Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Look around you. The Meat Puppets made all of this. The reason that Daytrotter exists at all can be traced back to November 10, 1995, high school days and the Phoenix, Arizona band, playing here in Davenport, Iowa, at Palmer Auditorium - a gymnasium with taupe-colored linoleum flooring that's now, used solely for recreational basketball games and table tennis matches. The band was the main support for Primus during the "Tales From The Punchbowl" tour and this was the first rock and roll show that I ever attended. For that reason, this essay has to be a little personal.
I came home that night around midnight, after a Village Inn ham and cheese omelet, gave my mom the little amount of change left over from the $30 they'd given me (spent on the omelet, ticket and my first tour tee-shirt) and told her, "I'll be going to a lot more of those." It's the only quote of my own that I remember verbatim, from my entire life, the moment being that pivotal. It all led to so much that's happened since that night and here the Meat Puppets are gracing these pixels, these columns, the bandwidth and the radio player. They've been art-ified by our own Johnnie Cluney and it's not stopping there as they're returning, at the end of June, coming to Rock Island and the Quad-Cities for the first time since that night in Nov. '95 to play a Daytrotter Presents show and tape another session. It's all too much, but now it's back to being a professional scribe of the drivel.
At the conclusion of this session at Big Orange in Austin during SXSW, the Kirkwoods - Cris and Curt - and new drummer Ted Marcus were loitering outside the studio, soaking in the warm Texas temperatures and running through cigarette after cigarette. They were in no hurry to leave as the day's next obligation was well off. I told Curt about that first show of mine and he remembered that Primus tour, saying with a chuckle and only mild accusation, "So you were one of those assholes throwing coins, huh?" It wasn't true, but apparently there were many of those people in the Primus legion. The Nirvana fans weren't much better.
The Meat Puppets have always taken the peltings and the beatings, the getting shit on and the getting overlooked in their own manner of stride. It's not accepted, just internalized before it can be externalized in the strange and often violent (somewhat beautifully hopeless) lyrics that Curt Kirkwood dreams up - where skies are getting their throats and wrists slashed open with a butcher's knife and where the underdogs are never seeing the light shine on them. The band's most famous song, "Lake of Fire," covered frequently by ardent admirer, the late Kurt Cobain, starts with one of the band's most famous lines, "Where do bad folks go when they die/They don't go to heaven where the angels fly/They go to a lake of fire and fry," and it's a thought that the Kirkwoods may have - at times in their tumultuous personal lives - asked about the bad folks while they're still alive. Where are they? Are they easily recognizable and how much longer do they have? Maybe even, "Are we them?"
They've been through the bowels of numerous hells - more than Dante could ever spin, whether it was drug and alcohol addictions, mental health complications or real life's violent altercations, only to live more, to still be here, nursing their damaged and aged bodies to whatever will happen to be the end for them. They seem to be in better health than they've been in many years, in high spirits, with a new album that harkens back to the earlier years of the band's career. There are still those monsters hanging out of trees, swinging their grabby hands for a clutch of clothing to pull and yank them into those fires. There are still the wolves in sheep's clothing. There are the painful reminders that, really, nothing's fair. As Cris notes about one of their new songs "Go To Your Head," "Little by little it all goes to hell." He believes that to be how it is. And maybe it's as simple as that. Maybe the answer to that question about where the bad folks go when they die is: here.
*Essay originally published May, 2009