Philip Seymour Hoffman: Under the Bridge

I just starting writing this blog last month and had been considering a regular feature that highlights a favorite song of mine. I was inspired by yesterday’s events as well as a Facebook posting by a high school classmate that explored the dichotomy between how a celebrity drug overdose is treated by society (with empathy and understanding) versus the overdose of an ordinary person (with scorn and shame).

Prior to watching the Super Bowl, I learned of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death from an alleged drug overdose. Later that night when I saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers performing with Bruno Mars, I remembered Philip Seymour Hoffman as well as their masterpiece, “Under the Bridge.”

Anthony Kiedis wrote the lyrics after being sober for several years and felt that this had distanced him from his band mates who continued to smoke weed. Kiedis had also come out of a relationship that was badly marked by heroin and cocaine addiction. The combination of feeling that he lost a connection with his band mates and reflecting on the destructive relationship inspired this truly brilliant song.
“Sometimes I feel
Like I don’t have a partner
Sometimes I feel
Like my only friend
Is the city I live in
The city of angels
Lonely as I am
Together we cry”

In his memoir, Scar Tissue, Kiedis discussed this song:
“…the loneliness that I was feeling triggered memories of my time with Ione and how I’d had this beautiful angel of a girl who was willing to give me all of her love, and instead of embracing that, I was downtown with fucking gangsters shooting speedballs under a bridge.”

The song begins with a slow intro that was inspired by the Jimi Hendrix song “Little Wing” ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8Xq0Y0dR-Q )

22_underthebridge3

The guitar playing becomes more rapid as the song progresses and after the last chorus, Kiedis is joined by an epic choir who chant “Under the bridge downtown” while Kiedis accompanies them, singing,
“Is where I drew some blood
I could not get enough
Forgot about my love
I gave my life away”.

The song was a vocal departure for Kiedis, who had spent most of his career up to this time singing rapidly. While I have never considered Kiedis to be a remarkable vocalist, his singing on this song is very sincere and absolutely unforgettable—I truly cried the first time I heard it. These lyrics and Kiedis’ vocals resonate deeply with me:
“I don’t ever want to feel
Like I did that day
Take me to the place I love
Take me all the way…”

I had not heard the song for some time and played it several times on my way to and from work today. The song felt as fresh as it did in 1992: it is beautifully textured, full bodied and grand in a very approachable way.  Like Picasso’s powerful commentary on war, Guernica ( http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2003/02/guer-f08.html ), “Under the Bridge” reminds us of the human casualty of drug addiction.

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Watch the music video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLvohMXgcBo

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RELATED RESOURCES:

http://teens.drugabuse.gov/

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/drug-addiction/basics/definition/con-20020970

http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction

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2 comments

  1. I can’t say Mr. Hoffman was on my mind, but after seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers perform, I added Under the Bridge to my favorites and even shared it via Facebook. No doubt we are not alone, being that, they were a part of an astounding half time show, and it is their most famous song, but still, I enjoyed learning of the artists’ background, the meaning behind the song and your spot on review. Thank you for sharing this post. And in a mock toast, I shall play Under the Bridge right now.

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