a new low in topical enlightenment

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Issue #18 (November 4, 2009)

HDR Photo by Doug Cawker

Drawings by James Fotopoulos

From the desk of Joe Carducci...

Meat Puppets II (SST 019)

Curt Kirkwood – Vcl., Gtr.
Cris Kirkwood – Bs.
Derrick Bostrom – Dms.

Produced by Spot and the Meat Puppets

If I remember the story, while in high school Curt played lead guitar for some older guys in a working cover band, while jamming on the side with brother Cris on bass. The oldest Kirkwood stuff I have on tape is from 1978 and features them rounding out a Phoenix College classical quartet; they play it straight even on their electric instruments which mix novelly with flute and violin. Their friend Derrick followed punk rock and convinced them to form a band. The Meat Puppets soon got to open for Monitor, an art band from Los Angeles making one of its rare forays out. I first heard about them from Laurie O’Connell of Monitor; I’ve repro’ed her 1980 letter to me about them in my book about Naomi Petersen; Laurie didn’t follow punk rock but really liked them. Chuck Dukowski tells me that it was the Sun City Girls who opened for Black Flag on their first trip to Phoenix and that they didn’t see the Meat Puppets until they shared a bill in Riverside, California.

The Meat Puppets were playing L.A. and S.F. regularly by 1981, and once I left Systematic Record Distribution in Berkeley for SST in L.A., I often went out with Black Flag on short runs to Arizona or up the coast, with the MPs often on the bill. Laurie put the Meat Puppets on L.A. shows with Monitor, Non, Nervous Gender, and Human Hands. Chuck worked the Meat Puppets into the SST scene via gigs with the Minutemen, Saccharine Trust, the Descendents, and Red Cross. All of the early SST bands were first and foremost live bands – the Meat Puppets most of all. Their treatment of their own songs and the covers they’d seemingly pull out of the air was always musically different and exploratory.

Once in Berkeley some punk purists’ complaints were rewarded with a set-long noise jam; other gigs might resemble a tightly focused picking parlor, or stomping biker rock or hazy psychedelia. Then they’d go into the studio and come out with yet another surprise. Recording the early Meat Puppets was trying to catch lightning in a bottle. This was successfully done by my lights only five times: “In a Car” off the first 45, “H-Elenore” from the “Keats Rides a Harley” compilation, and “Walking Boss,” “Melons Rising,” and “Saturday Morning” off the first album. Those tunes are live-in-studio!

Derrick explained to me as they prepared to record their second album that from the beginning of the band Curt and Cris could play anything, and now that he also could play anything they were no longer a punk band. “II” is the best balance of their early, wilder approach and their later professional approach. Spot tells me that the basic tracks were done in under eight hours, but the overdubs were bumped by scheduling problems (we had to work around Dokken and Great White at Total Access Studio in Redondo Beach). Cris walked back to SST early one day and we had a good conversation about art and drugs in the unusually quiet office as night fell. I remember Curt, Cris and Derrick as the kind of low-key, deep people you’d be talking with and no-one would think to turn on a light so you’d end up talking in the dark with only the flashes of their lighters when they fired up their pipe. So anyway, Dokken’s “Tooth and Nail” turned out great as we all now realize, but then, rather than wait around, the band went back to Phoenix. Spot flew out and they finished the album at a small studio called Chaton. Total time: about 35 hours he reckons.

We didn’t have a record player at SST so I heard the album mostly from the final eq master cassette Spot brought back from K-Disc mastering. Even then, we didn’t play cassettes that much either. Spot would check his tapes on a small cassette box as sessions progressed from tracking, mixing, to the mastered version. Mostly we had the radio on at SST: country, black, rock, college, big bands & ballads, Hispanic… SST was a live music record label; we documented the best live bands before they destroyed themselves. Greg Ginn, Chuck, and Spot were doing this from the beginning of the label when Black Flag first recorded in January, 1978. Even when they had no money they’d run bands like The Minutemen, Saccharine Trust, The Stains and Overkill through the Media Art Studio in Hermosa Beach just in case the bands didn’t last -- hardly the m.o. of any other record label I can think of.

We didn’t consider the Meat Puppets college rock or hardcore any more than we thought Saint Vitus were. The bands that lasted more than one record had to figure out for themselves how much to cede to the inhospitable, often deathly studio process; most ultimately just surrendered to it. To Spot’s credit he was never the undertaker.

Unlike their first and third albums, “Meat Puppets” and “Up on the Sun,” “II” perfectly integrates all the wild psychedelia, close picking, light/heavy, fast/slow, tuneful/atonal experimenting they’d been doing for years. Once it was released they went on their first U.S. tour, and then went out again with Black Flag. In this period the guys in Black Flag, the Minutemen, Hüsker Dü, Saccharine Trust, and Saint Vitus all raved about the Meat Puppets’ gigs they were seeing. And we – each other – were the only people whose taste we trusted, so that’s a judgment that’ll do until Kingdom come.

Just before they went into Total Access (a 3 day lockout this time) to record “Up on the Sun”, they played at the Music Machine and sounded more like Steppenwolf. I’m still waiting for that album! The first three Meat Puppets albums put me in mind of the three middle-period King Crimson albums of ten years earlier: “Lark’s Tongues” is rough and spacey like “Meat Puppets,” “Starless and Bible Black” is the most vivid representation of the band’s live, experimental search to find its voice just as “II” is for the MPs, and “Red” of course, like “Up on the Sun”, is fully realized and therefore the band would likely only falter from thereon. It must be an iron law of rock.

But I hear good things about the reconstituted Meat Puppets from folks who remember their lightning-in-a-bottle days. Be nice if they could at least bend that iron law.

(a version of this appeared in ATP’s “Don’t Look Back” 2008 giveaway publication)

[photo: The Meat Puppets, 1983, Total Access Studio, Redondo Beach; by Naomi Petersen]


II-era Meat Puppets interview, Flipside 1982


SPOT returns to L.A.

He hasn't been to the west coast in over a decade, but he’s on his way, playing better than ever on guitar and banjo -- won‘t vouch for his clarinet but if he whips it out don't make any sudden moves, just request "Stranger on the Shore".

December dates:
1 - Tuesday at the Spirit Room, Jerome, Ariz.
2 - Wednesday live in the air over KXLU
3 - Thursday at Harold's, San Pedro
4 - Friday at Pike restaurant, Long Beach
4 - Friday later 11pm live in the air over KXLU with Stella on "Stray Pop"
5 - Saturday at Echo Curio, Silverlake (tent.)
6 - Sunday at Liquid Kitty, West Los Angeles
9 - Wednesday at the Hemlock, San Francisco


“American Boogie” (2009, 88m., in Sensurround and 4D at least!)

Produced & Directed & Written & Performed & Acted & Curated by Michael Hurley
Watch this ten minute clip, it’ll seem like twenty minutes so it’s well worth it:


Dezerter, Pankrti live in NYC at Rebel Waltz: Underground Music from Behind the Iron Curtain.


Reprise recording artists:

Mance Lipscomb
Link One
Link Two
Link Three

and from Mike Whittaker:
Captain Beefheart TV ad

It was banned from KTTV; Makes me wonder what was on Creature Features that night?


Verlyn Klinkenborg on various Memphi.


from Jay Babcock:
Julian Cope on Blue Cheer, after Dickie Peterson’s death last month.


Prospect mag review of “Fear of Music: Why People Get Rothko But Don’t Get Stockhausen”.


Wednesday, Nov. 4, 1:30pm at MOMA

D.W. Griffith 1913/1914 early five and six-reel features 'Judith of Bethulia' and ‘The Avenging Conscience‘, both starring Blanche Sweet and Henry Walthall, and they feature players like Lillian Gish, Harry Carey and other DWG regulars. The first was his last for Biograph.


From Kateri, re the Nov. 15 Brendan Mullen memorial:

“Hello all --
The memorial for Brendan Mullen will take place on Sunday, 15 November, at the Echoplex (entrance at 1154 Glendale Boulevard, Echo Park, 90026; between Park and Montana avenues, just south of the Sunset Boulevard bridge and up the alley on the east side of Glendale Boulevard; there are city parking lots south of Sunset off of Lemoyne, Logan and Echo Park avenues and there will be valet parking). Doors open at 4 p.m. (all ages are welcome). The memorial starts at 5 p.m., with an Irish wake to follow.

The Echoplex is where Brendan booked his last show, a reunion of Masque bands to celebrate the publication of his book Live at the Masque: Nightmare in Punk Alley. Many thanks to Liz Garo, queen of the Echoplex and a booker extraordinaire whom Brendan mentored early in her career, for her graciousness and generosity.

The memorial is open to everyone who would like to pay his or her respects to Brendan. I hope I have reached all of Brendan's friends, but it's certainly possible I may have missed some folks, so please help get the word out. Also, musicians: Anyone who wants to jam unplugged during the wake is welcome to do so. We will have Brendan's drum kit there.

Kateri XO


"Berlin: Symphony of a Great City"
(1927, Walter Ruttman/Karl Freund)

Check and see if Ulrich Krieger, Alan Licht, Christian Marclay, and Lee Ranaldo can top Edmund Meisel's original score.


An oddly Robert Ryan-centric issue of the Chicago Reader.

Ryan's Letter
Ryan's Letter 2
The Essential Robert Ryan


Advertising as a weapon. How not to sell green to rednecks.

…and then there's Citgo:
Ad One
Ad Two


Kosova's national anthem.

The Bill Clinton Statue in Pristina is two feet taller than the John Wayne statue at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California.


Honduras is in the Eye of the Beholder --

The New York Times
The Wall Street Journal
South Atlantic News Agency -- MercoPress


Wall Street Journal on a roll:

Book Review: "Where Do Jews Come From?"
People Review: "Why Are Egypt’s ‘Liberals’ Anti-Semitic?"
The Forgotten Ghosts of College Football: Univ of Chicago, Tulane, etc.


The IBD is reading the Health Care Bill and finding, surprise, a Lawyer vs Doctor subtext.


The FT's books roundup on the lost peoples of central Asia.


Liege Lords of Chicago and the lost peoples of Cook County


When will we learn that you can't force democracy on Europe - No Means No; Yes Doesn't Mean Yes.

Painting by Josh Mason

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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
• Copyright retained by the writer, artist, or photographer

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