This Update May 16, 2006
Meat Puppets Spring 1984
[by Tom Troccoli]
First off, while this is not fiction, it has been heavily sanitized for your protection. When you become truly close with people, you learn stuff that should never be shared. Truly personal stuff. I have tried in this piece to concentrate on the really good times and memories that I have. I am not going to address any issues that occurred after 1984-1986. With that in mind, I hope you enjoy the essay.
I had seen The Meat Puppets a few times and was a pretty rabid fan. Unlike The Minutemen, the Pups seemed to not only NOT deny their ‘hippie’ roots, but seemed to REVEL in ‘em! That alone was enough for me to respond to them.
When I first started hanging seriously with the SST crowd, I really looked forward to getting a chance to know them as people. Even in the early 1980’s, the Pups had an aura of mystery and stand-offishness that made them seem more like they were already legend as opposed to flesh and blood human beings.
Well, for quite some time I was disappointed. For a while the Pups were canceling as many shows as they were making. At one ‘SST Night’ at The Music Machine in West Los Angeles, they were slated to headline over every other SST act on the bill. They never showed up. As a result, since all members of Flag were present, an ad hoc Black Flag set was quickly assembled using the tunes they were rehearsing for their upcoming ‘My War’ tour. It was an excellent set, but I was still disappointed. I wanted to know these guys.
Okay, so now we move ahead a couple of weeks. The tour is due to start in 5 days, and things are going haywire. Flag decides that for this tour a bus would be more comfortable than a van. Davo and Ginn find an old airport shuttle and buy it. THEN they learn that since it was built as a shuttle, its transmission will not suffice for long hauls. The only solution? Buy a new transmission with an extra gear for highway driving. This was only discovered 72 hours before our departure time.
Ginn and Dukowski start brainstorming, and they figure they’ll fly me to Phoenix (at that time all members of The Meat Puppets were still living in the greater Phoenix area), I’ll pick up the Pup’s van, drive it back to L.A., and we’ll leave picking the Pups up along the way (the first gig was in Tucson).
Chuck books the flight, I get on a local city bus and head to the airport. I get into Phoenix at around 8PM, but NOBODY is at the airport (the fabulous ‘SkyHarbor’) to meet me. I wait. I wait. I wait some more. Finally at around 11PM I get on the phone to Chuck in LA. He tells me the Pups know they’re supposed to pick me up, gives me their phone number to keep trying, and tells me to sit tight.
I was phoning those bastards every 5 minutes from around midnight ‘til 3 AMwhen I finally passed out on an incredibly uncomfortable airport chair.
At about 7 AM a not too friendly security guard rousts me, and I get back on the phone. THIS time I get an answer. I am told that someone will be by to pick me up in about 45 minutes.
I go outside to wait, and Phoenix though only March is already over 90 degrees at 8 AM! I had gallons of sweat pouring off of me when all of a sudden these two guys, one with GREEN hair walk towards me with true suspicion in their eyes. It’s the Kirkwood brothers. We shake hands (I was NOT feeling very friendly at this point, though relieved to finally be out of that stinking airport) and we walk to their convertible Mustang. The top is down, and they tell me to climb in the back.
I do, but there’s no room. I wind up riding on what appears to be a 25 year complete collection of National Geographic Magazines (I later learned this stack was used to make the collage that is the cover of their first SST release). With every turn I feel like I am about to be tossed onto the Arizona freeway system at 80 miles per hour.
Then the guys pull a stunt I had never seen before. I saw it a lot AFTER this, but this first time I didn’t know WHAT the hell was going on. Curt is driving, Cris in the passenger seat. Joints are being passed between us and at some point Curt yells “SWITCH.” At 80 miles an hour while smoking really good stuff, the brothers swap places! It happens so fast I don’t even have time to be frightened. This was the first time I saw the natural telepathy of the brothers at work.
We finally pull up to their pad, which makes Tobacco Road look like the Playboy Mansion. The place was seedy as all hell, cats and dogs roaming the front yard (one was a Great Dane!) and piles of animal feces everywhere.
We get inside, toss my stuff down, and notice two chairs and a table between them. The table is piled about a foot high with pot buds. Cris would take one chair, Curt the other and they would start rolling. Rolling taking too long? Not a problem. There are a few bongs lying around for the impatient.
They seemed to be testing me, and I didn’t understand why. As we are smoking out I am asked rather bluntly and with the intensity of a film noir third degree if I am in fact a ‘Dukowski spy.’ I assured them I was not ANYONE’S spy, and began talking music. That’s what I always do when it comes time to make friends. It turns out I nailed a bunch of original sources for their cover material, even down to telling them I knew the exact Doc Watson version of ‘Walking Boss’ that were cribbing. It was when we started talking about music, everyone started to lighten up. I actually began to like these guys as people. They were crazy in a similar way to mine own craziness, and believe me, craziness LOVES company.
At around noon, I phoned Dukowski in LA for any updates. I was told that Ginn decided to use Dukowski’s van instead, and to just wait in Arizona for a few days and the band will meet up with us in Tucson.
This was very cool news. Not only was I not interested in an all night haul the day before tour starts, but it also meant more time to get to know these guys.
That first day was filled with hilarity for me. These guys LOVED telling stories, half of which I never found out were true or not.
One I remember? Cris parted his hair for me and showed me a tiny scar on his forehead. He told me he was actually one of a set of identical twins. The second did not survive gestation, and was surgically removed from his forehead shortly after birth. Is this a true story? I still have NO idea, but it sounds GREAT!
They took me (by my own request) for a tour of famed Alice Cooper hot spots, such as Camelback High School.
They took me to the place where they dug firing off live rounds from a Magnum in the middle of the night ‘cause they liked the tracer from the barrel as the bullet left the chamber.
They took me for the finest tamales I have ever had.
We simply spent the rest of the day hanging out, smoking copious amounts of pot, meeting their families (Katie and Elmo were only months old at this time), and strumming guitars for fun.
At the end of the day, I felt as though I had made some very fine new friends and slept soundly.
It was the NEXT day I first met my arch nemesis and partner in crime, Derrick Bostrom.
The Pups didn’t have a rehearsal space in those days, so the band would practice in Curt and Cris’ living room. No vocals, just the band. Since tour was now only about 48 hours away, they were running through some tunes a couple of last times.
They set up, and in walks this funny guy with a true paranoid’s look in his eye. He appears to be trying to look surly, but instead actually looks like a nice guy. He’s real quiet, but I am introduced. Again, I try talking music, but Derrick doesn’t seem too interested. Then somehow or another, the subject of comics arises. It turns out Bostrom and I DO have very similar tastes when it comes to comics. We both adore the so-called ‘Marvel Age’ of comics, and especially the work of Jack Kirby. Even the more obscure titles are known to both of us (admit, how many of you ACTUALLY remember Dino-Boy, or OMAC the One Man Army Corps?), and while reviled by other comics fans, we think they are the best EVER.
Our tastes do deviate some, I dig Ditko, he digs Romita, but the bedrock of a new friendship had been laid.
After their practice session, more joints were smoked, more talk was talked, more food was eaten and a generally good feeling was in the air.
The next day was even better. Tour was now only a day and a half away, and now I still had time to hang out with my new pals. We did. We strummed guitars, smoked even MORE pot, watched a movie (I was tripping, but fell into a nap, on waking the brothers and friends were watching Malcolm McDowell give it to some poor guy up the rear in ‘Caligula’), discussed REAL WORLD personal stuff, like religion, politics, family background and the like. Most SSTers were very ‘cool’ and didn’t discuss such stuff. Acknowledging family was about as far as it went. Actually discussing who your family was and why you turned out the way you did was never talked about. With the Pups, their lives were an open book (and some would say open sore). By the end of that second day, I felt like I already KNEW Mrs. Kirkwood.
Bostrom loaded me into his van, and we tooled over to his Mom’s place to show off his comic collection and I met his brother (you guys don’t know this, but Derrick’s brother Damon is a modern day Bach, a composing GENIUS). It all felt very down home and real.
That night, more carousing and driving through (and I know this sounds redundant) deserted desert with no destination but the stars in front of your eyes. It was terribly magical and musical. I began to feel like I had known these guys forever, and was developing a friendship with them as individuals, as well as a band.
I felt very close to their families (girlfriends and kids) as well.
I also made special friends with one of their doggies named Kugel. Kugel had been raised around so many cats, he believed he was one. I would sack out, and here would come Kugel cuddling and snuggling. We became very good pals, and even in 1995 on tour with Vida, a very very old Kugel remembered me, and spent all his time with me on my last visit to Curt’s. Kugel has a credit on the back of the Vida CD, and was also the ‘OFFICIAL” Tom Troccoli’s Dog! Kugel is no longer with us, but I still have a lovely painted t-shirt with his image done for me by Kelly McManus (Cris’ girlfriend at the time) which I still wear proudly. I know it seems funny reading all this stuff about a wacky doggie in a Meat Puppets column, but the loving nature of their doggies gives you some idea of their owner.
I can’t remember the Great Dane’s name, but he was very old and on his last legs. He still WANTED to attack and scare the hell out of you, but he was just too old and tired. You would walk past him and in slooooow motion he would attempt to nip at your ankle. One time he got me. Poor old guy didn’t even have the energy left to bite. I simply leaned down and opened his jaw and kept walking.
And ALL THOSE CATS! The only name I remember for sure was Popeye. I remember Popeye, ‘cause he was FIERCE!
Okay, so now it’s tour day. We start with breakfast and start in on the pot. We won’t need to leave until much later in the day, but now the tour adrenaline is starting to pump. Things are very excited as we pile into the Pups van. They have their own roadie as well as a soundman. They were excited too.
With that the tour officially began. Here then are some Polaroid memories of the tour. I hope you enjoy them.