Exclusive Book Excerpt: 'Too High to Die: Meet the Meat Puppets'

In this preview of the new oral history of the band, read the story of 'Meat Puppets II,' what Flea calls 'the warmest, coolest fucking record'

June 1, 2012 11:35 AM ET
Meat Puppets Book Excerpt
Courtesy of Greg Prato

The Meat Puppets' story is one of many ups (guesting on Nirvana's Unplugged) and downs (bassist Cris Kirkwood's drug addiction derailing the band). The new book, Too High to Die: Meet the Meat Puppets, is a comprehensive oral history of the band's career, assembled by Rolling Stone writer Greg Prato. It features all-new interviews with band members past and present, as well as with Flea, Peter Buck, Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye, Kim Thayil, and Scott Asheton, among others. Here is an exclusive excerpt from the book, which tells the tale of the group's classic 1984 release, Meat Puppets II. Too High to Die: Meet the Meat Puppets is now available here.


Cris Kirkwood [Meat Puppets bassist]: I remember getting up one morning – we all lived together, and Cinda may have been pregnant...or maybe [Curt's children] were real teeny-weeny – and he was sitting at the table. He was like, "I've got a new song," and it was "Lake of Fire." He played it, and I was like, "God...that's great, dude! What cool imagery and satisfying chord changes."

Curt Kirkwood [Meat Puppets singer/guitarist]: It was Halloween. Everybody wanted to go to a Halloween party – we all were living together in the same house with some girlfriends. I thought the Halloween party was a really dumb idea. Being a new adult myself at the time, I was like, "Adults are always in disguises. Everybody's got a dumb costume on constantly. Whether they know it or not, they're all in costume, and they want to go out and put on a different costume and act like children." I guess I was being a party pooper.

They all went to the party, so I dropped a hit of acid, and wrote "Lake of Fire" and "Magic Toy Missing." I sat out in the backyard and wrote them, when it was a full moon, too. "Magic Toy Missing" was from looking at the moon and it was making a kaleidoscope happen, when you're tripped out like that. I tried to make a musical version of the Spirograph sort of thing that the moon was doing. I wrote them both in about 20 minutes. "Lake of Fire" was kind of like, "Oh, the bad people! They're out tonight – look, it's Frankenstein and the Mummy!" Just making fun of my friends, really.

Cris Kirkwood: "Plateau," I thought the lyrics in that were great. Curt started writing really bitching lyrics. And it became a hallmark, it made the band what it is.

Curt Kirkwood: Whereas I remember writing "Lake of Fire" and "Magic Toy Missing," I don't remember writing "Plateau." I was experimenting with moving an open G chord up and down the neck, so I came up with that one. "Oh, Me" was kind of a ponderance on something that Derrick [Bostrom] and I were into, which was "me-ism." Ego-ism. Just worshipping ourselves. Blind faith in ourselves.

Cris Kirkwood: But "Plateau," those songs have taken on extra cache or whatever, because the Cobain/Nirvana thing [Nirvana would later cover several Meat Puppets II tunes for MTV Unplugged]. And they were good choices by Nirvana. That kid really got Meat Puppets II in the way that I didn't realize people were getting it back then like that. I didn't realize that anybody noticed at all, because all the more straightforward punker stuff had an easier time of it in a way.

Curt Kirkwood: We did Meat Puppets II, we had an ounce of ecstasy. We just snorted X the whole time, and it was "MDMA" back then. We were really into putting things into these double locked capsules full of MDMA, and getting high as shit. Nobody knew what X was yet.

Yeah, we were having a blast. See, we didn't drink, that's the thing about the Meat Puppets. My brother would drink some, but Derrick and I didn't drink at all in the early days. We smoked some weed – we weren't your typical partiers. It wasn't "rock" really, it was peer surrealist art for us, like we get to do this and emulate our heroes.

Derrick was way into surrealists like [Francis] Picabia, and then cartoonists like Jack Kirby. We were trying to find some sort of forum for high art. And also just trying to integrate our psychedelic experience into it intentionally.

Derrick Bostrom [Original Meat Puppets drummer]: I think we did the first vocal pass, and that's when Curt realized his old way of singing wasn't going to match this new music. So we had to do another pass with the vocals, and it was hard for him, because before, it was just straight Captain Beefheart-style growling. And to actually sing, it wasn't that he wasn't able to do it, it was just that he hadn't been used to it. It took a different strategy, and it took him a while to figure out what it was.

Curt Kirkwood: The first album [Meat Puppets], I was high when I did that, so I screamed a lot. And then I started chilling out, and going, "I don't want to scream my whole career." Metallica came around, and it was like, "God, they do that a lot better anyway." The vocals have always been what I tried to have stitched stuff together, get some nice harmonies going, and sing it pretty straight – no matter what's going on. A lot of my favorite bands as a teenager were the Stones, Zeppelin. They had different kinds of music. No limitations stylistically.

Derrick Bostrom: We weren't entirely satisfied with Meat Puppets II, in the sense that the start of it was in March, and we didn't get it mixed until November that fall. It basically languished for at least six months, and by the time it finally came out, in March of 1984, the impact that we had wanted it to have, with our country leanings and whatnot, had been somewhat blunted by the delay. That made us very uncomfortable. We felt that this was our first inkling that how you're going to manage your label relationship to make sure you get what you want. You can't count on anybody else but yourself to do what's best for you. And the way that SST – who were a little weary about putting out this country rock crap on their punk rock label – started to throw a wedge in it.

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