Friday, December 16, 2011

Audio Interview with Alice Bag

 Here is an audio conversation I had with Alice Bag of, well, the Bags.

The Way Out Lyrics of "Meat Puppets II"

The Way Out Lyrics of Meat Puppets II
      In 1984 SST Records released Meat Puppets II, the second full-length record by Meat Puppets.  By the time of its recording in 1983, brothers Cris and Curt Kirkwood, along with friend Derrick Bostrom, had quit their day jobs and were living together in west Phoenix with the goal of being a professional rock band.  The resulting record is considered by many to be an alt-punk classic.  It is a musically coherent set of songs which cover a surprisingly diverse set of rock genres:  country, punk, folk, hard rock and psychedelia all make appearances.
      In this paper I discuss Meat Puppets II.  I start with some context for the record.  I highlight the album’s “classic” status by summarizing some of the things rock critics, historians, and others have said about it.  I then give the band members’ own perceptions about the record and the context in which it was made.  Finally, I analyze Meat Puppets II for its lyrical themes.  Specifically I highlight the themes of dealing with the devil, existentialism, religion, and hallucinations as central to a lyrical understanding of the album.
The Record
What Others Say
      According to mranti, a reviewer for the online music blog Sputnikmusic, “Meat Puppets II is a stunning album that shows a band confident in their skills and ambitious in their growth” (mranti).  Indeed, Meat Puppets II is considered by many to be the band’s best release.  In fact, there are some who consider this record to be not only “an all time classic within the canon of 80s independent rock” (Brawer), but a classic in the history of rock music.
Without a doubt my favorite album of all time. Meat Puppets II is a truly seminal work (Brawer);
Everything on this album, from the tight musicianship to the deliciously off-key vocals . . . is a landmark.  (Sideleau);
It has been described as “an absolute must have” (Joove), “untutored, underporduced GENIUS” (Prindle), an “all-time classic” and “an essential recording” (Prato “Meat Puppets II”).
A general consensus exists (in 1984 and now) that Meat Puppets made great artistic leaps from their 1982 debut, Meat Puppets, to Meat Puppets II.  The former was a raucous and untamed set of Germs-style hardcore songs mixed with a bit of twisted country to give it a unique flavor.  Meat Puppets II, however, “clears up the confusion [of Meat Puppets] somewhat by slowing the pace and adding a semblance of dynamics to the arrangements” (Prato “Meat Puppets’ Curt Kirkwood”).  The “songwriting had improved dramatically”, making the album more coherent and listenable.  Indeed, one can actually “decipher the playing and singing this time around” (Prato “Meat Puppets II”).
It seems that the band matured between albums.  As opposed to Meat Puppets, where “they were just learning” their way around the studio, Meat Puppets II was arranged and written thinking about recording,” says Joe Carducci(personal interview), a part owner of SST Records, the label on which both albums were released.
Indicative of the band’s maturity is how Meat Puppets II moves beyond the generic hardcore of Meat Puppets and into a style of music uniquely their own.  The album betrays
a strong Grateful Dead/mid-70s Beefheart influence.  It’s startling to hear a band who started out playing hardcore to depart from its earthbound aggression so thoroughly (Joove).
In mashing together musical styles such as country, rock, and psychedelia, Meat Puppets show “an unabashed reversal of hardcore’s tendencies towards rock ahistoricism” (Brawer) in Meat Puppets II.  The band, and Curt Kirkwood as the songwriter, respect rather than ignore the music of their pasts.  If the band refutes or ignores any musical styles on Meat Puppets II, it’s hardcore itself.
Something about the Meat Puppets utter refusal to conform to the nosebleed aesthetic of fundamentalist hardcore makes them sound far more punk in spirit than most of their SST contemporaries (Joove).
      Joe Carducci suggests that the changes from Meat Puppets to Meat Puppets II have to do with the depolitization of the band’s architecture.  Many punk rock artists reacted against the established world of rock music by doing away with the “rock star” image of conventional rock music.  One way they did this was to alternate song writers and singers so that no one member took the spotlight.  Hüsker Dü, for example, alternated songwriting and singing chores between their three members throughout their career.  Meat Puppets tried this on their first LP, but
at a certain point the Meat Puppets stopped doing that and decided that they were going to play with an ear towards music and songwriting. (Joe Carducci, personal interview)
The result was a batch of consistently focused songs written by one member, Curt, who would quickly become the leader of the band.
      Musically, Meat Puppets II is seen as “extremely artistic, and well crafted” while moving “from fast and distorted rock segments, to eerie instrumental tracks” (mranti).  While the “guitar work on this album is outstanding” (“Meat Puppets—Meat Puppets II”), “the bass lurches like a drunken hillbilly” and “Curt Kirkwood belches the words in a speedfreak frenzy.”  “Individual notes disappear into a blessed out heat-haze of pure, undefined sound” (Joove).  All of this is kept together because Spot, the SST resident engineer at the time, did
a smashing job handling the production, providing the band with a punchy mix that is both warm and sharp; clean enough to leave each instrument fully audible, yet not so clean as to render the sound dry and sterile” (Brawer).
      As for the album’s lyrics, Curt Loder rated Kirkwood alongside Bob Dylan by writing of his “sharp, Blonde on Blonde-style wordsmithing” (Loder).  In his first full album of lyrics, Kirkwood quickly cements perceptions of his writing as weird, strange, funny, and sometimes downright incomprehensible.  These are perceptions of his writing that will follow him throughout his career.  The lyrics on this record are at times “weirdly incongruous,” “sentimental” (Joove), “witty, ridiculous” (Brawer), “quirky” (“Meat Puppets—Meat Puppets II), “moving, poetic” (Fricke) and, when all else fails, “stoner” (mranti).
What Meat Puppets Say
As with any type of collaborative art, the making of Meat Puppets II was a perfect storm of converging personalities and social context.  First, as Cris says, the coming together of himself, Curt, and Derrick provided for an artistically fertile band.  But also, as Derrick suggests in the quotes that follow, the point that the three were at in their lives played no insignificant role in their creative output.  First, Cris:
Curt and I were horrible people from the shittyish side of a shitty town.  Our upbringing wasn’t shittyish, but it was steeped in the worst kind of American horror, as well as some of the lovelier parts of the youthful sixties and seventies.  And then we met Derrick who was another kind of cat altogether.  He was really culturally attuned.  Derrick was hip to what was happening.  So he turned us on to a lot of groovy stuff.  Meat Puppets II is definitely redolent with that relationship. (personal interview)
Cris suggests here that the mingling of personalities, the joining of perspectives of people from slightly different life experiences, comes together for the Kirkwoods and Derrick in a way that makes Meat Puppets II a unique album, one that mixes together Derrick’s “hip” understanding of punk rock with the Kirkwood’s sense of “horror” and love of classic rock from the “sixties and seventies.”
Derrick adds a sociological twist to Cris’s statement about the coming together of personalities in the creation of Meat Puppets II.  He suggests that the structural situation of the band members’ lives was a contributing factor to the unique sound of the record.  Specifically, he suggests the fact that they didn’t have day jobs and lived in a house already paid for and, therefore, could concentrate on nothing but their art made all the difference in the world for making Meat Puppets II the eclectically pure album that it turned out to be.
Whenever I think of Meat Puppets II the first thing that comes to mind is the house we lived in. We lived out on the edge of Phoenix in a typically ugly suburban tract.  We didn’t have to pay rent cuz it was owned by their mom, and so we didn’t need much money. Those guys had an inheritance that we were living on.  I had no money.  We literally did nothing but vegetate in that house for a year or so.  In that place we did nothing but work on our art.  So aside from practicing and making music we were free to pretty much do what we pleased and there was no real sense of where the band was going to go. We didn’t have a lot of success under our belt that we felt like we had to live up to. We weren’t making any money. So it’s a pretty pure expression of flat out opening yourself up to where the art is going to take you. (personal interview)
It was the lack of pressure that being young, not having any bills to pay, and not having any expectations of fame that allowed Cris, Curt, and Derrick to create what, at least to Derrick, was a pure exploration of rock as art and resulted in Meat Puppets II.
The songs on the album, says Derrick, were a natural extension of the lives the three were living at the time:  “The songs are all based on the conversations we had sitting around our house.”  The album came out naturally, as if it couldn’t be put together at any other time in the band’s career.
Armed with a few ideas you can find a way, using a lot of pot of course, and not having to have a day job, to really let the muse work its way through you. I think you really see that writing on that album especially. (Derrick, personal interview)
A final important ingredient to the making of Meat Puppets II that plays a role in its absence is, in Derrick’s words, that “Meat Puppets II is the only album that [Curt] wrote when he was not a father.”  All three original Meat Puppets, as well as long-time roadie, Dan, mentioned the importance of having kids on Curt’s approach to the band.  They saw Curt’s focus change as the result of the birth of his twins in 1983.  The purity of having no worries gave way to the necessities of having mouths to feed.  Curt’s muse, it seems, was never again as unfettered by convention as it was on Meat Puppets II.
Curt as Leader.  Having kids seemed to motivate Curt more than it did Cris or Derrick (after all, they were Curt’s kids) to start taking the band seriously.  If they were going to make Meat Puppets a career, they would have to act more professionally.  According to Curt,
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. (personal interview)
      To this end, the roles of the three members in the band began to change from Meat Puppets to Meat Puppets II.  The most salient change being that Curt was stepping up as the band’s songwriter and leader.  Derrick wrote most of the lyrics for Meat Puppets and, according to Cris, “we were getting sick of Derrick’s lyrics,” especially because “it became apparent that Curt and I were going to be the singers” (personal interview).
      Curt’s guitar playing, songwriting, and performing were improving as well, and people were noticing.  Accoring to Derrick,
People were tellin’ him he was good, and givin’ him encouragement.  People outside the band, people in Monitor, for instance.  (Roeser)
Curt began developing a unique artistic identity with his newfound confidence and support,
“Curt started getting’ in the groove and started turnin’ stuff out,” Bostrom said.  “So he soon began to develop his own style.”  (ibid)
      Beyond Punk.  By 1983, when Meat Puppets II was recorded, Meat Puppets were firmly entrenched within the hardcore punk scene in Southern California and elsewhere.  They were sharing bills with the likes of hardcore punk stalwarts Dead Kennedys, Descendents, Circle Jerks, Social Distortion, and SST label mates Black Flag.
We were playin’ these shows with punk rockers, like Redd Kross in 1981, Black Flag.  We made the rounds.  And the skinhead thing was coming in, the hardcore thing, which was separate from punk rock.  Hardcore was kind of like jocks who got into it, because it was hard and fast, rather than because it was ‘anti-music’ or some sort of avant-garde thing.  And so we were like, ‘Ugh!  We’re not about that!’  We decided we were going to have to stop playing ‘hard/fast-rules’-style music, ‘cause we weren’t like Wasted Youth or Bad Religion, or Adolescents.  (Bostrom in Roeser)
      By the time of Meat Puppets II the band was taking a musical direction away from punk rock.  As Derrick points out, one of the reasons for this move was that Curt’s songwriting “wasn’t real punk-rocky” (Bostrom in Roeser).  Contrary to Derrick’s suggestion above that this move was collective (“We decided”), Curt suggests it coincided with his ascension to the leadership position in the band, as was met with some resistance:
“There was a lot of unpopular decision-making comning up to that record,” says Curt.  “That’s the first time I pulled out a whole bunch of really mellow, weird tunes.  There’s a handful of punk rock on there, but there’s also an equal amount of poignant balladry.  The other guys didn’t really want to do it because they were afraid the punk rockers would turn on us, which is what I wanted.”  (Baird)
In Curt’s eyes, at least, it was he who pushed the band beyond punk rock, with resistance from his brother and Derrick.
      Part of Curt’s strategy for moving beyond the limits of punk, it seems, was to lose favor with punk rockers.  In Cris’s words, “real purposefully I think on Curt’s part, it was a ‘fuck you’ to all the punk rockers.  He tried to do what he could to alienate those people as best as he could” (personal interview).  And it worked.  “People weren’t getting it,” says Curt (Linblad).
      The resulting album, Meat Puppets II, is a stark move away from the uniform punk rock of the band’s scene.  AS Curt explained above, it did have some punk rock –“Split Myself in Two” and “New Gods” being examples—but it also included rock musical styles of the past as well as a strong dose of country.  AS Derrick explains, “I think Meat Puppets II is one of the first overtly backward-looking albums, that really incorporated country-rock and mainstream rock into the punk rock sensibility” (Roeser).
From Meat Puppets to Meat Puppets II.  The drastic change from Meat Puppets to Meat Puppets II discussed in the literature is not so clear to the members of the band.  Cris, for one, suggests there are foreshadowings of Meat Puppets II on their eponymous debut.
To us there wasn’t that big of a shift between Meat Puppets I[i] and Meat Puppets II.  It was just that this is the next color in our pallet.  There were foreshadowings of some of it on Meat Puppets I with “Walkin’ Boss” and “Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds.”  And if you get beyond the youthful exuberance that’s so prevalent on Meat Puppets I, you see that the song structure was already starting to develop in an interesting and essentially Meat Puppetian—Meat Puppecian—sort of way. (personal interview)
Cris is saying here that Meat Puppets II was a logical progression from Meat Puppets and that a critical listen will support this assertion.
      Curt, on the other hand, suggests that the main difference between the band’s first two records is with the material.  Again, it is the move away from punk rock, and toward a more folk sound, that distinguishes Meat Puppets II.
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 hardcore punk rock band.  That was my conscious attempt to add different styles into the repertoire.  I just felt like we did the punk rock thing. (personal interview)
      Derrick agrees that there is a fundamental shift from Meat Puppets to Meat Puppets II, but it isn’t necessarily in style.  Rather, it is in the experience that the band had garnered between the albums.
I could tell you why I think it’s a radical departure. We wrote the songs from Meat Puppets I before we had really gotten out into the world. We would record the majority of the Meat Puppets I songs in early 1980, and in mid- to late-1980 we started going out into the world.  The majority of Meat Puppets II was written after we had already made our connections with the people from World Imitation and the people from SST. We’d already gone out on tours with the SST crew and gotten our feet wet both in the Los Angeles scene and had done our first national tour.  So Meat Puppets II represents us as the Meat Puppets whereas the Meat Puppets I songs were written before we had actually become, quote unquote, The Meat Puppets. So that is a reasonable point to make, that there is a radical departure, but it’s just the difference between kind of fooling around and actually doin’ it. (personal interview)
The experiences Curt, Cris, and Derrick had between the two albums also helped them come to a sense about their place in the burgeoning music scene of which they were a part.  Derrick continues,
By the time Meat Puppets II had come around we had actually met the people we had heard on records and/or seen them and realized to what extent we were not really going to be part of that scene. And what, you know, what was our own thing. (personal interview)
Their own thing, says Derrick, was to move beyond hardcore punk rock and embrace the music of their upbringings.
“One of the things about the first album is that it represents a certain, tentative step," explains Bostrom. "The second album shows us in a much more self-confident mode. And one of the things we did was obviously tackle some of our influences, which was essentially mid-seventies rock, pop, and country—stuff like that. (Hernandez)
The Album/The Songs.  According to Derrick, Meat Puppets II fits well within most people’s ideas of what a rock record should sound like, while graduating beyond the confines of punk rock.
I believe that when people decide a hundred years from now what rock music was, what it was for, what it meant, Meat Puppets II will fit the story line real well.  It doesn’t fit well within a punk context but I think it fits well within a rock context.  Its themes are mainstream rock themes and I think that if you leave punk rock out of the equation entirely it still is relevant. (personal interview)
The album works, says Derrick, because the band was able to make a diverse set of songs sound consistent and relevant.
On Meat Puppets II you will find a pretty wide diversity, and that’s kind of the really astounding part of it.  On the first album they all kind of sound the same.  They’re really fast, high tempo, rock punk songs.  On Meat Puppets II I didn’t want for us to do a whole album of country songs.  “Lake of Fire” and “The Whistling Song” and “Plateau” are all really quite different stylistically and yet we were able to pull that all together so that it works in a unified fashion. (personal interview)
      An irony to Meat Puppets II is that it was made in a rather unprofessional matter, at least compared to the records the band would make later in their career.  The record that fans and critics alike tend to adore was made quite quickly and without a lot of thought.  Curt explains.
It's so unique in the way that it was performed. We would never have been able to do that again. I mean, we probably could if we got totally messed up and tried to be ourselves when we were that old again. But people would just say we were being "sloppy." I like the fact that that album just completely sucks, it's sloppy, it sounds like shit...and everybody likes it. (Prato, “Meat Puppets’ Curt Kirkwood”)
Lyrics.  Curt says that the meaning behind his lyrics is “on the listener” (personal interview).  In other words, the meaning of a song is whatever a listener makes of it.  He refers to his lyric writing as the “oblique approach.”  He purposefully writes songs that can be interpreted in countless ways.  Even Curt, the lyricist, acknowledges that he isn’t sure what a song is about until listening to the finished product.
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 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 viewpoint of it.  I don’t think it was conscious.  I just was trying to make stuff that sounds cool. (Curt, personal interview)
      Regardless of my attempts to pin down the meanings of Curt’s lyrics, he and his band mates claim that his songs are more about lyrical feel and flow than content.
Curt never would cop to meaning anything in his material.  We used to have jokes on what the song might be about.  And usually they weren’t really about anything so much as, especially with that album, just very basic imagery.  He was very into Shakespeare.  What he got off of Shakespeare was the notion that language could stand on itself with or without meaning, that it could have a lyricism apart from a concrete meaning, and obviously he was liberated by that.  He was able to apply the things that he was thinking about in a non-formulaic way through his focus on lyricism.  So he might come up with a basic thing that he would write about but then he would change the words to fit his ear and not feel like the words had to be about anything.  His main focus was the plastic aspect of the words themselves. (Derrick, personal interview)
      As for the lyrics of Meat Puppets II, Derrick has been the most willing of the three to pin down specific meanings to specific songs.  The most salient theme, says Derrick, is aspiration.  He sees this theme as being tied to the life circumstances of the band members.  They were young men embarking on a career that they were just beginning to realize might take them somewhere.  On “Plateau,” for instance,
You could say that success is often a series of plateaus.  The line that speaks to me the most is “looking for the next plateau.”  I don’t know about you but I am always on the lookout for the next goal.  To listen to these old records, especially that one, cuz that one speaks so loudly about goals and climbing and and striving.  It’s an interesting statement from a group of young people who had the sense to start a band.  What you’re seeing is us at a point when we realized we can do this, realizing we’re good.  We’re better than most.  We deserve to start thinking about ourselves as deserving, and we need to start thinking about our career as something that can actually happen. (personal interview)
And in “Lost” we can see Curt’s aspirations as a mainstream songwriter.
“Lost” is an attempt to write a country song.  You don’t want to discount Curt’s mainstream aspirations.  You could easily see “Lost” as being covered by your Merle Haggard or your George Jones.  “Lost” is his attempt to write a real country song in his aspirations as a songwriter.  (Derrick, personal interview)
      Beyond aspirations, though, and like the entirety of the album itself, Derrick suggests that the lyrical themes on Meat Puppets II are eclectic.  On “We’re Here,” for instance, the title is a
stoner concept.  Like every time you walk into the room you go, “We’re here!”  Do you remember the movie Buckaroo Bonzai?  There was a line in there which is, “No matter where you go there you are.”  And that’s “We’re Here”. (Derrick, personal interview)
And “Oh, Me,” says Derrick, is
supposed to be a joke on ego.  “I can’t see the end of me. I’m the greatest thing that ever walked the earth.”  It’s supposed to be kind of a humorous description of our feelings that we can do no wrong.  We can’t be touched.  All others but us suck. (Derrick, personal interview)
      Whatever outsiders think, the three original members of Meat Puppets recognize the uniqueness of Meat Puppets II in the band’s overall repertoire.  The album was made at a time when the band members, especially Curt, made a conscious decision to turn the band from a hobby to a career.  With Curt stepping-up as the lead songwriter in the band, and the three members all living under one roof, a set of songs were created that were leaps and bounds beyond anything they had done before; almost thirty years later the record is still considered groundbreaking.  Finally, Curt had discovered his talent for writing “oblique” lyrics; sets of words strung together that sound good but without specific meanings except those attached to them by individual listeners.
The Songs/The Themes[ii]
Career ambitions and stoner jokes aside, I identify four salient lyrical themes that run through Meat Puppets II.  The first is a classic theme of Christian-influenced literature generally, and of the blues and rock and roll more specifically:  selling one’s soul to the devil for success here on Earth.  Second is the existentialist idea of existence before essence; our behaviors only have meaning after we’ve acted.  Third, in concert with many of his early-eighties punk rock peers, Curt challenges conventional religious dogma.  A final lyrical theme is the nature of hallucinations.
The Deal with the Devil                               

Rock music, like the blues from which it comes, has a rich tradition of songs centered on Faustian bargains (von Goethe).  The rock and blues tradition of this bargain is that of the musician traveling to the crossroads and meeting the devil.  The musician must choose between taking the righteous path complete with all the struggles of this mortal coil, or the path to hell while achieving a semblance of success here on Earth.  Both roads stretch out before the musician.  He has choice.  He has agency.  But the devil is there influencing his decision.
      A prominent example in rock/blues history is the story of Robert Johnson who, apparently, was not much of a guitarist in his younger days.  In Searching for Robert Johnson Peter Guralnick tells the story of how a “little boy” would attend Saturday night balls played by Son House, another blues great.  When House and his fellow players would take breaks, little Robert Johnson (who was probably nineteen or twenty at the time) would pick up one of their guitars and play.  Guralnick quotes folklorist Julius Lester, who quotes Son House:
And such another racket you never heard!  It’d make the people mad, you know.  They’d come out and say, “Why don’t y’all go in and get that guitar away from that boy!  He’s running people crazy with it.”  I’d come back in, and I’d scold him about it.  “Don’t do that, Robert.  You drive the people nuts.  You can’t play nothing” (15).
Then Johnson disappeared for awhile.  When he came back he was, as Johnson’s contemporary, Johnny Shines said, “the greatest guitar player I’d ever heard” (Guralnick 18).  The reason for Johnson’s accomplishments was common knowledge around the Mississippi Delta, and it wasn’t only Johnson who had made such a deal.  Tommy Johnson, another guitar player from the region, had done the same.  Guralnick quotes David Evans who quotes Tommy’s brother LeDell:
Now if Tom was living, he’d tell you.  He said the reason he knowed so much, said he sold hisself to the devil.  I asked him how.  He said, “If you want to learn how to play anything you want to play and learn how to make songs yourself, you take your guitar and you go to where a road crosses that way, where a crossroad is.  Get there, be sure to get there just a little ‘fore 12:00 that night so you’ll know you’ll be there.  You have your guitar and be playing a piece there by yourself. . .A big black man will walk up there and take your guitar, and he’ll tune it.  And then he’ll play a piece and hand it back to you.  That’s the way I learned to play anything I want (18).
The big black man, of course, is the devil.
“Son House was convinced that Robert Johnson had done the same thing, and undoubtedly, as Johnny shines says, others were too” (Guralnick 18).  The devil made Johnson a great bluesman in return for his soul.  Indeed, Johnson ends up being murdered at a young age by a jealous husband and, if the story is correct, going to hell.
Faustian deals appear throughout the songs of Meat Puppets II.  To be sure, one possible reading of the album as a whole is that there is a single deal happening that Curt Kirkwood expresses in different ways in different songs right through the record.  Kirkwood’s Meat Puppets II Faustian deal begins with the first song on the disc, “Split Myself in Two,” which recognizes the man who lays his hat on the table and hangs his coat on the wall in Verse One as the devil.  We might mistake him as the father of the house because he is sitting down to dinner.  Maybe he just came home and is sitting down to eat.  He has had a bad day, therefore he has nothing nice to say right away, but as soon as he is able he will. [iii]
      Verse Two is where the deal with the devil takes place.  In Goethe’s story, Faust and Mephistopheles negotiate a deal and a contract is signed in blood (von Goethe).  A twist in Kirkwood’s story is that Singer did not necessarily ask to make the deal.  The devil simply sat down at the table where, presumably, Singer is also sitting.  The fact that the man who sits down addresses his listeners as “you all” suggests that there are people other than Singer sitting at the table, which ties “Split Myself in Two” in with “New Gods,” a song that comes a bit later in the record where multiple others speak to Singer.
The devil takes a deck of cards and deals Singer “the card that said I never would fall.”  That’s the deal.  Singer has been given the greatest card of all, the card for a spectacular life.  Furthermore, Singer has been singled out for the card.  The devil may have addressed “you all,” but he dealt the card that said I would never fall.
      The chorus offers up the dilemma.  Singer is distressed.  Should he take the deal or not?  He has a “dollar on the corner,” representing his meager savings in life thus far.  It’s only a dollar, but it is his honestly and hard earned dollar.  He also has a laser in his shoe.  A laser provided by the devil.  Should he take the dollar, thus giving back the laser?  Or should he take the laser in return for his soul?  “Oh Mary Lou won’t you tell me what to do?”  Singer does not know what to do.  Singer will split himself in two trying to make this decision.
      Verses four and five suggest that Singer takes the deal, and there are consequences.  In Verse Four the devil spins a ton (of money?) and exits, but not before letting Singer know that he’ll be back to collect what’s his.  In Verse Five Singer admits that he made the deal, “but I owe him some money,” and we know it is more than money that is owed.  Singer is hoping that maybe, just maybe, the man will not come back to collect.  He was not a nice man.  He was the devil!  Singer’s life is going fine at this point.  He was given the card that says he never will fall.  It’s been awhile since he saw the man, and he hopes he won’t come back to collect. . .HIS SOUL!
      The allusion in Verse Four to the Brothers Grim story “Rumpelstiltskin” cannot be denied.  In Rumpelstiltskin a poor miller’s daughter is locked in a room and ordered by a king to spin gold out of straw.  She, however, doesn’t know how to do this.  To her delight a little man enters the room and, for a price, spins the gold for her.  The price for his services rises until, when the girl has no more to give, he offers to spin gold for her in return for her first born child.  She takes the deal.
      Eventually the king marries the girl and she gives birth to a beautiful child.  Of course the manikin comes to collect his due and, of course, the queen is astonished and doesn’t want to hand the child over.  A new deal is made.  If the queen can guess the little man’s name in three days time she can keep the baby.  If not, she hands the child over.  In the end the queen guesses Rumpelstilskin’s name correctly and, to his dismay, she keeps the baby.
      The final paragraph of one version of “Rumpelstiltskin” highlights the Faustian nature of the story.  It also gives hint at the title of Kirkwood’s song, “Split Myself in Two.”  What follows is the manikin’s response upon the queen’s pronouncement of his name:
"The devil has told you that! The devil has told you that," cried the little man, and in his anger he plunged his right foot so deep into the earth that his whole leg went in, and then in rage he pulled at his left leg so hard with both hands that he tore himself in two (“Rumpelstiltskin”).
      Kirkwood’s Faustian deal continues in “New Gods,” the eighth song on the record.  In the first two lines of the song Singer seems to be confronting the devil with whom he has made his deal.
how much do I owe you?
I’ll pay but I don’t want to
The devil has come to collect his due in “New Gods.”  We find out here that the original deal took place “in a restaurant in Mexico.”  Remember, in “Split Myself in Two:”
the man layed his hat on the table
hung his coat up on the wall
sat down to dinner
said as soon as I am able
I’ll say something nice to you all
Again, the man is the devil and in the above lines he is sitting down (“in a restaurant in Mexico,” as we learn in “New Gods”) to make Singer a deal he can’t refuse.
“New Gods” adds a mythological twist to “Split Myself in Two”’s Faustian drama.  In Greek mythology the goddess Persephone is abducted by her uncle Hades, ruler of the underworld.  Knowing that her mother Demeter is pressing for her return, and wanting to stay with Hades, Persephone eats some pomegranate, knowing full well that in doing so she cannot return to the earth.  So, too, in “New Gods,” Singer is told “not to drink the water/and not to touch the food,” a warning that there is no turning back once the deal is made.
Remember also in “Split Myself in Two” that the devil leaves, telling Singer “I want what you owe me/I’ll be back in a little while” and that Singer hopes he’ll never see him again.  “New Gods” is the devil, or some of his representatives, coming back to make good on the deal.  “Remember that we told you,” the voices say.
      A few songs later, in “Lake of Fire,” we are told that earth is simply a way-station:  good folks “go to heaven where the angels fly,” bad folks “go to the lake of fire and fry.”  Ordinarily, the song states, people cry and moan here on earth, while “the angels and the devil/fight to claim them for their own.”[iv]  The Faustian deal is a strategy, then, used by the devil to lure people in his direction.  If we are to believe the story told in “Split Myself in Two” and “New Gods,” the devil in Meat Puppets II has persuaded Singer to choose hell over heaven.
      The deal-with-the-devil storyline can finally be traced to the last song on the record, “The Whistling Song.”   Once a deal has been made with the devil, it is always there.  One is always reminded of it:  “in the dark,” “in the park,” in the “living room.”  And one can’t turn back from the deal:  “i can’t throw the lock back/and i don’t have the key.”  Singer can’t renege on the deal.  This is it, he’s going to hell and he’s reminded of it everywhere and always.  Singer is locked into this result now.  His heart is a “broken, faded bird.”
Existentialism and the Search for Meaning
      The existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre and Karl Jaspers is apparent in much of Meat Puppets II.  A key to understanding Sartre’s existentialism is the idea that “existence comes before essence” (Sartre 289).  The converse idea, states Sartre, that essence comes before existence can be seen in the example of a “paper-knife.”  The idea of the knife, its plan and production technique, precedes its existence.  It was planned before it was made.
      Similar to the idea of a knife’s essence coming before its existence is the idea to some that the essence of being human comes before existence.  As Sartre writes, to Christians this is the idea of God as artisan:
God makes man according to a procedure and a conception, exactly as the artisan manufactures a paper-knife, following a definition and a formula.  Thus each individual man is the realization of a certain conception which dwells in the divine understanding (Sartre 290).
But even some atheists, argues Sartre, hold to the conception of humans having essence before existence.
Man possesses a human nature; that “human nature,” which is the conception of human being, is found in every man; which means that each man is a particular example of a universal conception, the conception of Man (ibid).
      Athiestic existentialism, however, of which Sartre considered himself a representative, posits that for human beings existence comes before essence.  Human beings act first and define themselves later.
Thus, there is no human nature, because there is no God to have a conception of it.  Man simply is (Sartre 290-91).
There is no plan for human beings in this view.  We act.  We look back upon our actions and then, and only then, can we conceive of ourselves as being.
      Another twentieth-century philosopher, Karl Jaspers, wrote that “the essence of man, in its entirety, is realized in the individual man” (Jaspers 139).  He also denied the existence of essences external to human experience (Thornhill).  Like Sartre, Jaspers suggests that human beings have no objective, predetermined essence.  Our essence comes from our understandings of our experiences, these understandings being created only after we’ve acted.
      “Philosophizing,” wrote Jaspers, “is the activity of thought itself,” an activity that
originates from life in the depths where it touches Eternity inside Time, not at the surface where it moves in finite purposes, even though the depths appear to us only at the surface (Jaspers 138-39).
Human essence it seems, from both Sartrian and Jasperian conceptions, appears only in pure action, in spontaneous, unrehearsed behavior.
      For Kirkwood, the idea of existence before essence appears most obviously in “Oh, Me,” a song where Singer contemplates the meaninglessness of existence.  The song’s chorus mirrors Jaspers idea about philosophizing as an activity.
i can’t see the end of me
my whole expanse I cannot see
i formulate infinity
and store it deep inside me
Singer seems to be aware that his essence survives within himself, in a place so vast that he cannot comprehend it in its entirety.
In the song’s first verse Singer laments the fact that his essence is only apparent, as Jaspers suggests, on the surface.
if I had to lose a mile
if I had to touch feelings
i would lose my soul
the way I do
For Singer to touch feelings, for him to reveal his essence only at the surface, is for him to backslide.  He would lose his soul, his essence.  His surface actions are not his essence, although he admits that his only way of expressing himself is through such actions, which he does often though reluctantly (“the way I do”).
      Singer’s ideal behavior, he admits in the second verse, is to act without thinking, to exist through pure essence.
i don’t have to think
i only have to do it
the results are always perfect
and that’s old news
The purest form of behavior is spontaneous and unconscious.  It is, as Sartre tells us, existence before essence, acting without planning.  The results of such behavior are untainted by God or Nature—they are perfect.
Ultimately, the singer in “Oh, Me” realizes that he is just a speck of forever.  He is here and gone very quickly.  What he does has little effect on his essence, his being.  No matter how hard he thinks, his actions are meaningless on the material plane of existence.  He knows this.  Therefore, he stops thinking because it gets him nowhere.  He knows the meaning of life, it is meaningless.  He’ll act without thinking, it’ll achieve the same things as thinking before acting.  He’ll exist without concern for his essence for such behavior is, indeed, his essence.
      If existentialism is “the search for a new categorical framework” (Crowell), an attempt to understand and act toward the world in ways beyond the objective comprehensions of science, then much of Meat Puppets II is devoted to an existential search for alternate understandings of reality and meaning.  “Lost,” for example, finds Singer wandering the never ending “freeways” and “breezeways” of life, “looking for something.”  Singer doesn’t know what turns life will take.  He’ll look for and create meaning as he goes along.
      “Freeways” and “breezeways”[v] are long, winding, seemingly never ending pathways in which one can easily get lost.  Just get on the freeway and start driving, who knows where you’ll end up, who knows what will happen.  One can go anywhere on such a system of interconnected highways.  Breezeways, being outdoor hallways, are similar to freeways in “Lost.”  One can imagine a never-ending interconnected set of breezeways with no dead ends.
      The existentialism of “Lost” surfaces immediately in the first verse:  “lookin’ for means to an end.”  Singer is lost on the freeway trying to find meaning in life.  He’s looking for a purpose to it all, to life.  Not having a map, “nobody knows which way it’s gonna bend.”  Without a map, we don’t know where the freeway is going, we’re just along for the ride.  The same with life.  There is no map for our lives, we just go with the flow.  But we’re always searching for meaning.  In “Lost” Singer is looking for meaning, but he’s admittedly lost.
      In the second verse Singer is “lookin’ for something my friend.”  Again, he’s looking for something, anything, which will give life some kind of concrete and real meaning.
      The chorus bridges verses One, Two and Four.
i know there’ll come a day
when you say that you don’t know me
i know there’ll come a time
when there’s nothing no one[vi] owes me any more
The premise here is an admission that life is temporary, we all die, all of this wandering and searching will end.  When this time comes, you won’t know me and no one will owe me anything.  Whether we find or create the meaning of life or not, we die just the same.
      Similarly, in “Lake of Fire,” people “cry and moan” looking for dry places to call their own.  While crying and moaning we engage in the most basic of activities, getting out of the rain and calling something our own.  We create meaning and bliss in “Lake of Fire” by finding something we can call our own.  It’s comforting.  But rarely do we come upon this place of our own.  As in “Lost,” so in “Lake of Fire.”  Rarely do we actually find a dry place or a place to call our own; we are constantly wandering, constantly creating.  Therefore we cry and moan.
      Existentialism manifests itself as lack of control in “Lake of Fire.”  This lack of control is evident in Verse Two with the lady who flew away howling at the moon because she died too soon from the bite of a rabid dog, and again in the last verse where, as already mentioned, “people cry and people moan” while looking for dry places to call their home.  These people had plans unrealized.
      All this time the angels and the devil are fighting to make us, those on earth, their own, leaving open the possibility of essence before existence.  It’s as if the only reason we’re here is for the angels and the devils to sort us out.  It’s a painful place to be, but it will be over just as soon as the angels and devil figure out where we belong.  Thus, the lady who got bit by the rabid dog was chosen.  It was her turn.  She had no choice in the matter.
       Similar to “Lake of Fire,” the existentialism in “We’re Here” is of the lack of control type.  Most of us would like to have some kind of control over our lives, but in these two songs the central characters don’t.  The question in “We’re Here,” however, is whether our lack of control is self-engendered or external to our being—again confusing whether essence or existence comes first.
“We are not the king and queen,” the voices say in Verse Three of “We’re Here.”  Kings and queens are real people.  We, the voices are saying, are not real people, at least not in the sense that sane people think of real.  However, kings and queens are vested with power and authority.  The choice of king and queen for this line, rather than some other kind of real person, emphasizes that the voices have power and authority.  This is a power and authority inside Singer’s head, rather than power and authority that is external to him.  Singer doesn’t have control over his own mind.
In the second verse of “Oh, Me” Singer seems to be fine with the realization that he has no control.
i don’t have to think
i only have to do it
the results are always perfect
but that’s old news
Singer doesn’t have to think about things, he can act without thinking.  And why not?  “The results are always perfect.”  There really is no overall meaning to all of this.  The consequences are the same for the non-thinking Singer as they are for anyone else, and thinkers are putting a lot of thought into what they do.  They are wasting their time and energy thinking rather than doing.  Singer will exist without regard for essence.
      The last three lines of “Climbing” offer the suggestion that someone or something might just be in control.
and i think i see a sign
and it’s saying where to go
and when i get there what i’ll find
Maybe this is why Singer is comfortable with his lack of control in “Oh, Me.”  Maybe it’s because he realizes that something bigger than he is charting his destiny.
      A common theme of punk rock and hardcore bands of the late 1970s and early 1980s was a criticism of mainstream Christianity.  In 1978, for example, the Germs released “No God,” (“See...there's no God to make up my mind-No God givin' me time”) and Public Image Limited included “Religion I” and “Religion II” (“Where the Christian religion made them blind”) on their debut album.  Minor Threat included “Filler” (“You picked up a bible/And now you’re gone”) as the lead-off track on their 1981 seven-inch vinyl release.  Furthermore, post-punk hardcore bands of the early 1980s had names like Bad Religion and Shattered Faith. Curt Kirkwood’s lyrics in Meat Puppets II explore similarly religious themes, although more cryptically than the blunt dealings preferred by more conventional punk and hardcore bands.
      The “grand old face of the plateau,” for example, from “Plateau” seems to be a reference to heaven, or whatever comes after this life.  “Many a hand has scaled the grand old face of the plateau,” meaning everybody dies, everybody goes somewhere.  Everybody goes up the plateau, strangers as well as people we know.  “Holy ghosts and talk show hosts are planted in the sand.”  Again, everybody dies.  All walks of life; “holy ghosts and talk show hosts” being at opposite ends of the moral, ethical, and spiritual spectrum, suggesting that the best and the worst together must scale the plateau.
      Why do they scale the plateau?  “To beautify the foothills and shake the many hands,” of course.  They are angels, beautifying the foothills.  They are making this life of ours better.  They give us hope.  Here is a theme of bliss or solace.  The idea that all these people are dying, scaling the plateau, in order to beautify the foothills of mortal life, to give us hope, to give us bliss, and to “shake the many hands,” to meet up again with deceased loved ones.  When we get to heaven we’ll get to meet up with all those who died before us.  What a blissful thought.  The plateau is there for us to be happier here.
      In the chorus of “Plateau,” however, we find out that heaven, the top of the plateau, is not what we had expected.  “There’s nothing on the top but a bucket and a mop, and an illustrated book about birds.”  It is mundane.  It is not grand.  There aren’t all the people up there that we thought we’d meet.  Just a bucket and a mop and an illustrated book about birds.  What is one supposed to do with these?!
      Furthermore, “you see a lot up there but don’t be scared, who needs action when you got words.”  There’s a lot to see, since you’re up top, but there isn’t much you can do about it.  Who needs for anything real to happen when the real purpose of our ideas about heaven exist in our words.  Heaven doesn’t need to actually happen as long as we believe it will happen.  In sociology this is known as the Thomas Theorem:  If we perceive it to be real then it is real in its consequences (Thomas and Thomas).
      Verse Three of “Plateau,” seems to be about our spiritual work here on earth, which is all about scaling the plateau.  Some of us believe, here in our mortal lives, that we’ve reached the top of the plateau through our spirituality and religious practices.  These are the blissful people, the ones who are confident that they understand the true spiritual and religious purpose of our lives.  But back in the chorus Curt tells those of us who haven’t reached this spiritual plateau that it is a sham.  It is a self-delusional bucket and mop show.  It’s scary because we’ve constructed an idea that this type of spiritual bliss is a door to knowledge about everything.  This type of spiritual bliss is a door to God, and to face God is a scary thing, an awesome thing!  Just remember, sings Curt, there’s nothing really happening up there.  “Who needs action when you got words.”  Those people up there, the spiritually religiously blissful people, aren’t doing anything!  They are only talking about doing things.  But if we perceive it to be real it is real in its consequences.  If we think they are doing something, that they are of a different spiritual quality than us normal folk, then we act toward them as if they are of such a different spiritual quality.
      So Verse Three is about the spiritually religiously blissful people and their actions and beliefs.
when you’re finished with the mop then you can stop
and look at what you’ve done
the plateau’s clean, no dirt to be seen
and the work it took was fun
They look around, after preparing this mortal life for the hereafter with their mop and bucket show, and feel good about what they’ve done.  “The plateau’s clean, no dirt to be seen.”  They feel they have effectively prepared this world for the hereafter.  We are in the latter days, feel the spiritually religiously blissful people, and it is our mortal duty to prepare this earth, the plateau, for rapture.  “And the work it took was fun.”  Verse Three is in the minds of the blissful people.  They enjoy this cleaning.  This is their live’s work.  This is their bliss.  They understand what life is all about, they understand what must be done, and they do it, and they enjoy it because they know.
      Verse Four brings the listener back to reality.
well the many hands began to scan around for the next plateau
some said it was in greenland and some in mexico
some decided it was nowhere except for where they stood
but they were all just guesses, wouldn’t help you if they could
The blissful people are constantly looking for new plateaus.  It’s as if once they’ve cleaned the plateau they are on now, once they’ve made all the work for their redemption, they realize that the end isn’t coming just yet.  It must be that they have to clean another plateau.  They haven’t done all the preparations yet.  It’s like when an end-of-the-world religious group sets a date for Christ’s coming, and he doesn’t show up.  They have to come up with a good reason, and that reason is that all the work wasn’t done, and they realize it now.  It must be that another plateau needs to be cleaned.
      The blissful people start looking for the next plateau.  Maybe it’s in Greenland, maybe in Mexico.  Maybe it is right here under our feet and we didn’t even realize it.  “But these were all just guesses, wouldn’t help you if they could.”  This is the secret to the song.  This is the rub.  The spiritually and religiously blissful people don’t have any more of a clue about the afterlife than do you or I.  We are all searching.  Don’t let those people convince you that, just because you haven’t found a definitive answer about life, that they are somehow more worthy than you.  They are simply trying to deceive you with their mop and bucket show.  Religion and spirituality are tools with which some people attempt to gain control of others here on earth.
      Religion also figures prominently a bit later on the disc in “Oh, Me.”  Rather than focusing on the control some have over others through religion, “Oh, Me” focuses on the deep-seeded need some people seem to have for God.  This is the thrust of Verse Three of the song:
would you like to hear my voice
sweetened with emotion
invented at your birth?
Wouldn’t it be great if God would actually talk to us?  That would answer the question of why we are here.  The voice of this verse is God.  Would you like me, God, to speak to you with emotion?  Would that make you feel better?  “Invented at your birth” as if I were here for you?
      Yes, that would make me feel better.  For you to tell me the answer in a loving and kind manner as if you were here for me and only me.  You could hold me to your bosom and bathe me in the light of your glory because I know that you care for me as much as anyone who has ever been.  I’ve dedicated my life to the moment when you’ll speak to me personally and let me know that I’m right, that I am righteous.
      This is the thrust of Verse Three.  It is God speaking to a listener saying, I know you’d like to have someone speak to you, to give you the answer, to tell you that you’re important.  This verse lets the listener know that the singer of the rest of the song understands what you are after.  Singer knows that most people are searching for verification of their existence from God.
      A final salient theme of Meat Puppets II is the occurrence of hallucinations.  “We’re Here” is an obvious example of this theme.  Verse One begins with the subject of the song attempting to fall asleep.
the night is restless but no dream’s in sight
and the sounds have no beginnings or ends
and that glow is not a light
It’s nighttime (when many people do their sleeping).  But this person isn’t dreaming like most of us do when we sleep, suggesting that he isn’t sleeping at all.  The night is “restless”!  Literally without rest.
      The sounds of the night become perplexing for the song’s subject, they have no beginnings or ends, just a stream of noises in this person’s tired, increasingly ill, head.  The glow is not a light.  This is an hallucination.  It is a glow inside his mind.
      Verse Two is where the hallucinations begin in earnest.  “The walls turn into waterfalls/with water made of thoughts that call.”  They speak to Singer, controlling his behavior:
it’s not O.K. to tip the glass
don’t make a noise or shed a tear
These are strong words.  They emphasize that this is an hallucination.  Singer is in his room, not moving, not making any noise.  The door is shut.  People that may be down the hall have no idea this is going on.  There is a lot of activity happening in Singer’s mind.  The inside of his head is loud!  But to the outside observer, to the sane world, Singer is quiet.  Singer is alone.
      Verse Two also suggests that this is Singer’s first episode of hallucinations.  “Things have changed, now we are here.”  The fact that things have changed suggests they weren’t like this before.  Singer is having his initial episode right now, right here in front of our eyes.  Of course, in front of our eyes nothing seems to be happening, although if we were watching him we might see a strange sight.  He might be distant, motionless, or unresponsive.
      “We are not the king and queen,” the voices say in Verse Three.  Two things are happening here.  First, kings and queens are real people.  We, say the voices, are not real people.  Not in the sense that sane people think of real.  Second, kings and queens are vested with power and authority.  So are we.  The choice of king and queen for this line, rather than some other kind of real person, emphasizes that the voices have power and authority, but not like a king or queen.  This is power and authority inside Singer’s head, rather than power and authority that are external to him.
      Also in Verse Three the voices suggest that they have always been here, Singer just didn’t know it:  “what we are lies in between/the blankets that you’ve never seen/but over you are spread.”  We envelop you.  We are all around you, and we’ve always been all around you.  So it is useless to struggle against us.  We have you.  Go along with our dictates.
      The idea of blankets also suggests comfort and warmth.  Remember it’s nighttime.  It’s sleep time.   But singer isn’t sleeping, he’s hallucinating.  The voices, however, tell him a story of sleep, of comfort.  We are blankets.  Though dreams are far away, hallucinations are right here, right now, and they are telling him to be comfortable with them.
      Verse Four emphasizes the intensity of the mind visitors.  Three times they remind the singer that they are here.  This verse also emphasizes the volume of the activity inside Singer’s head.  The voices sing, thunder and ring like a doorbell.  There is a lot going on inside Singer’s head.
      The voices also remind Singer, in Verse Four, of the overwhelming control they have over him.  They are “here in numbers.”  They have overwhelmed him.  He might as well relinquish control to them.  They are a blanket and they are here in numbers.
      The first line of Verse Five can take a couple meanings:  “the others came in from the hall.”  Maybe Singer’s family, or someone else from in his house, has come in to check on him.  They’ve found him in this faraway, comatose-like state.  If this is the reading of Verse Five, Line One, then the voices that “start to call” to him in this instant are reemphasizing that they are in control.  Even though others are here, and even though they might be trying to snap him out of his present condition, the hallucinatory voices are telling Singer to stay with them.  “You’re not alone the way you thought, things have changed, now we are here.”  We are in charge now.  Other peoples’ realities are no longer your reality.  Ignore those sane people who are calling to you.  Listen to us.  And furthermore, don’t show them anything that would suggest a response.  ‘It’s not o.k. to tip the glass/or smile too long or shed a tear.’  Don’t let them in on your new reality.  Be calm.  We’re in your head, not out there.  We are for you only, not for them.
      Line One of Verse Five might also be read that more voices, more of those that control Singer, have come in from, he perceives, the hallway.  They reemphasize that they are in control, absolute control.  The last lines of the song remind us that this is a first episode for Singer.  “Things have changed.”  This is the beginning of a journey for him, and we’ve been let in on it.
Five songs later, in “New Gods,” they are talking to Singer again.  They talk to Singer in “We’re Here,” telling him that only he can hear them.    “But remember that we told you,” is sung in “New Gods”
no one else knows what’s in store
remember that we told you
“New Gods” offers a reminder to Singer that his hallucinations are real, though only perceived by him; no one else understands the voices in his head.
      In this paper I first gave a sense of how others perceive Meat Puppets II as a classic album.  Next I showed what Curt, Cris, and Derrick think about the album and the context in which it was made.  Finally, I presented an analysis of Curt’s Meat Puppets II lyrics as they addressed issues of dealing with the devil, existentialism, religion, and hallucinations. 
Meat Puppets II ends with sustained whistling on “The Whistling Song.”  This song is also the only song on the album that fades out, and it’s the whistling that fades.  It’s a cocky, content whistling that suggests that Singer is resigned to his path.  Whether he has made a deal with the devil, or whether whistling is his essence; whether he is content with his spirituality or hallucinating the whole thing, the fading whistling to end Meat Puppets II exudes confidence.   It is the whistling of a band that is self-assured in its career trajectory.  As Derrick says:
There’s a sense of trying to be audacious by putting whistling into a punk record. (personal interview)
In 1983 (when the album was recorded) Meat Puppets were a band with ambition, a trio that knew they had places to go that most bands don’t.
Appendix:  Lyrics to Meat Puppets II
All Lyrics by Curt Kirkwood

“Split Myself in Two”

the man layed his hat on the table
hung his coat up on the wall
sat down to dinner
said as soon as I am able
I’ll say something nice to you all

then he took a deck from his pocket
spread em so I saw em all
then he turned his back to me
shuffled em and drew me
the card that said I never would fall

oh mary lou won’t you tell me what to do
I got a dollar on the corner
and a lazer in my shoe
if I don’t get an answer
gonna split myself in two

he spun till a ton was glistening
turned to me and gave me a smile
he said I’m leaving now
but I want what you owe me
I’ll be back in a little while

that was the last time I saw him
hope I never see him again
I know it sounds funny
but I owe him some money
and I really don’t want him for a friend


lost on the freeway again
lookin’ for means to an end
nobody knows which way its gonna bend
lost on the freeway again

walkin’ the breezeways again
lookin’ for something my brined
I’ve grown tired of living nixon’s mess
walkin’ the breezeways again

I know there’ll come a day
when you say that you don’t know me
I know there’ll come a time
when there’s nothing no one owes me any more

locked in the attic again
out of the shallow and into the deep end
I’ve got a wound I know will never mend
locked in the attic again


many a hand has scaled the grand old face of the plateau
some belong to strangers and some to folks you know
holy ghosts and talk show hosts are planted in the sand
to beautify the foothills and shake the many hands

there’s nothing on the top but a bucket and a mop
and an illustrated book about birds
you see a lot up there but don’t be scared
who needs action when you got words

when you’re finished with the mop then you can stop
and look at what you’ve done
the plateau’s clean, no dirt to be seen
and the work it took was fun

well the many hands began to scan around for the next plateau
some said it was in Greenland and some in mexico
some decided it was nowhere except for where the stood
but they were all just guesses, wouldn’t help you if they could

We’re Here

the night is restless
but no dream’s in sight
and the sounds have no beginnings or ends
and that glow is not a light

the walls turn into waterfalls
with water made of thoughts that call,
“it’s not O.K. to tip the glass
don’t make a noise or shed a tear
you’re not the only one that’s you
things have changed, now we are here.”

we’re not the king and queen
what we are lies in between
the blankets that you’ve never seen
but over you are spread

“we are here,” the voices sing
“we are her,” the echo thunders
“yes we are,” the doorbell rings
“here we are and her in numbers”

the others came in from the hall
and thoughts with voices start to call,
“it’s not O.K. to tip the glass
or smile too long or shed a tear
you’re not alone the way you thought
things have changed, now we are here”


climb, climb, I always climb
out of bed in the morning
on a mountain made of sand
and I know this doesn’t rhyme
but the clutter on the table
has been getting out of hand

I know that you tried to see me through
but honey I’m still having trouble
finding out what’s you

time, time, it’s so sublime
well they say it’s non-existent
but it’s playing with my mind
and phone calls don’t cost a dime
in the caverns of your feelings
where the sun will never shine

mine, mine, which things are mine?
well I thought I saw a few
before I found out I was blind
and I think I see a sign
and it’s saying where to go
and when I get there what I’ll find

New Gods

how much do I owe you?
I’ll pay but I don’t want to
days of where I came from
in a restaurant in mexico
they told me not to drink the water
and not to touch the food
“all we got is pepsi cola
and we know that it won’t hold you
but remember what we told you
no one else knows what’s in store
remember that we told you”

Oh, Me

if I had to lose a mile
if I had to touch feelings
I would lose my soul
the way I do

I don’t have to think
I only have to do it
the results are always perfect
and that’s old news

would you like to hear my voice
sweetened with emotion
invented at your birth?

I can’t see the end of me
my whole expanse I cannot see
I formulate infinity
and store it deep inside me

Lake of Fire

where do bad folks go when they die?
they don’t go to heaven where the angels fly
they go down to the lake of fire and fry
won’t see ‘em again till the fourth of july

I knew a lady who lived in Duluth
she got bit by a dog with a rabid tooth
but she went to her grave a little too soon
and she flew away howling at the yellow moon

now the people cry and the people moan
and they look for a dry place to call their home
and try to find some place to rest their bones
while the angels and the devils
fight to claim them for their own

The Whistling Song

it’s the shadow in the dark
it’s the silver in the park
it’s the broken, faded bird
you’ve learned to call your heart

it’s not a border you can see
just as plain as you or me
I can’t throw the lock back
and I don’t have the key

it hovers in the living room
just above the door
it whistles while it hangs there
feathers dripping from every pore
they show the spectacle of falling
and settle to the floor

Baird, Robert.  “Meat Puppets:  O Brother, Where Art Thou?”  Magnet.  May 7, 2007.  Web.  August 16, 2011.
Brawer, Hunter.  Meat Puppets II.”  Satan Stole My Teddy Bear.  August, 2009.  Web.  August 15, 2011.
Considine, J. D.  “Meat Puppets.”  Rolling Stone Album Guide.  Ed.  Anthony DeCurtis, James Henke, and Holly George-Warren.  New York:  Random House.  P. 465.  Print.
Crowell, Steven.  “Existentialism.”  The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  Winter 2010.  Web.  August 16, 2011.
Fricke, David.  “Meat Puppets.”  The Trouser Press Guide to ‘90s Rock.  Ed. Ira A. Robbins.  New York:  Fireside Books.  1997.  Print.
Guralnick, Peter.  Searching for Robert Johnson.  New York:  E. P. Dutton.  1989.  Print.
Hernandez, Raoul.  “What is This?”  Austin Chronicle.  April 9, 1999.  August 16, 2011.
Jaspers, Karl.  “On My Philosophy.”  Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre.”  Ed.  Walter Kaufman.  New York:  Meridian.  1956.  Print.
Joove, Leppo.  “Meat Puppets:  Meat Puppets II.”  Julian Cope Presents Head Heritage.  June 6, 2002.  Web.  August 15, 2011.
Linblad, Peter.  “Meat Puppets Return to Their Trippy Psych-Rock Roots.”  Goldmine.  July, 2007.  Web.  July 16, 2007.
Loder, Kurt.  Meat Puppets II.”  Rolling Stone.  1984.  Web.  June, 2009.
“Meat Puppets—Meat Puppets II.”  Music-Talk.  January 4, 2009.  Web.  August 16, 2011.
mranti.  “Meat Puppets:  Meat Puppets II.”  Sputnik Music.  August 9, 2005.  Web.  August 15, 2011.
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Prato, Greg.  “Meat Puppets’ Curt Kirkwood on Making New Album ‘Lollipop’ and Their Summer Plans.”  Rolling Stone Music.  March 11, 2011.  Web.  August 16, 2011.
Prindle, Mark.  II.”  Mark’s Record Reviews.  n.d.  Web.  August 15, 2011.
Roeser, Steve.  “Meat Puppets:  Swimming in a Lake of Fire.”  Goldmine Magazine.  April 28, 1995.  Accessed from  Web.  August 16, 2011.
“Rumpelstiltskin.”  East of the Web.  n.d.  Web.  August 16, 2011.
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Germs.  Germs (MIA):  The Complete Anthology.  Slash Records.  1993.
Meat Puppets.  Meat Puppets.  SST Records.  1982.
Meat Puppets.  Meat Puppets II.  SST Records.  1984.
Minor Threat.  Minor Threat.  Dischord Records.  1981.
Public Image Ltd.  First Edition.  Virgin Records.  1978.
Personal Interviews
Bostrom, Derrick.  January 22, 2011.
Carducci, Joe.  June 2. 2011.
Kirkwood, Cris.  November 28, 2010.
Kirkwood, Curt.  April 22, 2011.
White, Dan.  February 19, 2011.

[i] People refer to the first album as “Meat Puppets I” in the vernacular even though the official name of the release is simply “Meat Puppets.”
[ii] See “Appendix” for a complete listing of the lyrics to the songs on Meat Puppets II.
[iii] Indeed, Curt and brother Cris were raised by an angry step-father or two, one of whom reportedly burned down their house (Roeser).
[iv] Kirkwood sings the lyric as “the angels and the devils fight to make them their own.”
[v] Based on a survey of twenty-nine versions of “Lost,” performed from 1982 through 2010, Kirkwood only sang the “walking the breezeways” line twice, the last time being on the official SST release of Meat Puppets II in 1984.  On all other versions of the song he sings the “locked in the attic” verse here.
[vi]  Kirkwood sings “anybody” rather than “no one” here.