Curt Kirkwood was born on 10 January 1959, his brother Cris less than two years later, on 22 October 1960. The brothers were born in Texas (Curt in Wichita Falls, Cris in Amarillo), where their mother was married for a brief time to their father, who was in the military. The marriage didn’t last and she left Texas, taking her sons with her.
The brothers formed the Meat Puppets in Phoenix in 1979 with drummer Derrick Bostrom (born 23 June 1960).
Together they sought to harness the energy of hardcore’s underground to a range of other genres, including Country & Western, punk, psychedelia and improvised guitar rock.
This eclecticism won them fans among America’s alt-rock royalty, with Peter Buck, Eddie Vedder, and Kurt Cobain (he covered three of their songs for Unplugged In New York) amongst their most vocal disciples.
The Kirkwoods were still living at their mother’s Sunny Slope home in 1980 when the Meat Puppets recorded their first EP, the feral In a Car. On it, the band buzzed through five twangy, avant-hardcore songs in just five minutes. It was the Puppets’ ticket into the fledgling punk scene.
After a few gigs in the nearby college town of Tempe, the band took its show to LA. Their unlikely mix of desert weirdness and hardcore spirit so impressed Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn that he asked the trio to do an album for his new label, SST.
The Puppets’ raucous, self-titled debut was the label’s third full-length release, behind The Minutemen‘s The Punch Line and Black Flag‘s Damaged. It wasn’t until Meat Puppets II (1984), however, that the band perfected its blend of punk energy with country-rock melodies and experimental, Jerry Garcia-like noodling.
The LP opened with a headlong punk-rock ripper called Split Myself In Two, then devolved into a collection of brain-damaged C&W-style instrumentals, feedback guitar ballads, and Dylanesque rockers, and included a lovely, folk-like finger-picking opus called I’m A Mindless Idiot . . .
For the next decade, the Meat Puppets were on a long, strange punk rock trip, getting fucked up as often as possible, touring with little money, and watching the wheels of the indie scene gain momentum.
The band’s audience expanded with 1985’s Up On the Sun, which added progressive rock and jazz-inspired moves to the sweet, country-folk melodies.
Meat Puppets released one more great record, Mirage, before veering off in a ZZ Top-ish boogie direction in the late ’80s with Huevos . The indie rock faithful couldn’t figure it out: had the Meat Puppets sold their souls or was their collective tongue buried too deeply into their cheek?
Finally, after a decade as a cult, they signed to major label London, releasing the so-so Forbidden Places and the solid Too High To Die (1994). Boosted by Cobain’s endorsement (he also invited them to strum and sing along on the Unplugged session) Too High went on to sell half a million copies.
After Cobain’s suicide, 1994 had its ups and downs for the Meat Puppets. Meiss, a former roadie for the band The Feelies, joined the band to complement Curt on second guitar. Backwater became a popular song and the album sold steadily throughout the year.
With no more than a week’s break to return to Phoenix, the band spent nearly the entire year on the road, for a spell as the opening act for Stone Temple Pilots.
In their travels during the latter part of 1994, the Meat Puppets stopped in New York to do a gig at the Beacon Theatre on the upper west side of Manhattan. Their audience that night was treated to a double-dose of bizarreness during the show.
First, Curt finished the set dressed as a woman, following a photo shoot earlier that day for Rolling Stone.
But before the set came to its wild conclusion, infamous radio personality Howard Stern, a long-time fan of the band, walked out on stage with a guitar strapped on and jammed with the Meat Puppets, to the delight of the band and the crowd.
Soon afterwards, Stern invited Cris, Curt, Bostrom and Meiss to appear on his morning radio show, a session that was also taped by a video camera and shown on the E! Entertainment cable network. Stern jammed with the band on Lake Of Fire and Backwater.