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.