New York mag's Vulture website claims to have located the infamous scene of one of the classic anthems of the nineties (and one of the classic LA jams of all time): the Red Hot Chili Peppers's ode to Los Angeles, "Under the Bridge." The song, which references a past time when Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis used heroin "under the bridge downtown," was impossible to miss back then, is still a KROQ staple, and will probably be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Of course it's possible that the song's operatic reference to "under the bridge downtown" is a metaphor for a life lived in the seedy underbelly of LA. However, Kiedis affirmed the literalness of the reference in a 1992 interview with Rolling Stone, in which he admitted that the bridge exists in Downtown, but was unwilling to specify where: "It's downtown ... but it's unimportant. I don't want people looking for it."
Vulture did go looking for it, starting with a reference from the 2004 memoir Scar Tissue, in which Kiedis claims that at the period of his life described by the song, he and a friend, "owed too much money to the drug dealers around Hollywood, so we started walking from her house, which was not far from downtown L.A., to known drug neighborhoods, mainly Sixth and Union." Vulture checked another nineties staple, the Thomas Brothers Guide, along with BridgeHunter.com to locate all the bridges within walking distance of Sixth and Union, eliminating several options on the way:
"The First Street bridge is a steel stringer structure that spans Figueroa Street. It is open to a busy street and offers the narrowest of walkways underneath. I'm not sure you could even sit down there without getting run over. The bridge at Temple and Figueroa, a 44-foot span built in 1940, has a similar problem. There's just no 'under' under there. In fact, the only bridge that looked even remotely likely -- where Beverly Boulevard crosses over Glendale Boulevard -- is, like the others, too exposed to traffic for late-night speedball fun."
While failing to mention the many bridges Downtown created by Grand Avenue, Vulture settles on the bridge over the pedestrian path through MacArthur Park, which was a known spot for drug users and gangbangers in the late eighties:
"Kiedis said that he went 'under the bridge' in 1988. By that point, the park had become notoriously drug infested and dangerous. A Los Angeles Times article from April '89 headlined 'Drug Users Overrun MacArthur Park' cited rampant and open drug use in the park, and a subsequent police crackdown that year yielded 859 drug arrests in the first quarter alone."
The Vulture commenters are typically skeptical of Vulture's case and made their own suggestions for possible "Under the Bridge" bridges:
-- "an old legendary graffiti yard in downtown LA ... To locals it was known as 'The Hole'. But the technical name for it is the Belmont Tunnel."
-- The Second Street tunnel under Grand Avenue
-- The First Street Bridge over Figueroa in the crawl space visible from Google Street view
-- Myra Bridge in Silver Lake
For other obsessive investigations into early nineties classics set in LA, do check out this post that pin-pointed the exact day detailed in Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day."