Interview from "No Mag" (1982)

by Derrick Bostrom in


nomag

MEAT PUPPETS MEAT PUPPETS

by Robert Lloyd

I. PHOENIX

Phoenix, capital city of Arizona, our 48th state (admitted 1912), lies at an altitude of 1,080 feet on the north bank of the Salt River. According to the Mobil Travel Map, it's home to 581,562 people, not counting the 103-or-so thousand more in Tempe or Scottsdale right next door. Once, a long time ago, it was home to the Hohokams, a race of avid canal builders who by the 14th century had cut over 150 miles of irrigation canal into the Salt River Valley. In 1867 soldier-prospector jack Swilling and his Briton partner "Lord Darrell" Duppa rebuilt some of these canals, and Duppa reportedly envisioned a new city rising "phoenixlike" out of the Hohokam ashes. Hence "Phoenix." In five years it became an important trading center for farmers, prospectors, and cattlemen and was even then a mecca for those whose doctors had advised them to seek a warm, dry climate. The rest is business and history.

Major crops are cotton, vegetables, grains, citrus fruits, dates, and grapes.

It looked a lot like the San Fernando Valley to me., though sometimes it put me more in mind of Oxnard, especially around the major crops. Phoenix is a lot farther from here than Van Nuys, however, or even Ventura County. Most of the way is desert. At the border they ask if you've got any fruit and give you a fax sheet on dust storms and what to do when you find yourself in one - keep calm, get your car off the road, and shut off your lights so the guy behind you won't use your car as a beacon and plow up your back. Dust storms can kill, they say, and they're hell on the windshields. Along with Dinney the giant concrete dinosaur, dust storms are certainly a real highlight of a trip to Phoenix.

II. MEAT PUPPETS

There is nothing much to do in Phoenix, say the Meat Puppets, but there they remain. Brothers Curt (guitar) and Cris (bass) and their friend Derrick (drums) more or less live together on a quiet street in a Spanish-style bungalow with an unmown lawn, a big dog in the backyard, and a Romans set list on the front porch. There's no TV, but there are neat stacks of comic books, arranged by subject. Their house smells of incense, cats, unopened windows, and an everpresent cloud of dope. One hears a lot of coughing. The Meat Puppets smoke a whole lot of dope, so much even their connections can't believe how much, and by their own reckoning that's pretty much how they pass most of their (semi-)conscious hours. That and playing music.

Meat Puppets music tends towards two distinct but oddly compatible styles: on the one hand they play what sounds superficially like traditional hardcore, but it's very angular, ridiculously fast, and the utterly unintelligible vocals shoot less for anguish than hysteria. The rest of the time they knock out a sort of art-punk-hoedown mix, almost delicate but no less driven. You can hear both styles on their EP (produced by Laurie O'Connell and Ed Barger), and there's an album on the way, or perhaps out already, on SST, home of Black Flag.

Here are some things the Meat Puppets said in their house in Phoenix.

III. JOURNEY THROUGH THE PAST ON MDA

DERRICK : Curt and I met through mutual friends in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Phoenix. There was some MDA around, and Curt was with a mutual friend from the Unitarian Universalist Church that we knew who had some MDA, and they both came over to the house and gave me some. And we went and saw Journey Through The Past and Jimi Plays Berkeley together on MDA, and afterward we walked around, fucked around. That's where I met Curt. And Cris is his brother, who didn't get to know until he had lost 60 pounds.

CURT : When we first formed the band we didn't think about playing live or anything like that. We'd just play. We used to go out to to Derrick's house and get stoned and play, and we learned a bunch of early punk standards just to fuck around on.

DERRICK : Then a club opened, so we just wrote some material. Got sick of seeing other people playing there.

IV. L.A. IS LIKE PORNOGRAPHY OR SOMETHING

DERRICK : L.A. is like pornography or something, it's kind of fun while you're doing it, but looking back on it I'm not real happy with my experiences there, though I enjoyed them at the time.

CURT : I'd rather get a shit job here than move over to Los Angeles and try to push my music. Over there, if you live in a place where there's that much competition, if you open yourself up sensorially, you'll become involved in it regardless. That's just the way it happens. And it just doesn't feel as good to play there as it does here. It feels good, but it's really a shooting gallery. We really like everything that we do, and we never intended for it to be display oriented.

DERRICK : Display is part of it.

CURT : But display is for us, y'know. We record everything we do, and the majority of the music we listen to is our own.

CRIS : It's other people that brought us out into the public. It just never occurred to us. We're not trying to push it that hard.

CURT : There's no way we can go into a big club and realize there's a real audience there; there's too many people. So we make up our audience, it's like more or less the same audience we have when we practice. It's this fantastic audience that just loves the fuck out of us.

DERRICK : If they love you they'll force their attention on you.

CURT : Only the meanest people would want to disclude themselves from our audience.

DERRICK : It's like our music is, this is what you don't have to force out of us. This is what you can have, free. Everything else is like run through the machine...it's a great name for music, to call it the "music business." It describes it perfectly. It's like, once the Great Planter has planted all his seeds and some the birds have eaten and some have died in the weeds and some of them have been poisoned or whatever, the farmer picks his favorite ones to eat, and the rest of them end up in the marketplace, and they end up on somebody else's table. And that's the story of this band, and all the other bands.

CURT : And Reagan is in. He's in love. With his wife.

V. ANTISOCIAL LIFE

CURT : It seems that we tend to alienate people with the amount of marijuana we smoke.

DERRICK : It's like this. We're really spoiled. I was spoiled before I joined the band, and I'm really spoiled now, because anything goes between the three of us. And then when we get around other people, it's like we're undisciplined. We hang around each other so much that we're sort of alienated from the rest of the world. Well, Cris makes a real effort to get out there, but he has to take a lot of acid to do it.

VI. DANGERS OF UNDERDRESSING

CRIS : We played with Black Flag at the Cuckoo's Nest. It was good. it was fun. Some of the kids got up and sang with us, got on stage and trounced around and jumped off. There's just that thing, that question of "Is it cool or not?" that goes along with the rockin and rolling part of it. It's like, "Is this bitchen? Is this bitchen? Do we look bitchen? Are we dressed up like the guys?" And we go on, and we completely were what we've got on that day, we dress in whatever we have. And we get up and play, we just do it.

We just played San Francisco with the Dead Kennedys. They're real popular up there; that's their town. The crowd was huge, 1200 some people, and there was about 300 kids or so that just HATED us, and it just all completely had to do with the way we looked. They started barraging us with tin cans, and we just kept playing, batting the cans off. And by the end of the set people were getting into it, it was cool. We don't have any pretensions like you gotta have a special short haircut or you gotta wear a special bandana. What is that? "You gotta wear a suit and tie." We just experienced the neo-fascist portion of it.

I don't give a shit about dressing up at all. I think everybody dresses up, totally. Of course. You get out of bed, put clothes on. What? "I'm a real honest dresser, I just dress like this, i don't dress anyhow." No way. Everybody's wearing their little thang, y'know. I dress up enough. I just never got into wearing any - I just never did. I love it when people do; I'm amazed by some of the creative gear I see. But to make it a religion like they have about a certain style...

I don't mind it. It's nothing to me. It's just the way people look. It's just their skin, meat puppets totally. Everybody just does what they do, no getting around it at all.

The reaction we got from the South Bay kids, a lot of them don't know what to do; they just stand there and watch. That's the biggest percentage usually, and a smaller percentage like us and get into it. And there's a percentage that doesn't like us and yell at us. We're so easy not to like. And we just stand up there. "What's going on?" And we always have a good time doing it.

They haven't come after us physically. Also I've got that big fucking guitar. I'd bomp some shit if he tried to get me, some little kid. "Get away!" Smack!

VII. DON'T HAVE FOUR LEGS IN PHOENIX

CRIS : These dog skinnings have been going on lately. Hundreds of them. They find these dogs out in the desert, and they've been skinned and their front legs cut off. They think it's either a cult or some...fun lover.

CURT : If you went and killed a dog...and liked it... it'd be a lot easier to keep killing dogs.

CRIS : They found a dead cat tied to a dead possum. We had some goats one time, and our house burned down. The goats had to stay at the burned out house, and we had to stay at another place and come back and take care of them. We came up one day to take care of them and somebody'd killed them.

CURT : Shot them and slit their stomachs open.

CRIS : And cut their ears off.

DERRICK : In an unrelated incident, I had a dog that died and I had to put it out on the sidewalk so the dog collectors would come and get it. They left it there all day, the summer, Arizona, 110 heat, big German shepherd, and it just cooked out there on the sidewalk, left a big stain. It just burst on the spot...There's a picture of a dead kitty in the Times today.

CRIS : You know what else they found? They found like 37 or 39 horse legs in a peace symbol.

VIII. HOW IT'S DONE

CURT : If we play something through the first time-

CRIS : -it's worked itself out.

DERRICK : We'd rather have it work itself out. We've always like not cooperated, and that's been a real big plus. We just sort of let it all fall together, let our personalities dissolve into one when we play, don't talk about it.

CURT : Cris and I have played guitars long enough to be able to pick out anything.

DERRICK : Yeah, they're brothers so they have biological earthy energy that they share.

IX. PHILOSOPHY I

CURT : We were having a group smoke one day, and we decided that we hated everything and that these people that that we didn't know had the biggest motor ever that was like invented at the beginning of time or in the forties sometime. And we decided what we should do was quit playing music and stat sending out these, y'know, start trying to,y'know, quit trying to steal other people's girlfriends with our music and try to send the message to these people that we didn't know that they should like go ahead and push that button and demonstrate that big motor to us.

X. PHILOSOPHY II

CURT : Face to face in person i can talk people into stepping in front of moving vehicles and stuff like that.

(from NO MAG 1982)