"...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."
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.
The following story is another excerpt from my piece in "Tales from the Rock N Roll Highway" by Marley Brant.
Unfortunately, this was not our only run-in with international authorities. Since my passport was not revoked, my band mates and I managed to get ourselves to another border: the gateway from Switzerland into Italy. I was no longer using controlled substances to enhance either my performances or any other aspect of my life. But on our little tour bus, I was definitely in the minority. We’d had no problems previously in any other part of the European Community, so our border preparations had grown somewhat lax. The designated smugglers just kept their stashes in their hands, figuring they’d just fake-cough their way out of any trouble. But the Italians were on to our tricks, and they were quick about it. They had the cuffs on before anyone got their hands anywhere near their mouths.
The stash was discovered. And this time we were at a greater disadvantage than with the Canadians, with whom, for the most part, we still share a common language. Here, on the edge of the Italian Alps, we could barely communicate with our captors. We were searched, of course, as was our vehicle, but no other drugs were found. However, when our merchandise woman was discovered in possession of several thousand dollars worth of tee shirt sales, she was suddenly separated from the rest of our party. Later, she told us she had been taken back on our tour bus where she was not only relieved of all the cash, but crudely propositioned as well.
Our entourage was herded into a small hallway off the main border kiosk, where we waited for the better part of an hour. Then three teenaged girls entered the room. They carried on a brief conversation in Italian with the highest-ranking guard, and then they left. We were released shortly thereafter, without our tee shirt money, and without the necessary stamps on our passports. (Because of this, we had to bribe our way out of the country a week later.)
Luckily, the guards had left our equipment intact, but just the same, we were way behind schedule. Or so we thought. We sped the rest of the way into town, arriving at the club in a panic, but the promoter just shrugged. “You’re early,” he said. “They must have actually found something on you at the border.” It turns out, the guards would routinely detain bands for as long is it took to shake them down. If they discovered something quick, you could be on your way in an hour or so. If not, you could be there for a lot longer. And if you were foolish enough to arrive with no contraband at all, it was so much the worse. You would then have no control over what they “found.”
But I always wondered about those three girls. The best I can figure is that they were daughters of the highest-ranking guard. At first, I decided he had been making an example of us, of what can happen to those who choose the path of the illicit drug abuser. But later, it occurred to me that these guards saw bands come through all the time. Maybe they had called the girls in to see if perhaps we were a group they’d heard of. Who knows? Maybe if we were cuter, or could play better, or could write hit songs, the girls would have taken pity on us, and we might have been allowed to keep some of our tee shirt money.
The following story is an excerpt from my piece in "Tales from the Rock N Roll Highway" by Marley Brant.
For even the most seasoned touring band, the long cross-country drives can get pretty monotonous. All you see is mile after mile of the same countryside, the same restaurant chains and the same crappy coffee to keep you awake. Not to mention the same smelly, crabby, hung-over companions. But things pick up a bit when you have to cross an international border. Life takes on a heretofore unfelt urgency. Lethargy gives way to desperate scurrying, futile cleaning and furtive inserting. Even waiting in long lines takes on a feverish intensity.
I recall one such crossing into Canada. It was my turn to hold that night’s worth of marijuana (which we refused to forgo for even a single show). Things went smoothly at first. We pulled up to the border, waited our turn, presented our identification, endured the standard snide comments about our band name, and submitted to the customary search of our vehicle. But something suspicious turned up in a suitcase, a sticky leaf, a green crumb, something. We were informed that we were to be strip-searched. The border guards said it would go much easier for us if we just gave up whatever we had, but I was damned if I was going to help them incriminate me. Besides, how much help did they really need? The weed was right there in my jacket pocket. They had no trouble finding it all by themselves.
For the first time in my life, I found myself in a room locked from the outside. As I sat there, deprived of my physical freedom, I suddenly found myself in the grip of primal urges. The door to my room had a window that looked out on to the hallway, and I began leering with uncharacteristic brazenness at any female officer or government employee that happened past. Finally, some guy came in and told me to sit down and get away from the window. Meanwhile, the authorities conducted a thorough search of our vehicle and belongings. They hadn’t yet found enough contraband to make a proper arrest. But they had more than enough to allow them to terrorize me. I’d never again be allowed into their country; I’d have my passport revoked altogether. I would henceforth be unable to make a living. This was okay with me, for I was sick of touring anyway.
But after their search turned up nothing else illegal, the guards were obliged to let us go. But there were consequences nonetheless. We arrived at the club far too late for a sound check; we had barely enough time to set up our equipment before we were scheduled to go on. There, in front of a packed house at one of Toronto’s most fashionable showcase lounges, we learned that the frustrated border guards had stolen the tubes out of our amplifiers. After a long delay and much yelling and stumbling around, we used the opening band’s equipment and played a decidedly inferior set.
We never got another shot at a club in Toronto of that size. Most of the people who’d shown up that night elected never to do so again, and henceforth we were relegated to smaller bars on the other side of town. Of course, it’s always possible that audience might not have liked us even at our best, but I guess we’ll never know.
The Meat Puppets were between record labels in the summer or 1990. Our relationship with SST was effectively over, but our Polygram deal was still in the negotiation stages. Hence, we spun our wheels, unable to record, unable to tour, just barely making ends meet by doing local shows a couple times a month. We were as broke as we'd ever been.
We managed to catch a bone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who took us to Texas for a week. But that tour just barely broke even. I remember sitting with Cris in the van we'd rented for the trip. He was getting ready to drop it off at U-Haul, along with the last of our earnings. And he turned to me and said, "You got any buds? I'm all out."
It felt like a crushing weight bearing down on me. As bright as our future seemed, as on the verge as we were of becoming a major label force, with full access to the kind of resources a Presley or a Springsteen might enjoy, we were also trapped in a vicious web of self-medication. The procuring and ingesting of marijuana seemed to be the main glue of our lives. It defined who we were as artists, as people, and as friends. It imposed strict limits on our time, on our energy, on what we could accomplish and on who we could associate with. Not to mention our health and our pocketbooks.
It started to bother me, but the brothers couldn't understand what I was so worried about. They revelled in their substance abuse. It was part of what made them special. Back then, we liked a saying attributed to Hunter Thompson: "without drugs, I'd have the mind of a fifth-rate accountant." But to me, it felt increasingly like I was mortgaging my future.
So I quit. I gave away my stash and all my pipes, pulled up a chair and prepared for some long nights. I didn't sleep for a week. Outside, temperatures in Phoenix reached 123 degrees. I stayed indoors and tried to keep comfortable. I took a lot of cold baths. When sleep returned, I had dreadful nightmares. Freed from the hallucinatory grip of the drugs, my real emotions roared up at me. I bounced around for a couple of months, working my way through guilt, fear, rage, depression and whatever else I'd been suppressing in the decade and a half since I had first taken up the 24-7 wake-and-bake lifestyle.
As it turns out -- surprise! -- Hunter Thompson was wrong. My mind was never sharper. No longer afraid of arrest every time I left my house, I lost my second-class citizen status. My self-confidence grew by leaps and bounds and I began to get some actual traction in my life. You might say I began to resemble an actual human being!
To this day, I still feel that getting straight is the single most important thing I have ever done. That said, drug abuse is not without its rewards, at least if these droll little comics are any indication. And if a certain condescending sarcasm crept into my post-dependency contributions to the series -- well, it wasn't too high a price to pay.
Anyway, here's the second batch of Pot Comics:
I don't smoke marijuana personally. I haven't since my twenties. But there was a time when I knew the lay of the land quite well. During the 1980's the Puppets would get togther nearly every day to "practice." That is, we'd sit around, doing bongs and drawing cartoons all day. Sometimes we'd manage to sneak in an hour behind our instruments, but this was by no means a certainty.
"Pot Comics" was an idea I had about a comic only a pot smoker could love: entirely devoid of humorous entry to anyone who wasn't under the influence. It had its inspiration in my high school years, of course (where -- yes -- I actually had a friend nicknamed "Stoney;" didn't we all?), when such sentences as "what a STONED thing to say!" were commonplace. This was the 1970s, after all.
The first such comic had the punch line "whoops! Dropped the matches!" (I can no longer find this strip, but you get the idea.) I did a couple more and moved on, but the concept caught fire under Cris. Even though strip gags were not really his forte, he would just churn them out. I guess the egalitarian subjectivity of the non-humor appealed to him. Then Curt and I started doing them too, and soon we were coming up with more and more bizarre variations on the theme. Somewhere along the way, they even actually started to become funny.
When I finally gave up smoking pot, my life improved vastly as a consequence. But I'll admit I spent a lot less time sitting around drawing. So then, here is a tribute to those days when all I needed was a table, a bong and a notebook. (Nowadays, it takes two power strips worth of gizmos to acheive the same results.) These comics also give an insight into they way the interplay between the three of us would manifest itself in non-musical form. I have boxes and boxes of Puppets doodles, but this was the longest sustained running series we ever did.
Enjoy...and please don't tell the pigs.
Here are a few flyers done for us back in the early 80s by various members of Monitor, plus an ad they designed for "Flipside" magazine.
The Meat Puppets will always owe a huge debt to Monitor, who took us under their wing back when we first started visiting Los Angeles. They put us up at their house, got us gigs, fed us, and even released our first record, the "In A Car" EP. They also invited us to play on their album. Our version of their song "Hair" appears on the reissue of our first album, but unfortunately the record itself is out of print. (You can find an article I wrote about it in "Lost in the Grooves: Scram's Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed". )
I no longer recall exactly who did these flyers, though memory tells me that Laurie O'Connell and Steve Thomsen usually did the collages, while Michael Uhlenkott generally handled the drawings of skulls and tikis. You can find more examples of their fantastic work over at the Herb Lane Museum. (By the way, that single by "The Tikis" is actually Monitor under an assumed name.)
Also, be sure to check out the "Lost In The Grooves" blog over at Blogspot.
Here's a small grab-bag of things from my hard drive -- post and purge!
The first two images were sent to me recently by BrendanDeVallance. To promote our first album, we apparently took a bunch of our drawings, typed on them, addressed them and had SST foot the postage bill. Admittedly, this isn't a very stunning example of the Puppets D.I.Y. ethic, but we'd pretty much run through all our notebooks the previous year for hand drawn inserts to our "In A Car" EP. (What's odd about this item is that it's postmarked Oct 11, 1983, and it says we have an album coming out in September. But our first album came out in fall of 1982, and "Meat Puppets II" came out in the spring of 1984.)
The next picture jumps ahead more than a decade for Polygram's 1994 "Too High To Die" "munchies" tour. When that album out, we spent a couple weeks doing promtional acoustic shows for press and retail people all over the country. This was the custom swag bag attendees got. The art is by Cris and me, based on a series of comic jams called "Pot Comics," which we were doing at the time.
The coloring contest ad for "No Joke!" features a Cris drawing. Polygram also put out a small promotional coloring book of Cris art. ("Be young. Have fun. Color with Cris." WTF?)
The next three images are from the Ryko reissues campaign. The first two are a postcard and a poster. The third is a special print you got if you bought all 8 albums directly from the company. I believe most of them were autographed. (The drawing from this print was taken from a Curt drawing which had been previously used as a tee shirt we sold at concerts around 1990.)
The keychain and button are items I don't know anything about. They are either bootlegs, stragglers from the final days of our relationship with Polygram, or side licenses driven by management that I was never told about.