Back on the Sun

Brothers Curt and Cris Kirkwood's road to the Meat Puppets reunion

The next guy who calls 2007 "the year of the reunion" is gonna get his nose separated from his face. Sure, 40 years removed from the Summer of Love, it'd be nice to think there were larger Utopian forces at work beyond common greed and stalled solo careers bringing together the likes of the Police, Genesis, the Spice Girls and Smashing Pumpkins. But there ain't. And we can't even be sure that it's across-the-board hate that's fueling the reconstituted Rage Against the Machine.

But what about Curt Kirkwood calling his brother Cris and inviting him to be a Meat Puppet again after Cris' lost decade of drugs, death, and despair, which culminated in an 18-month jail sentence for attacking a retired sheriff's deputy who shot him in the back? Even odds-makers with a wicked sense of humor wouldn't entertain the probability of a Meat Puppets reunion after that. Or the likelihood that the resulting album, Rise to Your Knees, could actually be one of their best ever, combining the looseness of the early SST albums with the variety of a major-label release and a third eye fixed squarely on the future. Pretty neat for a band that's existed mostly as a faded memory for the past decade.

Speaking to both brothers just before the new album's July 17 release could restore anyone's faith that there are indeed larger forces in the universe at work. Although Cris' recovery is nothing short of miraculous, he stops short from using the obvious Phoenix-reborn description, instead preferring to see his story as the "Phoenix squirming in the ashes making digestive noises" kind.

Curt, too, seems wary of the catch-all reunion tag, as well as a few others. "I saw this coming after I got Cris back on. They'll make a pretty big deal of this," Curt says via phone from his home in Austin, Texas. "Not just Cris having been fucked up, but there's always that triumphant thing, rock bands that get old. 'Hey, we're old but we still have energy and boy, you young girls are still totally impressed.' They have to be triumphant or else they go to CMT and gain new relevance, which I'm gonna do eventually. Once I'm emboldened with a neck as long as a giraffe and I can do myself."

Oddly enough, it's almost the same analogy Cris uses to describe getting that phone call from Curt. "To have my brother back in my life, it's like dreaming you can suck your own dick. Then you actually wake up and you've got your dick in your mouth."

Sporting shorts and black, horn-rimmed glasses on this sweltering day, Cris (who lives in Phoenix with his girlfriend, ex-Flathead bassist Ruth Wilson) more resembles your goofy next-door neighbor than the "treacherous, nasty junkie who fucked everyone over" that Curt describes when it's his turn to talk about the shitty years. Thankfully, there are a lot more jokes than mea culpas in his post-recovery conversational gambits — that's the difference between going through a 12-step program to kick your demons and doing what Cris did: going cold turkey in prison.

The first time Cris tells the story of how he got shot, it's just the facts, ma'am — how he verbally abused a women who tried to steal the parking space he was going to back into, how she summoned a security guard, some shoving ensued, and then Cris took the guard's nightstick and hit him on the noggin. The tale concludes with a show-and-tell viewing of the bullet scar where the .357 slug entered his spinal cord and stayed there. The second time he tells it, the guard has an Edward G. Robinson bark and cartoon sound effects are provided. Both times, it's still his fault.

"That was fucking retarded move number whatever in a series of extremely retarded decisions over the years," he says. To this day, he can't feel his right foot or his ass cheek. "I miss my ass cheek," he sobs. "For pleasure and for my dance moves. All this just to mail a painting to some fuckin' old weenie friend of mine."

Behind bars, Cris found himself learning the subtleties of chess and playing in a band with Jerry Posin, drummer of The New Steppenwolf V, the fifth post-John Kay lineup. Cris shows a picture of himself playing upright bass, and he's so large you almost can't see the bass. Once out of prison and off junk, he began to work on the things he could control, like getting his weight down, having his teeth replaced, and repairing the rift with his family. The only family in town was Curt's 23-year-old son, Elmo. "He was playing out in his band called Kirkwood Dellinger," Cris says. "He turned into a sick guitarist. He let Curt know I was doing a lot better."

"Both of us come from tough stock," Curt says. "My parents were real stick-your-chin-out-and-dare-people-to-smack-you type of people. I'm like that. This whole experience has brought him up to speed of what he has inside him and how to use it properly. Cris has always been so open-hearted and willing to share, so when he got let down by people, he started getting nasty, and I had to write him off as dead. Which is what you do with junkies unless you're an idiot.

"I never intended for the band to go away, which is why I kept it up with the band in Texas," says Curt, who already had written 90 percent of the new Meat Puppets material before re-enlisting Cris. "This is like our campfire record. Songs you can just play and hear the crackling of the fire. I threw in the occasional rocking song because it had a similar vibe, like 'Disappear,' which was originally a tribute to Fred Savage."

Huh? "It's basically a TV Guide interview with Fred Savage, but only the Fred Savage parts," Curt says. "Over time, it developed into this song about yetis and cryptozoology. That's my interpretation of it. "

The new record is a one-off with Anodyne, an indie label Curt chose because they agreed to put the record out without hearing a note. And it's the Meat Puppets as nature intended, "banging the shit out in a week's time," Cris says. "That's the way we did records like Up on the Sun. It's different 'cause Derrick [Bostrom]'s not there. I miss Derrick. He's a wonderful guy." The original drummer for the band, Bostrom declined to participate in the new Puppets record, but as luck would have it, drummer Ted Marcus was doing lighting for a documentary being filmed about the Kirkwood brothers and just happened to click when he sat behind the drums.

The band recently played some shows at the South By Southwest (SXSW) music festival, and took a brief West Coast jaunt. According to Cris, the audiences were a mix of old fans happy to see things all worked out and young fans who probably have no idea what the band has gone through. For them, he has an alternate history of the past 10 years.

"Let's see . . . there was our late '90s rap album that got lost in a downloading power outage," he deadpans. "Then there was our boy band album. That one we had to scrap for legal reasons and move to the Cayman Islands. That's where I've been livin' for the last 10 years. But this album, this one is really for the kids."

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