Music News

Tangential Rage

"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."

Hate also exists, as exhibited in a crunchy new rocker by Eyes Adrift called "Telescope," a tune that took its inspiration from a prank that Kirkwood and his brother Cris played one day in 1992. "My buddy Roman Coppola came out to do some filming with the Meat Puppets," Kirkwood recalls with a chuckle. "And he brought this huge, high-tech potato gun that he built with PVC and a quartz barbecue lighter. You use ignition enhancer -- stuff that you spray into your carburetor. Fill it up with that shit. Shove the potato in there. It's a perfect caliber. We could lob potatoes, these big Idaho spuds, like two, three hundred yards.

"I lived across from this golf course," Kirkwood continues, "and we were like firing these potatoes at these golfers in their golf carts. We were like fuckin' Alexander the Conquerer with our potato gun! Like we're gonna take over your fuckin' sun colony, you bunch of fuckin' weasels!' Looking back on it, that would be like considered a lark, you know? But what's the difference? It had the same result as any other human endeavor. It threw a potato 300 yards . . . a perfectly good piece of food. It's human history all encapsulated in a lark."

Kirkwood moves swiftly from potatoes to Disneyland or, rather, his idealized Disneyland. "My theme park would have like Female Land' for the dudes," he says. "Where you can go in and experience what it's like to be a chick. Instead of the jungle boat ride, it's like, this chick's gate riot."

In another perfect world, writer Michael Azerrad would have given the Meat Puppets an entire chapter in his book Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes From the American Indie Underground. "That's why his book failed," Kirkwood snaps. "You can quote me on that. Let me tell you something -- 'cause I've already gone this far: Meat Puppets were D. Boon's favorite band. Period. And Azerrad wants to call the fuckin' book that and not have a Meat Puppets thing? Whatever, dude. Go ahead. He better be writin' a book about me, that's all I can say. 'Cause D.'ll flop over in his grave. That's fuckin' crap."

Forgetting his legacy for a moment, Kirkwood simmers down and counts his blessings. "I'm really glad that there's super-famous guys in our band, 'cause we can get our foot in the door," he says. "Unless you're tied in with fuckin' General Motors and the multideath corporations, you're not gonna get the exposure. I've had my fill of those cheesy assholes for now. I couldn't get along with majors if I tried. It has nothing to do with music. It's a board of fucking directors. It's public opinion swaying art. Fuck you. Kiss my ass.

"One day up in Lake Tahoe, we were practicing where Bud has a house," Kirkwood continues. "I'm like, Guess what? Let's not fucking deal with these people. They're slime. Let's make 'em crawl to us.' I had an epiphany: Let's keep our fucking publishing. Let's keep the rights to our fucking record. I like making art without some asshole telling me if he thinks it's good or not. I'd rather have people just listen to it and applaud politely. And then, if they want to come back afterwards and tell me that they thought it was good, they're not telling me anything that I don't already know."

"We are Wonka," Kirkwood decides suddenly. "Candy for the masses. And we always knew that. Derrick and Chris and I know that. Kurt knew it. Krist knows it. Bud knows it. Like Bud says, I just kinda like my style.'"

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John La Briola