Lake of Fire

Cris Kirkwood
1029 W. 17th Street

You know me, but you've smoked so much coke since we last talked I should probably reintroduce myself.

I'm the guy who will write your obituary, unless you stop this mad jig to death's fiddle. I imagine what's going on inside your hell portal of a home, and I see long, white finger bones, racing up and down the strings like spider legs, as you whirl ever faster.

So far, two of your dancing partners have dropped dead. That's two bodies pulled out of your house in eight months. First your wife, last August. Then a high school buddy, last week.

His name was Pete Sievert. He was 40. His friends, a few of whom are my friends, called him "Sito." He and your brother, Curt, were best friends when you all attended Brophy, back in the mid-Seventies, years before you and Curt started the Meat Puppets. Sito became a mortgage broker, a money man. You and Curt donned the tattered capes of indie-rock heroes throughout the Eighties, then scored a gold album in 1995 with Too High to Die, and made some real dough for the first time.

And then you just went all to hell. You and your groupie wife holed up in your place on West 17th in Tempe, smoking rock and shooting junk. Sid and Nancy of the Southwest. Your wife was 5-foot-9, and she weighed 88 pounds when she died. The cops found red spatter patterns on the walls and ceilings throughout the house, where you two had shot up, then squirted the blood to empty the syringe.

I know (from those who've seen it) of your ritual with the crack pipe. You lick a flame on the tip of the glass stem, melt the rock, suck in the venomous, heavenly mist, and then burn yourself twice with the hot glass. One circle of seared flesh for your mother, who died in late 1996, and one for your wife.

And now, I guess, one for Sito.
You tricked all your friends, Cris. When the word went around last Wednesday night that a covey of cop cars was outside your house again, they all thought the body coming out would be yours.

As I write this, I don't know with certainty how or why Sito died, or if you do either. The investigation of his death is still very much open. The coroner and the cops have no reports completed, and few details they're willing to release.

I know this much: I know the police suspect Sito died of an intravenous drug overdose. I know he lay dead in your house for more than 24 hours before the authorities were called, and I know it wasn't you who dialed 911. It was an anonymous female--probably one of the harem of leeches you've played host to in recent weeks--who called at 6:02 p.m. last Wednesday from a Circle K pay phone in Phoenix, not Tempe. I know the police found drugs and crack pipes and needles all over your house--again--and found you in the shed in your backyard which used to serve as the Meat Puppets' practice shack.

Finally, I know there was a suicide note at the scene, and that about 10 days before he died, Sito told one friend he had been talking to you a lot on the phone, and was going to your house to try to talk you off the ledge.

That was the last he was heard from.
Among those who knew you and Sito, there are two competing theories: One is that Sito had everyone fooled, and had joined you in junkieland months before he died. Sito's friends say he drank a lot, and snorted coke sometimes to keep the party going, but as far as they knew, he never played with needles.

Maybe you knew differently, Cris.
The second theory, and the more chilling one, is that Sito truly did go to try to talk you into rehab, and wound up drowning in the vortex of 1029 W. 17th.

Your house is evil, Cris.
I came by a few days ago, and I noticed on the center of your front door a silver hologram sticker. I changed my angle to bring the image into focus and saw a skull staring me in the face. I knocked and waited and looked. Your windows are all either boarded up or covered with tapestries. You might as well hang a sign: "Shooting Gallery." I knocked again and a German shepherd answered by thrusting its head through a shattered pane of glass in the front door and snarling at me.

That was the second time I've knocked on your front door. The first was October 1995. You were fresh off a stadium tour--the Meat Puppets' first--opening for the Stone Temple Pilots. The tour where your brother told me later you became addicted to cocaine.

Your wife, who'd invited me over, answered the door, and when I walked into your living room, people on fire were falling from high-rise windows on CNN.

Your wife sat cross-legged on the carpet and began to punch it with both fists like an impatient child. "Cris!" she yelled. She was looking rough by then, skinny with frantic eyes. "Criiiiiiis!" "Cris!" "Cris!" "Cris!"

You came out of the back bedroom--the one where she would overdose, three years later. You took one look at the South American hotel fire on TV and told her to hit the record button on the VCR. Firefighters were ratcheting ladders up to the sixth and seventh floors, way too late. People jumped for the ladders, and most of them missed. One smart guy dangled from the ledge of his burning room for a few seconds as a ladder came closer, then let himself drop and got a hand on a rung as he sped past. He didn't hold on, but at least it broke his fall a little.

"Damn," you said. "He pulled a Jackie Chan."
Then we began to talk, as the people on fire kept falling, far away. We talked for about an hour, and the whole time, your wife intently scoured the carpet for lint. Mostly, I remember, we talked about Alaska. I'm from there, you'd spent one summer there with your brother, just before you guys got the Meat Puppets going. We traded bear stories and salmon stories and Matanuska Thunderfuck stories, and spent about 15 minutes on the color of the glaciated Kenai River, which we eventually agreed is precisely the same as that of a defunct Baskin-Robbins flavor called Daiquiri Ice.

I wonder if you remember any of this.
Do you remember talking about the tundra in Denali National Park? I wrote down what you said on the back of two of my own business cards.

"Tundra is so fuckin' cool. I'd get up in the morning and get out of the tent and just start running on the tundra. Just run and run, until I was gasping. Then I'd just sit down in the middle of all that space and breathe and not think about shit."

You told me you made a pact with yourself: You would give the Meat Puppets a year, and if the band didn't work, you would move to Alaska and stay. The band worked, and you never went back. You seemed to regret that.

"I felt right up there," you said. "I felt like I'd escaped."
I didn't tell you this because I didn't want to seem like a fan boy, but I was way into the Meat Puppets when I was growing up. Up in the AK, we didn't like you for what you were (cowpunk rock) so much as what you weren't: Bon Jovi and Depeche Mode.

Now you place me in the awkward position of having to respect Jon Bon Jovi more than the bass player for the Meat Puppets. At least Jon Bon Jovi isn't a pathetic crackhead.

I'm not looking forward to writing your obituary, Cris, but at the same time I don't feel sorry for you. My heart goes out to your brother. Not only did he have to watch your drug problem derail the Meat Puppets just as the band was pulling into big-time station. Not only did he have to watch you, his only brother, shoot up into an open sore on your stomach the last time he saw you.

No, now his best friend from high school dies in your house.
What happened to you, man? What was so wicked that a year in the tundra couldn't cure?

That night I rapped with you at your house, you still had a lot of soul left. Your wife had already lost it, but you still looked good and spoke well.

You've fallen far since then, with no ladders to grasp for.
Now I hear from anyone who has seen you in the past year that you get your calories by guzzling pints of melted Ben & Jerry's. That the tips of your fingers are crusted and black from packing rock after rock onto sooty bits of Brillo pad. That you have more open sores than teeth.

Good work, rock star.
I wonder if you're laughing or crying.
I wonder if the crack has begun to taste like sulfur.

Contact David Holthouse at his online address: [email protected]

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse