“Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge” details a very dark point in the life of the Chili Peppers’ lead singer, Anthony Kiedis. During the aforementioned dark period, Kiedis battled intensely with issues of drug abuse and loneliness. This is made known largely due to the abundance of background information regarding the song. However, when looking solely at the lyrics themselves, his dependency on illicit drugs is only alluded to late in the song, with the overall main topic actually being his loneliness.
Due to this feeling of isolation, the singer embraces “the city” as his friend, as in the only one who “loves” him. And while he obviously finds comfort in believing such, ultimately the experience of wandering through Los Angeles in such a state is not one he wants to replicate. In fact it can be deemed, based on the post-chorus, that the intended purpose of this song is to express the singer’s desire for true, interpersonal “love” with another human being.
Meanwhile the title of the track is derived from its outro and refers to a specific location, “under the bridge downtown”, that was part of the singer’s experience while he was going through this era in his life. And while he is referring to a real-life “bridge”, within the context of the song, it is actually more-symbolic of his aforementioned drug abuse, as this locale epitomizes just how bad of a state he was actually in.
For instance, while “under the bridge downtown” he “forgot about (his) love”. This likely alludes to Kiedis’ former relationship with entertainer Ione Skye. Kiedis and Skye dated in the 1980s. He is apparently using portions of this song to express his regret over the dissolution of their romance (due to his addiction). Also he states that it was here, “under the bridge”, where he “gave (his) life away”. In other words, being a hardcore junkie transformed him into a completely different person, where he took risks for drugs which he has since grown ashamed of.
So in summation, this track is centered on a dark, lonely period in the life of Anthony Kiedis. During this time, companionship in a nonhuman entity, that being the City of Los Angeles. He also dealt with a harrowing drug addiction which he symbolically equates with giving his life away.
Release and Chart Success of “Under the Bridge”
“Under the Bridge” originally came out on 24 September 1991. It was actually released as one of the tracks on the band’s album Blood Sugar Sex Magick. Later Warner Bros. Records released it as the official second single from the album on 10 March 1992. What convinced them to do so was attending one of the band’s concerts and witnessing that fans already knew the lyrics to the song, despite it at that point having not being released as a single.
This decision proved to be right on-the-money, as “Under the Bridge” peaked at number 2 on America’s Billboard Hot 100. In Britain, it reached number 13. It also reached number 1 in Australia, Belgium and the Netherlands. Today, many regard this song as is the Chili Peppers’ greatest hit.
Interestingly enough, the massive success of this song contributed to the departure of a band member!
It is not the aspiration of every artist to embrace mega-success. For instance, partially due to the Red Hot Chili Peppers breaking into the mainstream as a result of “Under the Bridge”, their guitarist, John Frusciante, left the band.
The song’s music video, which was directed by Gus Van Sant, also did quite-well and contributed to the overall success of the song. It even won multiple MTV Video Music Awards in 1992.
Choir Vocals on the Track
The choir vocals during the outro of the song are provided by John Frusciante’s mother, Gail Frusciante and her friends. Both Gail and her comrades were all members of a choir.
Writing and Production
Rick Rubin, who produced the track, discovered it as a poem Anthony Kiedis had written in one of his notebooks.
Kiedis himself never presented it to the rest of the Red Hot Chili Peppers since he deemed the track too emotional and not fitting their usual content. However, he eventually did so at the behest of Rubin.
Ultimately, Kiedis had help writing this song from his Red Hot Chili Pepper bandmates: John Frusciante, Chad Smith and Flea.