By Jeff Moses
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"I don't have any consistency with following the media at all in this business," the musician says. "I don't have a subscription to anything except Guitar Player--which I've had for 20 years. I think in the best case, people who do rock journalism enjoy music and want to write about it. In other cases, you have people who are more journalistic paparazzi and just want to take a picture of somebody's butt. But I enjoy it all. Opinions about music are like entertainment for me."
Opinions about bands are usually attendant with comparisons, something else Kirkwood doesn't put much stock in. "I don't see comparisons between any bands, generally; just the way bands proceed through the music business is always different." For example, the procession of the second-most-famous band to come out of Tempe, the Gin Blossoms.
"If you look at their story, all the different shit that's come around is, to me, so incredibly distasteful," Kirkwood says. "I haven't seen any of those guys in years, but I used to hang around with them a little bit from time to time, and they always seemed like nice guys. Then, when I read that article in Rolling Stone yesterday, it sounded really harsh for the guys that I knew. I had trouble relating to it. . . . If it's true, it's so fucking distasteful I couldn't imagine being in their shoes."
He's referring to the Doug Hopkins obituary that appeared in the February 10, 1994, issue of the magazine. It reported the firing of Hopkins and the subsequent messy business dealings between the band and the late songwriter. "It just seems like a huge burden at a time when it should all be a big party and they should be having the best time of their lives."
As the Blossoms are in the first throes of success, so, too, in a way, are the Meat Puppets. Too High is the band's second major-label release, but it could be the foot in the door of the mainstream. And the group still has its underground sensibilities. For Curt Kirkwood, the process of keeping the meat of the Puppets fresh is "organic, but I have to do things to protect it; it's not like it thrives by itself. I have to do business; it's plain old pragmatic business dealings with people. "As we've started to grow--the growth has happened really slowly for years, and in the past couple of months, it's been escalating at a pace that really shows the cracks. And there's cracks that show big-time right now. On a certain level, it's a gleeful adventure, what's happening right now, but we have to fill in those cracks, cause they could get huge." And this is one crack: trying to get his record label to hire someone to drive the band's touring vehicles. "I don't see why we shouldn't be able to; we're a fucking priority at PolyGram right now," he says, wincing. "It's one of the mysteries in my business right now." That's right, after 14 years, these guys still drive themselves. All over the world.
"We're getting ready to go out for two months [one with Blind Melon in the States and then to Europe--two weeks with Nirvana and two weeks with Soul Asylum]. That's a lot of shows, and we're driving ourselves again. And we're from Arizona. We don't know how to drive in the snow." But it's not just comfort Curt Kirkwood is after: "I've taken a Winnebago with a U-Haul off the road at 60 miles an hour cause I fell asleep," he says. "I know the difference between pampered and safety."
Mortality becomes an issue, particularly when you've got kids at home expecting daddy to come off the road in one piece. Kirkwood seems every bit the devoted father, at one point bragging with pride about the detailed brain his son Elmo has drawn over George Carlin's head on a nearby magazine cover. Home is Tempe, the town Kirkwood was raised in, and though he may gripe about it, he's as much an Arizonan as Barry Goldwater. "I'm not particularly fond of Tempe," he says. "The boring stability of this place is what I like. It enables me to work free of interference of social bullshit or civil bullshit; overtures of civility. I'm not into it. I'd rather have human contact be chosen instead of random.
"That's what I hate about East Coast cities. They have aldermen and block watch, and they have to live in each other's laps, and I just don't want to do that. I just want to live in my imagination a lot more than that. I can only handle so much, trying to lead a life doing something as fragile as keeping a music career together.