What happens when a rock star turns 40? The Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea may handle his responsibilities like an adult (he's a single dad to daughter Clara), but he's a kid at heart. He still dyes his hair blue and wears his skivvies onstage. And now, as the voice of Donnie in Nickelodeon's The Wild Thornberrys and founder of the Silverlake Conservatory of Music, he's sharing his infectious energy with kids who weren't even born when his band recorded its first album.
The Wild Thornberrys movie hits theaters December 20, 2002, but Flea has had small roles in films for nearly 20 years. He got his first taste of animation in 1997 when he recorded a cameo for the USA Network's Duckman. Shortly after that, Klasky Csupo, Duckman's production company, asked him to audition for a role in its new Nickelodeon show, The Wild Thornberrys. With his childlike energy and unpredictable stage antics, Flea was the clear choice to provide the voice of Donnie Thornberry. The adopted, semi-wild son of adventurers Nigel and Marianne Thornberry, Donnie is constantly being rescued by his sister Eliza when he's been snatched by condors, captured by scientists, or chased by angry elephants. Good-natured and excitable, Donnie is a favorite of young Thornberrys fans.
"It's been a great opportunity for me to be a part of something that touches little kids," Flea says, "because making kids happy is just my favorite thing in the world." He sees in Donnie many of the qualities he admires in children: "Kids are so curious because they haven't figured a lot of stuff out yet," he says. "They always want to learn and they never think they know it all. We should all have that beginner's mind."
To encourage that passion for learning in children, Flea opened a music school in Los Angeles in late 2001. The Silverlake Conservatory provides low-cost private lessons to students 5 and older in everything from clarinet to Afro-Cuban percussion. As California public schools' arts programs are cut back or dropped altogether, Flea hopes the conservatory will give kids the sense of purpose music gave him as a child. "I did not grow up in a wealthy household at all, and I knew I'd better be good at something," he says, half-joking. "The school is a great place for kids to learn music and add meaning to their lives."
As for Clara, at 14 she's exploring her own creative interests. "She's experimented with lots of different things -- playing bass, playing the piano, painting, dance -- but she hasn't focused on one as a passion yet. She's taking her time," Flea says. And that's fine with him: "I just want her to do something that she can put her spirit into," he says. "If she wants to be a plumber, I'm all for it."
Copyright © 2002.