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The early years are thick with incident: going on pioneering cross-country tours with Black Flag, getting flipped off by the punkers. Even with Rollins on defense ("Someone had crushed a bunch of beer cans and was getting ready to throw them at them. I waited until he was pulling his arm back, and then took him down"), these were bruising encounters, characterized by Curt Kirkwood as "early Roadhouse stuff." Flea, one of Too High To Die's star witnesses, recalls Curt warning an audience in LA, "If any of you motherfuckers come up on this stage and start doing your fucking stupid punk-rock shit, you're going to get my guitar on the side of your head. I'll bash your fucking brains in!" And then being obliged, a few lazy bars of "Up on the Sun" later, to do just that. Sounds rough, sounds unconducive to beauty, but . . . am I getting old, or might today's up-and-comers benefit from some of this action — from forging their art in the crucible of loogies? Crushed beer cans like ninja stars, hurled at the head of the latest sensitive soul. I'm getting old.

Drugs, drugs, drugs. How else can we account for the red-eyed perversity that saw the Meat Puppets, on Mirage and Monsters, ditch Bostrom's beats in favor of a drum machine? The trippy '80s become the powdery '90s, and a wave of nods breaks over the scene. The Meat Puppets seem not to have had a real brother band on SST— their brother band, oddly enough, was Stone Temple Pilots, with whom they went on tour somewhere during the grunge wars, and around whom a lot of heroin was being done. For Cris Kirkwood in particular this was a double disaster: "I think some of it on my part was having worked so hard for so many years, just the way that we came up, so much of the work was done by us. We're glorified truck drivers. Van drivers. And to suddenly be on a tour bus, it was like, 'Well, that just increased the amount of time I can be completely out of my fuckin' gourd.' " His descent into junkiedom would be less of the old downward spiral, more of the shrieking Luciferian plunge. Even so, he wouldn't hit bottom for years. The wise Derrick Bostrom: "I strongly encourage all young people in bands to learn to avoid that kind of thing if they want their band to succeed. It destroyed ours."

The Meat Puppets are back now, sans Bostrom, and they still make skewed and lovely music. And Too High To Die is a fabulous read: Prato has tapped the scenesters, the old friends, the juju men, and he revels properly in the glorious and poetic testimony of the Puppets themselves. Negatives? A lack of editorial ruthlessness, resulting in too much blah. Kim Thayil (Soundgarden) seems like a nice, intelligent man, but why are there five pages about the first time he heard Meat Puppets II? Similarly, all the quotage from Buzz Osborne, Chad Channing, and Ian MacKaye, and most of the Dave Pirner, could be ditched without diminishing the book one jot. But that's the rock-band oral history for you: it spews and it sprawls, and it doesn't end where it should. Rather like the Meat Puppets.

TOO HIGH TO DIE: MEET THE MEAT PUPPETS BY GREG PRATO | LULU.COM | 396 PAGES | $24.99

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