CURT KIRKWOOD HAS ALWAYS hovered noisily but inconspicuously on the fringe of rock & roll. The Meat Puppets — guitarist Curt, his bass-playing younger brother, Cris, and their longtime friend drummer Derrick Bostrom — have been around for 14 years, living in a self-contained world of motorcycles and fishing, drugs and deserts, surrealism and nihilism. Last year their bubble burst onto the pop consciousness when they helped Nirvana perform three of Kurt Cobain’s favorite Meat Puppets songs — “Lake of Fire,” “Plateau” and “Oh Me” — for a taping of Unplugged. After the subsequent exposure on MTV, the Meat Puppets were able to put their many bad breaks behind them. The Meat Puppets’ ninth album, Too High to Die, jumped to No. 62 on the pop chart, and Curt was hailed as both a gifted songwriter and an ace guitarist. Will success spoil the Meat Puppets? Hardly.
As Cris Kirkwood always says about the band: “Our life is a blowoff. Our religion is Nothing Matters.”
Do you think you had much of an influence on Nirvana or that Nirvana had much of an influence on your success?
We’ll never know how much influence we had on Kurt because we can’t ask him that. We can ask Krist Novoselic, I guess. Musically — by the time we heard them — we were too far gone into our own thing. I think they immediately warmed my heart because I immediately felt some sort of spiritual kinship. They were one of the only bands I’d seen since the Butthole Surfers that I really felt was in the same ballpark as us nihilistically and aesthetically and spiritually.
Do you hear songs you wish you wrote?
Definitely. Lots of Marc Bolan songs, lots of Bob Marley songs, Roy Orbison songs, Marty Robbins songs, Led Zeppelin songs, Devo songs, Nirvana songs — “All Apologies.”
Have you written many songs while you were on acid?
All the time. Our whole first album was expressly intended to be recorded on acid, and it was. We didn’t know for sure if there were any of our favorite psychedelic albums that had been done while the people were blown out.
Does tripping affect the way you perform in concert?
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. To us. I don’t know about to the audience, though.
How is it different?
The guitar neck bends. It bends all the way over. That’s the one thing I’ve always been able to put my finger on.
Have you ever played in another group besides the Meat Puppets?
Since Cub Scouts, the only group thing I’ve been involved in is the Meat Puppets. We’re all people who were outcast or cast ourselves out of every other group. So we got together and hung around a lot, drew cartoons and tried to amuse each other.
Where did the country & western influences in your music come from?
They came from Phoenix. It’s a big cow town out in the desert. Cris and I grew up around a horse racetrack because it was what my stepfather did. He had shoed horses; that was his business. He always had the country radio station on in his truck all the time, and he wore cowboy clothes. Horse people are like that. They listen to country music, they wear cowboy boots and cowboy hats.
Did you ever shoot guns?
Do you still?
Uh-huh. It’s a lot of fun. I’ve done it since I was a little kid. In Arizona you can just go outside of town, and you can have a scenic afternoon in the desert and blast stuff. The respectful people don’t shoot the cactuses. The cactuses just don’t reproduce like bunny rabbits. Bunny rabbits are kind of like flies. You can waste them. There’s no shortage of those fuckers.
What’s the biggest thing you ever shot?
Well, I shot at deer and peccary and coyotes, but I thankfully never hit one. I don’t mind hunting, and I kind of wish I hadn’t lost my stomach for it because hunting is cool.
Have you ever seen a dead body?
I’ve seen it too many times. Yeah. It’s just ugly. I mean, the first one I saw was when I was 5. My friend drowned while we were swimming.
Was there anything you could have done about it?
I did try to pull him out, but he was too heavy. I can just see the picture of myself in my mind, trying to pull him up the steps of the pool and watching him bounce back down. I went and told his parents, who were eating lunch at a restaurant not 50 feet away, and they flipped. My mom dove into the pool with her clothes on and pulled him out, but they were never able to resuscitate him. I’m sure that colored my next few years considerably, though.
Did you feel guilty?
No, not at all. I never did.