In response to last month's post about Tom Troccoli, Tom himself has added a Meat Puppets page to his site. There, he describes his first encounter with this odd group of desert punks. He also alludes to the strong feelings those memories still hold for him. Tom's sharp memory, good eye for detail and quirky use of the occasional all-caps makes for entertaining reading.
Even better, he passed along his collection of Meat Puppets photos and his permission for me to share them. These smudged, aging poloroids document the ten weeks we spent on tour with Black Flag and the Nig Heist back in 1984. I hadn't seen these pix in two decades, and they really take me back. I don't recall ever being that young.
These days, I work with a lot of young people. I always encourage them to think hard about their future and not to take it for granted. But there's not a one of them who wouldn't quit their jobs in a heartbeat if they had the chance to go on the road for two and a half months. These pix bear out that dream pretty well.
We had only two days off, we slept on the floors of strangers and we were making twenty-five bucks a night. We endured arrests, snowstorms and those annoying huge pots of spagetti the promoters would make to feed us all. (You haven't lived until you try to serve yourself a plate of overcooked pasta while Rollins glowers over you, making sure you don't take more than he feels you deserve.) But what 23-year-old could pass up the opportunity to drive across the country, put on eye-liner and pose in front of a Detroit tenement?
Tom offered a selection of descriptive comments to go with some of his favorites from this collection:
Photo #2: "Check the expressions on the folks BEHIND you! This is at a McDonald's at Niagra Falls New York a few hours before crossing the border and we have ingested anything possibly contraband. Clearly, the effects are taking hold."
Photo #3: "You MADE me shoot this one AS Bostrom being Elvis circa 1972 Madison Square Garden post-gig. This is maybe my all-time favorite picture of you. It PERFECTLY captures the humor and spirit I best remember in you."
Photo #6 : "We made a gag out of claiming you were Raymond's model for the My War cover, and here Davo is NOT trying to knife you (yet), but emulating the sleeve. This was the same Denny's the three of you tipped the waitress by dumping your half filled plates on the rug under the table."
#7: "I'm overhead. Cris has tossed himself backwards into the crowd and is being supported by the fans. Somewhere I have a photocopy of a contact sheet from ANOTHER photog. He snapped one at the EXACT moment I snapped mine, and you can see me hovering over the crowd with Polaroid. This one's D.C."
Photo #14: "This is the exact moment I came running out to the van in Atlanta with the latest ish of Rolling Stone awarding you (and The Minutemen) 4 Stars for MP II. YOU may have snapped this one."
Photo #15: "Right outside Birmingham Alabama. I had just that moment heard the news that Marvin Gaye Sr. had murdered Marvin Gaye Jr., rolled down the window, shouted the news, and clicked the shot."
Photo #16: "We each took one of each other being blasted in the head full on by the Surfer. I can't find the one you took of me. That one's Atlanta."
Our previous post about the rigors of major label life garnered a lively and lengthy discussion. One of the highlights was this anecdote by Kevin, which he has been good enough to augment with some Flickr photos (taken by either Ken Kelly or Patti Torno; he wasn't sure which).
The stories of end of gig mayhem reminded me of one of my favorite Puppet shows. It was the “Forbidden Places” tour in Athens Ga at the new big 40 Watt Club. This may have even been the first big show there. They came out blazing, absolutely tearing it up. Everyone in the place seemed to be knocked back by the force of the music, literally. I’d already seen them many times before and this was shaping up to be the best show I’d ever seen.
Unfortunately the new PA could not handle it and it cut out completely. As the soundmen worked frantically to fix the problem the Puppets tried to soldier on, playing instrumentals with their amps turned up. Maybe “Six Gallon Pie” or “Flight of the Fire Weasel,” those kinds of guitar solo pieces. After a few minutes they realized it wasn’t working (no drums!) and completely devolved into noise. Curt threw his Les Paul into the crowd, turned up his amp and went to work on his Morely echo pedal. You know the sound. Cris, of course, went crazy throwing his bass around and eventually smashing it on the ceiling, shattering the flourescent lights above the stage. At that point he gave up on the bass and shakily climbed his amps, ending up swinging from the stage lighting truss directly above our hero Derrick. Derrick had been pounding out a nice beat behind the noise, but at this point he saw Cris dangling above him and ran out front. Smart considering what happened to Curtis Mayfield. If I remember correctly Derrick then grabbed the guitar or operated the pedals, he continued to make a contribution at any rate. At some point a couple of streakers ran out, hugged the band and then dashed off. The crowd was screaming the whole time, completely caught up in the chaos.
Finally the club workers ushered the band off stage to deal with the problem. Cris came back out with a cooler from backstage and started to hand out the contents. Eventually the PA was restored to a semi functional state and the band came back out, playing a more standard set ending with an “I Wanna Be Your Dog” jam with the openers Scrawl onstage.
Not a bad way to usher in the start of the major label Puppets, at least for fans like us.
Attending that particular Athens show was famous actress, local celebrity and girlfriend of Batman, Kim Bassinger. She was also friends with one of the owners of the club, REM’s Pete Buck. I introduced myself to her before the gig and thanked her for coming. However, she was forced to flee the premisis in the ensuing mele. As Kevin remembers it, "She took off in a hurry. I was at the side of the stage (stage left) and saw her being ushered out like it was a terrorist attack."
By 1982, the Meat Puppets were all living together: dogs, girlfriends, hangers-on (i.e. drummers), all of squeezed into one little house in Phoenix's historic Fairview district. None of us worked (well, the girlfriends did, but that stopped shortly after they moved in). I slept in the practice room behind the drums and subsisted on coins cadged from under the sofa cushions.
In the fall, we all moved clear out to Peoria. We stayed there until Curt's twins were born, after which I moved back in with my mom and everybody else relocated closer to the center of town. The first two of these pix are from the Peoria compound. Note the three-foot high dead weeds behind us in the first photo.
The next two were taken the same year on a couple different west coast tours. I don't remember the location of the waterfall (probably somewhere around Yosemite), but I know the book I'm holding is about Elvis. The target practice took place on a mountain near Bakersfield. Our van got stuck on the way back down, so I had to walk a couple hours to a filling station for a tow.
The next two pix are from a 1985 visit to Graceland. That's me at the King's graveside, and that's Cris across the street in the gift shop that had Elvis' plane in front of it. I bought a cool shirt with the TCB logo on it. I still have the shirt, but it no longer fits.
Eventually, we all moved down to Tempe and wound up in separate houses. But we were still within walking distance of each other. Basically, we lived in each others laps for about a dozen years. Curt eventually moved to California, settling finally in Texas.
The final pic was taken in New York, at the party where we received our gold records for "Too High To Die." I still have mine; it hangs in the back bedroom, right under my wife's college diploma.
Clearly, the Puppets were kids that any mother could love, but how much do we really know about their respective families? Did Derrick's mom also like to dress him up and pose him? Were there musical instruments lying around Cris and Curt's house as well? The answers to these questions may never be known. But what photographic evidence does reveal this much: the boys were cute when they were little.
Since these are the only six pix that I scanned from a shoot that numbered over a hundred, they must have been my favorites. The session with photographer Joseph Cultice took place in the summer of 1995, for the purpose of album and promotional art, as well as magazine covers.
We first started using Joseph around 1985. His first official placement with us was the press photography for the "Out My Way" EP in 1986. I'd like to think we had a hand in giving him his first "start" in the business, but the truth is, he would have done it with or without us. He's still out there working hard, and I'm happy to say that he's so successful that he doesn't even need to post any of his old Meat Puppets work on his Web site.
We continue now to post and purge the various odds and ends found in the various directories on my hard drive.
The first one is by Rusty Pusser. I'm pretty sure the next two were taken by Naomi Petersen. The next is by Renata Golden. The second to last, with Curt in the straw cowboy hat is by Joseph Cultice. And the final one is by Brian Mahoney. Savvy owners of "Classic Puppets" will recognize three of them, and recognize the other two for the outtakes they are.