Longform

Shooting Star

Page 5 of 11

Curt puts a flame to an American Spirit cigarette and bends forward to rub his temples. He exhales blue smoke through his knees, then looks up and leans back.

"The other anomaly here is, I always thought the Meat Puppets were a relatively stable band. Cris and I would sit back and watch our friends in the Butthole Surfers or the Chili Peppers or Nirvana or whoever dealing with serious drug problems in the band, and we'd go, 'Wow, through the grace of God, we're doin' all right. We're 12, 13, 14 years old as a band, and we're doing better and better, and none of us are junkies.' We were congratulating ourselves on negotiating the minefield when Cris went boom."

Michelle and Cris were married in February 1995; Curt wasn't invited. Michelle began introducing herself as "Mrs. Meat Puppet."

The couple became known for throwing intense, all-night parties, where Michelle would make the rounds in her lamb's wool jacket, literally pushing pills on people.

After Cris returned from the Stone Temple Pilots tour with a significant cocaine and heroin habit, the couple became increasingly reclusive. "They fed on one another," says Curt.

During early 1995 recording sessions for No Joke, Cris was a mess. Butthole Surfers guitarist and band friend Paul Leary, who produced Too High to Die, was back at the console for the follow-up. Curt says he and Cris were fighting like pit bulls over Cris' drugging, his marriage, "basically his whole fuckin' deal."

"At first, Paul was like, 'This is some brother bullshit you need to put in a drawer until we finish this record.' Then after a few days, he came up to me like, 'You know, I think Cris might have a drug problem.' Meanwhile, Cris is nodding out with his bass in his hands, and I'm like, 'You think so?'"

By mid-1995, Michelle and Cris rarely came out of the house. They had their drugs delivered, and when no dealer would return their pages, one of them, usually Michelle, ventured forth to score on the street.

On September 11, 1995, Michelle was stopped by police in a crack-ridden neighborhood near downtown Phoenix. She was driving her husband's Infiniti G20; car-wash employee, crackhead and part-time heroin dealer Johnny Louis Johnson was in the passenger seat. According to a police report, Michelle told the officer that she was in the neighborhood to buy drugs, and produced five pieces of heroin wrapped in foil. She told him she was a journalist writing a book about homeless drug dealers. The cop searched Johnson, turned up a bag of crack, and arrested them both for possession of narcotics.

Johnson later told a probation officer Michelle was "a rich white woman who came to the area often to buy drugs. She usually got other people to get them for her. On this day, he was the only one out on the streets, so she approached him and gave him $60 to buy drugs. He returned to her car with five hits of heroin he bought for $50. She then gave him five one-dollar bills as a tip."

Michelle gave her probation officer this account of recent history: "In the fall of 1994, [Tardif] says she began visiting the homeless people in downtown Phoenix to observe them and gather facts for a story. She befriended several of them, and found out they used and sold drugs. She had always heard about heroin and how swell some people thought it was. She was curious and finally tried heroin. The first times were free, provided by her new friends. She came to like it, and began using daily in December 1994. She is willing to remain clean, and she would eventually like to write about her ordeal to help others. She had gained the knowledge necessary to sway anyone from the dead end of drugs."

It took months for the criminal case to wind through the system.
On January 31, 1996, Michelle's mother penned a letter to the judge who would sentence her daughter:

Dear Judge Rogers:
Michelle Tardif Kirkwood is a very gifted, intelligent and sensitive person. She speaks three languages fluently, has lived in France and Spain and is a seasoned traveler.

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Contact: David Holthouse