After a stint working in advertising, Frank Zappa realized that modern music had “50 percent” to do with the image. While that quota might be a little bit high, his sagacious mind had, nevertheless, identified a truth universally acknowledged within the industry’s backrooms but rarely amid consumers on the shop floor: that music is a product to be sold. It is safe to safe that the personal branding of Flea has been rather successful.
It has, in fact, been so successful that the word ‘Flea’ is now a name more synonymous with bass guitarist than a biological genus of over 2000 species with a global population. However, interestingly, in this case, it is not a cooler-than-cool name like Johnny Thunders or Slash, and Flea’s real name, Michael Balzary, is a pretty catchy title in the first place.
So, why did he choose this unconventional moniker? The reason that the switch came about was simply beyond the bassist’s control. He was dubbed ‘Mickey B: The Flea’ by his bandmate Anthony Kiedis when the two were just schoolmates in short trousers because he was constantly springing about like a restless bug who had landed in an Espresso earlier that morning.
Naturally, the name eroded down to just Flea, and he was referred to by his nickname almost exclusively ever since. Now, it stands as a term of endearment between the two, reminding them of their early days together, as Kiedis comments: “We were drawn to each other by the forces of mischief and love and we became virtually inseparable. We were both social outcasts. We found each other and it turned out to be the longest-lasting friendship of my life.”
Flea’s keen energy still remains to this day too. At 60-years-old in 2023, he might not hop around aimlessly as much these day, but he does look to channel his energy into constant work. In an interview with The Guardian in 2011, Flea stated: “Creativity waxes and wanes. We’re very lucky. We’ve made bunches of fucking money. We could be sat on the beach eating burritos, but even when we’re pissed off with each other we sit in a room and work.”
In this regard, the timeless bass insect looks to emulate his heroes, as he adds: “Igor Stravinsky sat at his piano every fucking day. Some days it was rubbish and his wife was chewing his ear off – but he stuck at it. The same thing goes for Nick Cave, the greatest living songwriter. He goes to work! Every day. And that’s what we do.”
Source: Far Out Magazine