Back on the Sun

Curt and Cris Kirkwood reunite the Meat Puppets

The next guy who calls 2007 "the year of the reunion" is gonna get his nose broken. It'd be nice to think there are larger utopian forces — beyond greed and stalled solo careers — bringing together the Police, Genesis, the Spice Girls, and Smashing Pumpkins. But there ain't.

But what about Curt Kirkwood inviting his brother Cris to be a Meat Puppet again, after Cris's lost decade of drugs, death, and despair? It's a decade that culminated in an 18-month jail sentence when Cris attacked a retired sheriff's deputy, who shot him in the back. Even oddsmakers with a wicked sense of humor wouldn't entertain the probability of a Meat Puppets reunion after all of that — or the likelihood of the resulting album, Rise to Your Knees, being one of their best ever.

Speaking to both brothers, however, could restore anyone's faith that there are, indeed, larger forces at work.

Although Cris's recovery is nothing short of miraculous, Curt seems wary of the catchall reunion tag. "I saw this coming after I got Cris back on. They'll make a pretty big deal of this," says Curt via phone from his home in Austin, Texas. "Not just Cris having been fucked up, but there's always that triumphant thing — rock bands that get old."

Sporting shorts and horn-rimmed glasses, Cris, who lives in Phoenix, resembles your goofy next-door neighbor, not the "treacherous, nasty junkie who fucked everyone over" that Curt describes when recalling the shitty years.

The first time Cris tells the story of how he got shot, it's just the facts: He verbally abused a woman who tried to steal the parking space he was going to back into. She summoned a security guard. Some shoving ensued. Cris took the guard's nightstick and hit him on the noggin. The tale concludes with a viewing of the bullet scar, where the .357 slug entered his spinal cord — and still remains. The second time he tells it, the guard has an Edward G. Robinson bark, and cartoon sound effects are provided. But it's still Cris's own fault.

Behind bars, Cris learned chess and played in a band with Jerry Posin, drummer of the New Steppenwolf V. Cris shows a picture of himself playing upright bass; he's so large that the bass is barely visible.

Once out of prison and off junk, he began to work on the things he could control: getting his weight down, replacing his teeth, and repairing the rift with his family.

"Both of us come from tough stock," says Curt. "This whole experience has brought him up to speed of what he has inside him and how to use it properly. Cris has always been so openhearted and willing to share, so when he got let down by people, he started getting nasty, and I had to write him off as dead. Which is what you do with junkies, unless you're an idiot.

"I never intended for the band to go away, which is why I kept it up with the band in Texas," says Curt, who had already written 90 percent of the new Meat Puppets material before re-enlisting Cris.

The new record is a one-off with Anodyne, an indie label Curt chose because execs there agreed to put the record out without hearing a note. And it's the Meat Puppets as nature intended, "banging the shit out in a week's time," Cris says. "That's the way we did records like Up on the Sun."

The original drummer for the band, Derrick Bostrom, declined to participate in the new Puppets record, but as luck would have it, drummer Ted Marcus was doing lighting for a documentary being filmed about the Kirkwood brothers and just happened to click when he sat behind the drums.

Earlier this year the band played some shows at South by Southwest in Austin, and took a brief West Coast jaunt. According to Cris, the audiences were a mix of old fans, happy to see things all worked out, and young fans, who probably have no idea what the band has gone through. For them, he has an alternate history of the past decade.

"Let's see.... There was our late-Nineties rap album that got lost in a downloading power outage," he deadpans. "Then there was our boy-band album. That one we had to scrap for legal reasons and move to the Cayman Islands. That's where I've been livin' for the last 10 years. But this album — this one is really for the kids."

 
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