This is a love song, a ballad for the city of Los Angeles -- both Anthony Kiedis and Flea moved to LA when they were still young, and their facination with the city influenced much of their early work.

It is about love, but it is a lost love. The lyrics refer explicitly to Kiedis' battle with heroin addiction: " . . . is where I drew some blood* . . . I could not get enough". What I find the most touching and troubling is that as much as Kiedis laments how he has forsaken his love, the lyrics suggests that the city was there with him during these troubled times. We see him huddled, perhaps the noise of traffic and sirens and people around him -- and not alone, but cradled in the dark in the warm hands of the city.

I also wonder if the infidelity between the narrator and his city might not go both ways: it is likely that Kiedis first enountered heroin in LA's club scene, to which he owes his musical beginnings and his success -- and likely, too, that drugs and drug culture were an unavoidable part of city life. In that way, as much as Kiedis might love the city, he knows that it has betrayed him by facilitating his addiction.

*Specifically, this line refers to intravenous injection of heroin: to be certain that one has placed the needly inside a viable vein, one must first draws back a bit on the syringe (blood will fill the chamber if the needle has been placed correctly) before injecting.
An alert and astute czeano has informed me that Kiedis considered this to be his first "serious" song, and that it was inspired by the death of a close friend (probably original lead guitarist Hillel Slovak from, you guessed it, heroin.) The lyrics come from of Kiedis's own poetry -- which he never intended to set to music until urged to do so by the album's producer.
The late, unlamented girl group 'All Saints' covered this song, perhaps the Red Hot Chili Peppers' most valid claim for immortality, on an EP released in April 1988, to much incredulity. The EP stayed at number one in the UK pop charts for a fortnight and also included a cover of LaBelle's 'Lady Marmalade' - something of a standard in the world of manufactured pop, as with 'Unchained Melody' and 'How Deep is Your Love' - and an original song entitled 'No More Lies'.

Alarmingly but not unexpectedly, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' lyrics were altered, transforming the song from a commentary on the perils of heroin addiction in Los Angeles to a bland love song, by the simple expedient of removing all references to heroin addiction and Los Angeles, which makes one wonder why they didn't just write a new song. For a group which were supposed to be a dirtier, whorier version of the Spice Girls, this was a bit rich.

Most obviously, the final verse (the one that gives the song its title and refers most explicitly to Anthony Kiedis' addiction) was omitted, and the reference to 'the city of angels' was transformed into 'the city of cities'. In addition, the city became a 'he'.

Under the highway bridge, the place of escape in my youth, there was a dreary but almost lively beauty. Empty packs of cigarettes smoked by teenagers whose eyes no doubt had flit about looking for adults were strewn about everywhere. Graffiti in many forms adorned the concrete columns and steel rafters. There were crossed out denunciations of ethnic groups, followed by denunciations of said denunciators. Spray paint bottles covered in rust and dust found their abode on piles of broken concrete. From one of the steel rafters hung a rope. We were always perplexed by the rope. How had someone climbed all the way across the rafter somehow, just to tie it there? The rope was cut and frayed at its ends; we always wondered if someone had hung himself there.

Near the top of one of the steel columns, which were about 30 feet high, was something clumsily spray-painted that said "If Mom saw me now!" A large road sign from the highway above served as a sort of sled which we would use to careen down the rather high slope with only a pile of jagged concrete to break our fall. About half the time we were there, we were on the look-out for cops, who frequently would watch the goings on from a place it was difficult for us to spot them.

When we would approach the bridge to hang out, we would often see teenagers scurry off into the nearby woods, and we would call "Wait, we're cool, we're cool, no worries." or something similar. Sometimes they would heed us and we would enjoy a cigarette or two with them and make conversation, and other times they would just run off. At other times we would pick up stones and hit them with sticks, seeing if we could reach the rafters. Sometimes we would just paint everything from geometric patterns to depictions of homosexual intercourse on the walls. It was a fun bridge to be under.

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