Finding out what makes the Meat Puppets tick with a new oral history

They Ain't Heavy, They're the Kirkwood Brothers
By JAMES PARKER  |  May 30, 2012

DRUGS DRUGS DRUGS How else to account for the cracked beauty of Meat Puppets II — or the drum
machine on Mirage and Monsters?

As half-assed a form as it can be, the rock-band oral history is a folk form nonetheless, with a great claim to authenticity. Story by story it goes, voice by voice and mouth by ashtray mouth. The guitar dude rambles; the second drummer tells his tale. The drug-scorched roadie waxes unexpectedly bardic, ornamenting the legend in heightened tones. Democracy rules: the famous musician is a verbal dud, while the nobody from the record company turns out to be a sly and salty raconteur. Etc.

And if ever there was a band that qualified for the oral history treatment, for the anecdotal splurge and the first-person fuck-this-fuck-that, it's Arizona's Meat Puppets. Not only did this trio generate an extraordinary amount of stories through recklessness and general warped glee, they existed almost in their own stream of language: a strange, fried, elegant, innocent/corrupt, grotesquely fertile idiom that runs (still) beneath all their music and with which Greg Prato's Too High To Die is, thankfully, brimming. "I drove in there [New York City], and I liked the way people drove. I really liked the way the streets looked, all the big buildings. I didn't realize it was painted with urine at the time." Like that.

They stumbled out of the desert and into the '80s, two brothers and a drummer, gibbering longhairs nearly incapacitated, so it seemed, by their own creativity. Termite-mound boogie, shaky, desolate Neil Young chords, shimmers and spanglings of the Dead, all lashed to a chassis of bashed-to-bits punk rock — obviously they had to be on SST, at that stage America's most productively out-of-control label. Curt and Cris Kirkwood (guitar and bass, respectively) traded muzzy harmonies, crisp instrumental banter, and ding-dong fraternal vibes, while Derrick Bostrom sat on top and tapped along, left hand on the hi-hat. Then Curt would take one of his burning, doodling solos and every stricture of pitch and tempo would fall away, displaying mesas and vistas unguessed-at. Sometimes he didn't even have to solo, as in the coda to "Plateau" from Meat Puppets II — a few plucked strings, an immense and planetary chill.

II was slap-in-the-face great. It came out in 1984, part of the same evolutionary spasm that birthed Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade, the Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime, Black Flag's My War (all of them on SST). Stimulants were important, across the board. The Hüskers had their speed, Rollins his caffeine, the Minutemen ran on pot and politics, and the Meat Puppets were twisted with . . . . ecstasy? "That was another drug record," recounts Cris Kirkwood. "We knew a dude down at ASU that was a chemistry professor, and he made MDMA. We had a big fucking stack of that shit, and when we were recording we were doing gigantor rails."

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