Now that everybody shows up these days their own little metal tubes covered with buttons and lights, and filled whatever special blend they’ve cooked up, pot is more like a designer drug than the sacrament it was in my day. But it’s still like a street drug: you never know what you’re getting. I must have gotten the tube with the paraquat in it, because my head is just now starting to clear.
You couldn’t avoid the stuff backstage before the gig last Thursday. The tubes were everywhere! And foolishly, I accepted one. Suddenly, everyone began to chatter like hyenas. “It’s gonna be great! It’s gonna be great!" But as I watched the walls melt into a puddle around my feet, I wasn’t so sure.
In my world, you really gotta keep on people if you want to be sure that things won’t get fucked up. Here, everything was chaos. People I didn’t know kept grabbing me right before I was supposed to go on, putting things in my hand and instructing me to hold still while they took pictures. I began to panic. Where are Cris and Curt? Where is the set list? How do we get to the stage? Is someone going to come and find us? “It’s gonna be great!”
And it was! I had already used up all my gags during my conversation with the mayor earlier in the evening, so all managed was a quick “fuck the president” before we lept into our first number. And suddenly I got it.
I hadn’t touched the drums in over fifteen years, and hadn’t been on stage in twenty. During our brief rehearsals, I’d been trying much too hard; trying to be too clever. But in the actual moment, the magic asserted itself with an authority that took my breath away. I relaxed, joined the audience and just enjoyed the show, letting the music do most of the work.
Apparently, a “Hall of Fame” induction of some kind or another had been scheduled for the same night. But for us, it was a Puppets show. Folks that didn’t get it cleared out quick and left the rest of us to our own devices. We took our time, rediscovering one another and exploring old connections. Later, they told me the stage was rotating, but I never noticed. They also told me that lots of people had tears in their eyes.
I learned things about the Meat Puppets that I had either forgotten or never knew. A couple weeks ago, my brother said to me, “you know, you’re too close to it to really understand what an amazing thing the Meat Puppets really is.” I politely agreed with him at the time, but it really hit home during the show.
Trying to put it into words would be a ridiculous, futile exercise. But after spending some time with both brothers, I’m really struck by the sacrifices they’ve made in order to stay true to themselves. It always used to bug me how cross they would get whenever I would intrude upon them with details right before we went on. Somehow, it never occurred to me how little any of that stuff really mattered.
I took the easy way out. I get money deposited to my bank account twice a month. Sure, I have to work for it, but I figure it’s a fair exchange for the privilege of getting to sleep in my own bed. To me, it was always about wresting back control of my life. But these days, it seems like we’re all losing control, and we may all soon have to start making sacrifices of our own. Hopefully, we’ll make the right ones. I guess what I learned at the show is just how much you can let go and still leave plenty of room for what really counts.
Now that the fair is moving on and the Puppets are off to the next gig, I wanted to thank everyone for the nice wishes, both from the social media and from those of you I saw in person Thursday night. It was a wonderful night for everyone who remembers the Phoenix scene from back in the day.
But it was also bittersweet for a lot of us. There was a time when going out every other weekend to see your friends play cool gigs was a regular part of life. But you get busy, and life goes on. And now it's really sinking in just how special those days really were. And now -- fuck -- we've all gotta go back and get busy with our lives. But it was nice that we all came together to experience the INDESTRUCTIBLE POWER OF ROCK AND ROLL once again!
Thanks very much to Danny Zelisko and the Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall Of Fame for making it happen!
Once the weird sloppy energy of our first album was behind us, the Meat Puppets worked hard to polish our studio chops. The warm response to "Up On the Sun" rewarded our efforts. The album exposed us to a wider audience and cemented our place in the echelon of American indie bands. But if we thought we'd spend 1985 basking in the glory of our breakthrough release, we were in for a rude surprise.
Before we knew it, the media trained its microscope on us. Even popular groups like the Replacements and R.E.M. took heat in the press for their so-called "unprofessionalism." The Puppets never stood a chance. We noodled too much between songs, futzed with our equipment and argued over what to play. We peppered our performances with insults and in-jokes. We played more classic rock covers than we did our own songs. Meanwhile, the casual fan coming to hear "Swimming Ground" ran for the exit.
The question now asserted itself: would we be foolish enough to squander our big opportunity? Would we insist upon staying true to ourselves? Or would we smarten up and knuckle under to the wiser forces of the market? We began to worry that we might be blowing it. This was a painful notion for us to face, and an even tougher one to face down. The year was filled with self-recrimination, second-guessing and finger-pointing.
As we fought our demons in the trenches, audiences slowly began to take up our cause. Most in the mainstream still considered us too raw for the great unwashed masses. And perhaps they were right -- the audio evidence here speaks for itself. I only kept my favorite bits of our live recordings back then; few complete shows survive. But what remains is a pretty accurate record of how hard we worked. In fact, these recordings -- both hard rocking and hilarious -- are among my favorites. After a year of constant touring, we still took a lot of chances on stage, but we also learned to take fewer casualties. As word spread about our unpredictable stage shows, we started to develop a reputation we could be proud of.
More from 1985, for the truly obsessive:
The complete show from Rock Isle, in poorer quality:
SST's "The Tour" video in its entirety:
Cris destroys his bass at the Peppermint Lounge:
The Meat Puppets at the Gila Monster Jamboree:
The Meat Puppets started as a punk rock cover band, but the Kirkwoods themselves had no real attachment to the genre. Curt and Cris were feral enough for punk, but their idea of rebellious music in those days was closer to the roster of the ECM jazz label. In contrast, I saw myself as nothing less than the Svengali of a punk rock super group. The power I heard in the band was unmistakable, even when we played Iggy Pop oldies. I knew we were on to something.
My friend Darrell was getting into pro audio around the same time. He had a high quality cassette deck, a mixing console and a couple decent mikes. One weekend when his parents were out of town, I talked him into letting us set up a makeshift home studio in his living room. While we improvised, Darrell twiddled the reverb and echo knobs. Our buddy Jeff joined me on vocals. The finished product was muddy with effects but dense with stinky psychedelic energy.
As cool as that session was, it was too experimental to be representative. I wanted a proper "demo" we could use to get gigs. We reconvened about a month later in the band's normal practice space at my parents' house. This time, we recorded the backing tracks first, then overdubbed the vocals. The playing was smoking hot and sounded great. Unfortunately, most of singing is awful. I don't remember if Cris and I liked our takes at the time or if we just never got around to re-recording them. Either way, I wish I'd saved a copy of the instrumental versions. Only Curt's vocal on "Outdoor Miner" shows any restraint.
Curt shook off a lot of that restraint once we started writing our own songs. I wrote the lyrics for most of our first handful of originals, but we persuaded Curt to sing them. He quickly developed a raw style that reminded me of a cross between a dog baying at the moon and your dad singing along to the car radio.
We continued to cut demos through the summer, usually recording live. One exception was a strange dub of "Meat Puppets." The track is full of inscrutable guitar playing and low-fi dub effects from Darrell. We liked it so much we released it the following year on the Los Angeles Free Music Society "Light Bulb" compilation. By our final session in August, we'd grown into a muscular, self-contained power trio. We dropped much of our arty pretensions in favor of a lean in-your-face live sound. Gig opportunities began to increase that fall. The super group was finally on its way.
“At points, you really hit a sweet spot, and you stay there. At points, with the band, I’ll get to that point, you know? I’ll be right there. And often times I’ll be so focused on that sweet spot, that I won’t even notice that suddenly my brother is about three inches away from my ear.”
- Cris Kirkwood, "Airborne Event" (WFMU)
Cris Kirkwood has always been a self-proclaimed "music head." His brother Curt would probably be just as happy racing motorcycles as playing guitar, and I'll gravitate to just about anything non-compulsory. But music always scratched the itch for Cris. He'll never tire of telling anyone who'll listen of how the film "Deliverance" inspired him to take up an instrument. The consequent later arguments with his brother could get really ugly when Cris pushed to add banjo to the band's sound.
Recently, Cris spoke at length with WFMU deejay Dan Bodah about his side projects, specifically his interest in experimental music. From the very beginning, the Meat Puppets incorporated experimental effects in our home studio recordings, encouraging our first sound man Darrell DeMarco to use the mixing board as a fourth instrument. Once Dave Claassen joined us, he brought these techniques to our live show. But Cris really came into his own once the band set up a rehearsal studio behind his house. After Curt and I finished providing him with a grudging couple hours of practice in the afternoon, Cris would lock himself away with his bong and his 8-track recorder for the rest of the night, feeding the musical monkey until the wee hours.
Cris no longer knows the whereabouts of his original multi-track tapes. “Because of my special behavior," he says, "I managed to not keep track of some things." Even if he did, finding a working 8-track machine would be no easy task. Luckily, I have most of this stuff mixed down to cassette. I've always wanted to post some of it here, but the realization that Cris doesn't even have copies of his own recordings makes this mission all the more urgent. I have a one tape in particular, labeled “Crisis Compilation,” which has no titles and no credits -- just 90 minutes of solo Cris, circa 1986-1993, back when half-inch tape was cheap and he had all the time in the world to just let it roll.
Last month, I met up with Matthew Smith-Lahrman for dinner before a Meat Puppets gig. He was in town to present us with his just-released book, “The Meat Puppets and the Lyrics of Curt Kirkwood, from Meat Puppets II to No Joke.” But even as I opened my copy for the first time, Matt was already putting the twelve-year project behind him. At 85 dollars a copy, his book targets university libraries more than bookstores. No wonder Matt resisted my suggestion that he slog all over Phoenix pitching it to local merchants. He was much more eager to start his next subject, which, thanks to a combination of street noise and his academese jargon, I didn't quite catch.
Over the years, I did many lengthy interviews with Matt. I also fact checked, kibitzed, and put him through his paces when he probed too close to the odd sore spot. Now, as he stood with my wife and I, killing time before the evening's gig, I asked what surprised him most after talking with us. Without hesitation, he remarked at what serious careerists we were. Despite our well-publicized reputation for irreverence, we treated our music like a real job. This set me off on my well-worn rant on how rock and roll is the story of survival. How do you stay true to yourself when you're living on the frontier of self-invention? How do you keep doing your work while impaled on the horns of the order you're compelled to impose on the world? You get the picture.
This time, I guess, the artist and the academic aren't so different. Matt took a hard look at his manuscript and wound up cutting the band history sections down to the bone and focusing on the lyrics. I have my doubts about the relevance of any analysis of Curt's capricious word-play, but I'm glad Matt made sure he got the book he wanted. He had to kill a lot of his darlings to get there. But if you want the rest of the story, you can visit Matt's blog, Perspectives, to check out all his interviews with the band. Get the book from Amazon if you want a slight break on the price. And if you want to sample it first, Google Books offers a healthy dose.
UPDATE: See the comments section for a special 35% discount from the publisher.
In the summer of 1980, we heard about a club in Tucson hiring punk rock bands. I fired off a demo to them right away and got us a booking for the middle of July. The night before the show, we were so excited we drove down to Tucson just to hang around town. We cooled our heels for a while in the University of Arizona student union, then we found a grate blowing cool air and took a cat nap. We spent the next day trying to fob our handmade flyers off on disinterested local merchants.
I'll never understand how we managed to stay up all night and day in the middle of summer and still find the energy to play a gig at midnight. We must have been out of our minds. But we were barely out of our teens and possessed of ridiculous energy. I still remember sitting at the drum the kit that night, in front of a real paying audience for the very first time. The feeling was incredible; the situation seemed impossible. I had energy to burn.
I wasted no time counting us down. For three quarters of an hour, I played just as hard and fast as I possibly could. The Kirkwoods danced manically in front of me. At some point, I bit down hard on the tip of my tongue and sprayed blood all over the drums. Someone threw a beer bottle through my bass drum, but we kept going. When we ran out of material, we lit out with ten minutes of pure, stratospheric noise. The crowd went ape shit.
The tape of the gig is badly distorted, but it accurately captures the excessive, hallucinatory energy in the room. Compared to this recording, our first album sounds like "Tales From Topographic Oceans." At the end, you can hear me respond to a direct compliment with an offhand dismissal: "nah, we'll be slower next time."
Our Phoenix debut took place a couple weeks later. The Human Hands were in town for a gig at the Star System, and though he couldn't get us on the bill, singer David Wiley did throw together a private after-party for us. He even talked his bandmates into loaning us their amplifiers.
The party started so late that we had to wake Curt from a dead sleep to get him to go on. Cris and I wedged him into the back seat of my mom's Volkswagen Rabbit among various pieces of my drum kit. He bobbed his head back and forth during the drive downtown, barely award of what was happening. We propped him up on stage and he mustered a dull muddy tone out of the borrowed amp.
After a quick introduction from Human Hands bassist Rick Potts ("direct from their Las Vegas debut last week"), we kicked off a confident if subdued set in front of a small supportive crowd hand picked from the cream of Phoenix's cool kids. Our pacing and focus were much improved from the Tucson show. The lack of manic energy served us well, allowing space for greater invention. Cris turned in an impromptu bass solo on "Children In Heat," while Curt whipped out a great atonal hail-Mary lead on "Dolphin Field."
After those two shows, our names started to get around. Our shows were one-of-a-kind events. We were alarmingly clean-cut, so innocent and suburban looking, yet so feral when we got on stage -- especially when Curt stepped up to the microphone. We had a beautiful offhand (and off-key) approach that allowed us to shine like angels from hell, even on a shitty night. The Phoenix scene quickly took us under its wing, and for a few brief months we got to be the new kids on the block.
(Thanks to Bob Judd for posting this flyer, drawn by Yours Truly.)
"...I was tinkering with a lot of the textures and a lot of the parts and stuff. I worked on them on my computer and what was really fun about it was that we were able to transfer the files by dial up to the designer who finalized the project in New York. I did a lot of mock-ups of a lot of different covers. A lot of it was just goofy shit that I still have, like, a [half] dozen or so mock-ups that I still have that I printed out... that I should scan and put online. They’re pretty cute....This one was the first seriously new computer age, digital age, project in terms of the cover....It’s a stupid looking cover. It’s computer graphics gimmickry circa 1995....It’s one of those things where you take a piece of art or photo or whatever and then you apply Photoshop filters to it and you think you’re fucking Rembrandt."
The Meat Puppets spent the late eighties living out of a second-hand RV. We travelled the country like a rock and roll gypsy carnival -- roadies, girlfriends, Curt's pit bull and a trailer full of gear in tow. After driving all day, we'd hit town in the afternoon, winding right past the nicer neighborhoods until we reached that night's shit-hole. As soon as we finished loading in and doing our sound-check, I'd make for the pavement, looking for anything else to do: a thrift store, a comic store, healthy food, even a laundromat. In the meantime, the Kirkwoods would pitch their nightly floating dope caravan in the parking lot. But the grind was wearing us all down. With no new product to promote that year, attendance at our shows was dropping. As gates decreased, we got shorter and shorter shrift from the promoters. Meanwhile, we developed superstitious rituals: "warming up" before every show with muscle-wrenching "stretches" and loading up on herbal stimulants. We'd get on stage and pound on our instruments until we wore ourselves out -- or until the audience left. We fought with everyone: our label, our booking agent, club employees, each other, sometimes even with the fans. We were exhausted. We'd been living hand-to-mouth for too long, playing too many piddly-shit gigs for too little money. We were squandering our reputation and burning ourselves out. Curt finally told us he couldn't take any more.
During a break from touring, we cut a new demo and, for the first time in years, beat the bushes for major label interest. A couple of label reps came out to some shows, but none took the bait. In the end, Curt had no choice but to deal once again with SST. During a visit to California, he cut a rough version of "The Void" using Greg's new drum machine. He liked the results. I'd been pushing him to use a drum machine on our next record, wanting a more level playing field against the rest of the mid-eighties rock world already on the sequencer bandwagon. I was tired of comping along in the background, and wanted the chance to actually compose my parts.
First, I laid down a basic kick and snare pattern on drum pads, playing along with Curt to a click track. Then the brothers came in one at a time and overdubbed their own bass, guitar and vocals. After they finished their parts, I composed my fills using the drum machine keyboard. Finally, I added live cymbals, replacing the click track with real high hat. This strategy suited us well, for at the time we were barely speaking to each other. I don't think all three of us were ever all in the studio at the same time.
The finished product had a calculated hair metal sound to it. Just to make sure nobody missed the point, we added entirely too much reverb. The songs were pretty basic, and the poetry was stingy by Meat Puppets standards. Mostly, Curt just wanted to rock out; he didn't want to be bothered by the rest of it. The album is hampered by our crappy "self production" and the leaden mechanical drum tracks, but the best songs eventually found life on stage. "Light," "Attacked by Monsters" and "Touchdown King" became concert staples.
Once we delivered "Monsters," we began our preparations for yet another season in the R.V. But a funny thing happened. Atlantic Records offered us and SST a nice sum for the rights to release the album. But Greg wouldn't even consider giving it up. They had planned their whole season around the release, and everything was already printed and pressed. Both sides dug in. Suddenly, it became a lot harder to get somebody from either label on the phone. "Monsters" was a flop -- poorly promoted and poorly received. We went out for another round of shitty gigs. This time around, all the opening acts had major label albums. While their promo teams beat a path to their dressing rooms, we were selling handmade tee shirts for gas money. We couldn't even find our record in stores. We felt screwed.
It was around this time when rumors began to circulate that we were finished. And the rumors weren't far from true. I hardly even felt like I was in a band any more. Nothing but inertia kept me going -- that and the desire to see how the story was going to end. I didn't want to give Cris and Curt the satisfaction of giving up before they did. I stopped smoking grass that summer, and spent most my time trying to make sense of our disastrous finances. When a major label contract finally arrived in the summer of 1990, it was a predictably shitty deal. But it was a lifeline, and we grabbed it. What choice did we have?
You'd think, given my critical eye for my own work, that I'd rate "Monsters" dead last. And it's true: artistically, the album is my least favorite. But as a tactic to attract a major label deal, it was a complete success. And even if our new partners at London/Polygram didn't particularly "get" the Meat Puppets, for a while at least it seemed the change would breathe new life into the band. And for a while at least, it did.
If you enjoy reading about the Meat Puppets, but you're tired of my words, then you're going to love Greg Prato's new book. "Too High To Die: Meet The Meat Puppets," is four hundred pages of oral history, enough for even the most rabid meathead. Don't worry, you'll find plenty of my words in there, along with those of the brothers Meat, their friends, their family, fellow travelers, and some of the author's friends too.
I could quibble with some of the facts. There are places where memory fails the speaker (never my memory, of course), or where the correct course of events is garbled in the speaker's haste to make a point (never my haste, of course), but what's the use of splitting hairs? People seem to like these oral histories. Besides, it's pretty much the journalistic norm these days to quote verbatim and dispense with fact checking altogether. Just ask the Washington press corps. Either way, Greg gets the broad outlines right and delivers a compelling narrative in the process.
I read through this thing as fast as I could, the better to quickly dispense with my distant past and get back to the business at hand. But as I moved from the early triumphs to the long slog in the middle and finally the epic horrors near the end, what struck me was how much I've retained of all I learned from my first career, and how much my present experience colors my view of the past. Obvious I suppose, but Greg's retrospective just helps bring everything just that much more full circle. Well done, sir.
And here's the best part: the next time I get into a disagreement with someone, I have a new trump card: "so, where's YOUR band's bio??"
The American independent music scene had become a horse race by 1986. The revolution was over; it was time to get serious. Husker Du and the Replacements were odds-on favorites to win; the Meat Puppets were expected to place or show. "Rolling Stone" deemed us only a couple tweaks away from greatness. We had begun to second-guess ourselves. Each Puppet accused the other of holding the band back. But everyone could agree that my sins were the greatest. I just didn't seem to care anymore. I balked at the band’s direction. I rarely showed up for rehearsals. To be honest, the magic was draining out of it for me.
Things got a lot less fun as the year progressed. A week into the first leg of the tour, our sound man slammed Curt's finger in a van door, breaking it in two places. Curt regained his dexterity in a few weeks, but the experience left us all shaken. The hastily-rebooked make-up dates were a punishing slog. Everywhere we went, disgruntled promoters complained about poor attendance. Finally, during the last show of the tour, we accidentally left all the cash earnings from the trip in our unlocked vehicle. We returned home flat broke.
I spent the next month hidden away, licking my wounds. My brother Damon offered some encouragement. You just have to keep practicing, he told me. Keep working on your instrument, keep getting better. Let the work lead the way. The rest will follow if you let it. I took his advice to heart. I moved out of the condemned duplex I was renting and in with friends. I bleached my hair, started working out, and tried to regain my confidence.
While I sulked, the Kirkwoods kept busy. They acquired a mixer, some microphones and an 8-track reel-to-reel tape recorder. Cris bought a drum machine and a headless bass with a graphite neck. Curt picked up a clumsy guitar synthesizer. As they got proficient with their new toys, the brothers began to woodshed material for the next album. Once I resurfaced, we decided it would be most productive if Cris and I got together by ourselves to work out the arrangements.
But just as he had with the songs on "Out My Way," Curt kept a lot of the words and melodies to himself until we got into the studio. Once again, I had to comp along in the dark. Cris coached me through a lot of it, writing rhythm patterns and adding little bits of business that made the changes distinctive. But the material remained largely impenetrable to me.
I was also hamstrung by my equipment. Swept up in the general enthusiasm for new gadgets, I purchased an unwieldy midi drum set with triangular controllers and a library of awful samples. They were unforgiving and difficult to control, demanding intense concentration. My performances on that kit were tentative and lacking in spontaneity. I was never able to relax, let go and swing -- something hard enough to do in the studio under the best of circumstances.
Once we got into the studio, we chafed under Chaton's strict no-drug policy. We had to sneak behind the building to partake of our primary creative tool. But even under these oppressive conditions, we rose to the occasion. Outtakes from these sessions offer the best available insight into how the Meat Puppets constructed their music in the studio. Both brothers are excellent here: at once inventive and precise. For my part, I focused on keeping things simple. Listening to these recordings now, I'm struck by how good our studio chops actually were. We really stuck with it until we got it right.
But despite all the hard work and loving attention, "Mirage" is a flawed work. Though a growing core of self-described "Meat Heads" identified with our unabashed stoniness and manic fretboard antics, most listeners were unable to connect with the album's lysergic themes and florid yet sterile production. Some of the better tunes didn't even make it onto the album, deferred instead until "Huevos," where they would receive their just due in a more energetic environment. But we scored with tracks like "Beauty," "The Mighty Zero," "A Hundred Miles," and "Love Our Children Forever." Other tracks, such as "Quit It," "I Am A Machine" and the title track itself, have perhaps not aged so well.
Regardless, we grew by leaps and bounds during the creation of "Mirage." We'd never worked so hard on an album, and after it was finished, we worked even harder. We converted Cris' garage into a practice space; there, we really began to put on muscle. We reconnected as a working unit, throwing ourselves into rehearsals until we finally built the band up into the live act we wanted to be. Once we got "Mirage" out on the road in front of an audience, we quickly discarded the tunes that refused to catch fire. We substituted a batch of new Curt songs designed to be more fun for us and less challenging to the listener. I ditched the electronic drums and invested in a beautiful Gretsch kit, which I was able to play the shit out of.
Less than six months after the release of "Mirage," we squeezed a studio session in between two legs of the tour, banged out ten new songs in three days, and released them almost as quickly. "Huevos" was funky, raw and loose -- everything "Mirage" was not -- and we were immensely pleased with it. Critical reception was tepid; speculation about our major label chances ceased. But we'd proven something to ourselves. The media didn't understand where we were going, but we finally did. Over the years, as "punk" turned to "indie," and then to "alternative," the ground continued to shift and shrink beneath us. The "mainstream" became the only direction left. We continued to knuckle under, pushing ourselves along, browbeating each other into line and upping the ante. But no matter what we did, or how determined we were to polish it out, the magic remained. In the end, it was all we had.
In early 1986, the Meat Puppets convened in a Phoenix suburb to record the follow-up to 1985's "Up On The Sun." We had informed our label, S.S.T. Records, that we would no longer record in California. Henceforth, we would hire the studio of our choice, produce our own sessions, and deliver master tapes when they were completed.
Chaton Studio was a converted guest house behind the home of a wealthy Paradise Valley couple who'd started the studio to record the Phoenix Symphony. The studio impressed us as much for its relaxed isolated desert setting as for the pedigree of its house engineer. Steve Escallier's diverse client list included Fleetwood Mac, The Babys, Glen Campbell and Lawrence Welk.
The band was already behind schedule. Caught somewhat by surprise with a hit album on our hands, we'd spent most of the previous year either promoting "Up On The Sun" or recuperating from our heavy touring schedule. Curt's two-year-old twins occupied the lion's share of his attention. By the time we entered the studio, we'd only managed to bring a half dozen new songs to a point of completion. But touring was our only source of income and we needed new product to promote. Our plan was to release a quick EP, tour in the spring and get to work on a proper album in the summer.
I had problems with the project from the beginning. I hadn't warmed to songs like "She's Hot," "Mountain Line" or "Other Kinds Of Love" in rehearsal or on stage, but I hoped they'd reveal themselves to me in the studio. They never did. With their long instrumental passages and opaque incomplete lyrics, the tunes Curt brought to the table struck me as more appropriate for the Dixie Dregs than the Meat Puppets. Furthermore, they required a musical fluency beyond my reach. Curt seemed to be staking a claim as the indie Mahavishnu John McLaughlin of his day, but I was no Billy Cobham.
All the same, the few outtakes that survive reveal an undeniable craft. Laid bare here in various stages of completion, these tracks offer a rare inside view of our surprisingly disciplined work ethic. Song structures were fully realized by the time we got into the studio. Little is left to chance. Even the solos seem to have been composed beforehand. Cris appears to be having the most fun, whereas Curt and I are all business.
We had to work quickly. Since I never learned their lyrics or melodies, I didn't discover what the songs were actually "about" until after they were finished. We relied on working titles throughout the sessions. "Other Kinds Of Love" apparently enjoyed some input from Sandig at one point. "Not Swimming Ground" was so obscure that we were never able to come up with a proper title for it. Our decision to include "Good Golly Miss Molly" as the final track was a tacit admission to the paucity of our offerings.
Cris and Curt were proud of the finished product. Their playing was never better. Curt had put punk rock solidly behind him and was really starting to feel his oats as a songwriter. But I was left to scratch my head at the direction he was taking us. Even today, "Out My Way" feels like a wrong turn. I eventually came to appreciate the record, but I always thought of it as a lost opportunity. Lacking the tight immediacy and quirky charm of our best records, "Out My Way" struck me as self-indulgent and sterile, a brooding exercise in fretboard dexterity. It would be the first -- but alas, not the last -- of our misfires.
Back in the early punk rock days, it took a special kind of nerve to to post your flyers around. You’d be asking for trouble if you got caught putting ‘em up without permission (which you rarely got). Flyering a gig was a stealth operation. Maybe if you were lucky, the hippies at the local record store might take a stack. But you’d better be prepared for some wisecracks.
Still, it was worth the hassle. Nowadays it seems obvious, but back then the idea that a few bucks and a copy machine could net you legitimate brand identity was a real revelation. Guerilla marketing and D.I.Y. show promotion attracted a lot of us to punk in the first place. Some bands spent more time on the flyers than they did on their music.
The original Meat Puppets flyers were all handmade. We'd just tear pages out of our notebooks, scrawl in the show pertinents and pass 'em around. Very few of these have survived. After we exhausted our notebooks, we had to come up with a new strategy. Soon, we worked out a system that allowed us plenty of room to collaborate and enough flexibility to keep things fresh, fun and eye-catching.
By the mid nineties, hometown gigs became a rarity as we began to spend more and more time on the road. But during the lean years, we had to play in town every couple weeks just to keep ourselves in groceries. We couldn’t have survived without places like Hollywood Alley, the Mason Jar and the Sun Club. This collection is as much a tribute to them as it is to our own skill with scissors and rubber cement.
Matt conducts a swell interview, but who's that douchey loudmouth he's talking to?
This was up on the old Meat Puppets blog for a decade. No point in trying to disavow any of it now.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 2ND PHX
Come home from running around trying to get ready to leave and find a message on my machine. it's Suzanne in New York, wanting to know if I'm bringing my laptop on tour with me. Wants to know if I'll do a tour diary for Prodigy! God, there is no rest from these bloodsuckers. It's bad enough that I have leave my home and friends and family for a month to slog around in the cold weather and subject myself to judgment of total strangers for a month, now I'm expected to share my innermost thoughts as well. Without pay, or course, as if I somehow went to all the effort and expense to buy this Power Book and lug it around all over the country just so's to facilitate her career. Fat chance, baby, and besides, the world doesn't want to know what I'm thinking anyway.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 3RD L.A.
Flight to California with Curt's kids in tow for a show with REM in San Bernardino at the Blockbuster Pavilion. The Gin Blossoms were also on the bill, which gave me a chance to catch up with them. Used to see them all the time three years ago, but now both bands are thankfully quite busy. I also got to check out Luscious Jackson (verdict: two thumbs up). Also got to spend time with my nephew and his mother who live in Hollywood.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 4TH PHX
My last day home for a month. Visit with friends, pack, program the VCR.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 5TH NYC
Fly to JFK. This year I got smart and bought a pair of pants two sizes too big just for these cross-country flights. Called a friend once we got to Manhattan and got together for a nice dinner.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 6TH NYC
A day of phoners at the Polygram office. Stuck inside a windowless conference room for six hours playing phone tag with the college press. Got a hold of five out of seven of them. After a wonderful dinner in Little Italy, a live chat for a competing online service.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 7TH NYC
A day of radio promotions. First at the SW Network, for their "Static" program. We began to get smart-mouthed right out of the chute, answering questions no doubt offered sincerely for for us, tedious with "humorous" responses. The host swung with it for the most part, but I could see a little discomfort on his part. The next place was the ABC network building, where space was rented for us to do three satellite remotes. Obliviously feeling our wise-ass oats, we continued in the vein begun at the previous taping. The Houston guy was fairly accommodating and the Minneapolis team was a little confused, but the Buffalo team was not into it and cut the interview short. They still ran it the next morning, but apparently got some negative feedback from the listeners. Now we've got to do some damage control when we get up there.
That's been a pitfall in the new post-"Backwater" reality. We get into much more mainstream stations, and while many of these stations have Stern-influenced "morning-show" funny guy jocks who like to have a good time, they are much more easily derailed by our attempts to give "zany" answers. They interpret this as an attempt on our part to wrest control from them, and they resent it. Either way, we knew we'd blown it, so for the remainder of the taping that day we minded our "p"s and "q"s.
Afterward, we got a hold of some tickets to see the Knicks battle the Suns at Madison Square Garden. We had four seats, but only two us, me and my tour manager, were free. We considered scalping the tickets, but decided against it after I remember a friend of mine's similar situation. After negotiating the sale of some unneeded tickets, he found that he'd gotten nothing but fake twenties wrapped around a ten-dollar bill. Thinking he could just pass them on, he tried to pay his cab fare after the game with one. All the driver had to do was touch the bill. He dropped back on the floor of the backseat and locked all the doors until real currency was produced.
By the way, the Suns beat the Knicks in a fourth quarter upset.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 8TH NYC
Gig in NYC with Big Star celebrating the publication of the new revised edition of the Rolling Stone History of Rock and Roll. I get on stage and say, "History is written by the victors." A couple people get it (or do they?). Afterward, I look around for Suzanne to see what kind of concessions I can eke out of her in return for this tour diary. If her terms are acceptable, I might do it. She of course caves for all of my demands, and even offers to loan me a nice digital camera to take pix. Her boss also gives me a free Prodigy pen and some affectionate invasions of my personal space, but they weren't necessary. I've already agreed. Hopefully, they know how to retrieve jpegs from non-Prodigy-users, or else they're gonna have to throw in some free Prodigy service as well.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 9TH NYC
The band hauls itself over to National Studios to tape a visit to MTV's 120 Minutes program. Unlike the last visit, where we were propped up on the set and made to read a teleprompter cold (a squinty, mumbling mess which in no way translated into units sold), we got to talk to an actual host. While waiting backstage, we watched Daisy interview Chris Issacs for some thing or another. Aside from their label rep, who was effervescent, Chris and the boys looked and acted like how I'm sure I'll be looking and acting after I've been on tour for a few months. When Chris came back to the dressing room to collect his entourage, we introduced ourselves. He not-so-deftly ignored us and focused his attention on the host's nine-year-old daughter.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 10TH DAVENPORT, IA
The first day of the Primus tour. A typically obnoxious torture-run from NYC to Cedar Rapids, Iowa (via Chicago) crushed into the window by some guy sitting next to me who was far too big for coach. They should make planes like amusement parks. If you're too large, you either pay extra for first class or you don't ride. The bus driver, Tim, meets us at the airport, and we're off down the road to Davenport. I take the opportunity to finish up "Skinwalkers" by Tony Hillerman, and promptly fall asleep.
The gig is on a campus. It's raining pretty good by the time we get there, with snow expected within the hour. I poke around a bit, hook up with the roadies, who are driving separately from us in a Ryder truck full of gear. This time around, all my drums are in one big rolling case instead of a half dozen flight cases. I ask my one roadie, Danny, how he likes it and he says, "It's a challenge." (He's not quite tall enough to reach all the way down into the bottom of the thing.) The Primus drummer's kit is like three times the size of mine. He's obviously more "musically inclined" than myself. Not that the audience will notice anything except a larger target.
A largely uneventful beginning. I meet the production staff and extract permission to use their copying machine to create set lists. I check out everyone's computer, mostly PCs, but a few Macs as well. The Power Book of choice is the 160, a very durable machine, and without that nasty track pad. I myself am toting a 165c with a fast modem and extra memory and storage. I've got along a book about C++ and the Symantec compiler, and am going to make a stab at learning something about programming.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 11 INDIANAPOLIS, IN
Really cold here. Wind, snow, the whole nine-yards. Also a kinda rough crowd. Clouds of cigarette smoke and stuff being thrown. Curt got beaned in the face twice with coins. One kid yelled out, "Kurt Cobain's dead!" I assumed he meant we were coattail-riding has-beens. Whatever: things are tough all over. The show was good none the less. There was some thing going on in town and no hotels could be got for love or money, so the whole kit and kaboodle of us packed up and drove to Detroit. I was crossing my fingers that we could get a fairly early start and things looked smooth, when suddenly... an obstacle. Some girl on our bus brandishing a homemade Christmas gift. A woodcut reindeer with a painted smiling face and a "Happy Holidays." Jeez, she was cute enough; if she was friendly too it would hours before we got on the road. I started the ball rolling in my inimitable fashion.
"Are you a woodworker, my dear?" I asked.
"Unfortunately, I am," came the inevitable reply. it seems no fan I've ever talked to likes their job. Well, they're not alone. Compulsory anything just rubs me the wrong way.
"Well if that's the way you feel about it," I chirped, "you can keep your damned present!"
Luckily the bus driver roared with laughter to key the kid in that I was kidding. Afterward, I got lucky. All it took was a photo of her with the band and she was on her way. As we drove off, I noticed that the woodcut was blank on the back, so i took a Sharpie and drew in a Satan reindeer holding a sign that said, "Merry Fucking Christmas."
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 12 DETROIT, MI
Rolled into town around 3:30 in the a.m. No snow up here. Puttered around up in the room for two hours before finally getting to sleep. Slept until just before two in the afternoon. Snack on fruit, etc. pilfered from the dressing room the night before. more puttering (writing the first two pages of this thing, for instance). Then a walk to the gig. Start seeing things right off the bat that I wish I had the digital camera for. Detroit is a classic. Opulent once, now a downtown full of wig stores, boarded up buildings, and statues honoring nothing really except the glorious corruption of previous municipal regimes. And right in the middle of it, this awesome old monument: the gig, a completely restored Fox Theater. Full of ersatz Siamese/Cambodian fixtures, the theater's huge front piece towers above the stage, dwarfing it's performers with full-sized human figures and a giant elephant head crown, all painted in gold. The ceiling was equally ornate. If I were a better student of architecture, I could better describe it. let's just say that for the Fox Theater and Prodigy, the digital camera came too late.
The audience meanwhile, relegated to reserved seating in this ornate palace, participated in another great Meat Puppets performance by sitting on their hands.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 13 KALAMAZOO, MI
Day off. Nothing to do but walk around the hotel, watch" Melrose Place," and prepare for this week's update of the Meat Puppets world wide web site. A quick search for "Meat Puppets" reveals an ad for old issues of "Take It!" magazine, including the issue featuring a flexidisk we did in 1982. The song remains unreleased, a pastiche called "Teenager(s)," which starts off as a fast Cris punk rocker with a cut-up poem by me for lyrics, than segues into a long, slow, spacey jam written by Curt. The recording marks our official turn from screamy punk. A must-have item for the dream MP boxed set.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 14TH KALAMAZOO, MI
A little more of the richly deserved and wildly enjoyed down time in the morning. Wouldn't this be a great diary if all I described were the teevee shows I watched? I don't have cable at home, so I end up watching more teevee than usual. Late night, a fascinating Charlie Rose about the recent "60 Minute" backpedaling on the cigarette companies story. Plus, a wonderful documentary on that most entertaining event in human history, the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.
But anyway, back to our story. Nabbed a quick but nasty lunch in the hotel before journeying forth with local Rep Kevin for a little radio schmooz. One, a straight station where the jock got my name wrong on the air twice (in two different ways), but where we could share our mutual enthusiasm over the upcoming Beatles onslaught, and the other a fledgling alternative station which didn't even have copy of the new C.D. I left both establishments awash with the glow of my ebullient, effusive charm. Anyway...
This was a our second time at Wings Stadium. The first time was with Nirvana two years ago. Basically a hockey arena. Once again, we rocked them. My apologies to my readers for the dearth of description when it comes to the gigs. We are old hands at this sort of thing, edging up to our sixteenth anniversary in a couple of months, and if there's any one problem with our shows, it's that they are predictably professional and boringly efficient. A nightly 120-percent give-fest. Unless someone is injured or somebody shows tit, there's really not that much to describe. Unless the following sets your blood afire:
It was 8:05 pm. We had been onstage now for 35 minutes, with ten minutes to go. My glance moved from my watch to the set list at my feet. I noted that we had done ten songs and had three to go. In my estimation we would arrive at the end of song thirteen at approximately 8:14 and 28 seconds. Another perfectly-timed set. I winked to our road manager who nodded, turned to the stage manager and flashed him a triumphant "thumbs up."
After the gig, I return to my room and complete my www site update.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 15TH DAYTON, OH
Another venue from the two-years-previous Nirvana tour. As we were pulling in, I see a pretty brunette slide out of a cab and run indoors. She looked familiar. Sure enough, it was our second guitarist Kyle's girlfriend, come to join us for a day or two. I go inside myself and find the dressing stocked with all sorts of candy and other fattening stuff. Woe is me.
That morning at 7:30am, some clown set off the fire alarm, so I was rudely awakened to the sound of a recorded voice enjoining me to take the stair down the lobby in my underwear. I think not, I said to myself. After about ten minutes, this recording was replaced by a new one telling me to return to my normal activities. Too late for that. Though I slept for another three hours, I awoke feeling groggy and unrested. This feeling lasted all day. Plus it was gig four for this particular set of drum heads. So I didn't really get 100% of my thing tonight, but tell that to the kids who left the gig with no shoes and two black eyes. These kids today! They love their rock and roll!
Afterward, I get back to my room and, noticing this is the first hotel so far to offer Comedy Central, settle back for an evening of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," even though I've already seen this one ("The Day The Earth Froze," with "Here Comes The Circus!"). But about ten minutes into it, every cable channel starts showing a snowy Bob Newhart rerun. So I'm stuck watching Leeza Gibbons talk about the "soul-killers on daytime," to an eye-rolling Tom Snyder.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 16TH CORAOPOLIS, PA
Back home, Thursday is comics day, but back home I have access to a comics store. Not so this Thursday where I find myself good and ensconced in Interstate Hell. An all-day drive with a mighty slow and inconsiderate driver (our original driver was forced out by a nasty turn of insider politics which shall remain undescribed in this journal) to this pathetic strip of no-man's land where the food is a particularly anemic plate of "pasta" and a desperation-run to a convenience store. I tune in "Raging Bull" on the box just long enough to realize it's been edited for television, rendering it unwatchable.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 17TH MONACA, PA
A full plate of phoners in the afternoon while I continue to play catch-up with the tour diary. Get an e-mail from Suzanne telling me to expect the digital camera tomorrow in Albany. When we get the the gig, I see that our soundman is already tense with the anticipation of tonight's overnight drive. Albany is nine hours away through mountains, and of course, Dave is assuming the worst, weather-wise. The gig is in a place called the Beaver Dome, and it is indeed shaped like a dome.
After the gig, we wait around for almost two hours for our bus driver to show up. He was at the hotel supposedly getting some sleep in preparation for the drive. When he shows up, we found out he hasn't bothered to sleep at all, but he's gotten here late enough for us to sit in place for forty-five minutes until the post-show traffic jam subsides. Cris and I sit in the back of the bus fuming. As we finally get underway, Cris tells me to check out the guy's driving. Sure enough, he's lurching back and forth and jamming the breaks and gears, sending a huge jolt through the whole vehicle every few minutes. Soon, the driver decides he wants to take a break, so Cris and I sit in the bus continuing to fume while we wait for him. Curt is passed out in a bunk, having wisely drank heavily before the trip had begun.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 18TH ALBANY, NY
We finally pulled into Albany around noon the next day, a full three hours later than we should of. I didn't sleep a wink. I felt more like the driver's wife and kid whom he could treat any way he chose, rather than a highly-paying employer. I march up to my tour manager's room, where I am assured that another bus and driver are on their way. Also, I claim the digital camera, which I take back to my room only to discover that the software included is for an IBM-compatible. After futzing around with it for a while, I decide there is no workaround and I can't get the pictures from the camera to my hard drive to edit them. I place calls to my contacts at Prodigy but get a round chorus of answering machines, on which I leave messages that are not returned. I am left with the choice of either not using the camera, or using it and overnighting it back to Prodigy and letting them retrieve the photos and use them without my ever seeing them, or finding a computer graphics shop in a town somewhere on our trip and seeing if they an help me. The latter seems like the best option, and I'll just bill Prodigy for the extra cost.
We take a cab to the gig, since the bus driver, having budgeted his time so poorly the night before, is still asleep. I snap a round of cute pix throughout the evening, drag my ass through a performance I am under-rested for, and return. Before retiring, I return my bus key to my tour manager.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 19TH HAMBURG, NY
A day off, but with an afternoon on the road to Hamburg, NY outside of Buffalo. The new bus a sleek, black '95 with only thirty-thousand miles on it. It was mostly recently used by Nine Inch Nails. We settle in a begin to tool off down the road. Ahh, this driver's got an ample clue and it's smoothest ride ever. Plus it's got tons of videotapes. I pop in "The Breakfast Club" just to make sure that my tour diary has as much to offer as Courtney's Lollapaloosa diary in "SPIN." Sorry, fans; it really sucked.
Get to the hotel in the evening, get some grub, watch Lois and Superman, experience the much-touted Beatles Anthology special, and check out the new Beatle song, "Wings Of A Bird," or whatever it's called. The verdict?: Not necessarily a bad thing.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 20TH HAMBURG, NY
Have decided to give up on the photos thing for now. Putting too much effort into the whole project will defeat the terms of my agreement with myself that I made when I took on this project. Besides, I won't be able to see the final layout in Prodigy, since they keep their "www" pages behind a firewall and their proprietary "web browser" doesn't support the Mac O.S. I cannot stress enough how perfect these online services are for people interested in talking about sports or exchanging recipes at five bucks an hour.
Anyway, the gig was spooky tonight, mostly due to the aforementioned accidental animosity Cris invoked during the satellite hookup with the Buffalo station. Even though Cris went back on the air this afternoon to mend fences, we all couldn't help but feel there was somebody out there with a bag of rotten tomatoes. Curt messed up the intro to "Sam" twice, he was so nervous. Me, I validated my whole Hamburg experience by finding a comics store in town and checking in with my old pal Superman. Had to walk a good hour to find him, but I managed to avoid getting any soakers in the process. Also a brief visit after the gig with my friends back in California (you know, the ones that live on Melrose Place). A dull episode. Too much Kimberly and Jane. There was an exciting knife-fight with Jake and his current plot-device, even if it was poorly-written (please note that I'm not trying to sound surprised).
Another overnight drive afterward. A relatively painless one which got me into my room by a little after four. Too early to even try to fall asleep. So here I sit, actually caught up to the present finally. Preparing to send this first week of diary in to the forces that be. With any luck they'll get it, although they never replied to my query last week as to whether or not I had the right address. We'll just wait and see.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 21ST DANBURY, CN
Not sleeping well these days for some reason. This morning I was forced to go down to the bus and make myself a peanut butter sandwich at four in the morning. Got up, still hungry, and went down to the bus to find Lupe the driver doing a little cleaning. I remark how disconcerting it is to wake up and find yourself out in the middle of nowhere stranded on the side of some damned interstate. Turns out he wants to make a mall run himself. We collect Curt and Cory (Cris and Kyle can't sleep at night either, but they also can't wake up in the morning), and off we go. I'm looking for the Beatles CD of course, and I find it. Curt wants some boots, since he came on tour with just a thin pair of tennis shoes. Lupe needs some sunglasses. Once I get back to the bus with my purchase, I am too excited to listen to it, so we put on Curt's new selection, a package of greatest hits from Merle Haggard's Capital days. Soon, we're grooving to "Silver Wings," "The Fightin' Side Of Me," "Mama Tried," and "Working Man Blues."
Tonight was the actual Turkey-Day as far as catering was concerned. The whole nine yards was presented. About what you'd expect if you had Thanksgiving dinner at Price Club. I stuck with the alternate meatless fare, a very nice potpourri of squash rolled up in fillo dough.
Found out over dinner a good friend of mine had been in a car accident back in Phoenix that day. Gave her a jingle after I got back to my room, and sure enough. She was depressed and angry. Her little boy was not riding with her at the time thank goodness, but none the less, she said to me, "What's he gonna say when I pick him up this evening? He loves that truck!" She got good and broadsided and spun around a couple of times. Lawsuit.
Later I log in to CompuServe to get an update on missed episodes of "Guiding Light" and find that Jim and Kevin from "Mystery Science Theater 3000" are holding a chat. They roundly criticize the film "Billy Madison," and hype their upcoming film. I then switch to a chat with crime writer Andrew Vasch, who is an activist for children's rights. he is hyping a ban on all things Thai, due to that country's atrocious record of children being sold into sex slavery.
That night was no better than the night before, sleep-wise. I noticed my skin was breaking out in a bona fide rash from shitty hotel soap, cheaply-laundered hotel sheets, and too much exposure to hotel heating units. Soon, I would be forced to use that most despised substance, skin lotion.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 22ND BETHLEHEM, PA
Get a chance to rock out with the Beatles CD during the drive today. Much of it was new, but there were a couple of my favorite outtakes heard previously on bootlegs. There's are great demos of "Can't Buy Me Love," "One After 909," "And I Love Her," "No Reply," and others. George obviously composed his leads before he recorded them; his extemporaneous scratch leads are uproariously inept. Also apparent was that George Martin managed to squeeze most of the Beatles' sheer love of rocking out from the final product.
The early part of our day contained a bit of a detour to a car rental place where Curt picked up a vehicle to help facilitate his drive up to his girlfriend's parent's house for the holidays. As we pulled up to the airport, Curt expressed bitter confusion over why his gal was flying into Philadelphia when there was a perfectly good airport right here in Bethlehem. We decided it was a problem with our travel agent's mind. Curt's girlfriend was scheduled to show up just after we finished playing. Curt and she would spend the night in town, then jam up to the Hyde Park area, rejoining us in Uniondale on Friday. Unfortunately, the young woman's plane was a couple hours late in taking off. Par for the T-Day course if you ask me.
Also visiting us was Kyle's mom, Bonnie, and a couple of her friends. She was a charming woman who insisted that I was "underrated." As a drummer, she meant. One of her friends managed Kyle's last band Pariah's fan club, so I asked her to put together something for me to look at in the way of setting up a fan club for us. Some damned person who shall remain nameless put a false claim that we have a fan club on the new CD, so now I've got to make good on it.
After the show, we ran in to another guest, an old pal from Philly, who had driven all the way up to Bethlehem in time to miss the show. Another few minutes and he would have missed us, as we were preparing to bust a move to NYC when he walked up. We kicked back with him for a while and then beat it. Manhattan was only an hour and a half away, so we were at the hotel in midtown before midnight. But not in time to see either this week's "90210" or the second installment of the Beatles special. But I did get to my room in time to get a message that my friend Rob, who lives in town, was having dinner right across the street.
I sauntered over, dirty Super-tee still clinging to my body, joined Rob, and introduced myself to his out-of-town guests. Much to my delight, they told me that they had seen Jason Priestly and his sweetheart in the lobby of the hotel they were staying at. I, of course, have met the Priest-meister on two different occasions. The first time was at the filming of the "90210" pilot, which we appeared in, and the second time was in Santa Barbara. That was the weekend after the riots following the King beating verdicts, and Jason, like so many, had escaped L.A. for a while. We were partying backstage before our show, when he comes up, says "hey," and tipsily announces that he's playing the drums for the Puppets that night. Unfortunately, it did not happen.
Anyway, back to the present. Rob cannot understand why I am so loathe to meet his friends even when I comport myself so well and hold my end up conversationally with such panache. He cannot know how depressing it is to run among the normal non-showbiz "civilians," who only want to talk about great it must be for me to do what I do. No one it seems is proud of their own occupations. The whole country is star struck. Is it the money or the attention or the chance to "express yourself"? (The notion of self-expression is a hopelessly civilian one anyway. Any true artist will tell you that human beings have no "self" to express.) Nope, it seems what thrills people about stardom is the notion that we get to treat people like dirt and get away with it.
Anyway, we're sitting around in the lobby of this hotel (I remember now: it was the Royalton) and suddenly my Rob's guest's wife leans over and says, Do you see who's checking in? It's George Clooney!" Sure enough. There must be some sort of "E.R." convention, since Jason Priestly's sweetie is on that show as well. These stars deserve the Royalton. The bill for four coffees and a treat was thirty bucks. I get back to my hotel, check my e-mail and find out that my friend Bruce's wife's kitty has died.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 23RD NYC
My hotel in NYC, formerly the Macklowe, now the Millennium, is right around the corner from Broadway at 44th, directly above the parade, which was clearly audible this morning even from 42 stories up. I was awakened at 9:00 am to the sound of a marching band playing "There's No Business Like Show Business." Being in show business myself, I found this ironic: like I need to be awakened at 9:00 in the morning to be told this? (Spartans take note: Still being on Phoenix time, nine is seven to me. I still can't sleep at night. At home, I like to get up a decent hour.)
I got back to sleep and was then awakened around 11:30 by Rob who tells me that "Mitchell" is on "Mystery Science Theater 3000," and who asks when I'm coming over. I fear at first that the parade is gonna screw up my subway trip to Tribeca, since I can't cross Broadway to get on the 1 at 50th and Broadway, so I tell him to give me a little time. But once I get out on the street, I find the parade has already dissipated. I get downtown sooner than expected and find Rob enthralled by the MST3K Turkey Day Marathon. "Mitchell" is over and in it's place is an ad for tonight's season premiere, a showing of "Night Of The Blood Beast." It is the first episode since the departure of T.V.'s Frank, who has been replaced by Dr. Forrester's mother. Rob and I are a little apprehensive.
We are going to a friend of Rob's for dinner, a catered vegetarian affair. I am glad for the vegetarianism, but am unhappy about the catering. I've been eating nothing but catering and restaurant food for the past two weeks. While I wait for Rob to get out of the shower, I call friends and family back home to wish them a happy holidays. Mostly, I leave messages, but I do get a hold of my sister, who informs me that she has nothing new to report. God, I miss Phoenix.
The dinner itself is unremarkable but Rob's friends are very nice. Our host works as computer networking consultant. Later in the evening, we surf the web a bit and discover much to our horror that Disney is planning a sequel to the dreaded "Fantasia" for some time in '97. Afterward, we head back to Rob's place for the "Blood Beast" film. Dr. Forrester's mom is no major scream. At one point, the 'bots flip over the clearly visible dressing side of a zombie. "Stop looking at my area!" yells one.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 24TH UNIONDALE, NY
I'm expecting a visitor today, so I get up a little early this morning to bust out a quick run to a nearby comic store. No new Super-title. When I get back to the Millennium, Glenn from Prodigy is waiting for me. He's set up in Cory's room, waiting for me to break out the digital camera. We hook it up, and after Glenn gets his ports all properly configured (gotta love these non-Macs), we dig my photos out of the thing. There they are. Mighty good looking, too. Unfortunately, there is no Mac software available, so I swap Glenn for one of those Polaroids with the little window in the back that takes those itty-bitty pictures. I will then have to overnight them to Glenn, who will have to scan them by hand. We turn my digi-pix into jpegs and make copies of them for me to look over and write captions for. Enjoyers of last week's diary installment have already seen the cream of these pix.
Finally the bus comes, and we head over to Uniondale, about an hour and half away. Kyle's mom and friends come along. Suddenly, Kyle whips out the new Elvis boxed set, which he's bought for his mom. It's a compilation of The King's best material from the seventies, which was always my favorite Elvis period. I turn to Cris and say, "We never used to listen to this stuff much, did we?" Ten years ago, it was about all we listened to. In fact, during the height of our success with "Up On The Sun," we would play a couple of songs from that album, then fill up the bulk of our live shows with Elvis covers. So I deejay about an hour and a half's worth of cream from the box ("The Wonder Of You," "Stranger In The Crowd," "I've Lost You," "Cindy Cindy," "Washed My Hands In Muddy Water"). We get to the gig in no time.
Cris is all excited because our name is on the marquee out in front of the arena. It's the same place the Islanders play in, with the hotel right next door. I try to snap a picture of it, but find that this new camera is already giving me a hard time. When I pop it up into it's picture-taking mode, it refuses to power up. I fume about this all through dinner and sound check, then I take it back to my room and fiddle with it. According to the instructions, it's behaving as it would if there were no film in it. So I replace the film cartridge with a new one and now it seems to work fine. Whatever. Either way, when I look at the clock, I realize I'm late, and I rush out of there, forgetting the camera in my haste. I manage to make it to the stage with literally seconds to spare. It's a great show; the kids go apeshit. Afterward I appropriate one of the hats thrown onstage: an elaborately-embroidered Notre Dame cap.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 25TH BALTIMORE, MD
I'm a little late to the bus the next morning because there's a treat in my e-mail. An old pal from Phoenix, currently working abroad, has resurfaced after nearly three months. She claims she's been transposing two of the characters in my e-mail address, and it's taken her this long to get it straight. I instantly sit down to the computer and pound out an unconditional forgiveness. I finally head down to the bus (where, as usual, I am far from the last to arrive) and snap off a quick couple of pix, one of some fans surrounding what I presume to be an Islander, and one of Kyle and his mom, who's headed for the airport this morning. Cris grumbles that he ought to go with her and try to catch a flight out of JFK to Baltimore. And he ought to, too, since there's bound to be dozens of them. But he's been up all night with local friends and barely has the energy to just lie there and complain.
Our plan is follow Curt and his sweetie back to Bethlehem, drop off his rental, and head down into Baltimore. Before we're even out of Long Island, we developed vehicular trouble. All of a sudden, the bus fills up with nasty steam that smells like overheated engine. We pull over in time to see the last of our antifreeze accumulate in a puddle and begin to drift down the street. Curt pulls up behind us, his windshield coated with vile green liquid. Lupe digs around in the engine for a while, and determines that some gauge or another has gone bad on us. He turns off a valve or two, we replace the antifreeze, and we're on our way only an hour poorer. When Cory checks in with Primus, it turns out they too are running late, so we won't get a sound check anyway. The only really annoying thing is that when I whip out the Polaroid to snap a picture of our dilemma, the damned thing has stopped working again!
We pull into town at around six-thirty. We've actually played this venue before, with Blind Melon, which makes it the third venue previously-visited with a member of the now-deceased. We pull off a great gig and repair to our dressing room for a quick meet-and-greet. One girl asks me if I would do her the honor of riding on her back as she get down on all fours. I accommodate her. Another guy tell me he's going to try and start a Meat Puppets newsgroup on Usenet. I tell him to let me know. Soon the fans all shuffle out, so we beat it back to the hotel. I actually fall asleep before two.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 26TH HAMPTON, VA
We have to leave kind of early this morning, since we have to do a radio show at two in the afternoon. So we leave around nine. We mostly just sleep during the drive. During a gas stop, I realize I've fallen asleep with an open bottle of Perrier at my feet. This is ironic to me because I've manged to keep my feet dry for two weeks as we travel through snow country. Now, as we finally move south towards the Mason-Dixon line, I manage to get a soaker in my own bunk!
The radio show is actually in a studio across the brunnel (that's bridge-tunnel) in Virginia Beach. It's more of a small concert than a radio show. We are playing acoustically, I on a rented drum kit, for about two-dozen kids. We do about thirty minutes -- eight songs and some change, sign a few autographs, and take off. Curt gets in a rental car for a trip to another radio station, and since Cris has to sit there and jaw with fans for an hour, I jam to the gig with Dave. Meanwhile, I develop a workaround for the camera. It seems it will power up once I put film in it, and will stay on as long as I don't close it up into it's portable position. So I just leave it open until all ten pix are taken. Not convenient, but workable.
I borrow Dave's bike and go tooling around the area, mostly to look for comic stores. I'm still without my weekly Super-title. When I return, I learn that something is wrong with Curt's Midi controller, which stores all the presets he uses for his effects. We get nothing out of it at all. some of the Primus crew guys, who are familiar with the Bradshaw unit tell us it is a regular occurrence for the things to lose all their memory. Dave puts a call in to the builder, but it is of course Sunday night. Curt has to use his old set-up. I kill time waiting for Curt and Dave to sort things out by playing Tetris with the stage manager. He's got two Game Boys linked together for a two-player challenge. This is new to me, and I get my ass whupped.
We have no problem overcoming this technical adversity, and put on an energetic show. Afterward, I stomp a round the dressing room in a towel, bellowing while Cris makes a mess with the some apples and breaks a bottle or two. We leave around ten for the long overnight drive to Athens, Georgia.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 27TH ATHENS, GA.
I awaken in Athens, on the bus, at around eleven. I slept on and off all night, but mostly on, so I'm up to stay. I wrestled with some throat soreness last night, so I'm fearing the worst. I check in to my room, do a little laundry in the sink, take a shower, and head off to explore the town. This is an honest-to-goodness day off with nothing to do, in an honest-to-goodness town, not a strip off the interstate. We haven't been to Athens in three years. The last time we were here, Kim Bassinger was in attendance. The P.A. fucked up during the show, so Cris shoved his bass into the ceiling, shattering the fluorescent bulbs overhead, showering the stage with minute chunks of glass.
Things have changed little since then. The Forty-Watt Club is either gone or moved. The comics store is above the Wuxtry is still there, however, and I find the two Super-titles I need to complete my collection. No new one though. It seems they didn't ship last week due to some distribution rescheduling. I did find on sale the brand new Superman action figures, and a new volume of the R. Crumb sketchbooks. I also buy a second-hand copy of "The Blessing Way" by Tony Hillerman, and two by Andrew Vasch. Now, shopped out, I stop in an organic restaurant for a bowl of rice and beans. Afterwards, I return to my room and check in on "Guiding Light," which I haven't seen for a week. Then I take a nap, answer my e-mail, determine that it's too much trouble to catch a showing of "Casino," and watch "Melrose Place."
Later, I walk around looking for food. most of the town is closed up, even though it's only 9:30. As I head back towards the hotel, resigned to room service, I run into Dave. It turns out he's fleeing a plate of inedible room service himself. We take a drive to a nearby Taco Bell and compare our woes over the next couple of days. Even though we drove all night to get down to Athens, our next show is clear up in Winston-Salem, six hours north, and about three hours from Hampton, VA, where we just came from. Then we have to drive clear down to Orlando, Florida. You run into this kind of screwy scheduling all the time. Athens is half way between Winston-Salem and Orlando. Davo is obviously exhausted from driving the equipment truck all night, then spending all day trying to get the Midi-controller fixed.
Taco Bell doesn't float my boat, so I get him to drive me around the school area until I find something open. I end up in a little Italian place with plate of pasta. Good enough. I'm still feeling the beginnings of a cold, so I go back to my room and plan to make an early night of it. Before I get to sleep, Suzanne calls. She just wants to tell me how much she enjoyed installment one of the tour diary. We chat for a little while, then I settle in for what I hope is a good night's sleep.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 28TH ATHENS, GA
The grim specter of illness is nagging me today. Your standard symptoms: Sore sinuses, scratchy throat, headache, grim substances accumulating for expectoration, and overall weakness as your body does the right thing (that is, fights). Luckily we're in a fairly trippy locale where organo-chow is not hard to come by. I slam the wheatgrass juice for lunch, along with a smoothie. I key Davo in on my find and he joins me for lunch before driving off to the gig. He too is in need of health, since his ability to sleep has been so compromised. He tells me that a front of nasty weather is on the way, but it is so damned nice out at the moment, I refuse to listen. We run into Kyle at the restaurant as well, and he tells a few good-natured if lacking-in-professional-strength jokes, but I am so caught up in fighting my sickness that I impolitely forget to laugh.
"Get out of here Kyle," He says self-deprecatingly.
Cris and I stop in later on our way to the gig for more wheat grass. The counter help says he is unlicensed to squeeze the stuff, so we wait for a woman who can. I ask her what it takes to become an authorized wheat grass juice squeezer. She hems and haws, and finally says, noncommittally, "I guess you just have to enjoy doing it." I found this amusing enough, so I replied, "I guess that makes me an authorized wheat grass juice creation witness." I was ignored.
The gig is in a brand new structure, obviously built for product conventions, not rocking out. It is essentially a big box, a noise trap. Great if you like your live shows distorted by boomy echo, not so good otherwise. None the less, the audience is receptive, as they have been since we dropped below New York. The Southeast has always been good for us. After the show, Davo brings back a gal we met years ago in Los Angeles. She moved to Athens three years ago to get out of the rat race. She used to work for a health food store and gave me a bunch of herbal detoxing compounds when I gave up drugs five years ago. I chat with her for a while, then take her to say hi to Curt, who is in the dressing room visiting with Vic Chestnut.
On the way back to the hotel, I stopped back once again at the organo restaurant (I guess too much backstage catering and interstate food will do this to you) for a salad and a carrot juice. Turns out the guy who earlier claimed to be unauthorized to make wheat grass juice used to work in Wooster, Mass as a field rep for our record company. Now he works down here in a recording studio (moonlighting I guess as counter help). Turns out he also worked at Mark Of The Unicorn, which makes music composition software for Macintosh.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 29TH WINSTON-SALEM, NC
Another quick visit to the juice bar in the morning for once last glass of health and we're off. I think I have gotten over the hump, illness-wise. Painfully expensive phone charges from being in a backwater town with no local online access number. It's still pretty nice out, despite the ominous weather predictions of the day before. Lupe says the really nasty stuff will outrun us.
Spend most of the drive screwing around with Cory's Power Book (150). He's got hard drive organization like a lot of people who are in the dark. Fonts all over his system folder, programs that had just vanished one day turning up in the sub-directory of another unrelated program (it's called "Find;" learn to use it), preferences set to not take advantage of important time-saving features. Your average mess. Three different versions of AOL uninstalled, aliases for deleted programs, 23Megs of the next version of System 7 uninstalled. Strange stuff. I do a little housecleaning, create an organization of the Apple Menu which will make his life easier, and show him a scheme so that this mess will not happen again. Of course, about an hour later he says to me, "When you get the chance, you'll have to show me all that again. I can't remember any of what you just showed me." Now he will have to be punished.
Turnouts are getting slim as we near the final leg of this tour. Tonight, the stage is pushed so far up that we are only playing to about a fifth of the hockey arena. The Orlando gig has been moved from a large arena to a small club. Looks like it's time for Primus to get off the road and begin work on the next batch of hit songs.
We played in Winston-Salem with Blind Melon last year I think, but I could be wrong. I know we were here in August of '85. I have lots of memories of that. Baseball went on strike just as the Mets took first place away from the Cardinals (only to lose it again once the strike was resolved), Rock Hudson died of AIDS, "The Treasure Of Sierra Madre" was on the bar teevee, and there was a nasty fight in the parking lot after the gig. I'd almost swear we're right around that gig tonight, but I don't think this huge-o-drome was there then. There's a barbecue place across the street cutely named "Pig Pickin's," as well as a bar where our old crony Ed Fromohio is playing. Cris draws him a little hello picture and sends it along with a guy we know who's going to that gig after ours is finished. We, on the other hand, have to get on down the road. We want to spend our day off in Daytona Beach.
It's hard enough to get to sleep on tour and near impossible on the bus. Cris and I stay up all night watching movies. We make it about forty-five minutes through "Major Payne" before we decide we are wasting our time. (We saw "Billy Madison" the other night, and I am now one of its staunch supporters. Of course, I also genuflect at the alter of Jerry Lewis. ) Next we put in "Above The Law" with Steven Sagal. An almost completely unintelligible plot concerning rogue CIA and the Sanctuary movement. I waited patiently for over an hour for the neat, one sentence explanation of what it was we were seeing. When it came, Cris and I had to admit that the conspiracy sounded plausible enough (the CIA works for the banking community starting wars around the world which the bankers can then profit upon). Of course, having a reactionary action thriller wrap itself up in Liberation Theology politics doesn't wring very true. Afterward, we popped in "The Shankshaw Redemption" for a little feel good entertainment the whole family could enjoy.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 30TH DAYTONA BEACH, FL
Shame on Cory for trying to wake me up when we get to town. I've told him this is not to be done. I hate it when one of my employees tries to think for himself. And what was so important that he had to disturb my already fitful slumber? Gosh, we're parked a whole half a block away from the hotel. I don't think I'm gonna be able to find it! The sleep thing just barely happened last night, but who cares. I might backslide a bit on the illness thing, but it's so damned nice outside. We are staying directly across the street from where we gigged with STP last year, a large convention center. It was the last place I cut all my hair off. A week later, I taped a Jon Stewart Show and vowed never to cut it that short again after I saw the broadcast.
I check in to my room, get my bearings and head out for a long walk. I head up the coast for about four miles, just as far as I can stand it, until I'm whining and dragging my feet. I get myself a cup of coffee and sit at a bus stop, praying that the city's planners have a clue and aren't just using the bus service as a punishment for the poor. Luckily enough, the bus comes promptly and takes me right back to where I want to go. The motivation for my walk, outside of getting some leg-stretching, sun-soaking exercise, was to find comics. I failed miserably (actually I came within a quarter-mile, but my legs gave out). There was nothing but the typical Florida-coast hotels and tee-shirt shacks. Dozens and dozens of them. In the window of one, I saw a most offensive shirt. It had a pictures of the Confederate flag on it and bore the logo, "You wear your 'X," I'll wear mine."
I go back to the room to grab an access number and check my e-mail. This hotel is the biggest rip-off yet: they even charge for 1-800 numbers. Well, we are in tourist hell after all. I get like fifteen messages (a new one-day record), mostly hailing me for my fine tour diary work. Also a message from a gal in Orlando who wants to get in on the guest-list. No, I'm not handing out free passes to cyberstrangers; we met her last year on the STP tour. Afterward, Cris and I take a stroll along the old boardwalk taking pix with the Polaroid. There is a really cool old miniature golf course with crumbling Humpty Dumpties and the like, but it is fenced up and I can't get any good shots. I manage to get get a good shot of Cris amidst the funky pinball arcade.
Nothing much to shout about on NBC-Thursday. Reruns (a funny "Seinfeld" I'd seen before featuring my favorite running bit, about Jerry's intolerance of the habits of his girlfriends. It doesn't matter how drop-dead she is, he's always got an excuse to break up with her. Oh, how familiar it sounds. Tonight, it's because she eats her peas one at a time. He asks he why, and when she replies, "What's the hurry," he gives her the most excellent withering look of disgust. The punch-line payoff comes later when he reveals that even though she eats her peas one at a time, she shovels her corn. "That's what was so odd," claims Jerry.)
I experience the Jack Benny tribute (not a bad thing), and tune in Jay to see Howard Stern. Howard was a major pig and I was not impressed. I find Siskel and Ebert to be much funnier. Howard did get one good line in, as he cut down the other books sharing the best-sellers list with him . When he gets to Bill Gates' "The Road Ahead," Howard remarks, "Why should we listen to the lies of this computer geek?" Howard is on a book tour right now, and being a veteran tourer myself, I could see the pitfalls of touring written all over him. What can I say? Howard has been nothing but nice to us, and in person he is truly decent, but his shtick is too infantile for me to like.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 1ST ORLANDO, FL
Got up this morning, sorted through my Polaroids, wrote captions for a half dozen, and dropped them off at the post office across the street. Then I got on a bus and rode to the next beach over to the comics store I almost made it to yesterday. Snapped up the new Superman (a lovely green cover of the man of steel bound to a rocket illuminated by a green cloud) and beat it back to the hotel. The comic takes less time to read than it took to get it; so what else is new.
We leave around three for the hour and half drive to Orlando. Kyle's girlfriend Lisa has materialized during the day off, so she joins us along with Curt's girlfriend Jo, who is leaving shortly after we get into town. We pull into a typical rock club in a half-abandoned strip mall. Oh joy. Here's an environment I don't miss. It seems I'll never be rid of the smell of piss, vomit, and industrial-strength club-antiseptic. Of course the sound is more natural, bouncing as it does against real walls instead of sounding like we're playing in an airplane hanger.
The local gal never materializes. We're beating it out of there as soon as we finish anyway. Tonight, we watch a tape of an old "Lost In Space" episode, the two-parter called "The Keeper." I made myself good and sick of that show twenty years ago, but it was fun to watch after that long. We finally pull off at a truck stop around one in the morning, and immediately the counter girl is demanding to know who's on the bus. I tell her it's Garth Brooks and if she gives me the tape I'm buying for free, she can come on tour with us. She doesn't buy it, however. She claims she met Boys 2 Men last year, who wanted her to party with them. I don't extend a similar offer, since she reminds me of an old girlfriend (not a good thing in this case). We leave, and I check out my new tape, a Rhino compilation of country songs expressing the "America: Love It Or Leave It" attitude. A definite hoot.
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 2ND PENSACOLA, FL
Actually fell asleep on the bus last night around one-ish. It was a deep enough sleep that when I awoke around eleven in Pensacola I was stiff as a board. I couldn't even straighten up, my lower back was so spasmed out. I hobbled up to my day room, checked my messages, had lunch at the gig across the street, did an interview, and called a friend back home who's birthday it is today. Got the scoop on local dirt back home: who's sick, who's pregnant, who's broken up with her boyfriend, etc. Often, when we leave home for a month, nothing happens. But it's the holiday, and things always go down then. The weather is still fantastic back home, and I'm getting e-mail from my bikin' buddy who's anxious for the reunion of the dynamic duo. Unfortunately, warm weather in the winter can mean only one thing in Phoenix: inversion. The smog layer is thick, and people are already advised not to exercise out of doors. I usually go out of town for a little hikin' in the wintertime, either to the east to the Superstitions (where you can still see the ugly brown cloud hanging over the city) or north on the I-17, up to around Sunset Point.
Nothing can shake the spacey feeling I've got. It's so damned nice outside that I just feel like lying around in the sun, not doing or thinking about anything. I read the paper while drifting in an out of slumber. The best thing in it is a short article about a gesture made by our Secretary of The Interior and Arizona's former Governor, Bruce Babbitt. Forced once again to hand over the mining rights to the mining companies for next to nothing (under two thousand dollars), Babbitt wrapped up the contract in a big box wrapped in Christmas paper with a card that read "From the American Taxpayers. A 17-million dollar gift," or something like that. Then he went off about how it's nothing but another subsidy of the wealthy. Go get 'em Bruce!
Another wonderful gig as we reach the home stretch. I try to limber my back up by listening to Kyle's mom's Elvis CD a little. Our old pal Richard Butgeriet is in attendance backstage and he gets the mandatory teasing. We've got another fucking overnight drive waiting for us when we get offstage, but tomorrow's a day off.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 3RD NASHVILLE, TN
We pull into town around six. I'm pissed off because I found out about an hour out of Pensacola that we can't check into the hotel when we get to Nashville. The place is full up, so we're supposed to wait on the bus as people trickle down to the lobby to check out. This could take anywhere from two to six hours. Our tour manager has decided to take this lying down, literally. He's in his bunk, reading some fucking drumming magazine, just accepting it. Not getting on the phone to find us alternate lodgings. Nor did he bother to appraise us of the situation days ago and give us the option to stay in Pensacola overnight.
I know Cris will be stewing as well. Sure enough, he's in the front of the bus. We commiserate, and he agrees to be the one to get Cory off his ass, since I am in greater pain, being less of a "morning person." I listen as it takes Cris a good five minutes to convince Cory that he's not being asked, but being told to get a move on. Cory hems and haws, saying things like, "it won't be very long," and "I'll let you have the first room available." He obviously doesn't know Cris very well, or else he wouldn't have said anything. We're not paying him to participate in an experiment in democracy. Of course, there are other hotels with vacancies, and soon, I am in real bed trying to get some real rest. It's a good thing too, because when I wake up around noon, it's pissing down with rain.
Get up around noon, drink some coffee and log in to CompuServe to get some soap opera updates. As usual, things really jump when I'm on tour and unable to watch. Also, I see a piece of news that the actor who plays Henry Chamberlain on "Guiding Light" was killed in a car accident on Thursday. While checking around in some other areas, I get called on to chat from some 24-year-old girl in NYC. She claims to have met me, but she is just kidding around. She doesn't seem to know "who" I "am," and I manage to resist the temptation to tell her. It always ruins the flirting when they find out I'm someone they've heard of.
The rain has pretty much stopped by evening, so I go out for a while to stretch my legs. I find a good comics store to check out in the morning, and a Tower Records to kill some time in. I actually find a CD I'd been looking for: a bunch of classic Salsoul disco tunes remixed for the modern techno audience. I promised myself I'd buy it the next time I saw it (the last time was over a year ago in Philadelphia), so I do. It's raining again by the time I get back outside, so I go back to hotel, order some bullshit hotel pasta (my seven hundredth helping of it this tour, it seems), and settle in.
Not much of a day, really.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 4TH NASHVILLE, TN
It's nice and sunny today, but that only helps contribute to the poor mood I wake up in this morning. It's not really all that bad, I just don't feel like doing anything today. I fear I may have hit the wall, tour-wise, and am ready to take a break. I go downstairs and walk to the comics store I saw yesterday. I'm almost positive it's the same place I visited when I first came to Nashville thirteen years ago. The neighborhood looks familiar, but I can't place the club. Finally, I find this comic I'm looking for. The damned thing is only a month old, but somehow I missed it. Actually, I know why: the poor state of the comics industry right now caused many comic store owners to cool on this particular title (one of the yearly crossover miniseries designed to bilk completists) and order only as much as they thought they'd actually sell. This place (The Great Escape) also has a couple of boxes of crime comics from the late forties and early fifties, all ranging in price from four dollars to twenty. Beautiful things with lurid, crudely drawn covers. Late numbers of "Crime Does Not Pay," "Crime And Punishment," and even an issue or two of Jack Kirby's "Police Trap," and "Justice Traps The Guilty." If I'd had an extra five hundred dollars in my bank account that I'd just as soon throw away as keep, I'd own those comics now.
Seeing beautiful things always lifts my spirits (if they're comics, anyway) so I feel a bit better by the time I get to my room. I read my purchase, take a shower, and do an interview with a young lad in Madison, Wisconsin. When I finish, I turn on "Guiding Light" in time to see the recently-returned Hart walk out on his father, and the newly-returned Reva witness her hospitalized father's heart stop. Actually, it's not the "real" Hart. He was injured in a hang-gliding accident two years ago and spent over a year in a coma. He was replaced and quickly written out of the show. The actor will apparently never recover (the last I heard he was just learning how to remember his family), so they've gone ahead and replaced him. Reva, on the other hand, was a very popular character who apparently left years ago to move to California with her family. She recently returned after the earthquakes and wanted her job back. A neat trick, since her character was killed off. I won't bore rock fans with the silly plot that was contrived to bring her back. Let it suffice to say the silliness continues.
After the show ends, I call my mechanic back in Phoenix to see if the insurance company of the guy who rear-ended my car has coughed up the bread to pay for it yet. My car was finished the day after I left on this tour, of course. My mechanic says they should have sent a huge check to my home. I so call my friend who's collecting my mail, and ask her to gather it all up, dig through it, and get back to me. Then I call Cory to see if he's found me a flight back to Phoenix from Denver on Sunday night after the gig rather than the following day. He has, but it'll be a tight one.
I decide to walk to the gig, which is about a mile and a half away, through downtown Nashville. It's just what I need, since I've been cooped up for a couple of days. By the time I get there, my headache's gone. I find the dressing room and realize that I know someone in town. There she is, a girl I know from the SST days, who used to work in the office there. She introduces me to her friend, we visit for a while, she dances around to the sound check, we eat some catering.
I take her and her friend back to the bus to check out my new CD and to watch "Melrose Place." Allison is shocked and sickened to find that her recently-deceased husband had divorced her two weeks ago. Apparently, he'd had her sign the papers amidst a stack of some other thing and she was none-the-wiser. It's obvious to me that he did it because he was heavily insolvent and didn't want his creditors coming for her after he committed suicide (which he undoubtedly did). I am satisfied by this, the only way a bit-player can be noble on this show. Generally, he'll either get caught with another woman or beat his lover after a spurned advance. If he's not found out to be a cad, well then he'll just have to die.
I miss the tail end in order to get ready to do the gig, so I miss whatever cliff-hanger the show ended with. I make sure the ladies are all set to get the V.I.P. treatment they so richly deserve and get out there. Tonight, there's a bit of excitement as Cris' luck runs out. He gets a shoe right in the face during the first song. He puts his guitar down and leaves the stage as Curt, Kyle, and I spin the song into an angry noise jam. Before we can finish and join him, Cris returns. He grabs the mike and calls the motherfucker out, getting the security guys to shine a light on him. After saying his piece, he gets back to work and we have a great set. Afterward he tries to find the guy to have him arrested, but is unsuccessful. I got swatted in the nose with a shoe last year in Cleveland. It was not fun, nor did it feel good. It came right before we finished our last number, so I didn't bother to make a stink. I just went back to the hotel and went to bed. My head ached and I felt like a had a whiplash. Anyway, we split for the hotel as Cris' eyes began to blacken. I told The SST gal that I'd be up for a while if she wanted to come by after the gig, but of course she didn't.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 5 LOUISVILLE, KY
Got to bed early enough last night to get up and do my 10AM German interview. It's with a metal magazine called "The Horror Inferno," and no real new ground is broken. It's gotten to the point where I can tell what question is being asked by the first word or two. Mostly, they are hoping to have me complain that there are other bands more popular than mine. My current answer reminds them that unless it turns out that I'm the last human on earth, I will inevitably be surpassed.
I spend the morning writing most of last week's diary and sending it off. The next thing I know, I'm down in the lobby waiting for the bus, which has been in the shop getting the damage incurred in Long Island repaired. It's about an hour late. Soon, it becomes apparent that we are doomed to miss sound check. Cris has had a rough night after his beaning, so he sleeps most of the way. When we get to town, he rouses himself and say, "Are we there?"
It turns out he thinks we're in Springfield. He has spaced a whole town. Poor fool, he should learn to read his tour itinerary. I walk over to the gig to see if I have time to do a line check at least. I do a bit of one, but the crew is mostly trying to overcome the radio signals coming out of the amps. I move towards catering for a plateful of Indian-like food. It's my second bogus Indian in two days. Afterward, I go downstairs to the dressing room to put my last roll of film in the Polaroid and fire off some shots. I get a cute one of Curt creeping about while Danny grins appreciatively, then the camera starts beeping. I lost the manual for the thing along the way, but I'm guessing the battery has died. It's just as well; I've got enough photo coverage and I'm sick of lugging this thing around with me.
The onstage injuries continue tonight, only this time they're self-inflicted. Being late to sound check, I don't get a chance to make sure my drums are far enough in front of the drum riser, and soon I've slashed my knuckle on the rim of my floor tom. It's just a little cut, but since I've got to come down on it over and over again, my kit is covered with blood by the end of the set. I also manage to swat myself in the head with a drumstick.
Tonight's hotel is a German one, and the swastikas aren't even very well hidden. They're right there in the detail work on the columns in the lobby. The room is full of old world styling. I catch a documentary about The Who. It's funny how much I've absorbed from Keith Moon, and I've never even cared much for him. But during his early days, he scowls just as much as I do when I play. There's one great clip where, during a show, Keith keels over backward from too much horse tranquilizers and liquor, and looks for all purposes to be dead. After they cart him off, Pete gets on the mike and says, "Can anybody out their play the drums? Somebody good." Everyone raises their hands, of course.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 6 SPRINGFIELD, IL
Got up this morning, grabbed some free coffee from the hotel lobby, and went back to my room to call my 11AM interview. She wasn't there. Whoever set it up didn't take the time difference into account. I leave a message and tell the interviewer to call me in an hour. She actually does, so I get that one out of the way. Turns out she used to be married to one of the Violent Femmes.
We have the day off, and have about seven hours of driving ahead of us to get to Springfield. We couldn't check in until this afternoon, so we have to spend the day on the road. Cris decided to go with Dave last night and check into some other place, so Larry and Danny are traveling with us today. As I check out, Curt comes walking up, somewhat agitated. He tells us how after making him and Larry wait for almost an hour for their lunch, the waitress got the orders wrong. Curt sent his back, but Larry was so irate that he smashed his sandwich, chips and all, into a big ball and demanded that the waitress be fired. We stopped along the way and had a nice lunch at a Cracker Barrel instead.
Springfield is just the kind of place that makes me homesick. Some damned small Midwestern town where everything is made of rotting wood and the people act like the outside world is some kind of myth. The hotel there, the Springfield Hilton, was a serious dump. Travelers beware. The paint was peeling off the doors, and one side of my bed had collapsed box springs. The food was unorderable, let alone edible. I walked to an Italian restaurant across the street, but by the time I saw the menu, I panicked and fled. Luckily Larry and Kyle were just sauntering out. Kyle offered me his leftovers, which weren't bad. I supplemented them with bus food. Mostly cold cereal.
We got into town in time to watch "90210," but it had been preempted by the Billboard Music Awards. I ended up just flipping around, watching accounts of the day's snow, the first of the year, monitoring an approaching storm on the weather channel, and enjoying news of Michael Jackson's collapse and Newt Gingrich's alleged ethics violations. Finally, I realize that I've missed Larry Sanders, since it comes on two hours earlier here than at home. I console myself with a rousing episode of "Dragnet" and call it a night.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 7 SPRINGFIELD, IL
It's another Thursday, and that means comics. A town this size is bound to have comics within walking distance. I scope out a map of the area, check the phone book, make my choices, and I'm off. One place is about 27 blocks away and another is fifteen blocks away. It's early and I have nothing to do all day, so the distance represents a nice walk, but the snow on the ground brings with it the danger of getting a soaker. Not good, since I only have one pair of shoes with me.
The fifteen-block place pans out, and a grab a copy of the new "Adventures Of Superman" and a copy of the new "Power Of Shazam." Both take me about a half and hour to read. So much for this week. Looming in the distance are thunderclouds over the Clark / Lois relationship. Word has it that Lois is going to break it off for a while so Superman can pursue his old girlfriend the mermaid Lori Lumaris. Clark met her in college and thought she was dead, but she's returning, and this time with legs! what will these comic guys think of next. Unfortunatley the Super-series is being held hostage by the popular teevee show featuring the same characters, so the comic moves in somewhat of a holding pattern. I don't like the idea of Superman in love, let alone Superman married. I can deal with the fact that Lois knows Superman's secret identity, but think they would either break up, or even better, get married and have the marriage turn to shit soon afterward. Ex-girlfriends make even better confidantes than current ones.
Having batted a thousand with the comics, I work towards my next goal: getting rid of the Polaroid. Although there are UPS and FedEx packaging materials in the lobby, I have to go through Airborne Express to use Prodigy's account number. I call them up and ask them to bring me and airbill and a bubble-pac. Then I go across the street to see if lunch at the gig is worth a shit. It's not; nothing new. Find out from Larry that Dave is not going to risk freighting out stuff from Minneapolis to Denver when we fly down there (our bus is leaving us in the Twin Cities), and is going to drive a thousand miles overnight instead. Furthermore, he's going to be snippy and uncooperative about it. I'm sure that if Larry hadn't accidentally told me, Dave would have gone ahead with his plan without telling anyone, even though there would have been a plane ticket for him and none for Danny. (The original plan was to send Dan and Larry from Madison to Denver, put Dave and the gear we couldn't rent on the bus with us, and then fly everything down after the Minneapolis gig. Now everything was driving to Minneapolis, we would rent nothing, and Danny would fly with us). It was typical Dave psycho behavior. In his mind, he is the only one whose opinion matters. The rest of us are just along for the ride.
This begins the deterioration of my mood, which continues when I go back to the gig around sound check time to find that the air freighting materials have not shown up. I call Airborne Express back and arrange to have them come back in about an hour and a half. I finish my sound check, get the camera out of my room and get it ready, only to find out the pick-up I'd scheduled for six-thirty came an hour too early. Now I am completely pissed off. I try not to let it affect my performance, but by the time a shoe just barely misses my head (which it would have hit, had I not had time to duck), I am livid.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 8 MADISON, WI
It's snowing when I get up. We probably should have left last night, since the storm will be passing over us all day. I go downstairs to pay my incidentals and leave the damned camera at the desk. To hell with it. It turns out the hotel plans to rip me off for ten local calls. Claiming they were "outside the local dialing area" (although I was able to direct dial each one), they charge me 65 bucks. I told them they were wrong, but they just told me it didn't matter what I said, they had my credit card number. It still makes me mad to write about it.
The drive is annoying, with ice constantly crusting up the windshield wipers. I sit up in front with Lupe and we bitch and listen to country music most of the way. His taste isn't too bad, except he changes the station any time a woman singer comes on (except Pam Tillis, or course). We have a terrible buffet at the Iron Skillet. Curt gets up, says he's got to stop drinking. He's so bored after the shows that he's been staying up all night. This morning, he just cleared out of his room and went down to the bus rather than try to sleep at eight. This was do-able, since it was too cold to turn off the generator.
We get the the gig in time for a late sound check, then the boys go back to sleep (it seems all four of my bus mates stayed up late last night). I have a terrible dinner of mock-Chinese food, during which I finish the book I've been reading (the memoirs of Tom Watson, Jr, head of IBM during their entry into the computer business). Afterward, I do a phoner with a guy who does a techno show on the weekends. I tell him to try and wheedle a copy of the "Scum" remixes by Vapour Space out of our record company. The gig is in an exhibition hall on the edge of Madison, Wisconsin. No live performing should be done here, only the exhibiting of new products, just like in Athens. I blame Primus, since they have not sold enough tickets to hold the gig in the huge-odrome next door. Our performance is subdued anyway, since the boys sleep right up till showtime. We play really good though, culminating with a great jam during "Up On The Sun."
It was still snowing when we finished, but Lupe was anxious to get started on the drive. Suddenly a friend of ours who lives in Minneapolis walks up. it's taken him eight hours in blizzard conditions to get here, he says, and warns us not to make the drive. Fuck that, get off the bus so I can go, says Lupe. Once he drops us off at the hotel in Minneapolis, he's free to drive home. We encounter nothing but strong wind on the drive, which is beautiful. When we pull into town five hours later, however, it is fifty below.
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 9 MINNEAPOLIS, MN
I am awakened at eleven by Danny telling me he's got my tee-shirt and shorts from last night's gig, which I hung up to dry in the closet. I go downstairs to look for him and find Lupe and Cory in the restaurant. I also notice the singer for Oasis sitting by himself in the corner. Service is horrible, so I help myself to a cup of coffee, which the waiter doesn't notice. His treat. Danny is nowhere to be found, but he's left a second message saying he's bringing my stuff to the gig. I have myself a salad and prepare for the day's promo: a phoner at two then a trip to a comics store to appear on a cable access show which is tied into the radio station putting on tonight's gig. It's not part of the Primus tour; they have the day off.
The car to take us is too small, so only Cris, Cory and I go. The guy from the radio station, already chastened by Cory for bringing the wrong car, is nervous and won't stop talking. Tells me what a great "market" Phoenix is, etc. He badgers me with questions for the entire drive. "Don't you want to save some of this good good stuff for the interview?" I ask, but he doesn't catch the hint. Just tells me he's not doing the interview. The scene at the store is mellow, hardly anybody there. Cris and I run through a little shtick, mostly talking about comics. The owner gives Cris a couple of X-Men dolls and me a couple of issues of "Metropolis S.C.U." which his wife wrote. The story deals with a special squad of police that deal with super-powered villains. An interesting side-note is that the leader of the squad is a lesbian.
The gig itself is a madhouse, of course. Seven bands with their equipment strewn all over, lots of clueless people in charge, all sorts of conflicting agendas, the worst food imaginable, and of course a venue where no live performing should ever be done. I give a call to a friend of mine, who used to live next door to me in Tempe. He'd hoped to come down during sound check, but there are no sound checks and doors are at four-thirty. He's already left, so I gotta hope that he's resourceful enough to find me. My cousins have already done the drill, so they get back with ease. I see Kathy, Jim, Mike, and their respective friends and significants. Kathy's son wants to know what time Green Day goes on. No such luck, kid. Lisa Loeb also makes her way to our dressing room to introduce herself.
By the time we go on, the audience has already sat through five sets of pop-rock and are ready to go off. Dozens of rolls of toilet paper sail through the air, which is not surprising since one of the sponsors of the event is Concerts For The Environment. It's a relief to play for the first pop-fan crowd since the Big Star show a month ago. The Primus crowd is just a tad too heavy metal for us. All around, despite the hassle of getting there, it's the best show of the tour. It's all pretty much lost on Dave, though, who rudely pushes his way around the backstage in his haste to get out of town and into Denver.
I stick around a little while to check out Oasis, who I actually like, although one of our friends comes backstage saying, "And they think they're The Who??" Most of the songs are unfamiliar to me, since I don't know the new album yet (and I'm not used to the sound of live rock and roll from in the audience), but I do hear "Cigarettes And Alcohol" before I have my fill of loud noise. I hang around a little in the dressing room before we leave, chatting with a gal who knows one of my cousins and her inevitable spouse who's a comic artist, and a couple of guys who ask me to mention them in my tour diary. I have of course forgotten their names; sorry guys.
back at the hotel, I make a stab at finding food around the hotel, but my lungs start to freeze before I get a half a block. I settle for a bag of chips from the hotel snack machine. There is a phone message from my friend, who apparently gave up trying to get in before we even went on. Though he's not specific, I infer from his message that he never went to will-call to get tickets, that he just fought with security to get in the back door. His tone has a nasty "have a nice life" tone to it, but it's too late to call and commiserate tonight. Tomorrow's going to come early enough as it is.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 10 DENVER, CO
The alarm wakes me up at 7:15. Sleep didn't come easily last night. The air was so dry that I finally had to get up and turn off the heat. Now the room is an icebox, my lips are still chapped, and my sinuses hurt. I make some coffee, shower, pack up and beat it. The real pain doesn't really start until a couple of hours later while I'm boarding. I manage to smack some poor old lady's head while stashing my bag in an overhead compartment. Although I apologized, it must have sounded as un-sincere as I felt, for I could hear her muttering, "nice guy" as I found my seat. In between dosing off, I started another Tony Hillerman mystery. Cris passed flat out next to me.
We got into Denver around eleven, checked into day rooms, and sat around for eight hours before the gig. We saved half the money by getting up so fucking early. Unfortunately, I was too wired to sleep, so I went downstairs for a terrible plate of pasta in the restaurant. I haven't had non-overcooked pasta in too long. Back upstairs, I drink coffee and work on the diary for a while until my mind gives up. Then I stare into space and play Tetris until it's time to walk to the gig.
In his hissy state, Dave told us not to bother to come to sound check since he wouldn't get in until it was too late, but I knew better. He got in around two-thirty. So I headed down to the club around four. Unfortunately, I was so spaced, I walked about ten blocks in the wrong direction. I got my drum check in though, then sat around waiting for dinner. I must say, the caterers tried, and it wasn't a bad meal, but after five weeks, you get totally sick of cafeteria food. I made a pact with myself that when I got home, I would eat nothing but fruit juice smoothies and wheat toast.
I say my goodbyes before the show starts, hand shakes and back slaps all around, at least for the people I see. Immediately after the performance, Cris and I are to pile into a car and hot-foot it to the airport to grab a flight to Phoenix which leaves at 9:30. The show itself is particularly creepy, coming as it did after the one last night. Metalloids and Primus fans grappling with one another. Faces that you'd never guess are having a good time enjoying music since they look so angry. While playing, I have one of my rare moments of what I call my "John Lennon feeling."
After the show, I say my goodbyes to Kyle and Cory. Kyle takes it on the lips like a man; Cory turns his head. We make it to the airport on time, though halfway there, Cris realizes he's left his reading material in the hotel. Not surprising, since he's almost left his hat behind twice today. The poor lad is more spaced than I am since he takes much worse care of himself than I do. During the flight, his nose begins to run and he starts cursing and whining that he's getting sick. I give him the rest of my bottle of echinacea, which shuts him up for the time being.
He disappears down the aisle when the plane pulls into the gate and I am officially on my own again. I grab a cab and get my ass home. The first thing I notice when I open my door is that my place is smaller than some of the hotel rooms I've stayed in. Definitely time to relocate.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 11 PHOENIX, AZ
A day to pick up the tattered shards of my life and move on. Get up early, something much easier to do when I have more to look forward to than a bus or a hotel room. Unpack while I review videotapes of programs made with the timer. Most of them I've already seen along the way. I chance run-in with my bathroom scale imparts the unwelcome news that I've gained ten pounds while I was away. I simply have no discipline for all the junk food lying around at the gigs. Now I must pay the price.
I call my friend who's got all my mail and arrange to pick it up. I call the body shop and arrange to get my car. Since my friend with the mail had a birthday while i was gone, I score a gift for her, along with food for me and fan mail from the P.O. Box. Some fifty pieces, a mountain I will deal with on another day. There are no time bombs waiting in the mail and my car looks good as new. I spend the rest of the afternoon playing with my friend's three-year-old son. He's got a great new game: he throws everything within reach onto the floor, then he has me lift him up and "fly" him over the mess. He's reenacting the scene in Peter Pan where they all fly over London.
Soon, mother and son have to go to a preschool Christmas dinner-party and I go home. "Melrose" is being preempted by something called "America's Funniest Christmas Moments," so I continue reviewing video tapes. Soon, I have a splitting headache and nausea. Exhaustion has finally caught up with me. I go into my bedroom to lie down and sleep for twelve hours. The headache is still with me the next morning, but that's another day and this tour diary ends tonight.
Originally posted on "Paradise," an old Puppets fan site on the now-defunct Geocities, looks like this one's now only available on the Wayback Machine. Since this article would take way too long to OCR all over again, I'd feel better if it were in two places.
Meat Puppets: Swimming In A Lake of Fire
by Steve Roeser
"Where do bad folks go when they die?
They don't go to heaven where the angels fly
They go down to the lake of fire and fry
Won't see 'em again till the fourth of July"
--lyrics from "Lake Of Fire" by Curt Kirkwood,
from the album Meat Puppets II, SST Records, 1983
There are worse ways, perhaps, for your life's work to get the attention it deserves. You would have a tough time convincing Curt Kirkwood of that. Having your songs heard by millions of music fans is a great thing, a dream come true for any hard-working songwriter. But when it came to another guy named Kurt wanting to sing Kirkwood's songs on a session of MTV's Unplugged (and inviting Kirkwood and his brother to join his band onstage to perform them), the dream gradually turned into a nightmare.
Curt Kirkwood, his younger brother Cris, and their longtime friend, Derrick Bostrom, are the Meat Puppets. Now all in their 30s, they started the band when they were teenagers and have spent 15 years building a reputation as one of the most creative bands anywhere. Then, in 1993, the Meat Puppets got caught up in a rock star orbit called Nirvana, and they're still dealing with the fallout. Recognition is indeed a two-edged sword.
"I see it now," Kirkwood said. "The only person that's asked me to play with him in the past 15 years is Kurt Cobain, outside of [our] band. That's kind of, you know, one of the weirder things about my career."
At the end of '93, Nirvana was set to tape their session of Unplugged (released in November 1994 as Unplugged In New York). Cobain let it be known that he was very interested in playing some Meat Puppets songs. IN hindsight, this announcement by Cobain, whose Nirvana album In Utero was then riding high on the record charts, was particularly flattering. Among the 14 songs in their set, Nirvana played "Lake of Fire," "Plateau" and "Oh, Me," all written by Kirkwood. It so happens that all three songs came from the same album, Meat Puppets II, a record cut very early in the history of the Arizona trio (when Cobain was only 16).
"I think he could have picked out any three songs and done 'em," Kirkwood said. "I mean, those are three of the better ones off of that record. It made me realize that he was part of what we would call 'our actual fan base.' There's a consensus that people have liked at least two of those songs, and the third one as well. Those have been popular songs amongst our fans."
When Cobain invited Curt and Cris Kirkwood to come to New York, and called them out on the stage to join with the band in playing those songs (Bostrom was not present), he referred to them affectionately as "the Brothers Meat," adding that "we're big fans of theirs." Although the Meat Puppets weren't close friends with the guys in Nirvana, it was still a moment for the Kirkwoods to feel proud that their music had been appreciated.
For Curt, the invitation was welcome, but it also made him feel a bit strange. "It wasn't just jamming with them," he said. "It was actually fulfilling Cobain's fantasies about being me for a little bit, or whatever the fuck he was tryin' to do. Whether or not he liked our songs, why would he want Cris and I to play 'em? Why not just cover 'em, you know? I don't want to trivialize it, because it meant a lot to me, in that I liked his voice a lot, and I've never worked with other people. So it was really fun to play some of my material with another drum player [Dave Grohl], and have Cris sit in on guitar and not have to sing it, have somebody with a distinctive voice sing it.
"Before then," Kirkwood said, "if you'd asked me, I wouldn't have been able to come up with any better idea than that. He was thinking along lines that wouldn't have been unusual for me. But, then again, there's hardly anybody else that I would have wanted to hear sing some of my stuff. Once again, in this situation, everything is adding up to the glorious virtues of 'the legend.' And that's really wonderful. But I think in the long run, I have to take it back, look at it and go, 'How can there be punk rock legends?' So, who gives a fuck whether he was into us or not?
"He had a nice voice," Kirkwood said of the other Kurt. "And he was beautiful. I'm sorry he's dead. Outside of that, big fuckin' deal. Who cares how big Nirvana was, or how fuckin' great they were? I mean, I loved the band immensely. I'm sorry they were so huge that it has to color everything with this hogwash that just constantly emits from every orifice of the industry right now. For us, in particular."
Kirkwood made oblique references to the fact that because his songs, including "Lake Of Fire," were slated to be released on Nirvana's Unplugged In New York album, music industry politics of one kind or another made it less than feasible for the Meat Puppets to release their own version of "Lake Of Fire," which may have been the strongest possible followup to their 1994 radio hit "Backwater." Both songs were on their most recent album, Too High To Die, although "Lake Of Fire" was not listed in the album's information and credits. They had done a new recording of it, a decade after the original had been cut, and it wound up as a surprise track at the end of the album.
Kirkwood also let on that he and his bandmates found it somewhat embarrassing and unnecessary that their record label saw fit to elicit quotes from hot musicians that were then pressed onto a special sticker on the front of the album. Cobain was quoted as saying, "The Meat Puppets gave me a completely different attitude toward music. I owe so much to them."
Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner was more direct with his estimation: "They're my favorite fucking band," he was quoted as saying.
"God, you know the germ of this band [the Meat Puppets] was concocted when those people were in grade school," Kirkwood pointed out, referring more to Cobain than Pirner. "And suddenly some kids come along, and get into something that was going well before they ever had any thoughts of bein' in a band. And it means shit? Not to me. Not on a certain level. You know what I mean? How could it? What, it's going to make me something more [than I am]?
I already had kids that were four or five years old before Nirvana ever formed," he said. [Note: Curt Kirkwood is father to twins who are now age 11.] "I'm glad that people like my music, and I'm totally blown away that there was another person in the world that could interpret it as well as Cobain did. It made me feel really, really swell. But for us, we'd have rather had those songs make it on their own. I mean, you can see that. I wasn't just fucking around back then [in the early '80s]. I was trying to sell records just like anybody else. And those songs get ignored until 'super-chimp' does it. So, that makes them great songs all of a sudden? Not to take anything away from Nirvana.
It's hard to say," Kirkwood remarked, "whether or not the actual career of the band is being hindered or helped by what's happened with our involvement with Nirvana. In terms of me, personally, I probably never would have made any money off those songs if he hadn't recorded 'em. Now I'm lookin' to make good money off of 'em. That's nice. But in terms of the band, we've had to measure our steps since he did that. Because playing those songs was an endorsement, in terms of the industry. It opened up the gates for a lot of exploitative moves."
For anyone familiar with the music and career of the Meat Puppets, it's fairly well known that this is not a band that has ever expended much energy over measuring steps.
The Kirkwoods: Horses, Guitars, and Jesuit Priests
Curt Kirkwood was born January 10, 1959, his brother Cris less than two years later, on October 22, 1960. The brothers were born in Texas, according to Cris (Curt in Wichita Falls, Cris in Amarillo), where their mother was married for a brief time to their father, who was in the military. The marriage didn't last and she left Texas, taking her sons with her.
"Dad was an Air Force guy and she met him on a date," Cris said. "It was some crap in college, like he was handsome and she was a pretty broad. And there was some competition between her and her sorority sisters over who could get him first. So she won, or lost. However you look at it. So, that marriage didn't last, but Curt and I are full brothers.
Like so many parents who end up being a divorcee, she hit the road with Curt and I when we were fairly young, and just kinda tripped around the country here and there," Cris said. "Then she settled up in Omaha, where she's originally from, and met this guy. She wound up with this cowboy guy, Paul. Again, another sex thing that turned into pregnancy. She got married again.
And he wanted to live out here in Arizona because he was into horses. He was a horseshoer. He wanted to be located near the horse track circuit. We have a half-sister who we grew up with, and our dad went on to have more kids who we didn't grow up with. But we wound up in Arizona because of the cowboy guy [stepfather].
"We had a nice house, with a little bit of land to it, and horse privileges. So Curt and I grew up with critters," he said. "We actually had a barn, our own stable out at the horse track, Turf Paradise. We'd have chores in the morning. Take care of the horses, feed the chickens, all that kind of crap. And every day after school we'd have to go out to the track for more chores."
Curt also recalled the days in the mid-to-late 1960s, after his mother remarried and brought him and his younger brother to live out in Arizona. "I was five when my mom married this horseman guy and we moved to Phoenix," Curt said. "He was into country music quite a bit. He always had it on the car radio. That pretty much started as early as anything I can remember. Country music was always around, it was always on TV. You didn't really have to pursue it. I didn't have a real interest in music until we moved to Phoenix.
"Nobody in our family was pointedly 'into' music," Curt said, "but my mother had old favorite songs that she would sing. We would sing along in the car when we were traveling. She didn't play any instruments or anything. So that was the only music that there was in our family, really. But the stuff that she sang wasn't being played on the radio anymore. I was a kid, things that her dad probably sang. And by the time she was in her mid-teens, we just got out of music and started working on her education and starting a family. So she kept a lot of that old music [in her head] and that's pretty much were she stayed."
Curt added that at home in Phoenix there were hardly any records around the house. But one that he remembers his mother had was by the country singing group Sons of the Pioneers. This record ended up having a significant impact on the Kirkwood brothers. One of the members of Sons of the Pioneers, Bob Nolan, wrote a song called "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds," which was recorded for the first Meat Puppets album, almost 20 years after Curt and Cris first heard it.
"I watched a lot of TV," Curt said. "We always watched Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Hee-Haw, and stuff like that. I watched that Beatles and Monkees cartoon shows on TV. Once I got to be a certain age, I suppose around fourth grade or somewhere in that area, I started getting into music. I wanted to get records. The first record I bought by myself was a Bobby Sherman record. And we bought a Petula Clark record, the album that had 'Downtown' on it. I had 'MacArthur Park,' stuff like that."
The older Kirkwood acknowledged that, even though he was only a five-year-old kid when they first appeared on American television, the Beatles held a special fascination for him later in the '60s.
"Oh, yeah, I was old enough to try and find clues as to whether Paul was dead or not," he said. "The Beatles was a pretty big thing. I'm trying to remember the singles that I actually had. 'Rain.' 'Paperback Writer.' Yeah, I remember that. I think when the Beatles broke up, the world changed totally."
"As young kids, we actually were aware of the Beatles," Cris said. "There was this family down the street who had a couple of young boys close to our age. We would kind of vie for the honor of being the first on the block to have the new Beatles release. But I don't think we realized, that much, that they were the Beatles. Maybe Curt did, somewhat. I didn't, that much. I knew that they were THE BEATLES, but I didn't know that I was collecting and keeping up with the Beatles. It wasn't that purposeful."
Later, Curt recalled, he continued buying 45s such as "Looking Out My Back Door" by Creedence Clearwater Revival and "We're An American Band" by Grand Funk. By then, Curt and Cris had both started playing guitar.
"Mom got us into guitar playing when we were pretty young, actually," Cris remembered. "She had us take lessons. I was younger than 10 at the time and I didn't like it. It didn't really stick, not at all. I didn't like it at all. It didn't take [with me], but there was always a guitar around. Curt kind of got into it a little more."
"She was into having us play instruments as a form of culture," Curt added. "She thought it would be good to have cultured children, you know, in terms of actually being into music. But I never thought about being a musician until after high school."
"I had more rudimentary lessons, but he went on to have lessons with a few different people," Cris said about his brother. "Some classical lessons, some of which you can definitely see in his playing, still. He's a real good finger-picker. He does those neat things, stuff like 'Magic Toy Missing' from our second record. Then he also actually studied with this guy MacLardy, who had this music store in the neighborhood where we grew up, Sunny Slope. He's an old bebop kind of guitar player, and you could probably find him if you dig deep enough. He played with Barney Kessel and Herb Ellis and people like that. Curt took a few lessons from him as well. [Initially] I just didn't give a crap about the guitar."
Cris continued, "It didn't catch my attention at all. At the time I was into other childish things, or whatever. I realized, years later, that my guitar teacher had mildly molested me. A couple of times he would squeeze my knee and tell me how much he liked me. And that 'I couldn't tell anybody else how much he liked me, but he really liked me a lot,' and all this crap. Years later I realized, 'Wow, that's flat-out what that was.' Kind of a weird come-on thing."
Later on however, Cris found the inspiration to bring a fresh outlook to learning about music. He was spurred on by a strange series of events, the culmination of which was their mother's insistence that Cris and Curt accompany her to the movies to take in a mismatched double feature.
"A few years later, there was another one of mother's husbands, Eduardo, a Mexican guy," Cris recalled. "They had kind of a difficult relationship. He was one of those crazy dipsomaniac guys. He'd drink and get nuts. Once time he actually burned our house down, after a lovely evening. And that led to us living in this weird little apartment thing.
"And for some reason, mother decided that Curt and I needed to see A Clockwork Orange. Mom was open-minded, but she's from that straight Midwest world. I can't really remember the motivation for taking us to see that. But playing with A clockwork Orange was Deliverance. So I went out and bought Deliverance [soundtrack album] and just freaked on the banjo. That's what got me into playing music. After that, I went into MacLardy's Music and found a banjo that I could slowly work into buying. Seventy-five big dollars for it, and I still have it. That's how I got into playing."
Curt also remembered seeing the movie with his brother and mother, but the music on the soundtrack didn't have quite so profound an effect on him. "I enjoyed it," he said, "But I was well aware of bluegrass music by then. I can remember seeing the Dillards on The Andy Griffith Show when I was a little kid. And I can remember seeing the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on The Johnny Cash Show. Deliverance, that would be '72, the same year I started high school. So I was well along there, in terms of knowing what was going on musically. Cris and I didn't hang out that much when we were kids."
"I mean, when you talk about [formal] lessons," Cris said, "I know more about music than Curt does, just because I got into it later on and studied it as a young adult. So I actually know more theory, and that kind of crap. But Curt had a grounding in guitar. And then just at a certain point, it became obvious that Curt was just good at guitar playing. I don't know, he became like 'the guy that can make the electric guitar sound the wackiest,' or something."
Before 1972, before getting into their teenage years, the Kirkwood brothers didn't run together very much and tended to soak up their musical influences separately from one another. But the early-to-mid '70s found them comparing notes a bit more on a musical level. Cris recalled a significant occasion in 1974 when his brother turned him on to a hot acoustic guitar player.
"Curt bought me tickets for my fourteenth birthday to see Leo Kottke, and I just fuckin' dug the shit out of that," Cris said. "It was so great. That was one of my favorite concerts, still, of all time. I just loved it . But I was a fan already. I was really into music. That was the thing that caught me, I mean what got me into playing. I just saw all sorts of crap. I was into goin' to concerts."
One of these Phoenix shows featured the jazz fusion band Weather Report. The group's lineup included drummer Alex Acuna, who would do some session work with the Meat Puppets many years later on their major label debut, Forbidden Places.
"Alex Acuna was the percussionist in one of the later versions of Weather Report, the first band [we saw where] Curt and I ever smoked pot together," Cris remembered. "We were going to see Weather Report, and we'd both been dopers for a while, but that was the first night we actually smoked dope together. This was back in '75 or so."
For the Kirkwood brothers, the combination of instability at home (change in residences as well as parental authority figures), coupled with a shift in the direction of their schooling, drove them more toward the fulfillment music could bring. The prep school his mother sent the brothers school was not to Cris's liking.
"After the house got burned down, that was a pretty fuckin' weird time," he said. "Mom decided that Curt and I should to go the Jesuit high school in town, Brophey [sic] College Prep. It had its good side, which is that the Jesuits were intellectually stimulating, or whatever. But it had its down side, in that you're goin' to school with all these fuckin' Arizonan children, the rich kids. You know, it was kind of like the 'styley-phoofey school.' I went to school with [Supreme Court Justice] Sandra Day O'Connor's son, who happened to be a real nice guy.
"But other people, like the son of a famed heart doctor went there also," Cris said. "And he was kind of a lunkhead jock. But because his dad's a rich guy or whatnot, he gets to be the quarterback! So I found out early on that I could distance myself from all these other people who were listening to Boston and whatnot, by digging a little deeper into these different types of music that were out there, that I was slowly discovering. I went and saw just a truckload of bands. And since Phoenix is close to Los Angeles, you got a lot of concerts here back in the '70s. It was nominally that I wanted to be different, but it was also that I suddenly realized that there was just a ton more cool music out there.
"The down side of going through the school experience for Curt and I was all these fuckin' spoiled rich Catholic kids that had all gone to parochial grade schools, and we hadn't," Cris explained. "I was one of just a couple of kids form my grade school that went to the Jesuit high school, where a lot of these cliques were already formed. Just because of the kind of people that we are, I was later told this by my hippie dope dealer friend, Dealer Dan: 'You've just got an aura, dude!' Meaning, we're the kind of people that other people like to attack.
"I just didn't like the high school that much," he said. "The guys were all just too macho, and too fuckin' stupid. So like I said, I didn't get into rock that much. I actually found it kind of fuckin' gross. Albert Goldman said it well in that Elvis book [he wrote]: 'Pablum for teenagers,' Pablum being baby food. And I kind of saw it as that. Just more of the same old crap. Or, as P-Funk put it, 'the electric spanking of war babies.' That was a funny way of putting it. People just being manipulated and sold shit, because people will buy crap if you set them up to it. That's all I could see it as. It was obvious.
"I liked a few things in rock, or things that were rock-ish, like the Dead. But a lot of the pop/rock stuff that was really popular I didn't like. I just didn't get it, I just never cared. I wasn't that adamantly against it, I was just into other crap. The kind of rock I was listening to at the time was like weird Swedish commie rock, or Euro-rock. The whole Henry Cow scene. Or else, [John] McLaughlin and all the tasty fuckin' lick-meisters.
"So punk rock came along," Cris said, "and I just thought it was more Bowie-clone shit. More dress-up crap, which I didn't care for. I was fat. I was a fat teenager. I was like, 'dress-up, shmess-up.' Especially Limeys. I was like, 'Gag!' I just didn't 'get' rock 'n' roll, rock as like, 'Yeah, go wild! Go crazy! Get into it, man!' And it actually took [hearing] Elvis and the Rolling Stones. I got the Beatles thing, but I got the music side [of that experience], right? Music as a fuckin' head space. I got that off of them.
"I actually never got into rock 'n' roll until my first girlfriend turned me on to heroin," Cris admitted, "and the Rolling Stones and shit. I was like, 'Oh, I get it! You don't play as good, in a way, but you make up for it with macho moxie, or something?'
"And off of the banjo, I realized what it took to develop an instrument. How it came through the talking drum thing, and how civilizations develop, and how the blacks moved here, and just the fuckin' way the world came together, and ideas progressed and whatnot. How people want to make noise, you know, and how they want to make these particular sounds. And how particular sounds come out of them, dependent on their circumstance, and all this shit. I was into that, but I didn't get the rock slide of that, you know, like [slipping into self-important cockney accent], 'And some of us have tog to put on tight pants, because we've got fuckin' monsters in our trousers!"
In 1976, when he was 17, Curt had also started to blaze his own musical path, shunning the run-of-the-mill arena rock bands of the time in favor of a more diverse and satisfying blend of styles.
"I remember George Jones from way back," Curt said, "but I never developed an interest in him until my late teens. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was a big favorite of mine. Symphonion Dream was one of my favorite albums as a teen. And the Kottke, and all that stuff. We had that all goin' on."
In spite of their love for folk, country, and country/rock, the Kirkwood brothers couldn't avoid the prevailing hysteria over punk rock in the late '70s. Punk hit big in Phoenix, as it did in most of the larger American cities. Curt and Cris were swept along in the tide and formed their first band, trying to fit into the punk scene.
"We had a band called Eye," Curt said. "That was the year before the Meat Puppets. That was us and two other guys. It was heavily influenced by Television and Devo, with some other guy's tunes."
"In Tempe [Arizona] there was a club called Dooley's, which is still here, but it's called After The Gold Rush now," Cris said. "It was kind of a fern bar, hippie concert venue. I was too young to get in there, but I used to be able to sneak in. Back in the '70s it was the kind of place that you could somehow fake-ID your way into. There were a few punk shows that came through there that just smoked my shit. Like Devo. That show fuckin' made my brain fall out the back of my head. Devo was utterly great. I saw the Ramones with the Runaways in like '78, and that was a riot! They were so fuckin' good.
"So, suddenly I was getting the rock thing off of punk rock," Cris said. "And how punk rock was the rebirth of the rock ideal, or the rock spunk or spirit. And I started to get it."
The Bostroms: Percussion Instruments and Protestant Ministers
By the time they'd had their first band experience with Eye, Curt and Cris met Derrick Bostrom (born June 23, 1960), a drummer and punk devotee who lived in another section of the city. They met through a loosely organized church social group. Like the Kirkwood brothers, Bostrom and his younger brother, Damon, lived with a stepfather.
"Derrick's mom was married to a doctor when he was growin' up, who was not his dad," Cris said. "But they were fairly well-off, so he lived in a nice part of town. Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, the chi-chier part of town, with the nice public school and whatnot, whereas Curt and I lived in more of a 'white trashville.' Sunny Slope is kind of white trashy. He was definitely the long-haired, hippie intellectual drop-out guy, and was friends with the guys that were like that as well.
He went to high school with this guy David, who he is still real good friends with," Cris explained about Bostrom, "who is the son of a minister, and is now also a Unitarian minister himself, and a real smart, interesting, sweet guy. But those guys, and the smarties from their school, just had this scene [that they called] LRY: the Liberal Religious Youth, which was a part of the Unitarian Church.
"We weren't involved with it at all, but a friend of ours was, who was the common link [with Bostrom]. David's dad, the reverend, ran this church. So they had this little religious youth group, which was their excuse to fart around in the church. Hang out at the church at night, when nobody else was around. Anything like that, at that age, was just an opportunity for people to skirt their parents' hold over them, just to get away from whatever and have a good time. I think Curt and I went by there once or twice with this other friend of ours."
Bostrom's memory of how he met the Kirkwoods followed rather closely to Cris's account. "I actually met those guys around '77, through mutual friends," the drummer said. "They went to one school, I went to another, and we connected through the church group. The Unitarian Church is a very liberal, kind of non-denominational church, almost. All my friends would go there. A lot of times, we'd just get the key, go in there, and set up and jam. Another guy who went to the church knew the Kirkwoods, and they came to one of the jams. So I kind of got to know them that way. Paradise Valley was on the outskirts of the city, like Sunny Slope. both of those areas are north Phoenix."
After the Kirkwood brothers met Bostrom at the church, they began hanging around with him, usually over at the Bostrom homestead. There they also became acquainted with Damon Bostrom, whom Cris admired as a peculiar yet very creative character.
"Damon's quite a bit younger. He's a fuckin' freak, man," Cris said. "Damon is a trippy guy. All the Bostrom kids are interesting, but Damon and Derrick are the only two full [blooded] Bostroms. Damon's by far the most musically-educated of us all. Damon, back then, was the kind of guy who came in and one day he'd shaved off all his hair and his eyebrows. We were like, 'Hey, cool look!'
"He was mad, because he had to take the bus three times down to another part of town to get this piece for his piano," Cris recalled. "He was the kind of kid who had gone out and gotten himself a piano, but it needed some work. We were all fairly into drugs and shit. More like psychedelics and pot, not really into narcotics abuse. But Damon was younger and kind of the dangerous little nut-freak.
They're both smart people, and both into some cool shit," Cris said, "but Damon is a way better musician, in a way, than his brother is, whereas Derrick's more of a culture vulture. Damon was more of the self supporting type. He didn't even need a band."
Although the band that was in its fermentation stage still had no name at that point, according to Cris, Damon could have joined them if he'd been inclined to. In a sense, he was the first in a series of players who have acted, for some period of time, as an unofficial "fourth Meat Puppets" over the years. (This select group of individuals, in recent years, has included ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, Butthole Surfers guitarist Paul Leary and guitarist Troy Meiss. The latter toured and played gigs with the Meat Puppets all throughout 1994.)
"[Damon] could have been a member of the band, and we could have had keyboards all these years," Cris commented. "There would have been just a lot more color added to the thing, a lot more musicality. A lot more along my line. Because I'm more of the schooled noodge, or whatever. Rather than, you know, 'It's art, man!' Curt and Derrick are both the older children, so they're both like, 'What I say goes!' And Damon and I are like [speaking in timid, nerdy voice], 'Well, there's a long and distinguished line of musical history from whence to draw upon...'"
Curt, however, differed in his recollection of the days hanging around the Bostrom house. He also took an alternate view on the issue of whether or not Damon was ever seriously considered a candidate to join the band.
"Yeah, I don't know," Curt mused. "I think that's being really giving to say that [Damon could have joined]. You know, if that's the case, there were probably three or four people that could've started playin' with us, if they'd have had the notion to. Because at that point we were fairly loose. And it went that way, probably until about '85. We'd look around and go, 'God, our friends could play. Why don't they ever ask?' It was pretty loose.
"In hindsight, I think everybody let me believe that it was all a friendly thing. But, for whatever reason, people just don't want to be involved with me, by and large. I used to think that it was just them. That they didn't have it together, or whatever."
Nonetheless, Cris believes that, had Damon not chosen to go his own way and "exclude himself" from the band, the Meat Puppets could just as easily have ended up as two sets of brothers joining together. If Damon made less of an impression on Curt, Cris and Derrick found it nearly impossible not to be influenced by him, and by his off-kilter point of view about music and about life in general.
"Both Derrick and Damon are just these really, really talented, smart guys," Cris said. "But also a couple of the stinkiest, greasiest little fuckers you'd never wanna meet. It's like, 'Goddamn! What did your moms do to you?' Just weird guys. Fuckin' flipped-out people.
"If you talk to Derrick, he's the kind of kid that in the fourth grade informed his mother that he'd no longer be participating in P.E. [phys-ed] and was collecting underground comics. He was fairly self-aware. He just was like that at a young age, into different things. I had more of a 'younger brother syndrome,' in those days. Derrick's dad, his actual dad who was long-divorced from his mom, decided quite a few years ago that he'd had enough of the 'lower 48.' He dropped out of 'Americadom' and moved up to Alaska. He farms and lives this kind of agrarian life up there with the natives. They catch salmon, that kind of thing.
"Damon didn't got to school at all," Cris said. "He dropped out of grade school and just lived at home. He got his GED, eventually. But at that time he was a young teen, and just goofy.
"Derrick's mom's husband had this house that was up on one of the preserves, high up there where the rich people build their houses. And it had a guest house out back. She was in the process of divorcing her husband, so she didn't care what happened to the house. The guest house had been given over to Derrick and Damon. They lived like feral children, or something. Damon had the other half of this thing. You'd open the sliding door and look in there, and he'd have painted everything white. The TV, everything, painted white. And there'd be this nasty little pile of dirty blankets on the floor, with his feet stickin' out of it.
"One of the things that he had goin' was this fuckin' unbelievable sculpture in the garage," Cris said. "It had all these little machines on it that moved. And all this crap, like melted [plastic] army men, and things all over it. It was fuckin' huge. It was built on a couple of tables. It was really quite the art piece. And at one point he just decided that it was time for it to go. And he lit it on fire.
"He was just too wacky of a guy," Cris ventured as to why Damon ultimately didn't participate in the band. "He's too self-sufficient and just not a joiner, or something. He actually did end up graduating from ASU [Arizona State University] here in Tempe. And while he was going to ASU, he lived in the desert. In Phoenix, there's these mountain preserves, actual mountain ranges in the city. Raw desert or wild desert.
"You can get down in the desert, and he lived in this fuckin' wash near ASU," Cris said. "You'd see this big, barefoot fucker walking around the school. He was just one of those self-motivated guys. He graduated with a degree in composition and theory. He's serious, to a fault. And now he lives down in Bisbee [Arizona], this old fuckin' mining town just off the border of Mexico, down in the southeast part of the state," he said. "I don't know what he does for a living. He probably works at a convenience mart, if they have one there. He just scrapes by. He writes these compositions for instruments he makes himself. Things that are called, like, 'The Wind' and so on. He's very into his own trip. The last I'd heard, he'd gotten into fuckin' Jesushood or something. It's all a quest for personal self ... whatever. I don't know what he's actually into now. I haven't seen him for a while. He's got a couple of kids from a couple of different women. Just a very fuckin' far-out guy.
"I started playin' bass," Cris said. "I had a knack for it, because I played banjo. So my fingers kind of worked, and I could just make myself do it. And the band just kind of fell out of this scene, this group of friends. It was just kind of a natural thing. All sorts of kooky things were happening. We just all went in these different directions, and everybody got into different little bits of music, here and there."
Back when Cris and Curt were playing in the band Eye, Bostrom had also been making plans to start a band with another friend from school. But that group never really got going. "I messed around with a friend of mine," the drummer said. "We went to college together for a year, and then I dropped out. He was in a different city, so that kind of stopped happening. And besides, I wanted to do it. And he was not as ambitious as I was. He had his own post-college game plan."
Bostrom had no intention of pursuing anything besides music. Eventually, his comic book collection had taken a back seat to a record collection, one that had a particular concentration on punk rock.
"Everybody graduated from high school, and everybody went on about their business," Bostrom said. "And I was still dedicated to bein' a punk rocker. I'd been into punk since the minute I heard it, early '77. In '77, when I first got into it, there were a few punk rockers. Then there were some people that were into bands like King Crimson and Gong, and that whole kind of jazz, who were playing that kind of pre-punk/experimental/heavy metal/progressive sort of stuff. And we were big fans of King Crimson. We thought that stuff was great. Then punk hit. Of course, I was just a kid and I had never left Phoenix. But some people were going to L.A. and buying records.
"And the first time I heard about local punk rock was on a radio show on a station called KDKB," Bostrom recalled, "which was a progressive station. They did a show about the local scene. And there was also an article about it in the paper. Then there was a show that I wanted to go see. But I was 17 and they wouldn't let me in. Somebody wrote about that, saying, 'If you didn't go to this show, then you're not with it, you're not happening. You're old.' That was the thing that punk rockers used to call rock fans, right? So I wrote a letter back saying, 'Fuck that "old" shit. I'm too young to go in. Why don't you come play at my school?'
"And so, the singer from this band actually wrote me and said, 'Well, you get us to play at your school. Gimme a call, let's network.' So I got to know some of these bands."
"We actually kind of gravitated to Derrick," Cris said, "because everybody else that we knew was a big [Bill] Bruford clone, without the talent. So there'd be all these drummers doin' these fuckin' stupid fills and we'd be like, 'Would you stop that?' Derrick was into that shit like King Crimson, but not in an uncool way. He liked it in like '74, or when it first came out. That's the kind of guy he was. But when it was time to move on and be into something else, he was. And he was never so uncool as to actually try to play like that or anything. It's way cooler to, you know, not give a shit. He's way more from that school.
"When we first started playin' with him, he had a kick drum with a little cymbal screwed into the top of it, and a snare. And he taught himself how to play backwards. So he actually reached over with his other hand and played the cymbal with his left hand, while he smacked the snare drum with his right. Most people cross over, right? It was just like, 'God, wind-up monkey!' And we'd have him speed up or slow down, dependent on the song.
"And Curt and I knew a bunch of other things, too, that we'd show Derrick," Cris said. "Like, musical things we'd turn him on to. Like we'd say, 'Listen, hear that? That's the bass.' We'd turn him on to music as something other than just a cultural phenomenon, but as something self-indulgent."
The Phoenix Scene and the L.A. Connection
A turning point for the Kirkwood brothers was the time they went to see Iggy Pop perform in town, in the late '70s. Iggy had just come off working with David Bowie in Europe and had pieced together a new band. The makeup of Iggy's band had more of an impact on the brothers than seeing Iggy himself.
"That show was one of the things that turned me on to punk rock," Cris said. "I mean, Derrick was definitely one of the things that turned me on to punk, but so were a couple of other friends that were getting into it, slowly. Punk rock kind of started seepin' in at a certain point. Definitely, that Iggy show was a blast. He had [Arthur] "Killer" Kane, from the New York Dolls, on bass. He himself was goofier than fuck. Somebody beaned him with a bottle. Good old Arizona. That's classic behavior here. It was a fun show."
Curt also remembered attending Iggy's Phoenix gig and how something clicked in his head during the band's performance. "I think, for me, it's more of always trying to find a place where I can sort of get other people to pay attention to me," he said. "I saw, at that show, a platform to be able to get a group of people together. Personally, I liked the guitar playing. He had the Damned's guitar player, Brian James," playing. I really didn't care that much about Iggy's trip, except for the fact that he threw himself down on the stage sometimes. I thought that was kind of cool. By and large, getting into things for me, it's more a question for trying to find anyplace where I can get people to pay attention to me long enough to be able to work with 'em."
"They had told me they'd gone and seen Iggy Pop, and Brian James was Iggy's guitarist for that tour," Bostrom said. "And I was like [still stoked by the memory of it], 'Oh, he's the original guitarist for the Damned! I love him!' And they were like, 'Yeah, he was great!' So I gave them my copy of the Damned album to check out, and my copy of [the Stooges'] Raw Power, and tried to get them into it. Of course, those are two bands [the Damned and the Stooges]--obviously known, but Brian James maybe less so. But he's kind of a James Williamson-style guitarist. Both kind of flashy, as far as punk rock goes. But I got Curt to listen to [those albums], and he thought they were great.
"So I said, 'Well, let's learn some songs and jam,'" Bostrom recalled. "And we did. And we dug the way it sounded. So we stuck with it. I got him to learn about half my punk 45 collection." By definition of Bostrom's stash of singles, that must have been quite a few tunes that Curt picked up on.
"There were a few records that Derrick had," Cris said, "that got us more into it, including an Iggy record. That James Williamson 7-inch, with 'I Got A Right' [b/w] 'Gimme Some Skin,' that was just one of my favorite records. That was so cool. And the whole first Damned album. And they were all easy stuff, too, for Curt and I to play.
'Cause we'd kind of been off on this fusionary tangent, and both of us were just kind of good little stringmeisters. So we'd hang out with Derrick, who had all these kooky records, and learn all of 'em. We learned the whole fuckin' Damned record in an afternoon. So we played a bunch of punk songs, and Derrick would sit back there and sing 'em."
"We got bored with just playin' in our back bedroom," Bostrom said. "So we started playin' out, some parties. And we found that playing in front of people increased the energy level by, like, triple. So we started to want to get gigs. We were like, 'Oh, we're onto something here. We like this.' So we got a real gig. And about that time, Curt had written the song 'Meat Puppets.' And I said, 'Well, let's just call ourselves Meat Puppets. That works, that's a proper noun."
[Note: The song "Meat Puppets" was recorded for the Meat Puppets album in late 1981. Among the other songs on that album were an interesting cover of the Doc Watson tune "Walking Boss" and a Bostrom/Kirkwood original entitled "the Gold Mine."]
"And people liked it," Bostrom said. "They were talkin' as much about our name as they were about our performance. So we decided to keep it, because it was gettin' us over."
"I did all improvising music all through the late '70s," Curt said. "Cris and I would play different things. The Devo songs, or things by the Tubes, Talking Heads, what-have-you. Just playin' around at home on drums and bass."
"Curt and I were already playing other things as well," Cris added. "We had gotten a drum kit and were just doin' stuff together, with either one of us on drums. Both of us can play drums, too."
"Mostly what we were into, what we were workin' on," Curt said, "when we got together and played around with friends, were these experimental noise jams. I didn't start writing until we started playing together [with Derrick]. I had written a couple of country songs when I was a child. That's about all I wrote before the Meat Puppets. I started writing in the Meat Puppets because nobody else was."
"In Phoenix at that time," Bostrom said, "there was this one club in Tempe, which is where we [still] live. It's like the college area. Some of the local musicians were in with this bar owner. And they had enough pull with this bar to actually hire some of the punk rock bands from L.A. to come out and play in Phoenix. So, we had seen, for instance, X. This is like in '80. Alley Cats, Plugz, Go-Go's before they were popular. Bands like that. If you're familiar with the L.A. scene, Dangerhouse has got their two-CD set of these bands. And Rhino did one [as part of its DIY series] on the L.A. scene.
"Anyway," the drummer continued, "These bands were comin' out. And one band that came out [from L.A. to play gigs in Phoenix] was Human Hands. And their singer used to be in a band called Consumers, who were from Phoenix. They had moved out to L.A., broke up, and then half of 'em moved back to Phoenix. And this one guy stayed out there. And he joined this band called Human Hands.
"We had gone and seen Iggy Pop [after the Brian James tour], and it turned out that the opening act was a band called Feeders [sic], who were from Phoenix. They were around in like '78, moved to San Francisco and did a couple of albums. And the original bass player had moved to L.A., but had come back to reform the band so they could do the opening slot. The singer, the head guy, had just gotten married, so it was like a big party. They did the gig and had a little reunion.
"There were these bands, Consumers, Liars and Annihilators," Bostrom said. "Now, let's see... One of the Consumers was Paul Cutler. And one of the Annihilators was Rob Graves, who was Paul's bassist in 45 Grave. And Don Bolles was the bassist, I think for the Liars, as well as the drummer for the Annihilators. There were three to four bands, but only about six people. They just kept rotating costumes and playing different instruments.
"So Don Bolles went on to play in the Germs, and 45 Grave, Vox Pop and Celebrity Skin. God knows what he's doing now. I'm sure he's in there somewhere, doin' stuff. Those are like the major people that came out of Phoenix. A lot of people who were serious about it went to L.A. They were either serious about their music, or the heroin connections weren't good enough here, or whatever. But by 1980, there was another whole batch of bands.
"Some of the people who were in Consumers that didn't want to live in L.A. had started Killer Pussy," Bostrom said. "That was a band that started about the same time we did. JFA [Jodie Foster's Army] is another band that got out of Phoenix. They started about a year after we did. Their singer [Brian Brannon] is now the music editor at Thrasher [skateboarding] magazine in San Francisco.
"Sun City Girls was a band that started up around the same time we did. I think they live in Seattle or Portland now. It was a much more eclectic mix than the old punk rock of the late '70s. We were more eclectic than punk rock. And there were lots of others. Bands that were more into the British scene, Joy Division-style bands. Or power-pop bands, like this one called Blue Shoes.
"And then there was a band called the Nervous," Bostrom said, "who were kind of Talking Heads-oriented, more New York-style. Phoenix had its share of copycat bands, as well as its stone originals, like the Meat Puppets! And, of course, the Meat Puppets were the band that got the best luck. We got out of town, we were liked right away, we were able to get a record out quickly, and then we were able to tour the U.S.
"I ran into these people that I had known in like '77, when they were still living in Phoenix and doing music there," Bostrom recalled. "That's when I was 17, and needed them to sneak me into gigs. And so I said, 'I've got a band now.' And the guy said, 'Well, lay a tape on me. Do you write your own songs?' And we were like, 'No, we just do punk covers. But we do 'em really good!' And they're like, 'Well, you gotta write your own songs. Write some songs, send me some tapes, and we'll get you some shows out in L.A.'
"So we did that," Bostrom said. "This friend of ours, David Wiley, had the tape, which was very crudely made, played on Rodney [Bingenheimer's radio] show out there. And we got some gigs, with him and with some other bands. One of the bands we played with was called Monitor. Another band we played with was called the Urinals, who became 100 Flowers. And they both liked us a lot."
Once the Meat Puppets were on the L.A. punk scene, it proved to be a relatively easy leap to go from playing gigs to actually cutting a record. The associations that developed through knowing Wiley, and through having their homemade tape played on Bingenheimer's program, led directly to the first recording opportunities for the trio.
"We did a song on a compilation that the 100 Flowers did on their label, Happy Squid," Bostrom said. "The compilation was called Keats Rides A Harley, and the song was called 'H-Elenore.' 100 Flowers and Gun Club were also on that compilation. And Leaving Trains, I think, is on a cut. Those are the artists I remember off of that."
It was this compilation tape that first turned Leary on to the Meat Puppets. "Gibby introduced me to a record called Keats Rides A Harley, which was a compilation from California," Leary said. "It had the Meat Puppets, Circle Jerks, Black Flag, the Urinals, or 1,000 Flowers [sic], or whatever they were called at the time. A whole bunch of bands.'
"And then the Human Hands organization was affiliated with a thing called L.A. Free Music Society," Bostrom said. "and we did a cut with them on a cassette compilation. This L.A.F.M.S. cassette is called Light Bulb. It was a two-cassette compilation, with tons of bands on it. We did an early version of, or kind of a demo of 'Meat Puppets.' Just me and Curt did that, with two cassette machines. So, that and the other compilation song were both done in Phoenix. The Keats Rides A Harley thing we did on four-track at a friend's house.
"Then Monitor were in the studio making an album, after already having done a single. And they had this one punk rock song, which they kind of wrote as a sendup of punk. And they wanted us to perform it, because we had the punk thing down. And they weren't able to play it as fast and hard as they wanted. A lot of their stuff was, you know, slower. This Monitor cut was done at the same time as our first EP [in the spring of 1981].
"And they said, 'As a trade-off, we'll let you record five songs, and we'll bankroll the single.' So we did it," Bostrom said. "We did their song, and a take. Then we did our own songs and a take, each. And they released it. And that was our little In A Car EP, that came out in the summer of '81."
SST Records -- The Early Years
To hear Bostrom tell it, getting a recording career started was almost too easy for the Meat Puppets. One situation seemed to lead to another and things began happening. Now that they had some "product" to promote, the band felt extra motivation for staying away from Phoenix and out on the road.
"We started goin' from L.A. all over, up to San Francisco," Bostrom said. "We were selling the EP ourselves. So we would take it into record stores and sell them, and go to distributors, because Monitor knew these people. We went to Systematic and dropped records off there. And either the guys that were working there were these guys that ran their own label, which was called Thermidor, or we just went right to Thermidor. I'm not really sure. Either way, we went and visited these two guys who had this label, Thermidor.
"Monitor was putting out a surf record under an assumed name with them, so that's how we got the connection," Bostrom said. "And they were like, 'You guys should put out a Meat Puppets album.' And one of these guys, Joe Carducci, was about to go to work for SST. He said, 'Thermidor will bankroll the recording, and then we'll get SST to put it out. So it'll be a joint release. And then I'll go over to SST, and I'll be able to work your album.' We were like, 'Okay. Sounds better than gettin' a job.'"
Although the self-titled Meat Puppets debut album does contain a total of 14 songs, at less than 22 minutes it runs past the listener quicker than a typical EP. This one is much more Bostrom's project than anything else in the Meat Puppets' catalog, and sounds almost nothing like their later efforts. In fact, it is so starkly different from Meat Puppets II that, if you listen to them back to back, you might swear the two records were made by completely different bands.
"We started out with one concept," Bostrom said, "which was to write a bunch of songs in an afternoon, which is what you used to do back then .We'd just get a lick, throw some lyrics together, and learn it. And we wrote songs like that for most of '80, till we had a bunch of 'em. We recorded 'em all, and the ones we liked we threw onto Meat Puppets.
"That was when Curt wasn't writing songs. We were just learning songs and playing 'em. I said, 'Curt, let's write some songs.' And he was like, 'I don't know how to write songs.' And I said, 'We'll just, you know, do it. Here's some lyrics. Just wiggle your fingers around on the fretboard until you come up with something.' So I wrote most of the lyrics to the first record."
Greg Ginn was in the band Black Flag and had started the SST label in the L.A. area. Chuck Dukowski helped him get things going. By the time the Meat Puppets came to Ginn's attention in 1981, SST had released only a few titles. In the years that followed, SST would release hundreds of records from a wide variety of bands and artists. Some of these, including Soundgarden, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr., have become big names in the '90s. But when the Meat Puppets album was released in 1982, it was only the ninth offering from the label.
"It used to be that SST was just Black Flag," Bostrom said. "Then they did a record [Paranoid Time] with Minutemen, who were friends of theirs, and another record [Pagan Icons] with Saccharine Trust. We were the first [band] that they had actually gone out and, 'signed.' Although, like I said, we came to them through Thermidor, because the guy who owned Thermidor went to work for 'em. But we were like the very first 'outsider band,' the first SST 'find,' proper.
"And they put us in [the recording studio] with Spot," Bostrom said. "Spot was an engineer in Hollywood that Greg and Chuck knew, who was kind of sick of the whole disco scene, or whatever, and got in with those guys and started engineering Black Flag session. He liked their shit, and started doing other stuff for that label. Spot was a cool guy, and he made three great records with us.
"Actually," Bostrom said, amending his previous statement, "the first record was recorded by Ed Barger, who did the first Devo singles. The ones they did back in the Midwest, before they moved to Hollywood, or England, or wherever they made their major recordings. He did In A Car for us, and he also did 'Jocko Homo' and 'Satisfaction' and stuff for Devo. And then they, you know, dumped him once they got signed.
"Now, Meat Puppets was recorded live. So live that there wasn't even any separation. We just set up the way we play onstage. Pretty much everything you hear on that record is just the drums and what's bleeded through 'em, and the vocals put on [later]. So that was a very raw project, and it sounds like it. You can hear the room. You can hear the direct signal, like the bass going [simulated loud crackling noise], and then you can hear everything else bleeding into the mikes on the drums.
"So anyway," Bostrom continued, "we recorded the first record with Spot. And then our best friend in Monitor, Laurie [O'Connell], the bass player, who had taken us under her wing, wanted Ed to come in and mix it. They mixed it like four times, and ran up a huge bill. And then they got into a big argument with Greg and Chuck at SST. And then they stole the tapes. Meanwhile, they kept mixing. We said we liked the second mix. But then they went ahead and did the third and fourth. And we were like, 'God, these people are out of control.'
"And they told us, 'We've stolen the tape, we're gonna release it on our label, and we're gonna push you guys as a country act, because you've done "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds." But we'd done like a screamy, feedbacky version of it. And we were like, 'Help!' And then Spot sent us his mix, saying, 'Just in case you wanted to hear this ...' And we went, 'Ah, this is the record! This is what we did. This is what we wanted to hear.' Laurie and Ed were gettin' way out of control. With these weird rooming techniques and stuff, adding tons of reverb to it.
"So," Bostrom recalled, "we just said, 'We wanna work with Spot on this. We like his mix and we wanna use it. And furthermore, we made the record with SST. We said we'd give it to them, and we want to.' And they said, 'Well, then we're out of the picture, because we won't work with them.' And so we no longer worked with Monitor or World Imitation [who had released In A Car]."
The Meat Puppets album featured cover art that was credited to Curt and to Damon Bostrom. In a sense, the record is an artifact from the days when the Kirkwood brothers and the Bostrom brothers hung around the guest house in the hills on the north side of Phoenix. Soon those days would be left far behind, although the band has never given up Phoenix as a port of call. (Damon had also done some of the artwork for the In A Car release.)
There's a song called 'Unpleasant,' which we did in '82 on a record called Amuck," Bostrom said. "And it was on Placebo, which was JFA's label out of Phoenix. They did a lot of compilations, and this was their first one. Cris and I are actually on another cut on that record called 'Bottle's Neck.' And the band is Victory Acres. That cut and the rest of that session came out on a record, also on Placebo, within the last five years. It was the Victory Acres/Joke Flower record, which I think is still available on cassette and LP. The session with me and Cris is on one side, and on the other is more current recordings by the same group of people. Only now they're callin' themselves Joke Flower.
"We did a cut [also] in 1982 for a magazine called Take It, which was out of Massachusetts. They used to do flexis in their issues. And we did a song called 'Teenagers.' Half of it was fast. It was actually the very first thing we ever recorded that wasn't like punk rock, that wasn't screamy. We did just like a little chord progression that we jammed on, and tried to make it as mellow as possible. Because it was [considered] 'punk' to get more mellow than the, quote, 'old, mellow rock stars.' So that's the origin of our mellow vibe. And it's only available on flexi."
That mellow vibe would carry over into the band's next session with Spot, eventually released as Meat Puppets II. A lot of Curt's surprisingly sophisticated country influences would also come to the fore. According to Bostrom, this musical direction all stemmed from the "Teenagers" track.
"II have no idea what happened to it," he said, "but it's a great cut. We have the multi-track tape, but we don't have the mix we sent to them. I don't remember what issue it was in, but Chris D. of flesheaters was on the cover. And also, on the flexi, is Tex and the Horseheads. 'Cause this is when they were just comin' out. That's probably the most collectible thing we've done. I mean, the [Light Bulb] cassette's pretty collectible, too. I know people are selling original copies of radio shows, stuff like that, that are being sold for lots of money.
"I don't dare buy Goldmine," Bostrom stated in a humorous aside, "because then I'll see things I want to spend hundreds of dollars on. Or worse, I'll see my stuff being sold for hundreds of dollars. I don't pursue it the way I did when I was 17, when I had to have every 45 I saw. Eventually you have to pay your own rent. But before I had to do that, all my money went to punk rock records.
"But nobody's ever gold me they've found a copy of that Take It flexi. And it's pretty good stuff, too. I saw it, I have two copies of it. [So, it definitely exists.]
"In fact, I wrote an article for Take It, and gave them some art [work]. And the editor, or whoever was in charge of doing the story, called me back saying she didn't understand what I had written. Because I was writing in a very ironic style, and being rather arch. She asked me to explain some of the references, and I did. I was very accommodating. And what she did was put approximations of what I had said in the bulk of the article, and then still credit the whole thing to me. Although half of it was misquotings of me that she had written into it, plus my stuff.
"And it ended up making SST very mad at us," Bostrom said. "Because there were some jokes in there about them, like, 'Yeah, we're doin' this country album for SST to capitalize on their punk market.' And it was a joke. It came out sounding like, 'We don't like those guys, but we want their audience,' or something. They didn't like it, so they didn't take us to Europe with them the first time they went. They took the Minutemen instead."
Nonetheless, the Meat Puppets were starting to gain some notoriety outside of Arizona and California, a circumstance which sent them headed to the east coast for the first time. Meat Puppets was just beginning to get some play in alternative music circles, and the band started to conceive of themselves as more than just an "Arizona band" or a regional act.
"We've never gotten to tour with Sonic Youth, unfortunately, but we did a couple of shows here and there with them," Bostrom said. "Actually we played with sonic Youth in 1982, the first time we ever came to New York. They opened for us at Folk City. It was like November of '82, and they were just children, as were we. I remember being irritated, because I was on tour for the first time, and I had already gotten sick three times, or whatever. New York City scared the piss out of me, 'cause I was from the wide open spaces. I didn't dig it. I was a long ways from home for the first time, working in a big city, not getting a lot of sleep, not eating well, and having to do shows. And it's hard, when you're not used to it. You have to pretty much know your limits, before you can go and rock out really hard. If you're exhausted and strung out on bad food and no sleep, the shows start to suck.
"So I was kind of cranky, and I didn't watch their [Sonic Youth's] set," the drummer said. "But I remember Kim [Gordon] coming down into the dressing room, either before or after her set. I said nothing to her, and she said nothing to me. It was one of those uncomfortable things, like 'Obviously we're not saying anything.' I wasn't going to say anything! It's all too easy for me to be just as uncooperative and incommunicative as possible."
"Meat Puppets, they were really weird," Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore said last year. "When they first started, they were just so fuckin' weird. They were really twisted. They would come out and play a hundred songs, each one shorter than the last. Singing this Mickey Mouse gobbledy-gook. Then they'd break into a 20-minute Grateful Dead thing. The audience just did not know what to think of these guys. And they had long hair which was unheard of."
In defense of his own band, Bostrom really didn't think the Meat Puppets were all that weird in those days. "Well, we always figured that we had a side that people could relate to," he said.
"We weren't out trying to bust people's balls, or freak 'em out or anything. We had chops, we weren't like a band that didn't know how to play our instruments when we picked 'em up. We already had somewhat of an idea of what direction we wanted to go into when we started the band."
After 1982 is when Curt began to really come into his own, as a songwriter as well as a guitarist. Bostrom didn't seem to mind that, after the first SST album, Curt quickly became the focus of the band, a perception that has largely remained with the Meat Puppets ever since.
"Curt started gettin' in the groove and started turnin' stuff out," Bostrom said. "People were tellin 'him he was good, and givin' him encouragement. People outside the band, people in Monitor, for instance. So he soon began to develop his own style. And it wasn't real punk-rocky [sic]. Plus, we were playin 'these shows with punk rockers, like Redd Kross in 1981, Black Flag. We made the rounds. And the skinhead thing was coming in, the hardcore thing, which was separate from punk rock. Hardcore was kind of like jocks who got into it, because it was hard and fast, rather than because it was 'anti-music' or some sort of avant-garde thing. And so we were like, 'Ugh! We're not about that!' We decided we were going to have to stop playing 'hard/fast-rules'-style music, 'cause we weren't like Wasted Youth or Bad Religion, or Adolescents. I guess they're the typical band of that style. We weren't like that at all.
"We had been listening to Fleetwood Mac, and Creedence, and Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. And Neil Young, a lot. Those kind of bands. And I guess Meat Puppets II kind of showed our influences more than any other of our records did. I mean, let's face it, 'Lake of Fire' is a pretty popular song right now [in the '90s]. It makes the rounds these days, getting played on MTV every now and again. That was a fairly fledgling Meat Puppets song. So, even stuff we wrote 10 years ago is considered popular now."
"I guess, more than anything, I didn't know how punk rock was gonna go over," Curt said, acknowledging the band's conscious swing back to the other end of its spectrum of musical influences. "When it did start to go over, I was pretty idealistic, and I didn't really like the audience very much. So when, I took the time to think about it, I realized I needed to explore some of my other roots. I mean, we'd always had sort of a punk rock motive early on, but as a band, and individually, we'd never kept ourselves form doing anything.
I just had to start conscientiously having us do other things, which largely, I got the confidence to do through listening to Neil Young and the Grateful Dead when I was growin' up. Those and the Flying Burrito Brothers [among others]."
"I think that Curt discovered the joy, of Neil, back then," Cris said. "You know, the cool [records], where he's a heartbroken little singer/songwriter. Like Harvest, or whatever the fuckin' huge ones are. 'For The Turnstiles,' I think... I don't know, but it has to do more with just pickin' up an acoustic guitar. People like Cobain credited us with turnin' him on to bein' a pussy, and bein' a hardass at the same time. Which is alternative, or some crap, right? It's like, 'We don't cuss, so that it fits in between the commercials and gets on radio. But we don't dress up, so it's sincere.'
"So, when [Cobain] said that, we were goin', 'Well, you know, we got that off Neil Young, or whatever. And Neil Young got it off the fuckin' Beatles. And the Beatles got it off of fuckin' lysergic [acid], and being open-minded off of British culture. And you keep goin' back, and there's ol' psychedelic Bill Shakespeare, and all his cool cohorts. And you go further back beyond that, and you suddenly realize, 'Well, fuck, people have been into this kind of shit forever.' You know? It's just like, 'To be, or not to be -- and fuckin' why?"
"You suddenly realize, 'Well this is what a lot of great art is about.' So I don't take credit for that at all. If we happened to be the ones who turned that kid [Cobain] onto [sic] it, we got turned onto it at some point, too. Rock 'n' roll can actually be art, if you just look at it the right way."
"The Neil thing goes back to stuff that I grew up on even before I heard Neil," Curt said. "But I think he gave me the confidence, knowing that rockers could play rock, and then cross over. Neil was one of the only people who ever did t, for some reason. But we got tired of playin' punk rock, that was it, I guess. We realized we could do the other stuff, so...
"I always kind of got a kick out of taking stuff that we recorded out to the desert, and listening to it," Curt said. "It was kind of nice sometimes, when you've got a campfire goin' or somethin, to hang the radio up in a tree somewhere and listen to it like that. But ultimately I just kind of think that people [have the impression] that there's a certain amount of spirituality and freedom the desert provides. And, coincidentally, we play that kind of thing. And that gets attributed to the fact that we're from here [Arizona]. But I don't know that that has any bearing on [our music], that the two things come together that much. As if it wouldn't be the same if we were from someplace else. It's more about imagination and feelings than trying to paint a [musical] landscape, or anything like that.
"[Young's music] definitely has those plaintive strains, but I don't know if there's any music that really fits in that well here like that, like people think. You get imagery if you think about the desert. But being there really isn't something, when you're out there, that really makes you think about listening to music that much. Music, in my mind, is fairly, you know... You can kind of cross your idealism and your fantasies and stuff, to a degree. But actually being in the desert has more of a real feeling to it. We never really dragged our blasters out to the desert that much, and listened to music when we were out there."
As much as the Meat Puppets enjoyed recording with Spot the engineer, they couldn't count on him to let them in on the completion of their album once the sessions were done. Meat Puppets II was cut early in 1983 in Los Angeles, but the band played the rest of the year wondering what became of their album.
"We went on [recording] with SST," Bostrom said, "and Spot did our next couple of records, and then Spot got out. It was just as well, 'cause Spot was very freewheeling on his own time. We recorded Meat Puppets II in like March of '83, and then he disappeared with the tape till like November. So when we went to do the third one, Up On The Sun [in late January 1985], we demoed it ourselves, got it all finished and everything. and we said, 'Alright, we want to block out three days, and at the end of those three days, the record's gonna be done. No more dicking around.' And we did it. And we haven't been able to top that. We made a really fine record in a Friday/Saturday/Sunday lockout period, in a studio [Total Access, in Redondo Beach, California].
"And everything got done. Except for the editing, and that was a piece of cake. And that's like [most] people's favorite record of ours. Whereas Meat Puppets II was more varied, more difference from song to song, in instrumentation and arrangement. On Up On The Sun, each cut is arranged real similarly, to streamline the process. But that's really the only place where we cut corners."
Before the recording of Up On The Sun, the band had spent the year 1984 out on the road promoting Meat Puppets II. Due to their affiliation with the up-and-coming SST label, they would often play shows far from their Phoenix base with other SST bands.
"We played Seattle for the first time either in '82 or '84, which was with Black Flag at this school. It was definitely an ass-kicker of a gig. And then suddenly [several years later], there was the 'Seattle sound.' And we're going, 'Well, lookit there: "The Seattle sound" sure looks a lot like us!' But it was no big deal. We didn't give a crap about that, anyway."
Touring had its own perils for the Meat Puppets, as it does for any band operating on a small budget. The bad food, lack of sleep and need for stimulants were constant facts of life on the road. Curt's painting for the front cover of Up On The Sun gave an accurate indication of the band's intake priorities. It was a picture of a coffee mug adorned with a burst of leaves form a marijuana plant.
"Unfortunately, I'm pretty much addicted to caffeine at this point," Bostrom said. "It's the only addictive substance I haven't been able to shake. I tried, and it really hurt hard to try to cold turkey without coffee. The Descendents [another SST band] were heavily into coffee, and the Minutemen were into coffee, and we drink it.
"But we weren't really influenced [musically] by any of that wave. The bands that we were listening to [before SST] from L.A. were like the Dangerhouse artists. And the original Slash [Records] artists, like Germs, Plugz, Alley Cats, the Dils, stuff like that. The first wave. I know the Damned came to L.A. in like 1977, and a lot of kids saw that and thought that was great. We listened to the bands that were influenced by the Sex Pistols, Clash, Damned. Not the second generation, or whatever. We came up at the same time as them. We never heard of the Minutemen until we had already kind of crystallized our thing.
"Being with SST gave us the opportunity to do even more gigs, expand our base," Bostrom said. "And also play to their audience, which we found somewhat distasteful. So it led us to, like, blow off punk rock, and kind of go into the more mainstream sound. We started doing country-rock, or Creedence-y sort of stuff, or whatever we're kind of still known for [today].
"We sent with SST on a national tour. And they had already done a few national tours, and had laid the groundwork for the touring network that they had. Then they had their own booking agency, which they started. And by the time Up On The Sun came out in '85, we were able to tour the whole country, and capitalize on the fact that that record did very well for us.
"At the time," Bostrom said, "the independent market was so small, that that record was able to reach #10 on the independent chart they had in Rolling Stone. Now, in order to get to #10, you've probably got to sell 10 times as many records as we did to do it 10 years ago. But around '85, we started being able to support ourselves [solely through music]. We would put out a record, tour for like six month, chill for six months. Make another record, and start the whole thing over again.
"Of course, what we would do was cut corners like mad. We'd go out in a van with our small gear, sleep on people's floors, or get one [motel] room, and sneak into it. And that started getting old. [Note: And dangerous. Around this time, D. Boon of the Minutemen was killed in a van accident on the highway.]
"Then, about that time, Husker Du and Replacements got signed [by major labels]," Bostrom said. "Se we began to get this pressure on us, like 'Why haven't you guys gotten signed?' And we also started reaching kind of the ceiling of what we could do [saleswise] with SST. They could only push us so hard. They really weren't geared toward bands that knew nothing about the business, and just wanted to make a record or two, and would get no exposure otherwise."
"All through the '80s, we had our cool relationship with this batch of other people that had their artistic intentions, financial intentions, social intentions and whatever," Cris said. "And we managed to work within their confines at SSt. The art side of it was opening up, so it worked for us. Artistically [speaking], we were able to get done what we wanted to get done. Because that's where we've always been coming from. We just want to do this work, you know? Regardless of [any interference]. But at a certain point, it fell apart."
After touring behind Up On The Sun for most of 1985, the Meat Puppets put out the six-song EP Out My Way in 1986. Along with five new Kirkwood compositions (three of which were co-credited to Cris), the released contained, in a deliberate nod to rock 'n' roll history, a wild cover of Little Richard's "Good Golly Miss Molly." It had been 30 years since the original was cut, and the band still had enough of its late '70s punk spirit remaining to do a bang-up job on it.
But, in all likelihood, it was the Creedence Clearwater version of "Good Golly Miss Molly" that inspired the Meat Puppets to cover it, as opposed to the original Little Richard recording.
The Late '80s: Hallucinations, Eggs, and Other Scary Stuff
The year 1987 was a particularly busy one for the Meat Puppets. They recorded and released two full-length albums, kept touring like crazy, yet still weren't convinced that the band was getting anywhere. After the Mirage album was completed, they concluded that its songs were too polished to play on stage night after night.
"We did Mirage, which was our proper followup to Up On The Sun," Bostrom said. "And we spent about a month and a half doing it, which for us was quite a lot. We were very meticulous with it."
"We farted around in the studio," Cris recalled. "And the songs were a lot more conceptual, in a way. But then, all the Meat Puppets crap is all about, 'The point is, there is no point.' Mirage was just a little bit more picked over, we took a little more time with it. And then we just turned right around and whipped Huevos out, just because we wanted to."
"What we found [with Mirage]," Bostrom said, "was that we only sold about as many as we did on Up On The Sun, and couldn't really expand our base, given where we were at. Plus, we didn't really like going out and touring on songs that were that heavily-crafted. So we did Huevos, which we did right before we went on tour, between two tours. It cost us like 1500 bucks, and we did it in like four days.
"And the idea was," Bostrom said, "you know, 'We need to put out some songs that we actually want to play on stage. Plus, why sp3end any more time on records, if they're only gonna do [only] so well, no matter how much we put into it?' Of course, what we found was that wasn't really the case.
"We'd come home and it would be like, oh, such-and-such band has broken up, such-and-such a person has died of heroin abuse. Such-and-such a person has gotten married, or joined the church, or moved away, or whatever.' Soon," Bostrom said, "we kind of like got out of the scene. Curt had a couple of kids, and we moved out of the city to the outskirts, to get away from people who'd show up at our doorstep at 3 A.M."
"Huevos, with another painting by Curt used as the cover (whereas Mirage sported Derrick's artwork on the front cover), is now regarded by some as Curt's "love letter to Billy Gibbons," at least in terms of the guitar stylings employed on the nine tracks that comprise it. Curt preferred to back off of that estimation, but nonetheless freely admitted that he listened to a lot of ZZ Top in his formative years and that the pervasive influence of Gibbons no doubt was on his mind during the loose and lively Huevos sessions, which took place in Phoenix.
"Yeah, I'd say there's probably two songs on there [inspired by early ZZ Top]," he said. "But, I don't know, I've never been that heavy on rhythm 'n' blues. We've done rhythm 'n' blues songs occasionally, but I think [listeners are picking up on] probably the guitar sound more than anything."
The Meat Puppets didn't make an album in 1988, but by then had quite a back catalog available because of their seven years with SST. They were also fairly well-known in the underground music circles across the U.S. Their loyal fans loved them. They routinely won the respect of most music critics and, in more than a few instances, unmitigated acclaim. As with most bands labeled "alternative" in that era, what eluded them were fame and fortune. If you were to ask the typical MTV viewer, during Ronald Reagan's final year as president, for an opinion on the Meat Puppets, the response you would have most likely gotten is, "The what?"
"For many, many years," Curt said, "it was real easy, although we didn't make very much money. It was more of a straight shot. Where we would just put out a record, go out and do it, and nobody had shit to say about it. And we weren't you know, anybody's big heroes, we weren't 'venerable,' we weren't any of these different things that [in the mid-'90s] are supposed to add up to something, and really don't yet. I like doin' music. I really enjoy that, that's not a problem.
"It's just a matter of basically being a fairly self-motivated autonomous sort of a person, and having to constantly compromise and co-opt myself [is something I despise]. That's why I got into the indie record scene [to begin with]. And why I got into trying to do my own thing as heavily as I have. Even within the band I'm like that."
Monsters, in 1989, was the last album the Meat Puppets made for SST. On their own terms, the band had been a success in the 1980s, but they had to think about the future.
"The press was going like, 'Oh, the Meat Puppets, they're backsliding. They're never gonna get signed.' And," Bostrom said, "we were like, 'Oh, yeah, we're supposed to get signed.' Obviously, we started out as this scruffy punk band, doing it for ourselves. We weren't really looking to make it big. But, we had kind of grown to love what we were doing, and we wanted to stick with it. And we found, as in a lot of businesses, that to stay in place was to move backwards. And we really were expected to 'sign up, get with the program.'
"Meanwhile," the drummer said, "on the other side, the alternative movement, the indie movement, was getting noticed by the major labels. They were beginning to buy up bands and labels. And soon, the indie network that we had helped set up -- us and dozens and dozens of other bands -- was beginning to crumble, because there was no product that was good. Bands were not going to indie labels anymore, and so [the old network] couldn't be supported by the acts that were just doing it for fun, or whatever. All the good stuff was going to the majors.
"All the 'big stars.' the Husker Dus, Replacements, etcetera, were like 'no longer there.' We were just making ends meet. We decided to do Monsters more with an idea of trying to get signed. So we made that record, sent it out to record companies, and got a bunch interested."
Critical reaction was typically positive to the effort, with the review by Cindy Laufenberg, editor and publisher of the Toms River, New Jersey-based 'zine The Ledge, being more or less par for the course. "Those Arizona zanies are back, with a truly chuggin' set of tunes that sound sorta like Black Sabbath meets ZZ Top," wrote Laufenberg, who gave a thumbs-down to the Soundgarden album Louder Than Love in the same issue (#10, January/February 1990). "Less trippy-dippy than previous efforts, Monsters will keep your toes tappin' and your air guitar in full swing, even though it's still impossible to figure out just what they're singing about."
[Note: The CD version of this album, now available, does contain a lyric sheet, however, should anyone care to follow along.]
Laufenberg concluded her brief writeup by describing the Kirkwood brothers as "incredibly beautiful" (at least in photographic closeup), proving that the Meat Puppets did exhibit their own brand of sex appeal well before Evan Dando made the rounds on the alternative bandwagon.
"We ended up talking to the folks at Atlantic," Bostrom said. "and the vice-president in charge of that kind of music was hired by PolyGram to run London Records, which they had just started up [in the U.S.]. So we followed him over [there]."
The 90s: The Big Time?
As the Meat Puppets were keeping a keen eye open for a major label record deal, alternative music colleagues form the early '80s, notably Sonic Youth and the Butthole Surfers, were doing the same. Leary's Surfers, after recording for the indie labels Touch and Go, Rough Trade, and Alternative Tentacles, eventually signed with Capitol. Sonic Youth struck a deal with David Geffen's DGS Records, and soon afterwards Nirvana also wound up on Geffen's label.
"They say that the Meat Puppets have influenced other bands," Bostrom said. "And what I get off of that, when I hear people talk about it, is that we were one of the first 'progressive' punk rock bands. One of the first bands to come out and say, 'Punk rock doesn't have to be anti-everything that came before it.' We were kind of filtering old music through a new sensibility, sort of. Through which people could get off saying that everything sucked, that came before punk rock, or whatever.
"Because before that, it was just like that: 'You're old.' You know, the whole Sex Pistols thing: 'We're the future, period.' That was kind of our contribution, along with several other bands that were doin' that. But I think Meat Puppets II is one of the first overtly backward-looking albums, that really incorporated country-rock and mainstream rock into the punk rock sensibility. I can't think of another one, and my memory is pretty good." Bostrom said that all this information is stored on his "flesh hard-disc."
To begin their association with London Records, the band returned to Los Angeles and entered a recording studio with guitarist Pete Anderson, who had already established good credentials as a producer through his work with Roy Orbison and Dwight Yoakam. The batch of songs that would constitute the Forbidden Places album were once again, all composed by Curt.
"I contributed a couple of [song] titles to Meat Puppets II," Bostrom said. "I think Curt wrote all of Up On The Sun, except for a riff or two which Cris contributed. Likewise with Out My Way. Curt wrote all of Mirage and all of Huevos, except for an occasional lyric or an occasional riff that Cris would throw in. You know, a 'part three' or something. Cris really hadn't written anything until [Too High To Die], on which he wrote 'Station' and 'Evil Love.'"
"Curt's just a fuckin' machine," his brother said. "He's a very on it, visionary kind of creep, you know? That's what he's done for years. It's like, 'Well, there's our new batch of songs.' And I go, 'Can I put a little [instrumental part] in the middle of it?' And then I get my name on a few songs here and there. But Curt is just actually that kind of artist, who just [constantly] puts out work."
For his part, while taking into account his contribution to the group, Curt is adverse to accepting the designation as leader of the Meat Puppets. He seems to love the band, and the idea of the band, as they first conceived it, far more than his own individual role in it.
"People put all kinds of shit off on me," he said, "that has to do with nothing more than [me] sitting around in front of my TV, making up songs. People put this huge stigma of leadership and authority, and domination and intelligence, and all this different crap, that has nothing to do with what I do, at all. Basically, I often can't see the forest for the trees, because the band is regarded as so much 'me.' And so much to do with whether or not I'm dominant or not.
"It's a pretty psycho thing, not like it's that crazy or anything," Curt said, "It's just that, in terms of working with other people, it's always been just writing songs and then having them interpreted by this particular band. And this band can hold its own without my songs. It can do other people's songs, or whatever. So, even that's a crock o' shit. Basically, I've been stigmatized by being clever, or something. I don't know."
A late '94 Meat Puppets set in L.A. backed up Curt's argument. The band did an outstanding acoustic version of "Tennessee Stud" during their performance. They also played a song written by Leary (which the Butthole Surfers have not officially recorded) called "Sleepy Pee Pee" ("Pee Pee The Sailor").
Forbidden Places, perhaps reflecting some of Anderson's influence, was somewhat of a return to the country-rock stylings contained on Meat Puppets recordings of the early-to-mid '80s, in contrast to the heavy guitar and drum sounds on much of the Monsers album. Once again, critical reaction was largely favorable, but significant sales figures didn't materialize. London's enthusiasm over the Meat Puppets cooled a bit, as the label tried to figure a way to promote them.
"We had gone in to record Too High To Die as an acoustic EP, because they didn't know what else to do with us," Cris said. "We were ready to record [our next album] in the fall of '92, and they wouldn't let us go in the studio. They were keepin' us from puttin' out a record. They were like, 'Well, read the contract.' They were gonna have us put [the EP] out on Atlas, their little 'alternative label.'
So we were just goin', 'Well, this is a fuckin' wonderful situation that we've gotten ourselves into. Our whole little trip has been bought out by these people.' Punk rock had been turned into little kids pretending to be English people again," Cris said disgustedly. "Suddenly, 'Mr. Big' came around with his new flavor of cigar going, 'It's the "you can do your artwork" cigar flavor, because now it's popular,' and blah, blah, blah.
"They asked us to re-record our old crap, said Cris, indicating that the band was fairly flabbergasted by the absurdity of this request. "They wanted us to do Up On The Sun, all acoustic. And we were like, 'Oh, okay, so you're gonna sell us as an oldies act? Whatever.' It didn't matter how we felt about it. We were broke and up against the wall. So we had to do what we could. So we said, 'Well, if it's going to be a lesser priority thing, how about we do it with our friend Paul [Leary]?' And they said 'yeah' to that."
"The label said, 'You guys can go in and record six acoustic things, which we'll release as an EP as a stopgap until we can get the [next] record done.' And we said, 'Okay.' We were without a producer and the last record had already been out a year and a half, and we still weren't any closer to [completing another album]. Then we went to South By Southwest [annual music conference in Austin] and attended the Butthole Surfers' album release party for Independent Worm Saloon. And we told Paul of our woeful story and he was like [in Walter Brennan voice], 'Well, I'll do it!' We know his manager, and his manager pursued it," Bostrom explained.
"So we did it. There was more pressure on us for this record than the last one. Because [Forbidden Places[ was made in the pre-Nevermind days, and was kind of like, 'We'll run it up the flag pole and let's see what happens.' But they knew [by 1993] that if they made the right record -- you know, they were planning on making this record happen. So they wanted to hook us up with the right producer," the drummer said. "We had talked to Tom Werman, who had done Motley Crue records, and Ted Nugent records, and Cheap Trick records and stuff. We'd also been considering David Briggs, Neil Young's producer, and the label didn't want us to use him. They were obviously lookin' for somebody with some sort of 'alternative clout.'"
"They were tryin' to come up with a producer, and I kind of wormed my way into it," Leary said. "They wanted Neil Young's producer, and the label said 'no.' And they wanted somebody, I think the guy that produced Lynyrd Skynyrd, or somethin'. They were throwin' out names of producers with platinum records under their belts. And the record label kept sayin', 'No, no, we want someone cool.' And they were tellin' me about it, and I just said in passing, 'Well, hell, why don't you let me do it?' And they went, 'Okay!' I fooled somebody into thinkin' I was cool."
The band did the acoustic sessions for the proposed EP with Leary, and was tremendously pleased with the experience as well as the results on tape. They took the recordings back to the label with hopes of convincing London to scrap plans for an EP and just let the Meat Puppets go ahead and cut the next album with Leary at the helm. The plan was to record in Memphis.
"The label found the [recording studio in Memphis], I think they even own the place. It was a good place to do it. They were like, 'We've got a studio out here, why don't you come out and check it out? Check out the studio, and check out Paul. See if you like it. If it works, we'll use it.' We liked it, and it worked. You know, in Memphis there's like a dozen recording sessions going on, instead of like 200 in L.A. I was able to go to the top drum store in town and deal with the owner. I could actually stick the stuff I wanted into the rental car and drive it to the studio. And there was a lot more available there. I mean, in L.A. there's a lot of stuff, but you've got people who have been doing it for a long time who tend to, like, tell you what you're going to do. It was just more relaxed in Memphis. We were pretty much able to do it more our way.
"Basically," Bostrom said, "this album was really done by a producer that likes us just the way we are. He's a big fan. He didn't make us do anything. Basically, what he did was bring his guitar collection, and try to get one of his favorite guitarists to play some of his favorite guitars, and make sure the tuning was right. And let us do our things. So it was largely co-produced. And aside from fronting us for the label, there isn't a whole lot that he made us do, or that he wouldn't let us do. So this [Too High To Die] is pretty pure, unadulterated Meat Puppets."
"We started recording," Cris said, "and it just was comin' out really great, like we knew it would. Because anything we do is fuckin' brilliant! And with the inclusion of Paul, it's only that much more good, green buds. When we recorded the album, we were like, 'Look, we don't want to put this old crap on there. These are old songs, we did 'em a decade ago. We're not a fuckin' oldies act. We've got plenty of new songs that we like, and that's all that's ever been the criterion [for a Meat Puppets album]. It's just, do we want to do it?'
"Suddenly, here's this band that's been this pillar of fuckin' idealism and 'do it your own way' being shoved around by the one stick that everybody gets shoved around by -- financial," Cris said. In effect, he felt the band was being told, "You can't do your work at all. You can sit at home, or I hope you like your Circle-K job."
"Even after Too High To Die was completed, in mid-1993, the label still wasn't totally convinced that the album had the potential to break the Meat Puppets to a wider audience. After the Memphis sessions were over, the band cut a track back in Phoenix which London wanted to release as a single. But Cris and the others couldn't go along with that idea.
"Paul actually didn't play any guitar on the sessions at all," Cris said. "That's weird. Me and him had one little jam one day. He had all his gear out there and he picked up a guitar. And I sat down at the drums to have a jam with him. I'm bigger than Derrick, so I play drums hard! Paul starts goin' off and boom! He blows up an amplifier. It was hilarious. I guess you call that punk rock. But Paul did a really good job on the production side of it, with what he did, which is bring like an engineer's knowledge of all the studio gear. Paul flat-out taught himself how to be an engineer, and then he's just a really cool, artistic cat. And an old, dear friend, too. We've known Paul and Gibby since '81, and we just fuckin' love those guys.
"They're both just totally sweet, far-out cats. Paul is tending to his own career as a producer, which is what he wants to be, and plus dealing with a band [the Meat Puppets] that he just loves. And we love the Buttholes. So it was a big butt-lickathon. It actually was a lot of fun, about as cool as you could get. We'd recorded an album that we wanted to make.
"But I've got my own eight-track studio here at home, and we recorded this song called 'Don't Touch My Stuff,' with Derrick singing and playing guitar," Cris said. "It's a song that Derrick had written, who hadn't written anything in years. He wrote this thing on a lark, and it was funny. He couched it in all this antimilitaristic cartoon drivel, that Derrick is wont to slant things as. It had this Nirvana kind of feel to it, like 'Teen Spirit.' It could have been on the record as a little Derrick song, but not as the fuckin' single.
"They wanted to push us as a joke, just like they pushed that song 'Sam' off the [previous] record. Like, 'Oh, wow, listen! They sing fast!' Well, yeah, but we've also got 15 years of musical history. What about us as a fuckin' band? How about that shit that we actually do? I mean, if we were, I don't know, the Dead Milkmen or something, it'd be one thing. But we're not, you know?"
While the wrangling over their follow-up to Forbidden Places continued, the Meat Puppets became aware that Nirvana's Cobain was a fan of theirs, and had been for many years. It wasn't something new or unique that a respected musician would mention in the press that he really dug the Meat Puppets, but the remarks usually didn't come form someone who had Cobain's level of fame.
"My old roommate had moved to Seattle," Bostrom said, "and gotten involved in the club scene. He called me one day and said, 'Can I give [Nirvana] your number? They love you.' I was like, 'Sure, what the hell. We want to open for 'em sometime.' I had never heard of them before Nevermind came out. We asked our manager to follow up on it. An old friend of ours from SST days, Ray Farrell, was actually their A&R guy over at Geffen. Eventually we hooked up through those channels."
"I first heard about [Cobain] because of Ray Farrell," Cris said. "Well, first I had seen things in the newspapers, when Nirvana first started coming out. I saw the guy mention us a few times here and there. But a lot of people mention us."
Courtney Love, Cobain's widow and the mother of his child, also attested to the Seattle punk rocker's love of the music of the Meat Puppets. In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Love told David Fricke (one of the last journalists to formally interview Cobain before his death), "He told me that the Meat Puppets' second record was great. I couldn't stand it. Then he played it to me -- in his voice, his cadence, his timing. And I realized he was right."
"I think Cobain heard Portland Zoo, this bootleg of us that came out from like '90 or '91," Cris said. "A show up in Portland [Oregon]. And our shows have still been good, or whatever. And the band has continued to develop. And I think he heard that bootleg and realized that the Meat Puppets are [slipping into crazy old Appalachian backwoodsman voice] 'still kickin' ass!'
"Ray Farrell started workin' at Geffen when Sonic Youth got signed. Cobain asked him what was up with the Meat Puppets. And Ray told him, 'well, they're havin' a hard time gettin' their record company to understand 'em.' And Cobain was like, 'What can I do to help?' I think he was specifically into turning people on to the shit he'd been into [when he was younger]. You'd see him wearing that Flipper t-shirt, and they did that Vaselines song, and that Raincoats thing.
"I heard that Cobain wanted to use his newfound power, or whatever, to help out shit he was into," Cris said. "The first thing was they invited us to go on tour with them."
"Nirvana had pretty much promised every band that they like, a week with them," Bostrom said. "They would change opening acts every week. And so we got our week. We did a week's worth of shows with them in the Great Lakes region. We did a shot in Detroit, a couple in Ohio, a couple in Canada, and one in upstate New York. We played with the Boredoms, too. They opened the show. Then they stopped touring and went to New York to do Unplugged, and Cris and Curt went out and did that with them. And we were gonna go out and do some more dates with them in Europe.
"We also heard somewhere," Bostrom said, "in an article in Spin or something, that they were into Meat Puppets II, and they either wanted to cover 'Lake Of Fire' on their new album or an Unplugged session. And we were like, 'Well, great. We'll teach it to you.' We never got around to teaching it to them, because they were horribly busy, just like we [got in 1994]. And they just said, 'Hell, come along. We'll buy you some [plane] tickets, and you guys can just play the track, because we don't have time to learn it.'
"And, of course, that set a fire under everybody's ass in the [London Records] office. It gave the publicity department something to hang the stuff on. They went and got quotes from [Cobain] and slapped it on the record [Too High To Die]."
"One night I was talkin' to the guy [Cobain] about this and that," Cris said. "We started talkin' about cover songs and stuff. He said they wanted to play some of our crap. And I was like, 'Well, I'll show you how to do it. It's fairly easy. There's some little guitar things in there that you'll have to get ol' 'big guy' [Curt] to teach you.' Cobain was more of a 'chordy' kind of musician. There are some little lines in there, little 'notey notes.' Curt, my Curt, is a pretty good guitarist, just more of a player.
"Cobain comes from more of a punker thing," Cris said. "There's more chords in his music. I mean, he was a good guitar player, really. But just an intuitive, natural, bitchin' fuckin' outlet for his screamy soul, or whatever, more than a technician. Whereas we're more like little player nerds. Besides, he himself knew that, and interpreted it his way. And he said, 'You guys should come and do it with us on TV.'
"It was a blast. I liked it not only because it was Nirvana and MTV, this world of Men Without Hats, or whatever, that we've never been allowed into. I liked doin' the thing. On a musical level, I think Nirvana's a good band. Because you don't have to move your fingers [with super dexterity] to be good, right? It was good in that they put across bitchin' shit, you know? Really organoid [sic], natural, neat stuff.
"And then to see my brother plain' with other musicians," Cris added. "Curt's just hardly ever done that. I played Krist's acoustic bass, and Krist [Novoselic] played acoustic guitar. I showed him how to do the crap simple, 'the retard version' of how to play all those songs, as opposed to the 'teeny little notes' version, which my Curt did. It was just neat to have Curt play with other musicians. And they happened to also be a really good band. That was the main thing about it. It wouldn't have happened otherwise, if they weren't people we could stomach. But beyond stomaching them, they were actually really fuckin' good, in their own way.
"It was just bitchin' on a musical level," Cris said, "let alone the other aspects. It sure as shit didn't hurt our career. Although, it kind of did. I mean, it kind of made us [look like] 'the grand old farts' who the cool, young guys like, or whatever. But Cobain knew that we were in hell, basically, that our relationship with our record company [was tenuous]. That's one of the reasons that he had us go on tour and took us on TV with him."
Nirvana's MTV Unplugged session started airing during the 1993 holiday season and some new, younger music fans started discovering the Meat Puppets. Then Too High To Die came out at the start of '94 and things were looking brighter for the band. But by early March media reports about Cobain's problems were heard with greater frequency, and his brilliant collaboration with the Meat Puppets only a few short months earlier suddenly seemed not to matter very much. Cris expressed a wish that he could have, perhaps, convinced Cobain to take some time off and come down to Arizona to hang out, if he'd been aware of the extent of his troubles.
"The Cobain thing helped [the Meat Puppets], as far as catching people's attention and shit," Cris said. "It was, for sure, a lot of good exposure. And then he shot himself. It was just sad, that the poor little guy had to [resort to that]. It was just like, 'Dude, come down here for a while. Come live in the desert, that'll make your life worth living. It will at least make you enough of a lizard that you wont' give a shit! But, ah, too much rain ..."
After Cobain's suicide, 1994 had its ups and downs for the Meat Puppets. Meiss, a former roadie for the band Feelies, joined the band to complement Curt on second guitar. "Backwater" became a popular song ("a fluke," Cris thought) and the album sold steadily throughout the year. With no more than a week's break to return to Phoenix, the band spent nearly the entire year on the road, for a spell as the opening act for Stone Temple Pilots.
"We toured with STP," Cris said, "these guys who are millionaires now, basically. These guys grew up listening to Led Zeppelin and shit, and couldn't be nicer guys. And they take a lot of shit for bein' the band that they are, but still have succeeded really wildly in the way that they wanted to."
"We've been out on tour with Blind Melon, Soul Asylum and Nirvana, and we spent two months out with Stone Temple Pilots," Curt said. "We've [lately] been rubbing shoulders with the seriously wealthy. All we get to do is talk to other wealthy people, and listen to other high-salaried opinions. Their opinions are all colored by keeping their big boats afloat. And I don't got a fucking boat at all. It gets old [hearing this stuff]. Basically, it bothers me as much as our old routine of not makin' any money. It's the same thing, by and large.
"I'd really love," Curt said, "at some point during my children's adolescence, just to be able to get things straight. To not have it the way that it has been through their whole childhood. Just constantly makin' ends meet, or borrowin' from Peter to pay Paul. It totally clouds my attitude about stuff. It's been this way for years. And fortunately, for one reason or another, it doesn't really affect my artwork."
In their travels during the latter part of '94, the Meat Puppets stopped in New York to do a gig at the beacon Theatre on the upper west side of Manhattan. Their audience that night was treated to a double-dose of bizarreness during the show. First, Curt finished the set dressed as a woman, following a photo shoot earlier that day for Rolling Stone. But before the set came to its wild conclusion, infamous radio personality Howard Stern, a longtime fan of the band, walked out on stage with a guitar strapped on and jammed with the Meat Puppets, to the delight of the band and the crowd. Soon afterwards, Stern invited Cris, Curt, Bostrom and Meiss to appear on his morning radio show, a session that was also taped by a video camera and shown on the E! Entertainment cable network. Stern jammed with the band on "Lake of Fire" and "Backwater."
"Howard is a gentleman, regardless of what his public persona may be," said Bostrom, who was allowed to have a modified version of his drum kit set up so that he could play in the cramped radio broadcast studio. "He's actually a delight, I mean he's a fan, right? And as a fan he's a gentleman as well. We were able to corner him [at the Beacon] and get him to bring us on the show, which we've been wanting to do for a long time.
"Actually, it was my understanding that SST had spoken to him in 1986 or '87 and he had asked us to come on, but we'd never heard of him [back then]. So, once we started to find out who he was, we wanted him to get us back on. He couldn't remember what had happened, but we finally got on."
No one can say, in 1995, that the Meat Puppets haven't persevered. Even if, as Bostrom points out, they aren't "as famous as the Gin Blossoms," the Meat Puppets are probably the most musically interesting band to emerge from Phoenix in the past 20 years. Whether that's enough to attain rock immortality, only time will tell.
"This is art," Cris said about what his band does. "It's not like fuckin' science. This is the land where you go, 'No what I say is, is.' You know? That's what art is all about."
Welcome to the planet of the Meat Puppets.
--Thanks to: SST Records, Regina Joskow at London Records, Thurston Moore, Paul Leary, Mike Alvarez of Not Records Tapes, the SST Super Store, Dean Abramovitch, Ken Roeser, and Derrick Bostrom, Cris and Curt Kirkwood for the phoners; also, thanks to Tammi at Gold Mountain.