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"If you're getting old, you're getting old," says Curt Kirkwood, the 43-year-old former front man for Phoenix's pioneering Meat Puppets. He may or may not be pissed off, but he does have the green light to rant, and he's racing: "This is America. We shit on our old people here. We shit on our failures. And we shit on our heroes as soon as we can find a place to shit on. The rock 'n' roll thing is like, go ahead and die. And it's not leave a good-looking corpse,' it's like leave a corpse for everyone to shit on.' Here you go. Shit on my fucking dead body, you bunch of cock-a-roaches."
The local cult hero is moving on, and he's taking other rock 'n' roll relics with him. Kirkwood's new band, Eyes Adrift -- "This is not a supergroup," he fiercely contends -- also features Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and Sublime drummer Bud Gaugh. Each member lost bandmates one way or another to drug abuse.
Kirkwood's now-estranged brother Cris has struggled with addiction for the better part of a decade. Gaugh's front man Bradley Nowell died of a heroin overdose in 1996. And then, obviously, there's "stupid rock club" member Kurt Cobain.
The new group, which received healthy press buzz after several club shows early in the year, is now touring in support of its self-titled debut album. While it's easy to associate Kirkwood's distinct cracked monotone of a voice with the Meat Puppets, there's something new afoot, a soul chemistry more fluid than crackpot-cowboy psychedelic balladry with twangy hooks, or fuzz-blown songs about hating life and wanting to die, or dance-happy surf/skate renditions of the Jamaican two-step.
That is the news, but here is the story: Kirkwood's intense vitriol, launched from his adopted home base of Austin, Texas, lasts close to two hours, and he unloads his frustrations on life, liberty and the pursuit of music. He favors blunt, stream-of-consciousness-style outbursts -- something familiar to fans of the Meat Puppets' brand of aggressive, country-flavored punk music. He oozes arrogance, self-indulgence and cynicism. He's also funny as hell and indisputably sincere. A forefather to the golden age of America's indie underground, Kirkwood sounds like he could ramble on about any given subject for days: music, modern penance, high-tech potato guns, Walt Disney, Ayn Rand or even the recent execution of Texas death row inmate Uh-Oh the Clown. ("People who need to be clowns," Kirkwood says matter-of-factly, "are fucked.")
While he's certainly seen his share of non-clown-related death over the years -- from Cobain's 1994 suicide to his mother's loss to cancer in 1996 -- Kirkwood insists that calamity did not shape Eyes Adrift.
"We didn't get together because of our mutual tragedies," he says of his new bandmates. "I mean, this shit just keeps happening, whether you like it or not. You can't be dragged down by it, either. There's no fucking way you can get around something like the genius of Cobain -- and then he shoots himself. It's not like a phenomena that Kurt Cobain shot himself. It's bad. It's all a bad read, you know. But this isn't Survivor part two. This is reality.
"People would be bummed if the majors pushed this with Look at the rock stars and their glorious past! Come see the new Nirvana! Subvana! It's grunge-reggae!'" Kirkwood offers. "I think that people who are into any of the three bands can find something in here that they could appreciate. It's still really stylized and still very folksy, but not progressive."
The band blends roundelay piano-looped ditties ("Sleight of Hand") or glorious, guitar-sped hoe-downs ("Dottie Dawn and Julie Jewel") with relative ease. "Blind Me," written in homage to Willie Nelson and a staple at Kirkwood's solo gigs, likewise exhibits the maturity of a gifted songwriter in his prime. "Pasted," a 15-minute opus, explores a psychedelic and jam-oriented netherworld.
On "Inquiring Minds," one of three tunes sung by Novoselic, the nature of today's tabloid-fueled culture receives brutal scrutiny. Using JonBenet Ramsey's murder and the cottage industry it created as a historical flash point, Novoselic questions the media's motives of putting flowers on her grave when "all they want to do is poke around your mummy."
"JonBenet and Cobain were kinda similar," Kirkwood says. "They were both cute little blondes. It's necrophilia. It's kind of a heavy thing, so we made it a triumphant song. And you know what lives on? The absolutely mind-numbing beauty of the little girl."
Equally mind-numbing ("I'm a little tangent-oriented these days," Kirkwood concedes) is the fiery guitar slinger's sudden admission to having seen Jesus. He's absolutely serious. "I seen him in the forest at a cabin one time in North Carolina," Kirkwood says. "And I'm an atheist. But I have seen Jesus.
"What's he look like?" he continues, laughing. "Like something that I made up out of reading when I was a kid. Kinda like the mummy. I don't know. It's more of a feeling. It's like a spirit that's devout and loves. And I don't know what worship is really all about. But there's love. It exists."