Flea interviewed Runner’s World
March 15th 2011
Runner’s World: How did you get into running?
Flea: Well, I’ve never been a runner before, maybe a little jog here and there, probably never more than a mile in my whole life. About six months ago, I read Born to Run and it really affected me profoundly; the concept of our bodies being used for their real purpose when they’re running. I thought F**k it. I’m gonna run a marathon and raise money for the Silverlake Conservatory of Music. [Flea’s donor page is at crowdrise.com/teamsilverlake]
I started the Conservatory with a couple of friends about 10 years ago. We’re a nonprofit music school. Out of the 700 kids that attend the school, we have about 300 that go for free and the others pay a reasonable price. It costs us nearly a million dollars a year to run it, so I’m constantly trying to raise money and put on fund-raisers and do whatever I can. We have to pick up the ball where the public school system dropped it—[music education] is not being funded anymore.
What does the school need?
We need as much money as we can get. We’ve actually hit rock bottom with our budget, so we’re just doing whatever we can to raise money. So many people have been kind and played fund-raisers for us—Eddie Vedder, Metallica, Patti Smith, Tracy Chapman, Joshua Redman, just a multitude of musicians, the Red Hot Chili Peppers numerous times, System of a Down—so many bands have played to benefit the school. After I do this marathon, we’ll be back on to something else.
I funded the school by myself for the first few years, but it’s just impossible. To sponsor me running this marathon, people can do that at crowdrise.com/teamsilverlake. Even after I run the marathon, anyone can visit the Web site and check us out. Any assistance is appreciated. We give music lessons to children in private and group setting. It’s a high quality of music education and any help we can get, we’re eternally grateful for.
Do you have a trainer?
I have a trainer, a really nice woman named Nina Greenberg, and she got me a training plan and we go running in the canyons in Malibu. It’s just beautiful up there, absolutely gorgeous. You see bobcats up there sometimes.
Did you include smaller local races in your training?
I started running, and first did a 5-K, and then a 10-K. Then I went to Catalina to run that half-marathon there [the Buffalo Run—he finished in 1:58:32]. Now I’m gearing for next week and this marathon. I’m very excited.
What’s your strategy for the L.A. Marathon?
When I got with Nina Greenberg, I had been running for a few months already without a trainer. But then she gave me a program and guided me through my runs, showing me how to take care of myself and letting me know I should ice my legs and stretch—stuff I hadn’t been doing.
At one point, I was sidelined by a calf injury after I did the half-marathon. My calves are really tight, and I hadn’t been massaging or icing them. After the race I couldn’t run for a couple of weeks, so I got behind in my training, which was frightening. But everything’s good. Now I’m tapering down. I want to be fresh to hit it next Sunday [March 20].
Do you run by yourself mainly?
I’ve mostly trained by myself or with one other person. I was snowboarding at Mammoth Mountain last weekend and met a guy who is a runner, so we got together yesterday and ran nine miles. It’s fun to just get out there and have a nice conversation when I’m running. To be honest, when I do longer runs, the trail that I like to run up in Malibu has mountain lions, so I always feel I want to run with someone else.
How do you feel after a run?
Outside of a couple of times I ran without eating right or being too tired, I always feel great after I run. Twenty miles is the longest I’ve run, and that was last week, and after that I felt great. Part of it is being proud. Three months ago the longest I’d ever run was five miles, so it’s a feeling of accomplishment.
What running books have you read?
I love a few things about Born to Run —the big one being our bodies are meant to do it. If it’s meant to run, I’m gonna run it.
I love that book by Scott Jurek, Ultra Running . There’s a part in the book where he would run 100-mile races and then at the end of the race he’d wrap himself in a sleeping bag and wait for every single person to come across the finish line, even if he waited for like 30 hours. And this is after running a hundred miles. That was inspiring to me. The community of runners and doing it is beautiful, and I love the idea of it.
I met a guy in Hawaii, I was over there for the holidays, this guy named Joey, who had run a bunch of marathons and he took me for a run one day and he gave me some pointers about relaxing when running. He gave me a book called Chi Running , which I really enjoyed. There are concepts I picked up from that, which are beautiful.
What were your feelings wearing your first half-marathon medal?
[Laughs] That was cool. But that medal I got, everyone got that [laughs]. It was great. It’s funny: One thing I’ve realized from these races and each time they announce the times and who the placers are, who comes one, two, and three—I’ve come pretty close in all of them to placing. I was under a minute off from third place in the Buffalo Run in my age group [40 and up]—my age group is kind of the toughest one. I always think it would be kids in their 20s just rockin’ it. But in the races I‘ve been in, it’s guys in their 40s putting up the best times.
Is it because they’re coming to running later in life, so they have fewer miles on their legs?
I think it’s mental strength. A lot of them have been running a long time. They have the experience of knowing when they’re at the hard part they don’t freak out—they keep it going. I really don’t know enough about it, but I was surprised by that. So my age group is a pretty tough age group. I felt, when I ran that half, “Darn it, I got pretty close to placing.” If you look at the Buffalo Run Web site it’ll say where I was overall and my time. I did pretty well. I hoofed it on the way down. Going up [laughs], going up was pretty hard.
So do you feel like you’re a natural runner?
I don’t know if I am or not. I know I really like it and that the people I run with have been very encouraging, telling me that I’m doing well. But I do feel—and I’m kind of a skinny dude—that I found something that my body is pretty good for. I look at those great runners, the Ethiopians and the Kenyans, who are amazing, otherworldly runners, and I feel a little like my body type is good for this sport.
How did you get involved with music education?
I was at a Knicks basketball game. I happened to be sitting next to a woman who was a music teacher at Fairfax High School, which is my alma mater—and all of the original Chili Peppers’ alma mater—and she asked me if I would come to the school to talk to the kids about a career in music. I was like, “Great, love to.” I went down there and I walked the halls feeling this flood of memories of my experiences there. I went into the music room and students had no instruments—there was no orchestra, no band, nothing. Students were sitting around listening to music on a boom box, talking about music. When I went there, you could pick any instrument you wanted, they’d teach you how to play it, and you’d play in an orchestra, it was incredible. It hurt me to see that.
On your Twitter account (twitter.com/flea333) you said that music saved your life. How did it do that?
For me, music was the only reason I went to school. I was kind of a street kid, in a lot of trouble committing crimes and stuff. Music gave me something to focus on, it gave me something to believe in beyond getting in trouble. Music gave me something that was not only good for me—it gave me something to work on, something to be proud of and something that I really loved and have a love for—but also music was good for other people because you put joy into the world. So when I saw that it was gone from the public school system, it really hurt me.
A year after that, I read this book Songs of the Unsung by a man named Horace Tapscott, who was a great jazz musician. He started a school in south central Los Angeles in the ’60s—it went on for many years and it might still be going on, for all I know—and it was a music-school-sort-of-community-center-artistic place and a shining light in the community. They put on concerts in the park and had a big orchestra. It was really inspiring to me what he did and how he was so selfless and gave so much of himself to the community and to the kids, so many of whom grew up to be great musicians themselves. After I read that book, I said “Okay, this is what I’m doing.” I put the money together. I got the building. I built out the school. I had a friend who knew the teachers, and we made it happen. And here we are, and the school is flourishing.
Describe the quality of music instruction given at your school.
The quality of instruction is very high at the school. It’s not about being a rock star. It’s about the fundamentals of music, theory and technique on a particular instrument and playing in an ensemble or private setting. We’re teaching music in a straightforward, academic way.
What instruments do you teach them to play?
I do teach bass and trumpet on occasion, but my professional life is such that I can’t be there consistently enough to teach all the time because I work a lot. So mostly I run the school in an administrative way.
What else happens at the Silverlake Conservatory?
It’s definitely a social hub for the kids. Some kids are in the orchestra or the choir or they take private lessons. All the kids know each other. It’s beautiful, man.
I was there last Monday, and the choir was doing this version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and there’s a solo part that each of the kids took turns singing. Some kids sing it really well; some kids have a harder time with the melody and the rhythm. But all of them are trying hard, giving their hearts to do something that takes a lot of guts to do, singing for a crowd of people, and I’m seeing this and weeping because it’s so beautiful. Seeing kids interpreting this profound, sophisticated language and seeing it handed down from generation to generation is incredible. I travel all over the world and I see it having the same effect everywhere; people making these vibrations that touch other people’s hearts.
What do your music students think of your mighty goal?
I don’t know [laughs]. They probably think I’m crazy. I dunno. The school is real supportive. We have a big sign in the window up front that says “Watch Flea Run Here at Inspiration Point.” Everyone’s gonna come out and be there when I come by. It’s fun. I dunno [laughs], I dunno. I think everyone likes that I care and that I’m a part of it.
As much as they like it, I can’t imagine anyone likes it more than I do. I love being part of the school and want to keep doing it. My sincere hope is: Long after I’m gone, the school exists and the kids are nurturing their intelligence and creative selves, that they continue to learn this sophisticated and profound music that needs to be taught.
What are you doing in the next couple of days to be race-ready?
I think the most important thing for me is to remain calm, sleep well, eat well, and take it real easy.
Look for an “I’m a Runner” profile on Flea in an upcoming issue of Runner’s World.