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By Lauren Wise
Across the street from a Valley golf course with winter-brown grass, behind a white wall that probably keeps in more than it keeps out, is the low-slung, spacious home of Curt Kirkwood.
That's Curt Kirkwood--father of twins, fearless interviewee, marijuana enthusiast, Meat Puppet.
A pit bull is standing out by the swimming pool, looking through the glass doors--at what? The massive plastic head of Buster Brown up on a shelf? The old acoustic guitar propped against the wall? Or maybe at his master; Kirkwood sits back on the couch sipping coffee, bong at the ready.
It's a nice place, chez Kirkwood, but this is not the home of a famous rock star. Don't be fooled by the diehard international Puppets fan base, by the MTV hobnobbing with Nirvana, by the near decade and a half his band has survived.
"We're not famous," says Kirkwood in a tone more confident than bitter. "I don't think we're famous anywhere. We're not on the tip of everybody's tongue. Money's not pouring into our larders. I've seen famous people; they can pay their bills. We're not famous."
He takes a delicate nip of coffee; leaning forward on the couch, he seems all knees and elbows. Hair ponytailed, glasses round and rimless, Kirkwood speaks with a thoughtful, laid-back intensity that is almost professorial. And he says "fucking" a lot.
"I know that [fame] can happen eventually, but I think you're really just responsible to who you are," he offers. "That's why interviews are fun, cause I don't really have to be artistically responsible in an interview; I can stand on my work. I can be as oblique as I want about who I am and what my public image is. I can say anything; it actually serves the mystery to try and be more descriptive and be hypocritical. It's all in the realm of humor; we're not talking about fucking atomic weapons here; we're musicians. I'm a fucking bone brain in a lot of ways . . . all it means is you better be able to stand up for what you say. It's like, if you're out there peddling rabbits and someone gets ptomaine poisoning from eating one of em, you're going to have to atone for it."
Given that disclaimer, here're a few ptomaine-free facts: Kirkwood, 35, his brother, Cris, and Derrick Bostrom started the band 14 years ago, back in the hazy days of punk rock--or was it New Wave?--certainly a long time before "alternative" became a blurred catch phrase encompassing everything from Sting to the Revolting Cocks.
And while the evolution of categories has placed the Meat Puppets among the "a"-word crowd, the band is still creating music that's uniquely its own. Main songwriter Curt Kirkwood can turn out tunes with pop hooks that smack of Herman's Hermits simplicity and that have the lyrical sensitivity and melody of Lennon's and McCartney's best solo stuff. The Kirkwood brothers harmonize as only brothers can--like stoned Everlys--their voices separate but equal.
All of this is there within the laser grooves of the Puppets' eighth and latest release, Too High to Die, produced by Butthole Surfer Paul Leary. It's the best kind of album, one that grows on you. "Severed Goddess Hand," "Shine," "Roof With a Hole," Cris' "Station" and "Backwater" (the one you hear on the radio) are songs that simply won't let you down. Listen to em driving in your car at 4 miles per hour, while varnishing your boat, or just sitting somewhere, day or night. The Meat Puppets' music fits anywhere, because it's not an exact thing.
Which is maybe because Curt Kirkwood is not an exact fellow; the question is perhaps not what makes him tick, but what makes him tock. "I thrive on negativity, and I'm just filled with hatred," he says, practicing the art of being oblique in an interview. "That's probably one of my main motivations; it always has been. Spite and revenge." Hey, sounds like an Elvis Costello quote, circa 77. But maybe it's the reefer talking.
And this hatred is for? "Anything and everything. Just totally lashing out, Nineties style; irrational violent tendencies." Kirkwood says the sheer quantity of lashings-out has left him unable to remember his last act of physical violence, but that he tries to engage in "at least one a day." Like taking vitamins.
But it doesn't stop there for the poor, tortured artist. "I'm in a constant state of mental violence," he explains, face as straight as the road to redemption. "That's not to say I'm an aggressive person; I'm not. I come to the arts from a humanitarian angle, and I come to it with an open heart, and that's what I feel. When I go to the grocery store, I'm on an artistic mission. I'm there to buy food, but there's a lot more going on. I have wars with people in the aisles, cyberwars. Over the fucking macaroni and cheese. It's a scummy fucking world, but I find it refreshing and beautiful. In the face of oblivion, what else is there?" Television, of course. Kirkwood admits to watching late-night TV "on the zombie channel," and says he likes MTV as much as "any of the Ron Popeil infomercials."