Why Red Hot Chili Peppers' Under The Bridge is Anthony Kiedis' most honest song

1 November 2023, 17:17

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Under The Bridge [Official Music Video]

By Jenny Mensah

How the memory of drug addiction prompted the Chili Peppers frontman to write one of the band's most iconic classics.

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Red Hot Chili Peppers released their ground-breaking fifth studio album Blood, Sex, Sugar, Magik on 24 September 1991.

The record saw the band break into the mainstream with singles in the likes of Give It Away, Suck My Kiss, and their mournful ballad Under the Bridge. Watch its Gus Van Sant-directed video above.

The eleventh track on the album captured the hearts of many, with John Frusciante's famous riffs combined with Anthony Kiedis' heartbreaking lyrics.

But why has it continued to stand the test of time?

Find out why it's one of the band's most enduring tracks and arguably Kiedis' most honest song...

Anthony Kiedis in Red Hot Chili Peppers' Under The Bridge video
Anthony Kiedis in Red Hot Chili Peppers' Under The Bridge video. Picture: YouTube/Red Hot Chili Peppers

READ MORE: The meaning behind Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers

Drugs have had a hugely negative impact on the California punk rockers over the years, with the band losing their original member Hillel Slovak to a heroin overdose in 1988.

Red Hot Chili Peppers in Washington, 1988: Flea, Anthony Kiedis, Hillel Slovak and Jack Irons
Red Hot Chili Peppers in Washington, 1988: Flea, Anthony Kiedis, Hillel Slovak and Jack Irons. Picture: Joe Dilworth/Photoshot/Getty Images

Three years following the death of Hillel (after appointing John Frusciante as their new guitarist and releasing their Mother's Milk LP) the band set about writing their fifth studio album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik.

Anthony Kiedis was clean during this period of time, and began to feel isolated from his bandmates - especially Flea and Frusciante, who still smoked marijuana together.

Driving home from rehearsals one night he began singing to himself about his feelings of loneliness, and reflected on how drugs had negatively affected his relationships with loved ones- including his former girlfriend Ione Sky.

As he documents in his Scar Tissue memoir, producer Rick Rubin used to call him to check up on him and review his material.

Anthony Kiedis saved a baby during Carpool Karaoke. This is incredible!

When looking through his writing he found a poem entitled Under The Bridge and - instantly touched by their lyrics - Rubin implored Kiedis to show them to the rest of his band.

Kiedis was reluctant, thinking the song too gentle for the Chili Peppers- who still had a very energetic, funk-based sound.

But, after singing the lyrics to Frusciante and drummer Chad Smith, the frontman recalls that they simply: "got up and walked over to their instruments and started finding the beat and guitar chords to match it".

"I don't ever want to feel/ Like I did that day/ Take me to the place I love/ Take me all the way"

Anthony Kiedis of Red Hot Chili Peppers around the time of the band's Bloog Sugar Sex Magik album.
Anthony Kiedis of Red Hot Chili Peppers around the time of the band's Bloog Sugar Sex Magik album. Picture: JA Barratt/Photoshot/Getty Images

Speaking about his famous final verse which literally describes the bleak process of scoring and injecting heroin, Kiedis explains: "What that was referring to was a point in time about five years ago when I had nothing in my life, no friends or no places to live, no car or relationship with my family.

"All I had was this connection of mine named Mario. He was a Mexican mafia ex-convict and he and I would stroll the streets of downtown (L.A) looking for our next score. And one particular afternoon it was very hot in the middle of summer and I'd been up for days, and he and I had found what we were looking for and we went to this bridge that was downtown in the middle of Los Angeles in this ghetto."

"And there was a freeway bridge, and there was this little passage way that you had to go through, and only certain members of this Mexican gang who were all ex-convicts were allowed to go there, and the reason they let me in is because this guy Mario said I was going out with his sister, which was a lie just so we could go in there..."

He adds: "And that always sticks in my brain as a low point in my life."

While at his lowest point, Kiedis does find some salvation in the chorus, pledging not to feel like he did that day.

While some might think the place he loves is the high of a heroin hit, Kiedis revealed in the same interview: "The place I love is where I am now".

Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers tells the story behind Under The Bridge

The frontman never revealed the exact whereabouts of the titular bridge, but many have tried to use clues in his interviews and his autobiography to find it, with Vulture citing a small tunnel underneath Wilshire Boulevard in MacArthur Park as its possible location in 2012.

Sadly, it wasn't to be the last time the group was marred by drug use.

Kiedis was set to relapse, while John Frusciante's well-documented struggle with addiction would hit an all-time low when he left the band for the first time in 1992.

Although Under The Bridge is a song about both the isolation of addiction and recovery, it manages to be both gentle and triumphant, while remaining one of the band's most-loved hits.

QUIZ: Which Red Hot Chili Peppers Album Are You?