Monday, June 20, 2011

I Want to Make You Scream: Hardcore Violence in San Diego, 1981-83

I originally presented this paper at a session of the Society for the Interdisciplinary Study of Social Imagery (SISSI) in March, 2007. It can also be found in the Proceedings of the conference of the same name.

I Want to Make you Scream: Hardcore Violence in San Diego, 1981-83

True Sounds of Liberty

The first punk show I attended was TSOL at Fairmont Hall in the Fall of 1981 or Spring of 1982. The show ended with fans storming the stage and brawling with the band. This was a hook for me to continue on and become more involved in the hardcore punk rock scene. For a boy of 16 who was also a fan of rock music, to see a band get beat up was nothing short of a revelation! “They are no better than me,” I thought. “If they don’t perform to our satisfaction we’ll kick their asses!” The band members’ safety was of no concern to me. The power of the audience, a major focus of punk and hardcore, was at issue here.

True Sounds of Liberty (TSOL), from Huntington Beach, California, existed in one form or another for more than twenty years, from 1981-2005. Usual front man Jack Grisham describes the punks he hung out with as “Punks in the literal meaning” (Blush 92). He describes shows in which people are stabbed multiple times, him having to go to Alaska to cool off from the violence of the shows, grave robbing, desecrating church alters.

In American Hardcore Steve Blush suggests that “violent slam dancing originated” in seaside communities like Huntington Beach and “TSOL were the ones that most violent OC kids gravitated to” (91).

Symbolic Interactionism, Definition of the Situation, Violence as an Explicit Goal for Participants at San Diego Hardcore Shows

A major theoretical perspective of sociology known as Symbolic Interactionism maintains that people act based on negotiated collective definitions of situations. Definitions of situations consist of all the symbols referring to all the objects in a given interactional moment. We are able to coordinate our behaviors in situations because we all agree as to what is going on.

Goals are one of the salient objects that exist within any situation. The participants in a situation have something they want to accomplish. And, for the most part, they agree as to what it is they want to accomplish.

Violence was an explicit goal for participants in San Diego’s hardcore music shows of the early 1980s. It was an object which most participants agreed on. It was an object that motivated them to action. They, audience members and musicians alike, went to shows expecting and thus instigating violence. In this paper I highlight the social construction of violence at San Diego hardcore shows through a recollection of my participation in the scene. I describe my participation in a few shows, some of the people I hung out with, and some of the bands I encountered. All of the descriptions have one thing in common: violence as a goal for action.

History of Punk Rock Violence

Violence in hardcore music and at hardcore shows was the result of ten to twenty years of punk rock history moving from Detroit and New York in the ‘60s to the mid-70s and then to London in 76-78. Though some consider the end of the Sex Pistols to be the end of punk rock, “hardcore” punk was just getting started by the late 70s and into the 1980s in California. It is in the hardcore phase, where punks adopted and imitated these earlier scenes (especially the iconography of Sid Vicious and the Sex Pistols) that violence becomes an explicit goal of the music and members. It is this scene that I document in this paper.


Sometime soon after that TSOL show, on June 8, 1982, being now dedicated to the hardcore ideology (if not the lifestyle), I wrote the following poem:

Bashing heads and cracking skulls
Smashing bones and breaking stones
It’s all fun you know it is
It’s all violence






I was sixteen when I wrote the poem and I feel it expresses a definition of the situation commonly shared among hardcore punk rockers and, thus, gives an idea of the role of violence in the culture.

The Pit as Keyed Fighting

Much of the violence I describe in this paper took place in “the pit,” the place where slam dancing happened. It was a place for warriors. We came home after shows and compared our scars, bruises, and bloodied bodies. At times, for the right band and the right song, the pit would erupt in chaos.

Slam dancing was a keying of actual fighting where “a given activity, one already meaningful in terms of some primary framework, is transformed into something patterned on this activity but seen by the participants to be something quite else” (Goffman 44). These are activities that are not the real thing, they are only patterned after the real thing. The participants in the keying, however, will see the activity as something just as real as the real thing while at the same time a keying of the real thing.

Slam dancing, then, was a keying of traditional fighting. A keying, as Goffman suggests, “may alter only slightly the activity thus transformed, but it utterly changes what it is a participant would say was going on” (45). Practically, slam dancing was only slightly different than actual fighting. But participants of the shows would say something radically different from fighting was going on.

San Diego Skinheads/Imperial Beach Skinheads

The whole idea of violence in the hardcore scene tended to be mob violence. If a friend is in a fight, you must jump in. And you don’t jump in simply to defend him, you jump in to beat the other guys up (because they are likely to be fighting as a mob, too).

The fighting at shows took an “us vs. them” nature. It wasn’t unlike the type of turf protection that surfers in the area had. Surfers had their home beaches and would fight non-locals who infringed on their territory. The difference between the surfer violence and hardcore punk violence was that punk violence happened at neutral site venues. Punks had to establish their dominance early on at every show. Surfers didn’t have to establish their turf, it was already theirs and “we” knew who “we” were and “they” knew who “they” were.

One group of punks who physically dominated shows in the San Diego scene referred to themselves as the San Diego Skinheads. They attended every show of any magnitude. They were a tough looking bunch of guys who regularly beat up people at the shows (they engaged in REAL rather than keyed fights). They would gang up on other punks. I remember quite vividly three or four San Diego Skinheads beating a guy until he was curled up on the ground against a wall, and they were still kicking him. I remember one San Diego Skinhead, in another incident, one-punching a guy to his knees, then throwing a second punch that knocked the guy down. Most people were afraid to confront the San Diego Skinheads. They were a mob and very tough. They controlled the shows through violence.

Some of the punks I hung out with were surfers from Imperial Beach. They also liked to fight. At first they would simply get into individual fights. But after a while they started referring to themselves as the Imperial Beach Skin Heads. As this name became associated with them (if only to themselves) they began to fight as a group.

San Diego Skinheads and Imperial Beach Skinheads were people who went to shows because they wanted to fight.

Battalion of Saints

The Battalion of Saints were the most popular local hardcore band in San Diego in the early 80s. They opened for every band of any stature that came through town. They were the band that the San Diego Skinheads slammed danced to. Punk kids proudly donned their symbol on their leather jackets, with stickers on their cars, with tattoos. They are still remembered by many inside and outside of San Diego.

The Bats (as they were known) were a violent band. They directly confronted the audience, taunted the audience, challenged the audience into fights. They kicked people from the stage, singled people out for threats. Their music was fast and loud and lyrically violent. The pit would explode when they came on.

The Bats music was interestingly topical and politically challenging, despite the violence of their sounds, following, and shows. The following song, “I Wanna Make You Scream,” might fit well in an American folk tradition of stories about wayward criminals, but with a slightly more violent focus.

One man in the city of L.A. everyone seemed to fear
The Hillside Strangler - a dual personality monster that drives the streets
Looking for girls that he and his cousin Bono could rape and kill
No deep remorse for the most violent man of our time

I wanna make you scream
With his hands around your neck
I wanna make you scream
It's a better world now that you're dead

Kenneth Bianchi whose killer other side was a madman named Steve
Steve was a strangler and Ken was a loving father
The 10 women that died in a 121 day reign of terror
From ages 12 to 28 the lives he did take he thought of as no great loss at all


Up to Washington he goes leaving the clueless cops behind
Ken gets a job as a private security cop being an idol person
But Steve didn't like being such a sap and having no fun
So he strangled two coed girls but something went wrong - he got caught


As dirt settled on early graves not too far away
Ken sits behind cold steel bars thinking he did nothing wrong
To purify his soul he blesses himself in a ritual every morning
While grieving friends and relatives put flowers on the 12 known graves
(lyrics by Battalion of Saints)

Black Flag

Black Flag is considered by many to be the first and seminal hardcore band. They begin in Hermosa Beach, California, around 1978 releasing records through 1986. Their shows were notorious in their time for the anarchic violence that often occurred; they were banned from numerous Los Angeles area clubs.

I saw Black Flag at the Adams Avenue Theater in San Diego, April 29, 1983. My memories of the show are a few. First, the members of Black Flag were not conforming to the standard punk uniform of short hair, jeans, t-shirts, leather and studs. They had long hair! Front man Henry Rollins wore nothing but a pair of gym shorts! This ties in with a discussion of violence in that it was an obvious confrontational tactic on the part of the band. Hardcore kids by this time had a uniform. Jeans, t-shirts, studs, boots. Violence is dripping in the imagery here. It is traditional American rebel imagery with a conscientiously violent emphasis. Studs were used in fights, steel-toed boots were used for kicking.

Hardcore bands were consciously confrontational. They taunted audience members with violence. So Black Flag (being the movement leaders), were being confrontational by not conforming to the uniform. It was obvious at the show that this is what they were up to and it is obvious now.

Important to note is at this time Black Flag were seen as has been sell-outs by many San Diego punks. Damaged, which was probably the album they were touring on (or maybe 1983’s My War), was seen as slick and overproduced and, well, just not punk. Black Flag were seen by San Diego punks as being beyond the pale of true hardcore punk.

An important part of the hardcore cultural mentality was that bands were no better than audience members, there were no “rock stars.” One way that members of San Diego’s hardcore scene let bands know that they were not stars was to assault the band (as told in the previous TSOL story).

As I remember this particular night Henry Rollins put himself out for audience assault. I remember him doing his thing on the front of the stage, leaning out over the audience, sometimes standing straight up, hands at his side. I remember audience members flicking lit cigarettes at him, trying to burn him directly with cigarettes. They would jump on stage throwing punches at him. He jumped in the crowd and they punched and kicked him. And he seemed to take it without fighting back. It was as if he was their sacrificial punching bag and he knew it. It was performance art violence. The audience was releasing themselves in a cathartic mass of violence. They took out their anger at Black Flag’s perceived selling out directly, and Rollins seemed willing to take it.

Minor Threat

Minor Threat began in 1980 in Washington, D.C. They are, along with Black Flag, the other seminal hardcore band.

Ian Mackaye, the singer and “leader” of Minor Threat, says, in American Hardcore, that “we were like ‘Fuck you!’ We were gonna be the worst motherfuckers—we wanted to scare people. It was a form of intimidation backed up by the threat of unpredictableness” (137). The suggestion is that Minor Threat toured with a group of friends that often ended up fighting with the locals of whatever town they were in.

In the Fall of 1982 I saw Minor Threat at the King’s Road CafĂ© in San Diego. I went to this show alone. I slam danced. Some guy I didn’t recognize kept punching me in the back of the head. Two or three times he did this. Machine gun punches to the back of the head. I would turn around and not see anyone. Finally, the last time, I turned around and there he was staring me down. I raised my hands as if to say, “What did I do?”

Then, Ian spoke directly to me through the microphone. “Hey, Man. Cool it!” His intended message to me was that I was being too aggressive in the pit. Here I was, a 120 lbs. chicken who never picked fights, being told to calm down in the pit.

I slipped out of the venue before the band finished. I was scared.

It is important, given what is written in American Hardcore about Minor Threat and them taking friends around the country, that I didn’t recognize the guy who was punching me and, really, I recognized very few people in the crowd. It was not a typical San Diego hardcore crowd show. It didn’t feel like a home game.

Minor Threat’s song “Stand Up” is a good summary of the role of violence in the hardcore scene generally across the United States and in San Diego specifically. It posits that while violence might not be something one seeks out, one and one’s friends are certainly ready and willing to fight if the opportunity arises.

Something’s fucked up
Something’s not right
I came to have a good time
You came to fight
But if I do fight
Nothing to fear
‘Cause I know
My friends are here

I don’t like to fight
I don’t like getting hurt
Got my guard up
State of alert

I don’t look for trouble
Trouble finds me
Need my friends
In an emergency

Don’t go out alone
Go with a friend
You might need him
In the end

Stand up
Stand up
Stand up
Stand up
And be counted
(lyrics by Ian MacKaye)

I am suggesting in this paper, contrary to this song’s idea that one only fights when someone threatens you, that certain individuals and groups within San Diego’s hardcore scene went to shows looking for fights, wanting to fight. Fighting was an explicit goal of San Diego’s hardcore punks.

The Engrossment of Hardcore Violence

Punks at hardcore shows, of course, were “engrossed” in their activities. They were “at least partly unaware of the direction of” their actions (Goffman 346). Indeed, Goffman tells us, “if a particular focus of attention is to be maintained, it cannot be maintained intendedly (at least wholly so), since such an intention would introduce a different focus of attention, that of maintaining a particular one” (346). That is, when sincerely keying an event such as a hardcore show, punks could not allow themselves to be too conscious of what they were keying. At some point, if they and others were to take them seriously, they had to act out their key in a sincere and engrossing fashion; they had to believe what they were doing not to be a keying, but the real thing.

Violence against bands and between audience members at hardcore shows was a sincere attempt by punks at the rejection of something punks felt was stale and commercially corrupt and at the same time a sincere attempt at the creation of something new in its place: a form of rock where political and cultural expression was of utmost importance. But the interactional requirement that they become engrossed in their keyed activities created a scene in which violence was preeminent. Their cultural and political resistance took the form of sincere violence, often devoid of cultural and political meaning.

“Nothing Seems to Go Right”

Roughly a year after writing that original poem, in April of 1983, when I was 17, I wrote the following:

nothing seems to go right
everyone wants to get in a fight
can’t you all just have some fun
noone needs to hurt noone

what’s wrong with you

someone called the state police
now we have someone to tease
now is our chance to show how we unite
let’s band together, let’s fight

what’s wrong with you

we used to have shows every week
now our shows are getting weak
what’s wrong with our fucking city
for all you jerks I show no pity

what’s wrong with you

Although a theme of violence still exists in this poem, I was clearly commenting upon the punk-on-punk violence that was happening at the shows I attended. Rather than fight with each other, I’m suggesting in the poem, use violence as a form of political and cultural resistance. . .use it against the state.


I do not want to suggest that violence was the only defining characteristic of hardcore punk, or of San Diego’s hardcore scene. Hardcore punks were actively resisting the cultural and political climates of their time. They did this musically by playing harder, faster and more minimalist than the mainstream rock of the seventies and early eighties. They did it lyrically through songs that directly confronted policies of the Reagan administration. They did it fashionably by cutting and dying their hair and through provocative clothing. They resisted economically through an active “Do It Yourself” system of independent recording labels and performance venues. In many ways the hardcore scene I’m writing about here was a force of positive political and cultural change.

But dating back at least to the Sex Pistols, violence was an increasingly salient part of the punk and hardcore scenes. Specifically in San Diego in the early 80s, where I did my hardcore time, violence was prevalent. It was the result, in Goffmanian terms, of people becoming engrossed in the keying of an event and, thus, creating a new frame where violence was often the main event.

Works Cited

Black Flag. Damaged. SST Records, 1981.

Black Flag. My War. SST Records, 1983.

Blush, Steven. American Hardcore: A Tribal History. Los Angeles: Feral House, 2001.

Goffman, Erving. Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Interview with Curt Kirkwood, April, 2011

Phone Interview with Curt Kirkwood
April 22, 2011

I Called Curt

Interview Transcribed by William Jergins

Matt- Alright we’re recording. There’s always been kind of a big to do about the change that happens going from Meat Puppets I to Meat Puppets II; people talk about it being a fairly radical change. Do you see that change?

Curt- Yeah, kind of. I mean the recording approach wasn’t that different really, but the material’s different. Meat Puppets II is basically a folk album, coming out of being classified as a hard core sort of punk rock band. That was my conscious attempt to add different styles into the repertoire. So that we could have a broader thing. I just felt like we did the punk rock thing. I got enough of being stuck with those people. We were attracting people that would go see Black Flag and what naught, and when they would find out that we would play stuff that wasn’t just straight up punk rock they’d get kind of abusive and obnoxious and it just wasn’t a lot of fun some times. So I did that consciously.

M- You thought to yourself, “I don’t want to pander to these punk rock guys anymore.”

C- I never felt like it in the beginning. I thought that the fast music with the high energy and stuff was real appealing and, uh, just more sort of a wave. I wasn’t taking it like it was some sort of movement or anything. I just kind of liked the music. I definitely wanted to change styles, to just to do some stuff we like to do anyway. I figured, you know, here I’m supposed to be in something that’s kind of progressive. That’s what I thought was punk rock and underground that’s supposed to be different and kind of non-categorizable. But I found out that wasn’t really the truth. The people have an expectation and they treat us like punk rock and slam dancers. . . I decided it would be a better idea to pull the punk rock thing on the punks. What would irritate them to the point of either staying away or evolving?

M- What was it between those two records that lead to you becoming the principal song writer in the band? Because in the first record Derrick writes some lyrics and it’s all attributed to Meat Puppets and then it becomes Curt Kirkwood.

C- Yeah, well, I had kids, or you know, it’s kind of on the way there, and I wrote a lot of that stuff when their mom was pregnant. And it was also just my realization, after the exuberance of getting to record a couple of records, we didn’t really expect to have the opportunity to make another one. We did it without thinking about it. There was no direct effort to make a record. It was just stuff that we had and it wasn’t that organized. Then after that first record was done we go, “Ok, now what?” And I realized, “Uhg! Wow, you have to do something. Someone’s gonna have to do something. Everyone’s laying around stoned all the time.” I had this realization that you have to do a little work and I was the one that did it. I don’t know why that was but they didn’t feel that inspired.

M- It seems that Derrick and Chris were willing to go along with it; that you’d be the guy.

C- Yeah. I had written a good amount of music and Derrick was writing lyrics and he was singing and he was kind of surrealistically socio-political about stuff. And I didn’t really care to sing his stuff so that’s why he would sing in the first place. He didn’t really want to sing and I didn’t want to sing his lyrics. I don’t like that.

M- You’re singing on the first record aren’t you?

C- Yeah, primarily. I think Chris might do a little bit, but that’s pretty much mostly me.
Some of that stuff was just singing it. I didn’t know really what he was writing about. I didn’t care. I thought it was fun to do. I had never sang before. “Ok, if I’m gonna sing I’m gonna write stuff that it doesn’t bug me to sing.” And I really liked some of these bands like Springsteen and Creedence. Stuff where you could see the effort in it. And I started realizing, you know, “I’m no different from these people in spite of their high profile. I can make this next body of work for this next record and not play to any crowd really and kind of make it seem like it’s up there with the same motivation of these other people that I like.” Not necessarily imitating them, but just the idea that I’m no different from them in my capabilities. A lot of that stuff comes from somebody sitting around by themselves making plans.

M- Do you have a work routine?

C- A lot of times I just kinda start hearing a piece of it. There’s no routine. I’m not disciplined at all. I can’t really do that. Unless uh, you know unless I’m needed I need it. Like if were in the studio. Like with this last record it was about half done so, you know, you have the time constraints and that’s always a good thing for me. It’s like, “Ok, this has to get done no matter what.” So I’ll sit down then and actually make myself finish the stuff. But a lot times it’s just as it comes. And I’ve gone through long periods of times where I just don’t feel like anything is coming at all and I’m not looking for it. I never really do. I used to kind of sit there and just, consciously, you know, zone out and kind of see if stuff would come and it kind of worked. It still kind of does. But generally stuff that starts to take shape, like, you find yourself a little melody of some kind, just a little piece of it, and, “Oh, I can finish this right now if I can let this go. If I go grab the guitar you never know what could happen.” Since the last record I haven’t written anything, and I was off most of last year, so it’s been about a good year and I haven’t really written a thing. That’s how it always feels. I have no idea what I want to do. Nothing coming, you know.

M- Is it the same with lyrics? Do they come to you or do sit down and consciously try and write the whole thing?

C- Boy! That’s one I’ve been trying to figure-out. I’m not sure how that happens, ‘cuz I just don’t write that much. I only write for songs. And, you know, back in school whenever I had to do some like creative writing, I was never very original. I used to plagiarize a lot and get away with it. I wrote an essay about Disneyland and I completely stole it from National Geographic and got away with it. I won a creative writing award once for this story about this caterpillar that was on this stone and it was asking for help or something and I just totally got it out of a book. That was like it in sixth grade. I was copying word-for-word. I was never that good at writing.

M- To what extent do you think you borrow and/or plagiarize other stories that are out there in culture for your own songs?

C- I don’t do that. I’m conscious about that. Conscious that I don’t rip off them. I’m careful about ideas. A lot of times what I’m doing is trying to write stuff that rolls off your tongue nicely, in conjunction with the chords that I have and the rhythm that it’s going to. And then, you know, I make sure that you sing it right and it kind of makes sense in the sentence form. Occasionally I’ll just completely blow that off and it’ll be kind of like cut up, but generally I try and make it seem like I’m writing about something, while really the only thing that’s going on is what you’re going to take from it. There are so many things that you can use and still make it sound like you’re talking about something. I think I get a lot of that from politicians. I was always into Nixon.

M- They sound like they’re talking about something when they’re really not.

C- Yeah. Nixon was like a grave serious person but I could never really get what he was saying. I always thought it was great watching him because it was like, “Wow! What the fuck?!”

M- The Grateful Dead talk a lot about doing acid, and they were very serious about their acid use. They were taking it to try and open up new realities. You’ve been very public about your drug use. Were you taking acid the same way as The Grateful Dead? Did you take it to try and find a new musical and creative outlets? Or were you taking it recreationally?

C- Oh, no. I was typical, like any other teenager. It was pre-rave stuff. Somebody gave me some and I never really took it very seriously. The total opposite of that. It made me take things not very seriously in a lot of ways.

M- It must have influenced your lyric and song writing though, right? Do you think these would have been the same songs if you hadn’t been doing acid or whatever other drugs you happened to be doing?

C- I probably wouldn’t have become a musician. I was working on an airplane, recreational fisherman type of airplanes with pontoons. I wound up going to Northwest Territories. I was just kind of doing what was available then. And when that sort of job started winding down, and somebody up there gave me some mescaline when I got back to International Falls. Then I just started kind of changing a little bit. I think it was also, I had been kind of outdoorsy. I was pretty into hunting and fishing and stuff when I was a kid and motorbikes. That’s what I thought I wanted to do. One of those things. Mostly the fishing sort of area and just being outdoors. I just realized, “I don’t just like to be outdoors. I don’t really care that much about fishing or any of that stuff.” I had a guitar up there and I remember a lot of people, a lot of my friends used to get together and just play, you know, Jesse Collin Young songs at lunchtime or whatever. I could play the guitar a little so I started kind of getting in with them and playing a little. And so I was doing that. Then I was in a plane wreck when I was up in Manitoba, during that time. And that’s what really kind of sealed it for me. I just realized that there’s too much that can go wrong when you’re trying to do that kind of outdoors stuff. The wilderness is definitely so unpredictable and I just thought, “Well, this is a lot of fun, but this is not what I had in mind. And I don’t think I want to do anything anymore except what I think is the coolest thing.” I kind of thought of myself as a musician a little bit but I kind of kept it on the back burner. Something that I kept in mind but never really did.

M- A closet musician.

C- Yeah. My mom had me take guitar lessons when I was a kid. I would have a guitar around. But for some reason that just kind of made me go “No.”

I can see now how fragile things are. So when I came back to Phoenix, that’s when I started in my first band, when I was seventeen. I was in a couple of bands but they were cover bands. I’d pick my favorite kind of stuff. In my first band my favorite stuff was like “Crocodile Rock,” ‘cuz it was really light pop, and bright. Then in my second band I thought that early “Kansas” and “Steely Dan,” I thought “Steely Dan” was good. But I wasn’t the singer in either of those. I wasn’t even thinking of that, I was just a guitar player. It’s strange that I wound up being a musician at all because I never really thought about it all through high school. I wanted to race motorcycles. And then, you know, that I could come up with stuff. I don’t know. that’s like, I don’t know. I have always liked to draw cartoons and stuff like that, and I was told that I was clever when I was a kid. But I don’t really think of myself as somebody with something to say or somebody with an agenda like that. I know I’ve written a lot of stuff but it’s not a very disciplined thing so it’s been kind of like picking berries more than anything.

M- Do you see any lyrical themes in “Meat Puppets II”?

C- Well, I started to see stuff there that, even though I didn’t intend it, like “Split Myself in Two,” I saw how I wrote that and then I had twins and I was like “Wow!” I mean, obviously I’m not pre-cognizant or anything like that so I’m not taking it that way. I focused on writing these little story book sort of tale sounding lyrics that, when it was done, I could relate it to my own circumstances. Even though I was the writer I could have a subjective audience view point of it. I don’t think it was conscious. I just was trying to make stuff that sounds cool.

M- You consciously wrote about Rumplestilksin in “Split Myself in Two.”

C- Yeah. I love fairy tales and I love The Brothers Grimm. I love Alice in Wonderland. I like fun writing like that, like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Kubla Khan” is a big one for me.

M- Do you ever write about specific people in your life, and places?

C- Not very much. No. It’s one of the things that everybody else does. “Just write about what you see and what you’ve seen.” There are people like that. “Be honest.” They paint this picture, or like a story teller, or something like that. I’ve never been really good at that. It just doesn’t seem right to me to try to write something like. . . I like Marty Robbins for that. I like “El Paso.” That tells a great little story. And he can have the complete little tale right there and it doesn’t really create the suggestion of stuff or anything. It was just a story. I’m not good at that. I tend to go through and find things like that. If I see myself trying to do it I’ll find something to take its place. That’s something that I’ve always done. I go through and I say, “Oh, I’m trying to make a point here.” Or, “This is starting to go into some sort of moralizing weird direction,” or something like that. Like with punk rock. It was always, you know, “Fuck authority.” There’s always some subject that’s pretty clear. A lot of other people do that. Paul McCartney wrote “Another Silly Love Song” way before I started the band, or right about then, and I was like, “Well that caps it.” ‘Cuz who wants to hear another love song. So love songs are kind of out.

So I didn’t really do that. The thing is that when you get going, even as you start writing it starts to have a loose sense to it, even if it’s not about anything. You can kind of feel it going in the right directions. You put the words down and it’s like, “Oh that’s interesting,” and some of it’s kind of like, “Oh that sounds too dopey or kind of artsy.” There’s a lot of loose boundaries that I have and I don’t want to give away too much. I don’t want to have direct ties to any emotional sort of triggers or anything like that.

M- It seems like over your career, especially when you were younger, you wrote a lot about alternate realities inside our heads. Scary places like monsters and hallucinations, these things that are both attractive and repulsive at the same time.

C- Well, for sure that’s there. It’s just once again the whole fairy tale thing.

M- Your fairy tales seem to be closer to nightmares.

C- I’ve started to see that, but that’s more like pop culture nightmare type stuff, like Frankenstein and Nixon. A big influence for me is Disney. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Pinocchio were the ones that really got me when I was real little. It all has its place in there. I find that stuff appealing. I’m not really trying to be scary or anything. A lot of times I think it’s just kind of cool stuff, just cool images, and that’s a good place to start. I don’t really see it as being spooky and stuff like that until later and then I could see how that’s kind of a little bit strange. But for me it’s more of that Alice in Wonderland stuff where it’s, you know, there’s equals side by side and there’s no real good or bad.

M- A lot of these things in your songs happen at night, I’ve noticed. There’s often night, when people are supposed to be sleeping, like in “We’re Here,” the person can’t sleep and, you know, things fly by your windows at night. Is there something about night that interests you?

C- Uh, yeah, Nosferatu.

M- In those stories everything’s always dark. Whenever you see movies, whether it be Nosferatu or, you know, Jurassic Park, it’s always dark and raining and night time.

C- Well, you know, growing up in Arizona the day time is for being out and enjoying the nice weather and hiking out in the desert and stuff, if it’s not too hot. But I tended to spend a lot of my time at night. I wait for the sun to go down. I love it in the evening. I like it when everybody chills out. People are off the streets, maybe going to sleep. The world is more quiet. I work at night. That’s kind of also how a lot of times life tends to be spent anyway, just because it’s so hot. It kind of flip-flops and you stay up all night. But I like it. It’s a nice time. The daytime to me is nice and everything, but everybody knows what’s going on. Dog eat dog. It’s like “fuck you. Fuck you. It’s day time, so fuck you.”

M- You still play a lot of Meat Puppets II in your live sets. Why do you play so much Meat Puppets II still as opposed to other albums?

C- There’s a number of songs off that album, like the ones that Nirvana did, coincidentally, were like cornerstones for our set anyway at that time and still remain that way and kind of always work. As we went along album to album there’s a few songs off each one like the Up On the Sun title track and, you know, “Maiden’s Milk” kind of stayed in there some. And Meat Puppets II, those are the ones that we kept doing, and to a Sesser degree “We’re Here,” that one kind of stayed in there, and “A Mindless Idiot,” that’s kind of stayed in there. Easy to play, good songs. I guess they’re folk songs. You have your cornerstones. Everybody kind of has them, whether it’s a hit song. . . a lot of people are waiting to hear a hit song.

M- So you’re conscious of the people that want to hear the Nirvana trilogy?

C- Oh, I’m conscious of them. I’m conscious of a lot of them don’t know that I wrote it a lot of times. But there’s a risk there in that relationship that they did those things and they went out.

M- My twenty year old students think that you’re covering Nirvana.

C- Yeah I get that. I hear it in the bathroom. Sometimes like, “Whoa! They covered a lot of Nirvana songs.” I don’t really make any effort to make a distinction for them. I just the like the songs. They’re good songs. I wrote them.

M- How do you approach playing these older songs? I’ve seen you a number of times. Some of them, like “Lake of Fire” change weekly. Others, say “Plateau” or “Lost,” kind of stay the same through time. How do you approach playing these songs from year to year?

C- You just roll with how they feel at the time. ‘Cuz it’s just part of making a song interesting. If there’s something about it that’s bugging. . . if it’s not the lyric in particular and it’s not the chord change there is just a way of playing it. But, something like “Lake of Fire,” that is a song that we’ve had the opportunity, we’ve been doing that for a while, to use that as a place to launch into a conversation. “Plateau” has taken that and so has “Oh, Me.” All three of those songs, I don’t do as much on “Plateau,” but I kind of take it out a little bit and “Lake of Fire” has become something that we can really kind of get into a lot of cool stuff with it, there’s just a place to kind of launch into something with a simple chord change behind and you keep it interesting.

M- “Lake of Fire” and “Up On the Sun” have become the Meat Puppets’ that the show probably wouldn’t be a show without those two songs.

C- Well, it’s weird. “Up On the Sun” has got amazing jams coming out of it. That stuff is also that is the real excuse for our band. Cris and I were way into Art Ensemble of Chicago, you know, Miles Davis, Ornette, you know, and then Sun Ra, and then the Grateful Dead. Experimental music. We were pretty into the. . . really got into the Dead. I heard about The Dead after I was in my first band, and then I was living in Tucson and people pointed out to me what it was. And I realized that’s like the only rock band that jams, that makes really cool extrapolations. We were really into playing music more than anything. It’s not like you can’t take something simple like “Plateau” and play it straight up and make it good. If you’re conscious of what you’re playing and you’re listening you can sink in anything like that. But the real excuse is. We got into The Dead and we realized if we make up some lyrics now we’re a rock band. We don’t have to play jazz or be experimental. All we have to do is make up some words and put them on top of this music that we like, and then I realized like “Oh, let’s give these things equal stance in this stuff,” and the lyrics and the music have to stand side by side for sure, but let’s just make them one and the same. Let’s not put any more effort into any of it. Yeah, there’s words. We’ll have a thing that really there’s just a sound. There’s a trumpet or guitar or whatever. So there’s just more sound to go along with it and it’s just another instrument.

M- But you’re not just scatting. You’re not just making sounds, you’re using actual words.

C- Right. But that’s on the listener. I know what I’m singing. I know the words and I know it’s English. But if you do it right, if you come at it the right way, with the oblique approach. That’s what I like about Eno. He’s not trying to say anything. After I heard him then, “Oh really, let’s try that.” I love Eno lyrically. Stuff like “Third Uncle” and “Baby’s on Fire” and stuff were great. What is it about? Who knows?

M- Where do you see Meat Puppets II in your overall output? I’m guessing you’ve paid just a little attention to rock journalism and rock critics, and that maybe along with Up On the Sun are considered the classic records. Do you see them that way?

C- I guess so. To me it’s like, “Oh, it’s that thing again.” It’s thirty years, like a jacket I’ve had for a long time. I definitely get that all the time. It’s something that in some ways I kind of have to just ignore it ‘cuz it’s implied that you’re not going to out do your classic works. That’s something that happens with a lot of people. People are like, “Oh, I really liked Lou Reed when he did Loaded, and I loved The Who, you know, the first couple of records.” Some people like this, some people like that. When you’re young you can get this stuff out. But then you just have to, no matter what, you work to try and, at least to yourself make sure that that doesn’t matter. That’s another place where I always like to, not necessarily reinvention or disregard of the old stuff but. . . Definitely somebody like Springsteen, by the time he got to Darkness on the Edge of Town, that was not Born to Run. Everybody loved Born to Run. Ignoring Born to Run and making Darkness was what appealed to me. I wasn’t that into Born to Run or Greetings, but Darkness on the Edge of Town I really digged, and now I like all of it. Springsteen is really like record to record, they’re different movies. Scorcese is another good one. Is The Departed really as good as Raging Bull?

M- You’re referencing Bruce Springsteen from over thirty years ago. He still makes records right?

C- Yeah. And then once again after Darkness he came back and did Born in the USA. There’s still some pathos and stuff there. You can’t retell the same story. Even if you don’t know what he’s writing about, he’s obviously writing about stuff, and a little bit more adeptly writing about certain things and subjects. I always thought Elton John was good at just plugging away. He’s got songs on so many things, you know, “Tiny Dancer” “Someone Saved my Life Tonight,” great songs from the seventies, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” that whole album, “Crocodile Rock,” “Bennie and the Jets.” Here’s another one: Paul Simon. How the fuck do you get around Simon and Garfunkel?! Well, Graceland all of a sudden. So you keep plugging away. You think everything that you do is great and if you’re lucky people will take something seriously beyond that initial impact and the glare that you’re putting off when you’re youthful.

I think Meat Puppets II is a really rough album. Personally I always wished that I knew more about what I was doing and had been able to make the songs a little less raggedy-ass. I wish I had knew more about how I was singing and stuff. I was just so inexperienced in a way.

M- But that’s part of what gives its charm. You guys are still innocent. You haven’t been tainted by a lot of money and the recording studio.

C- Yeah. We didn’t have the studio all figured-out. With the other ones it was still kind of like that, but you get better at stuff. I don’t care now how drunk I got it’s not gonna be the same. It might. I’d probably just sound more drunk. I don’t know.

And understand also, the other thing too, is that this is one of those odd odd, odd things. Everybody loves Meat Puppets II, you know, but then at the same point, once you get in the studio now, once we were in there anytime following that, I start making things a little more precision, and we’re doing this and that but, “Why don’t we just cut one off like we did before?” And all of sudden everyone’s like “Well it sounds kind of sloppy.”

“Well you like Meat Puppets II right? Well I remember how I did it. Just don’t think about it. Just crap it out and move on.”

It’s real hard to get people to do that. Everybody is a perfectionist and that was just a certain period of time where Spot and us, that was who was in the studio. It was just us. Spot wasn’t the producer. We did our early albums. He was the recordist. And he wasn’t really saying much. He was around all the SST bands, but the one thing we did like was that he used to say it has to be “gelatinous.”

That’s what he liked about us. We were kind of like one of those Styrofoam sprayers, like a cake icer sort of thing. Squeeze it and it comes out. That’s how we’d record it. Then we got into more detail after that, and everyone else did, and moved on to the point where we get down to now people want to rearrange vocals and all that stuff and do Protools and even engineers are kind of micro-producing. This latest record is the most casual thing that we’ve done almost since Meat Puppets II. It took about the same amount of time. It took about a week. And I was able to finally get myself in a situation with an engineer that got that, you know, how I like to do it. If it’s played right, or even close, I’m done and not going to think about it. And I don’t want to mess with the vocals. If you mess with them with a ton it retakes you’re going to miss out on whatever is there. If I start repeating myself you’re gonna start hearing the midwesterner in me. My whole family is from Nebraska and Iowa. I’m not that animated. You have to catch it taping with the guitar and that stuff. A lot of it has to do with that.

I have these feelings that I wish I could have recorded it better. I saw back then how we were similar to some of the other bands that aren’t really punk rock, similar in our ideals. I always thought like REM and Violent Femmes and people that I liked their music, that I kind of got along with them and I could see how it wasn’t really punk rock, but we’re all coming from that same kind of thing but trying to do other stuff. But we’re just sloppy as shit and I always figured if we put our stuff down more straight we might have been able to grab a little bit more ear. But that was in hindsight. It wasn’t a frustration at the time.

M- Meat Puppets has had one problem like The Grateful Dead. . . they were always a live band and they had trouble selling a lot of records and Meat Puppets, other than Too High To Die. . . Meat Puppets is a great live band but you’ve never been able to capture that on record.

C- I’ve never tried. Too High to Die was kind of close to try to capture it at the time in our sort of alt rock arena phase of the mid-nineties, the early nineties, where it was moving and you could kind of see where that was going. That was a conscious effort to go, “Oh, let’s make something that sounds like AC/DC, like everybody else.” I’m not gonna drop names, but that’s what it sounded like to me, like everybody sounds like AC/DC meets Iggy Pop.

M- I have a friend who I played “Too High To Die” for the first time and he thought it was Blue Oyster Cult.

C- Yeah. It’s a rock record and we did it on purpose. Big guitars, one on each side type shit, and it’s very distinct that way and Paul Leary is really detailed and technically oriented and really made me work for that.

M- It’s a good record. Do you like that record?

C- I think it’s pretty good. I think it’s not bad. I like most of it. There’s some arrangements I’m not too down with. I know more now about arrangements. There’s a lot of stuff that was just knee-jerk. We would get together and play songs, and we’d never really go through and like, “You play this part and you do this part.” We would work them out, but that’s just where I was at.

Right now, with this latest record, I was really arrangement intensive and not like I thought about it a lot, I just sort of built it from the bottom up. So bad habits developed during practice because we didn’t practice it. That is similar to Meat Puppets II. . . barely knew the songs. I told Cris and Derrick. . . I played a couple of them for them because we were all living together and I had recorded some of them. Like “Lost” I played for them and “Climbing.” And definitely, like, “Oh that’s country! I don’t want to play that.” And so I was like, “Well that’s what we’re doing so don’t worry about it.”

With Meat Puppets II. . . we never tried to get back to the style of it. You couldn’t do that again. That was just a certain thing. That’s our rave album. That’s the one where we took MDA. That was our X album. That happened a long time before all that stuff but we just thought it would be a good idea. Basically what people have said all along that they like the most, even if it’s work intensive like Too High To Die, is if you get that rustic thing that’s a little more similar to the live thing. But how do you go about getting that. It’s a continual struggle, and it’s not just with The Dead. There are a lot of bands that are like that and what they wind up doing is cloning their studio albums live more than trying to figure-out what’s killer about their live show and get that on it. You see why The Dead didn’t want to do that, or E Street band, or a number of bands. And then we got people like Tom Petty who make it easy on themselves and just give nice simple arrangements [laughs].

M- And they end up playing live and in the studio pretty much the same thing.

C- It kind of sounds like it. I’m sure it’s louder. I’ve never seen them live. I like Tom Petty a lot. I think there’s a lot of similarities in some of that stuff too, even though he has a better grasp on making it seem like you know what he’s talking about, like on “Don’t Come Around Here No More.”

M- Do you think your lyrics have held you back, especially back in the nineties when you were on the verge of being pretty popular?

C- No. It’s already been done. Once again people have to take from me what they’re going to get. I am what I am, which is kind of a trite thing, but that’s it. That’s been my only excuse. I’m not a good imitator. One of my things is knowing that. Knowing that from the time of Meat Puppets II that I’m not Springsteen, I’m not Prince. My first concert was David Bowie, Diamond Dogs, which is another surrealist that’s really good at making you think, you know. Diamond Dogs, I kind of get it. It’s a great feeling. I don’t know what it’s about. I still don’t. A lot of that stuff features alienation like “Life on Mars” and “Ziggy Stardust” and stuff, but from the go get I realized, “Well I’m not David Bowie.” But it’s always been one of my things so, you know, it just made it really clear from the go get, “Oh, ok. That’s a one of kind dude right there and he’s inspired a lot of people.” But he was inspired by somebody else. And he made it. He might have borrowed this and that, but that’s the key thing, rather than any style or anything. What translates is the voice, which for me has always been a continuous strain. I’m not really any kind of singer except for one that I am.