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

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Cris Kirkwood:  I remember when Curt painted that picture [that became the cover of Meat Puppets II]. We were still living at my mom's house. We used to hide in the bathroom and smoke grass. We were in the bathroom getting stoned, and he picked up this little piece of canvas, and real quickly, whipped off this thing. And that's the cover. It took him about a minute to do that – we used it a few years later as the cover for the record. It's Curt's acrylic work, and definitely Van Gogh-inspired painting technique. It was back when you still had vinyl, so you were making this shit in terms of being "an album."

One of the cool things that we did was we did a photo session with this guy, Anvil Blockhammer, here in town. We drove around West Phoenix, and we were out in a field, an agricultural thing. It was Derrick's cool arty idea – that picture that's on the back, where we're in silhouette.

Dave Pirner [Soul Asylum singer/guitarist]:  It was right before their second album came out [the first time Pirner saw the Meat Puppets]. I distinctly remember hanging out with them and watching them play live. Then their second record came out, and it seemed to bring another level of awareness to the band. It surprised the shit out of me, because it was so easy to understand. The music before that was really frantic, and it was really exploring I think what they wanted to do, and they didn't really know what they wanted to do. The second record seemed sort of like, "This is what we can do, without even really thinking about it."

Flea [Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist]: Meat Puppets II, man, it's the warmest, coolest fucking record.

Lou Barlow [Dinosaur Jr. bassist, Sebadoh singer/guitarist]:  When they became more of "a country band," the way that they switched between the really crazy material and the county-esque material was really almost like a blueprint for Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh. Mike Watt told me that when D. Boon first heard Dinosaur Jr., he thought we were "the east coast Meat Puppets."

Peter Buck [R.E.M. guitarist]:  I got Meat Puppets II before I ever saw them. But I saw them on that tour. I traveled so much in those days – I know I saw them in Athens a couple of times. I think the first time might have been in New York. The whole post-punk thing in America was happening. It was blossoming everywhere. Everywhere you went, there was some new, different kind of band, that you'd think, "That's interesting." When I heard the Meat Puppets, it was like, "I can get some of their influences – there's a little Grateful Dead in there, maybe a little Neil Young." But there was interplay between the instruments that was just insane. It sounded like when you think of when you look at a magician, and go, "That guy spent a huge amount of time just sitting in his bedroom all by himself, learning to do that." The Kirkwood brothers' interlocking parts were so weirdly intense. I remember going, "This is more like jazz than anything, in its own weird way."

Kim Thayil [Soundgarden guitarist]:  1984 comes along. That year, you had My War by Black Flag, Zen Arcade by Hüsker Dü, Double Nickels on the Dime by the Minutemen, Meat Puppets II, Surviving You, Always by Saccharine Trust, and the first Saint Vitus album [Saint Vitus]. That was the golden age of SST Records. I remember anticipating the Meat Puppets II release, because they'd become probably my favorite band of that time. I just had to hear what they were going to do next. Soundgarden formed in September of 1984. So I was tripping out to Meat Puppets II before Soundgarden formed. But when Soundgarden formed, it got played a lot. I remember playing it for Hiro [Yamamoto, original Soundgarden bassist] and Chris [Cornell, Soundgarden's then-drummer, later singer] all the time.

The first song I heard off of Meat Puppets II was "I'm A Mindless Idiot," which is an instrumental. I heard it on the radio, I think it was KCMU. My jaw dropped, because it wasn't fast and it wasn't punk rock and hardcore. It was like the trippy thing I heard on side two of the first Meat Puppets album. They expanded upon it, and it sounded great. To me, the production sounded great. And it was an instrumental, which tripped me out even more. I was blown away.

Here's the weird thing – I still don't have Meat Puppets II on vinyl, because a good friend of mine in college gave me a homemade cassette. On one side is Blue Cheer – it had a bunch of stuff off Outsideinside and Vincebus Eruptum. And the other side of the cassette had Meat Puppets II. That thing, I would just play it and watch the sun rise, I would play it and watch the sun set. I'd come home from college from classes – I'd go by a local convenience store and buy a couple Buckhorn Beers, a pack of cigarettes, and some string cheese, and go and sit in my bedroom. My bedroom was a sort of walk-in closet and the window faced west. So I laid there eating string cheese and drinking my Buckhorn Beer, and I'd put on Meat Puppets II and watch the sun go down. I had to do that all the time. It tripped me out, and it was the coolest feeling – being mildly intoxicated.

And Meat Puppets II was great if I smoked pot, which I rarely did, but on the occasion I did, I was like, "I've got to listen to the Meat Puppets!" And on the occasion of doing MDMA or anything else that may cross the path of a 22-year-old musician who is a student. That album tripped me out – it seemed to be heavy and wild in these other ways. Psychologically and emotionally. I loved it. It had these elements that I found in the Velvet Underground, the MC5. And that Meat Puppets' second album became not only my favorite Meat Puppets album, but perhaps one of my favorite albums of all time.

From the Book:  Too High to Die: Meet the Meat Puppets by Greg Prato Copyright © 2012 by Greg Prato, Published by Greg Prato

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