History, goes the brutal wisdom, is written by the winners. The dead cannot speak; those who come through the other side intact are, by default if not by choice, the ones left to establish and preserve the official record.
Culturally, that gnomic truth often manifests itself in the impulse to deify, the grisly and familiar process of posthumous heroification. Jim Morrison's quick ascent to the ranks of Baudelaire and Wilde, along with Elvis' transmogrification from entertainer to full-on mythic trope, are perhaps the most visible such phenomena in the history of rock music.
The bombast that follows the burnout of young talent, of course, is an especially ugly aspect of our musical culture. Yet other voices, quieter and more articulate, will have their say. "He's joined that stupid club," Kurt Cobain's mother famously judged, when informed of her son's suicide. After eight years and millions of subsequent words, that single declarative statement remains, in some ways, the most accurate summation of the event put down in cold type.
That club, the roll call of Young Dead American Talent, gained more than a few members during the 1990s. And how the list did grow. Cobain's suicide, of course, was rapidly enshrined as the archetypal flameout. But there were other names, like Sublime's Brad Nowell; Blind Melon's Shannon Hoon; the Replacements' Bob Stinson; Skinny Puppy's Dwayne Goettel; Blues Traveler's Bobby Sheehan; and Tripping Daisy's Wes Berggren.
All dead; all, to greater or lesser degrees, dope-fueled.
Curt Kirkwood, whose musical career began more than a decade before some of those musicians', never turned up on that short list. His brother Cris, however, very nearly did.
Readers of these pages will be familiar with that story, which need not be repeated. Be advised that the vicious part of it appears to be past. Cris Kirkwood still lives in Phoenix, where he keeps an understandably low profile. His long and much-publicized struggle with drug addiction is reportedly gaining tactical ground. ("He's better than he was," offers Curt. "Probably that's enough said.")
Cris Kirkwood survived. So did Curt, a wondrously gifted guitarist and songwriter, who continues to write his own history.
And on this leg of his trip, Curt Kirkwood finds himself newly accompanied by Nirvana's Krist Novoselic and Sublime's Bud Gaugh, two consummate musicians who saw their bandmates pulled under permanently. Under the name Eyes Adrift, this remarkable trio is preparing for an 11-date tour and an album release.
Proving, among other things, that surviving entitles you to add as many chapters as you want.
In the summer of 2001, Curt Kirkwood traveled through the West, playing a string of acclaimed solo shows that took him up and down the coast. One of those gigs was at the legendary McCabe's in Los Angeles.
"I did the solo gig through the summer, after the bassist for the new Meat Puppets [Andrew DuPlantis] quit in the spring, and some friends of Bud Gaugh's saw me playing at McCabe's and told him that I was good."
Gaugh, late of Sublime, was in the process of finishing a stint with the Long Beach Dub All-Stars. The timing was fortuitous; Gaugh was looking for a new outlet, and he decided to make a call to Curt after the solo tour was over.
"I went through Seattle a few days after the McCabe's show, and Krist [Novoselic] and I hung out the next day a little bit and he mentioned wanting to maybe do something together," Kirkwood says.
Krist, with Alfredo Hernandez of Queens of the Stone Age in tow, traveled to Austin and jammed with Kirkwood. The trio made plans to go into the studio; Hernandez's schedule, however, wouldn't free him for that kind of commitment.
But Bud Gaugh, who'd by this time made his separate interest known to Curt, was ready and willing.
"We actually set up first in the studio," Kirkwood says, "and that's where it started. We've still never just set our shit up in the same room and played together. It's really proceeding from a point of ignorance. I mean, both those guys know my shit from when they were young, and they have their bands, and I hear about them, so we all know about each other. But there is a focal point in that they kind of grew up on the Meat Puppets, and then, in turn, I had my own thing furthered through their efforts.
"There's some strange synchronicity going on somewhere," he muses. "I was on tour by myself. And my solo gig can be pretty cool, given the right circumstances." (In fact, as anyone who caught Kirkwood's 2001 solo set can attest, he delivered some of his best acoustic playing ever at those shows. Archived MP3s of several performances, floating around on various Internet sites, are worth seeking out.) "So I think it was all coming from the proper perspective, like, 'Wow, there's a loose cannon out there. Maybe we should aim it at somebody's ass.'"
He considers. "Three loose cannons, I should say. Actually, I'm more of a pop gun compared to those guys. I'm the oldest and the least successful. I'm also the smallest person in the band, for a change."
The "oldest and least successful" member, however, is also the man Novoselic and Gaugh called independently of each other when they wanted to expand their own perimeters.
"Yeah, but it's not really the Meat Puppets," Kirkwood says, when reminded of how openly many young bands -- Nirvana in particular -- acknowledged the Puppets' influence on their musical aesthetic. "It's more like all those bands were coming from a kindred source. And I'd say Sublime was, too, you know? You look at the band names that everybody chose: 'Nirvana,' 'Sublime' . . . even 'Meat Puppets' was meant to be a reference to essence. And so in that sense, it should be easy to work it out together, right? Well, actually, it's a lot easier than it sounds. Musically, it's worked out really well. People like it when they hear it. It's the furthest-sounding thing from contrived. It sounds like the stuff oughta sound."
Imagining that sound -- a Meat Puppets-Nirvana-Sublime amalgamation -- is a tantalizing prospect, which makes one wonder how Kirkwood himself hears it.
"You mean is it reggae?" he asks slyly. "Or is it grunge? Or is it that indefinably beautiful thing the Meat Puppets was?" He's quiet for a moment. "I don't know. It's a little of all of it. There's not really a lot of reggae in it, though there might be eventually. I'm mostly into the ska thing, all that early Bob Marley, the 'One Love' shit. I have stuff like that; if you listen to 'Buckethead' off of Up on the Sun, there's places where that stuff rhythmically meets right up.
"You can hear sort of a Meat Puppets thing, especially if I wrote the lyrics. I think that's a heavy strain there, lyrically; if you were into the Meat Puppets, you could hear it. It's got a really big bottom to it. Basically, [Novoselic and Gaugh] are masters of their craft. They're wistful, they're imaginative, they're powerful." He's silent again.
"The music is good," he says flatly. "We've been surprised ourselves. We all brought some material into it, but we don't tell each other how to do anything. It's folk music at its heart, which is something I think all three bands had in common. Everybody loves the pop format, verse-chorus-verse, so there's a heavy familiar strain in that sense. It's not like we're going to test anybody Ornette Coleman-style. We do have one 15-minute song, though, which was Krist's idea. There are elements of the jam thing that do come into it. The night he saw me in Seattle I was jamming with Jerry Joseph, who was opening for me, and Dave Schools, who plays with Widespread Panic, and we did like a 20-minute version of 'Up on the Sun.'
"The different aspects of all these directions are what coalesce; I've had fans from so many elements for so many years, it just spans genres. And having Krist see something like that jam in Seattle brings up the possibility of opening new communications that way. Not to mention that Dave Schools is an amazing bass player, and Jerry's a great guitar player as well, and that night's jam was really decent.
"So from having seen me, Krist knows I can do a lot of different stuff. So, bang, we don't have to talk about what we wanna do. A lot of it is wide open. Bud's a lot like me in that we'll play anything. Krist is more like an arbiter of what's good. Derek Bostrom is like that, too; he can tell you exactly what the fuck you like and don't like, and for exactly what reasons, that you didn't even know. And Krist can do the same thing. That's one good reason why Nirvana was so cool, they knew what was cool. Me, I'm a musician, so I'll go, 'Okay, here's this song.' And Krist is like, 'Ooh, that's not very good.' So it's a straight-up partnership. No matter what we bring, we're bringing equal shares in and taking equal shares out.
"It's kind of strange," Kirkwood continues after another silence, following that long, unbroken delivery. "I've been through a lot of weird shit in the music business. I was driving myself around for the last six months. And that was great, but I didn't know where it was going. And then something like this happens. It's wild. I couldn't make this shit up; how it all worked out, to me, is way cooler than anyone could think up. The music, in my view, is really good, and my standards are pretty high. The last version of the Meat Puppets was great, and my solo gig is beyond anybody's set of standards. I defy anybody to try and do what I do by myself.
"That's the way the world is wound up," he says, this time without a pause. "I don't have to be modest anymore. I know what I am, now. Some modesty might suit me, but you know what? It really doesn't, anymore, because I can't help what I am. I've not been that successful or anything, but I've wound up where I am because I'm really good at what I do, and there's no hype there. That's why this thing is going to be cool, because far beyond the hype of Sublime or Nirvana or whatever, these guys, like I said, are really great craftsmen, and they're surreal musicians.
"You think to yourself, you know . . . okay, what is this? What's the point here? Why this thing, at this time? Well, the point is that the collision has always been there. We became a band because we are a band. That's why. It's the reason why you have to get the Boredoms on a Nirvana/Meat Puppets/Boredoms tour. It's the reason why [artist] Mark Ryden paints pictures of Leonardo DiCaprio and Abraham Lincoln. It's all part of the same trip.
"This sounds like someone's fucking stoner daydream," he concludes, "but we pulled it off. We just started talking about this back in October. And it's beyond an idea at this point; we went with it and we've become indebted to it already.
"It's a weird thing," says the beautifully gifted guitarist, "like music always is. People like us need it."
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