the cause, some of which spent over six figures.

Rancid performed, as did Ben Harper and The Chili Peppers.

I'm gloating a little, but just let me have a moment as I relive what is surely to be a permanent memory. I wish it were everyday that I was watching "Soul To Squeeze" in the backyard of the person who wrote it, but it's simply not my reality.

Yes, Los Angeles is beautiful. And hearing the story of The Silverlake Conservatory of Music from it's founder I was reminded there is so much more out here than what's on the surface. LA has depth, culture and history. You just have to look in the right place.

Thank you Flea for all that you do and all of who you are.

Deroche: Why the Silverlake Conservatory of Music?

Flea: I grew up in Los Angeles in public school, and I come from a pretty low income family. When I was in school you could pick any instrument you want and they'd teach you how to play it. That changed my life. I loved playing music in school and it sent me on my path as a musician.

Shortly after I graduated high school they passed Proposition 13, Reagonomics, and they cut out a lot of the art programs in the LA schools and kids stopped having that opportunity. About 13-14 years ago, I went back to my alma mater, Fairfax high school, and ran into the music teacher. She invited me to come speak to the kids about the viability of a music career. When I went into the room where I used to play everyday in a big orchestra, they had nothing!

No instruments, a volunteer teacher, a boombox... they listened to music and talked about it.

I was just shocked. I couldn't believe it. This vibrant thing, just done. So I decided to start a music school. Whatever it takes, I'll pay for it. So we rented and built out a space and started a music school in Silverlake called the Silverlake Conservatory of Music. It's a nonprofit school, we've been going now for 11 years. It's flourishing. We have 700 students, about 200 of whom go for free.

We teach all the orchestral instruments, all the band instruments, we have group classes, private classes, adult's choir, children's choir, big orchestra, we got it all going on. It just takes a lot to run it, man.

I paid for it all by myself to a certain point and then just couldn't, so we've been vigilant about raising money. Our goal now is to get our own building where we can have a performance space, have room for group classes, be able to have twice the student body, be able to have more scholarship students cause we're packed where we are. We just want to be able to serve better.

The idea is for this music school to be an institution that is flourishing long after we're gone. To keep it rolling, you know? It takes dough, man. So that's what we're doing tonight, and we have our eye on this building we want to get on Hollywood and Edgemont that's really fucking cool and the perfect spot.

Deroche: Why Silverlake?

Flea: It's a community that I've lived in for a long time and I really like it. All communities have their value of course, but it's pretty ethnically and economically mixed compared to a lot of places. It's changed a lot over the years since I first lived there in the early 80's. I live here in Los Feliz and it's nearby. It's all about making the school happen and it takes a lot of work. It's a huge part of my life outside of my professional life with the band. I spend a lot of energy day in and day out keeping the school together.

Deroche: Do you have any stories about any of the students that have stuck out to you?

Flea: There's so many. We've had thousands of kids come through in the last 11 years. I haven't taught there a lot because I'm working so much in my professional life. But about five years ago, I had about a six-month period where I taught and there was this one kid that I was teaching to play the trumpet.

He'd had kind of a difficult time, he had been tossed around from foster home to foster home, government institutions and stuff. It's a rough life for a kid. When I started teaching him he was a pretty troubled kid, but he had this determination to him. He'd put the trumpet to his lips and you'd see this look in his eyes. He's going for it so hard, and I could just feel this intensity and desire. To make matters short, he's now at USC and I know that the music was a huge thing for him. He's in the music department, and he's doing great.

That's just one. Little triumphs all the time, there's all kinds of kids.

Just so people know, the Silverlake Conservatory of Music is not at all about celebrity or fame or being a star. It's an academic music school.

Deroche: What would LA be without music?

Flea: The answer to that question is - if you have to ask, you will never know.

I know that you know the answer, so I'm not directing that at you.

I was a kid in the street robbing houses, doing drugs, heading for crime. I got to go to school everyday and play my trumpet in my junior high, and it gave me something to believe in.

Music is the voice of God, man. It's the thing that keeps us together. It crosses every boundary that exists. Every boundary. I'm talking about boundaries to other dimensions beyond ethnic, economic, social-economic and every boundary.

Music brings us together. Music is the voice of the people. Music is love. Music saved my life.

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