Cris was flaunting his new toy. Presumably, though, he still knew who his mother was--Vera Pearl Renstrom, daughter of the late Omaha inventor and millionaire Carl W. Renstrom. The Kirkwoods' grandfather founded Tip-Top Products, a multinational company that made plastic hair curlers he invented, among other products (including barbed-wire throwers during World War II). Carl Renstrom died in 1981 at the age of 79.
Vera Pearl died of cancer in December 1996 in a Phoenix hospice. She was 59. Her will divided her estate evenly between Curt and Cris, placing a second small fortune atop the one they already had made for themselves.
"The doctors never were sure exactly what killed my mom, but I'd say it was probably hard living," says Curt. "She always partied like a motherfucker. It runs in the family."
Vera started a Southwest-style furniture store in Scottsdale, Su Casa, in 1987 and made frequent buying trips to Mexico, even after cancer began to consume her. Vera's vibrating personality got her marked as a rich eccentric.
"Anyone who knew my mom will tell you she's one of the craziest fuckin' people they ever met," Curt says. "But she'd run circles around everybody. She didn't need anything from anybody. She was doing them favors all the time. Odd as she may have been, my mom was a beautiful and energetic woman. She was just really hard to follow in a conversation."
Curt laughs and sips a Beck's. He all but quit drinking earlier this year, and one beer lasts him an hour.
"Psychiatrists said my grandfather wouldn't have been such a bitch if he was on lithium, at least. There's always been a demon, and a real heavy one, in my lineage. My mom had it, and I think my bro got it from her."
Although Cris and Curt have the same father, their mother was married six times.
"When I was a sophomore in high school, my mom and stepdad at the time had a row, and lit fire to our house, and it burned," says Curt. "He just immolated our whole fucking existence. And it was a big deal in my neighborhood, because people already knew how fucked my family was. That was the second husband she had in that house who beat her. I took my mom to the hospital to get sewn up half a dozen times before I could legally drive.
"Crazy, bad shit like that crosses all cultural and economic boundaries. It doesn't matter how much money you have, the insanity will get in there."
There is another Meat Puppets birthday to report today. This time, a Happy Birthday is going out to Cris, who is celebrating his 38th birthday today. Happy Birthday, Cris!
--Meat Puppets fan Web page, October 22
Curt looks different when he talks about his brother. He looks tormented. Wizened. For a change, he looks his age. He wears glasses now. Big, black, Buddy Holly frames. And his untamed hair, which used to cascade from his shoulders to his abdomen, has been cut short, into a kinetic, black ball around his head. The first few streaks of gray have appeared. Curt says watching your brother shoot up into an open sore will do that.
He spends most of his days hanging out in his rehearsal space and newly outfitted recording studio, within the catacombs of the fabled Austin Rehearsal Complex. His space there is a sanctuary. There's no phone. Some days, Curt jams, some days he writes songs. He says he's writing some of his best ever these days. Some days Curt records, some days he just sits around with the guys in his new band and draws cartoons. Curt was going to be an animator before he became a rock star, and his artwork has graced the covers of most Meat Puppets albums.
The wall above one of two couches in Curt's studio space is covered with artwork, much of it Curt's, most of it profane. Curt's favorite character right now is the Wandering Klown, a stick figure wearing a dunce cap who is a most randy harlequin. In one piece, the Wandering Klown sodomizes Hitler.
When Curt is able to clear his mind of trouble, to forget about Cris just for a little while, the transformation is remarkable. When he puts on a tape of his new music, takes off his glasses and closes his eyes, he looks for a while to be at peace. When he spontaneously dances a mad jig in his faded jeans and burnt-orange cowboy boots, declaring "this is some Lord of the Dance shit," or stalks a fly for 10 minutes before he snatches it from midair, Curt's eyes are bright, his face smooth, his limbs loose. He looks like he did and should. Intense. Free. Weird, and loving it.