Two Interviews From the Early 80s

by Derrick Bostrom in

Now that they've been out working in the limelight for a couple years, our old pals the Kirkwood brothers are once again delivering the goods on the interview circuit. This has been a welcome development for Meat Puppets fans of all stripe. Even if you no longer care for the music, the Kirkwood ink can still hold the power to inspire, enthrall and sometime even frighten -- especially if you're the interviewer. One thing's certain about these two, when they go on tour, they like to leave their internal editor at home. You never know what they might say. The most important job of the journalist in attendance is to keep his head down and try to stay out of the way.

When I put together the "Classic Puppets" retrospective for Rykodisk, I excerpted extensively from my collection of print interviews, creating in effect a chronological collage of quixotic quotes (sorry), but I've barely begun to delve into those interviews in my collection taped from the radio. With this post, I attempt to work on this imbalance with a couple of recordings from the early 80s.

The first one is from Corvalis, Oregon, during our tour with Black Flag in the summer of 1983. Flag bassist Chuck Dukowski and I do most of the talking. Chuck slides comfortably into the alpha chair at first, not realizing that the Puppets don't ever willingly relinquish the spotlight. It doesn't take long before both Kirkwoods work to challenge the Black Flag dominance. For my part, I'm content to just hang out with Chuck and enjoy his rap (if you've ever witnessed it, you know what I mean). But almost immediately Curt steps in: "I'd just like to say that I'm not happy to be here and I think you're all fucked."

This was Curt's only on-mike contribution, but it sets the tone for the rest of the session: it prompted an angry call from the station manager who got Curt on the phone (off the air) and bawled him out personally. Cris takes a more effective approach, going out to the pay phone in the parking lot and placing a prank call to the station. At first, the Flag guys think it's one of their own crew. But when they fail to recognize the voice, they assume it's a legitimate caller. Cris leaves both Chuck and drummer Bill speechless.

The second interview takes place in NYC during the fall of 1984. Curt had tried to find something to eat before the interview, but there hadn't been time. The deejay takes it lightly, saying we have "more important business" to attend to. But as we were to learn in later years, to ignore Curt's ectomorphic calls for food was to risk sending him into a blind torrent of abusive rage. But he manages to hold it together here long enough to offer one memorable quip. When the deejay prods him to admit that he drops acid on stage, Curt replies, "the only liberties we take with our freedom is to occasionally inflate our tires with milk."

In both interviews, it's clear that Bostrom is a poor comedian. He seems content to believe that people actually want to hear about the band's history, and he goes about trying to pass on the correct details. The Kirkwoods obviously find this approach tiresome, and actively work to keep the facts succinctly soundbytable, so as to leave more room for zaniness. And the zaniness continues right up to this day.


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A Few Syndicated Radio Show Appearances

by Derrick Bostrom in

My collection of band memorabilia contains a staggering amount of press. The Meat Puppets released quite a few albums, but all the interviews that appeared over the years could fill twice as many thick tomes.

We did a lot of radio interviews over the years as well, including a sweet handful of live-in-the-studio performaces. But once we got involved with Polygram, these became fairly regular occurances. After we mastered the "unplugged" approach, we were able to do even more of them. "Radio Meat," which can be found at the Wohlers archive is the best example of these. Originally broadcast on WBAI-FM in New York City, Polygram released the entire show on a promotional cassette.

I recently found a small cache of nationally syndicated shows on CD, some of which revealed some real treasures. They vary in length in quality; some of them are funny, some of them are grumpy, but some of them are as good as anything we released. One thing that strikes me about these shows is how odd "alternative" content sounds in such a mainstream format. While I hesitate to question the sincerity of anyone invovled (Yours Truly excepted, of course), to my ears the entire effort comes off as craven, clueless and condescending.

Whatever; it's still cool stuff. Special thanks to Tom Quitasol for sending me the disk with "It's A Small World," which I don't remember at all.

(Note: Please be advised that this is a large file, and some ‘net connections will be unable to handle it. The file has been tested on both Macintosh and Windows platforms and it work fine. Files on this site are presented “as is.” I can’t offer tech support, nor can I mail them to folks unable to download them. Let the browser beware.)

DOWNLOAD (68 mg)

Best Of College Radio - 1991: "It's A Small World"

TDK New Music Report - 1991: "Charles In Charge," guest deejays, interview, "That's How It Goes"

Brave New Radio - July 1994: Why," "Oh Me," "Confusion Fog," interview

Spin Radio - 1994: Interview w/ Cris & Curt

Concrete - Oct 1995: Tour anecdote by Curt

Static - Fall 1995: "Predator," interview

The Second Year

by Derrick Bostrom in

Here is the second part of the band history I wrote about fifteen years ago. Part one can be found here. Unfortunately, I only made it about a paragraph into part three before I  had to return the computer I was using. I've been trying to get back into the flow ever since.

The Meat Puppets celebrated their first anniversary with little to show for it. When the Star System closed, Phoenix punks lost their only regular hangout. We'd played in an old barn under the freeway on New Year's Eve, but that had been torn down. We did an outside gig for a record store grand opening, but the owner had torched the place for insurance soon afterward. We even did a one-off  Saturday afternoon performance at a school for retarded children.

We even lost our rehearsal space in January after my mom's divorce had become final and my family moved to a quieter neighborhood. We tried using Cris and Curt's mom's house, but she was clearly not into it. Every time I came over to practice, she managed to find a day's worth of chores for us to do. Finally, we moved into a friend's basement. That solved our problems for a while, until one night someone let the air out of all my tires.

Meanwhile, we continued to make periodic visits to Los Angeles, playing with either Monitor or the Human Hands. We met Boyd Rice, who performed under the name of NON. His act consisted of plugging two noise generators into the P.A. and berating the audience over the din. One night, we met the guys from The Urinals. They invited us to contribute to a compilation they were putting out on their label, Happy Squid. The Los Angeles Free Music Society also wanted something for one they were doing. We recorded "H-Elenore" for Happy Squid, and gave the L.A.F.M.S. a wild version of "Meat Puppets."

While in Los Angeles, we attended a Throbbing Gristle show put on by a friend of David Wiley. Shortly before the show started, David dragged me backstage. He pushed me in front of two bald guys.

"Derrick Bostrom, meet Chuck Dukowski and Geneisis P. Orridge." Genesis took advantage of the break in conversation to walk away. Chuck fixed me with a withering smirk.

"Are you SWA?" He asked. I shrugged. Chuck excused himself.

"What was that all about?" I asked David as we returned to our seats. As the house lights dimmed, Chuck mounted the stage along with about two-dozen punkers. He asked the audience the same question he'd asked me. His cronies stood around with their arms raised in a fascist salute.

"What kind of opening band is this?" I demanded. David shook his head.

We spent most of the summer at Laurie and Steve's house in Van Nuys, where we received a crash course in trash culture. Soon we were digging Charles Manson, Annette Funicello records, and dinner fished from the bins behind the corner grocery store.

One day, Laurie asked us to record a song for their album. Though Monitor were nominally "punk," their material tended towards the atmospheric. They had only one song that "thrashed," and they could barely play it. Anyway, she said, they liked how we did it better. As payment, Monitor offered to finance the recording and release of a Meat Puppets EP on their label.

So we got up early one day, had a nice breakfast at Denny's, and drove to a studio in Silver Lake. Much to our amazement, the engineer was Ed Barger, who'd recorded Devo's first singles. Monitor's gear was already set up, so all we had to do was plug in and get comfortable. We nailed Monitor's song "Hair" in one take, as well as five of our own. We saw when we'd finished that everyone in the control room was in hysterics.

Our record did better than we'd hoped, selling out the initial one thousand copies and two additional pressings of five hundred each. It got great reviews and was even called "commercial" by one publication. Laurie bought a half-page ad in "Flipside" magazine and wrote a glowing piece about us in the concert review section.

Back in Phoenix, the club situation continued to be unstable. The Solid Gold, a converted movie theater in Scottsdale, lasted less than three months. Next was a gay bar called the Mardi Gras. The clientele got on well with the punks, the employees were friendly, and the owner was cool. But after only three weekends, the place burned to the ground. 

One night we all got together at John and Gary from Killer Pussy's house to meet a new guy and discuss his plans to put on shows at an old wrestling arena owned by his family. Tony Victor was about our age, and while his air was friendly enough, the purpose of his visit was clearly business. He outlined the details of his club, Madison Square Garden, and his promotion company, Mersey Productions.

"We won't serve liquor so we'll be able to admit kids without any hassles from the police," Tony explained, "and my uncle has a karate school, so bouncers won't be a problem."

We were all pretty amused by the formality of his presentation, especially after he produced contracts formalizing our agreement to perform at his club a month hence.

"See you in court!" Gary hooted as Tony made his exit.

Mad Garden was a cavernous old building in downtown Phoenix. We played in the wrestling ring in the center of the room. It was surround by a chain link fence that hung from the ceiling, and the stage bounced us around like a trampoline. The gig came off without a hitch and no one got sued.

A couple of months later, I got a call from Joe Carducci, whom we'd met during a trip to San Francisco. He and his partner Jon Boshard had put out a record by Monitor on their label, Thermidor, a surf 45 released under the pseudonym "The Tikis."

Thermidor was interested in doing a Meat Puppets album. However, Joe explained, he was moving to L.A. to work for Black Flag's label, SST. So, while Thermidor would finance the record, SST would get the license to release it. SST would handle the distribution, and Joe would oversee the promotion.

The necessary arrangements were made, and that November we found ourselves in the studio with Black Flag's engineer SPOT. The sessions were tedious from the start. Cris and Curt were uncomfortable wearing headphones, so we set up all the equipment together in the same room. We would sacrifice separation for a live feel. It took us three different sessions to get takes we liked.

Chuck Dukowski and Greg Ginn, Black Flag's bassist and guitarist, helped set the stage several nights before, during a radio interview. Identifying themselves as the leaders of "this whole movement," thye proceeded to catalog our failures. Our name wasn't sexy, our look was wrong, our songs didn't adhere to the formula, and our execution was unintelligible.

"What are these guys trying to prove?" said Chuck. "Do they think people are going to respect this? No way."

"But wait a minute," the host exclaimed. "Aren't they going to be recording for your label?"

"We're obligated by contract," said Greg.

They were joking, but it seemed some of the camp followers, weren't so sure. The various teenage hangers-on that crowded the SST compound didn't know what to make of us. Our long hair did nothing to ease their suspicions. So, after we recorded fourteen songs, we left Laurie to supervise the mix-down and beat a hasty retreat back to Phoenix.

In the ensuing months, we would come to regret that decision.

The First Year

by Derrick Bostrom in

I originally wrote this in the early 90s on some crazy old computer I borrowed from my brother. It had gold text on a black screen and held only four pages of text before it maxed out its memory (there was no hard drive). I would then have to print my work out on a dot matrix printer, delete and start over.

When I posted this about 7 years ago on an early incarnation of this Web site, I edited it heavily, removing the parts I no longer liked, but not actually rewriting anything. Thus, it has a choppy, artificial quality, like an extended outline (which it essentially is). All I was trying to do initially was see how much information I transmit using dialogue instead of description. The whole exercise strikes me as awkward now, but the history is still accurate.

"Cris and I went to see Iggy Pop last night," Curt said.

"Really! How was it?"

"Great!" Curt replied as he loaded up another hit. "The guitarist was incredible."

"That was Brian James!" I gushed as I rushed to a stack of records in the corner. "The original guitarist for the Damned!" I put the first Damned album on the stereo.

"Man," I said, "You and Cris ought to learn some of these songs and we could get together and play them."

" I already know how they go," said Curt. "They're so simple, I could play them in my sleep." He picked up my brother's guitar and showed me the chord changes to "New Rose" and "See Her Tonite." He plugged the guitar in while I got behind the drum kit and we jammed for about a half and hour.

"You gotta get Cris over here!" I panted.

Iggy Pop returned to Phoenix later that spring, but this time Brian James wasn't with him. Instead, Phoenix's own Feederz were the opening act. Their leader, Frank Discussion, had gotten married that afternoon. Sitting at a table across the dance floor was David Wiley. Three years earlier, David was singing for the Consumerz and we became friends. The band had broken up, and David had moved to Los Angeles, joining a band called the Human Hands. Now he was back in Phoenix for the wedding. I wasted no time telling them about my new band.

"What are your songs like?" David asked.

"Oh, we just do covers right now," I said.

He was unimpressed. "Gotta do originals. Send me a tape when you write some and maybe I can get you some shows in Los Angeles."

Cris and I got together a couple of days after that to address the problem. First we tried pulling chord names out of a hat, and when that didn't work we made a few overdubbed improvisations and tried fitting melodies on top of them. Finally Cris came up with a bass riff, and while he worked on a guitar part, I figured out some lyrics. Thus, "In a Car" was born. It was actually our fourth original. The first three, "Neutral", "Rodeo" and "Fetus In Pus Sauce" were simple instrumental exercises had all contributed to. Each had a part A, a part B, and a part C, and we practiced them regularly, but we weren't very enthusiastic about them. "In a Car" was our first "song" song.

The originals came easier after that. Curt would usually come over with a lick or two and we would wed them to some of the punk doggerel I'd jotted down the night before. The results were encouraging. We wrote "Reward", "Playing Dead", "Blue Green God", "Love Offering", "Saturday Morning", "Litter Box", "Unpleasant", "Electromud" and others this way.

Soon, Curt was writing his own lyrics to songs like "Big House", "Dolphin Field", "Playing Dead", and "H-Elenore." The song "Meat Puppets" never really had any set lyrics. Curt would just extrapolate while we played it.

"That's it!" I exclaimed when I heard the song title, "That's what we'll call the band!"

Aside from the occasional private party, punk bands still had no place to play in Phoenix. We spent most of our time at our friend Darrell's house making recordings. Darrell had a makeshift home studio: a four track tape recorder, a mixing board, and enough microphones to set around us as we played. By the time we found a club in Tucson putting on punk rock concerts, we had enough material for a killer demo. Soon we scheduled our first professional gig.

"The first thing we have to do is make flyers," I told the brothers. We had dozens of notebooks full of drawings, so we spent the day tearing out fifty or so pages and adding the pertinent information.

"Now what'll we do?" asked Cris when we finished.

"We could take them around to record stores," I suggested.

"Fuck that," said Curt, "It's too much effort, and besides, the gig's not even in this town."

"We could take them to the Hate House," I said. The Hate House, a private residence in downtown Phoenix, was the foremost local punk hangout and shooting gallery.

"I'm not going in there," said Cris.

"We don't know any of those people," said Curt.

"We don't have to go in, " I answered. "We'll just drive past and throw the flyers on the front lawn!"

The Kirkwoods agreed, so we drove over and delivered our message under cover of darkness.

The three of us decided to drive down to Tucson the night before the show. We were too excited to sleep anyway. We spent the day bumming around the university, taking catnaps in the student union, and posting the rest of our handmade flyers around the vicinity of the club (much to the annoyance of the local merchants). That night, the club was packed with packed with our friends, the Hate House contingent, and a healthy Tucson turnout. The only hitch came when a disgruntled local threw a beer bottle through my bass drum, forcing us to end our set with a ten minute noise jam.

A few days later I got a call from David Wiley. I told him all about the show.

"It was a total blast!" I exclaimed. "We played everything three times faster than we'd ever practiced it! I got so excited I bit the end of my tongue off!"

David said his band the Human Hands were coming to the Star System, a Phoenix club that was starting to import bands from Los Angeles. He wanted me to make a flyer for him.

"Are we on the bill?" I asked.

"No, the club already had someone booked," He told me. "But there's a party afterward that you can play at."

So we made our home town debut at four in the morning in an abandoned downtown warehouse using the Human Hands' equipment. It wasn't as fun as in Tucson. We were uncomfortable with the gear and the audience sat on the floor and talked through the whole performance.

Soon after, David arranged our first show on the west coast. We opened for the Mentors, a misogynist outfit fronted by a local luminary known as El Duce, and 45 Grave, a group of expatriate Phoenicians.

The next day, David took us out to a suburban house in Van Nuys and introduced us to Monitor.

Our two bands were scheduled to play together back in Phoenix the following evening at the Star System, so we arranged to caravan together across the desert. Monitor turned out to be great, instantly becoming my favorite band. After the show, I say behind the club with Keith and Michael, embarrassing them with praise.

"I just wish you had played longer than thirty-five minutes," I told them.

"We can't" replied Michael. "We only know ten songs."

Just then, Steve and Laurie walked up. Steve was carrying a sock.

"Well folks," He said, dumping the sock out onto the hood of their car, "this club is now officially out of business. We just drove all this way to play for sixteen dollars and forty-seven cents in change."

Meat Puppets 1980-1996

by Derrick Bostrom in

For fifteen years Curt Kirkwood, his brother Cris and I pursued a uniquely personal vision of whimsy, chaos and musical glory. Resisting both easy stylistic categorization and accepted standards of professionalism, we hammered together an uncompromising approach to indie rock that won us a legion of devoted followers. (Well, several brigades at least -- certainly a division.) So what if our managers, our record labels, the media and the rest of the real world saw us as just another willfully sloppy trio of drug addicts intent on squandering opportunities for the big cash-in? We had stars in our eyes and our eyes on the stars, and it was our very misanthropy that propelled us into orbit.

In the ten-plus years since its debut, has been a promotional tool, a joke book, a spin generator and even a field of flame battle. And now it’s an historical archive, a place to share personal reflections and items from my collection. As such, this site drops all pretense of representing an “official” program of fan outreach, and I as an individual don’t claim to offer anything other than my own perspective on the days of the original trio.

So that’s the content disclaimer. Here’s the technical one. I’ve tested the software that runs this site on most but not all modern browsers. In the process I’ve managed to break it on several occasions, and I’m sure I’ll do it again. If you’re not loving your user experience, either check back later, or better yet upgrade to the latest and greatest browser of your choice.

Comments are welcome, and comments are turned on. Most but not all hate mail will be moderated into oblivion. I’m not offering a public forum for anyone with an axe to grind but myself. And while we’re on that subject, be sure to check out my personal blog in the next directory over. You also might enjoy the Meat Puppets discussion group at Yahoo.