By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
Cris Kirkwood was high on heroin and catatonic in the studio during the early 1995 recording sessions for No Joke, the first Meat Puppets record after Too High to Die, and the last one they made. The hype preceding No Joke's release in the fall of 1995 was acute. The album was good, but doomed. The band's record label eviscerated promotions of No Joke, including a video, and canceled support for a national tour when they learned Cris was riding the needle.
"My brother cost himself, me, and [original Puppets drummer Derrick] Bostrom millions of dollars," Curt claims. "His drug abuse was this band's only catastrophe. The record company had high hopes for our last album, but when they saw the internal problems, they decided to cut their losses. I don't really blame them. It just got away from us because I wouldn't let him go. Our managers at the time [the Meat Puppets were then managed by Gold Mountain, which also managed Nirvana] knew all about this kind of shit, and they were not fucking into it at all. They told me to get him out of the band, and I wouldn't because he was my brother. I figured he might pull his head out with the album going down the tubes, but he didn't."
Rock-star meltdowns have swirled around Curt Kirkwood without pause for years now, poisoning the air inside his bubble of hard-won success. Before the Meat Puppets toured with Stone Temple Pilots, they went on the road with chart darlings Blind Melon, whose lead singer Shannon Hoon died from a cocaine overdose inside his tour bus in October 1995
In November 1993 the Kirkwoods appeared onstage with Nirvana for the live recording of that band's legendary MTV Unplugged concert and performed three songs from their 1984 album Meat Puppets II, a landmark in American indie rock. Kurt Cobain had asked the Puppets to open a series of huge shows on Nirvana's In Utero tour, and when Too High to Die came out in early 1994, around the time MTV first aired the Unplugged concert, its packaging included a sticker with a quote from Cobain: "The Meat Puppets gave me a completely different attitude toward music. I owe so much to them."
Cobain barely survived a heroin overdose in March 1994, shortly before the Meat Puppets were supposed to meet Nirvana in Prague for a European tour. Those plans were trashed, and Cobain killed himself with a shotgun in April.
"Cobain was a lot of fun to hang out with," Curt remembers. "I always enjoyed talking with him. We were supposed to meet up with him in Europe, but he was hiding out, killing himself. I don't know what the hell's going on, but it seems like in the past four years, way too many people around me with good things happening for them have gone fuckin' belly-up. They all turned themselves into floaters."
Shortly after his Cris's wife overdosed, Curt saw his brother. "He'd alternate between being a fiend and crying a lot, and acting like my bro." It was enough to make Curt try to help one more time. He paid an interventionist to come from California and help get his brother into a private, high-dollar residential detox and rehab center in Los Angeles.
Cris eventually got on the plane and checked into rehab, but he left five days later and went to a friend's house in L.A. When Cris called a limo, his friend tried to stop him from getting in, but Cris shoved him out of the way. That was in late August. Cris showed up in Tempe in early September. Curt heard from mutual friends that Cris was living in his car for awhile, then a Motel 6. Curt says no one has seen him since a few days before Halloween.
On October 6 Cris was arrested outside the Royal Inn Motel in north Scottsdale for possession of stolen property and falsification of vehicle registration. A police officer became suspicious when he saw the license plate on Cris's Infiniti was haphazardly attached, ran the number, and discovered the plate was stolen. Charges stemming from that incident are also pending.
Cris turned 38 years old on October 22. Curt didn't send him a present or call. "I have no idea how to get in touch with him."
Months before that last failed intervention, Curt stopped waiting for Cris to come back and moved on without him. In the fall of 1997 he formed a new band with Bob Mould bassist Andrew Duplantis (now on tour with roots-rock notables Son Volt) and two refugees from the San Antonio wunderkind heavy-metal band Pariah: guitarist Kyle Ellison and drummer Shandon Sahm, son of famed Texas singer-guitarist Doug Sahm, of Sir Douglas Quintet fame.
Curt says Ellison is one of the few people who can relate to his bitter conundrum. Ellison's brother, Sims, played bass for Pariah. Sims went into a deep depression after Pariah was dropped by Geffen Records and killed himself two years ago.
"I think it's a day-to-day struggle for both Kyle and I to deal with our reality right now and keep from irrationally thinking we're pathetic worms because it's all our fault," Curt notes. "We help each other out in that respect."