Grand Rapids, Michigan

Especially In Michigan by Red Hot Chili Peppers

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The tainted new librarian
Who fainted when she tucked you in
Let's float away like zeppelins
On stoic gusts of Northern winds Read full Lyrics
Michigan roots run deep for Anthony Kiedis, lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. In October of 2006, he explained the origin of his song "Especially in Michigan" in an interview with The Press, a daily New Zealand publication: "I have a connection to Michigan. There is something kind of off-the-beaten path and magical about the magic and the medicine that are Michigan. If you get out in the woods and out in those lakes and rivers, under those skies, there is a great sense of strength and wonder." In December 2011, Kiedis references his favorite things about Michigan in another interview with The Press: "Mom's kitchen. An old dirt road along the shores of Lake Michigan. The smell of pine needles baking on the sandy shores of some forgotten bend in a faraway creek."

Overhead sign<br>Photo: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_131_overhead_bridge_sign,_Grand_Rapids.jpg">Stevan Sheets</a>, <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0">CC BY 2.0</a>, via Wikimedia CommonsOverhead sign
Photo: Stevan Sheets, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Kiedis was born at St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Rapids on November 1, 1962 to John Kiedis and Margaret "Peggy" Noble, joining his two half-sisters, Julie and Jenny, and a half-brother, James. His great-grandfather was from the rain-filled climate of Lithuania, and his great-grandmother had some Indian heritage from the Mohican tribe. His godfather was Sonny Bono. His dad grew up in a very strict Dutch Reformed family and was forced to attend church several times a week for years. These experiences embittered Anthony's father towards organized religion and those "unholy Presbyterians."

John Kiedis couldn't settle down to married life and cheated on Anthony's mother several times, leading to their divorce when Anthony was three years old. His father moved to California to start an acting career. Unsuccessful, he made most of his money selling drugs to celebrities. Kiedis stayed with his mother Peggy in Michigan. They lived on welfare in a poor neighborhood throughout most of his childhood. He would visit his father for two weeks every summer. He described his father's lifestyle as "some kind of psychedelic Disneyland ride" which at the time contrasted sharply against his feeling of "being stuck" in snowy Michigan.

Lamberton Lake, Grand Rapids, Michigan<br>Photo: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lamberton_Lake,_Michigan,_with_adjacent_ridge.JPG">RNavigator</a>, <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0">CC BY-SA 4.0</a>, via Wikimedia CommonsLamberton Lake, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Photo: RNavigator, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
According to his autobiography Scar Tissue, Anthony developed an interest in music in the fifth grade. He would gather the neighborhood kids and put on shows in his basement. Anthony would pick out a record and they would gather makeshift instruments like brooms and upside-down laundry tubs. Then they would lip-sync and dance to Partridge Family albums, with Anthony always being Keith Partridge. He once convinced his friends that the Partridge Family had agreed to perform live in a friend's basement but that they were shy and would only do so behind a curtain. He charged admission to the concert and then went behind the curtain and played a record instead. He was so charming and adept at lying that his friends never figured out his deception.

Rebelliousness kicked in during his early teens and he eventually convinced his mother to agree to let him live with his father in California. Kiedis idolized his father. He viewed his father's lifestyle as magical and carefree. His father encouraged Anthony to experiment with using and selling drugs. At one point his cocaine and heroin use became so heavy that he would sleep during rehearsals and lacked the motivation to contribute to the band. He was asked to leave. During that time, the band won the LA Weekly Band of the Year award, which prompted Kiedis to quit using heroin. He boarded a plane to Michigan where, upon arrival, his mother, deeply troubled by his unhealthy appearance, drove him directly to a Salvation Army rehabilitation clinic in Grand Rapids. At the time, Michigan had discontinued the use of methadone clinics commonly used to treat heroin addiction. Anthony had no choice but to spend the next twenty days there detoxing cold turkey. This would mark the first time he was completely abstinent from drugs since he was eleven years old. This experience would not last, however, and Anthony would return several times to his mother in Michigan over the next few years to detox after some bad relapses.

The line in the song, "C'mon Huckleberry Finn, Show me how to make her grin," is in reference to longtime friend and beloved band mate Hillel Slovak, whose nickname was Huckleberry Finn. Slovak died of a heroin overdose on June 25, 1988. Unable to deal with his grief, Kiedis did not attend the funeral. Instead, he fled to a remote fishing village in Mexico and binged heavily on drugs. A few weeks later, his friend Bob Forrest convinced him to check into rehab and visit Slovak's grave, which inspired him to get clean.

"Especially in Michigan" is rich in references to the state. "Lions and tigers come running just to steal your luck" refers to two sports teams in Detroit, Michigan. The Detroit Lions football team and Detroit Tigers baseball team are an obsession for fans, despite poor performances year after year. The mitten shaped state nestles next to the Great Lakes teeming with ducks and fish, attracting local fishermen. Swimming in the Great Lakes creates a unique phenomenon for some; as they swear that while swimming underwater, the waves produce the sounds of violins playing. Spiny lobsters living in the lakes use the friction between a soft extension off of the base of each antenna and a sticky-smooth file located on each side of a plate below their eyes to make sound pulses. This produces sound vibrations similar to that of bowed-stringed instruments (like a violin). They also made the sound of a stick on a washboard by rubbing a hard pick over a series of bumps on their shells.

Amtrack with Grand Rapids in Background<br>Photo: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amtrak_under_the_skyline_(4435232885).jpg">Russell Sekeet</a>, <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0">CC BY 2.0</a>, via Wikimedia CommonsAmtrack with Grand Rapids in Background
Photo: Russell Sekeet, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Red Hot Chili Peppers fans may recognize an early riff in this song, eerily similar to "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot. The SS Edmund Fitzgerald was an American Great Lakes freighter that made headlines after breaking up and sinking in a Lake Superior storm on November 10, 1975, with the loss of the entire crew of 29. It is believed to have fallen victim to high waves caused by the "stoic gusts of Northern winds" that Kiedis references in his song.

"Wrap me in your cinnamon" is a metaphor that leaves the listener feeling as though Kiedis is begging for protection, as cinnamon known for its medicinal and healing qualities, as well as its spice. Cinnamon has been used to treat various ailments like indigestion, colds, infections and blood sugar levels. Cinnamon flavored desserts and beverages are also a favorite staple to many Michiganders. The contrast of the sweetness of his childhood home against the bitter Los Angeles party scene perhaps brought Kiedis hope of healing in the midst of tragedy, and he discovers "Life is full of medicine I find it when I'm slippin' in…into Michigan."

Valerie Bordeau
May 11, 2015
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