This interview originally appeared in Summer 2014 in the "Route7Review," Dixie State University English Department's literary journal: http://www.route7review.com/#!derrick-bostrom/c1hj0
Interview with Derrick Bostrom
October 12, 2013
Photo by Derrick Bostrom
According to the United States Census, in 1950 the population of Phoenix, Arizona, was 106,818. By 1960 that number had jumped 311 percent, to 439,170. Among those that moved there were Iowan Ed Bostrom and Minnesotan Sandra Thomson who, in 1960, gave birth to Derrick Bostom, future drummer for the seminal country/punk/psychedelic rock and roll band the Meat Puppets. By 2013, when the following interview was conducted, Phoenix was the nation’s sixth largest city with a population hovering just short of 1.5 million people. Derrick conjectures that he is of a rare species, a person who was born in and has stayed in Phoenix his entire life.
In what follows I talk with Derrick about growing up in a growing city, about being a liberal punk rocker in a high school full of cowboys and disco queens. He talks about Phoenix as a city that has never been much concerned with conservation of resources, instead opting for offering attractive economic incentives and welcoming all comers to this desert oasis. He tells me why his band, the Meat Puppets, first broke in Los Angeles rather than the Valley of the Sun and why, nevertheless, they stayed in Phoenix even though the rock music industry was located a six-hour drive to the west. Finally, Derrick tells me what he’s been up to in the eighteen years since he stopped playing in the band: his job as a top IT tech at a grocery store chain, his blog, his photography, and the internet radio show he produces every week.
Matt- You’re a lifelong Phoenician, aren’t you Derrick?
Derrick- Yes. I was born here in 1960. My folks went to Arizona State University. We lived down in kind of a suburb off the downtown drag until about 1968 when we moved up to Paradise Valley when my mom remarried. Paradise Valley being a farther-out suburb of Phoenix, more of an upper-middle class kind of place.
I started my band in 1980 with the Kirkwoods [brothers Curt and Cris]. I had gotten into punk rock about 1977 and had tried to get just about everybody I knew who played music to start a band with me. The Kirkwoods were the ones that stuck. They were the most interested in actually performing out. So we created our own little hippie North Phoenix upper-middle-class band. Played with the other punk rockers. Did well-enough to attract attention in California. Got some records made. Got opportunities to tour. And then stuck with it for fifteen years. Put out ten records, or so. Got a Gold Record. Got most popular from our affiliation with Nirvana who liked our early records and invited us on tour. Those tour dates we did were right before their Unplugged show, and we were able to arrange to appear on that program, cuz he [Kurt Cobain] was looking for material to play and he wanted to do some of our songs from our second record, Meat Puppets II. His Unplugged record, we appeared on it, it had some songs on it, did well enough to allow us to cash-in on our fifteen years of struggle. Doing that one record made us much more money than we ever made on our own. By that time we were so exhausted that that little payday was all it took for us to basically retire, which we did until that money ran out, at which point the Kirkwoods went back on the road and I, in the meantime, got a job working for Whole Foods Market. I am now the lead IT supervisor for the Arizona area, which is seven stores.
M- Do you live in Phoenix proper now?
D- I still live in Phoenix.
M- Are you of a generation in Phoenix to be born and stay your whole lives in Phoenix?
D- I don’t think anybody is born and stays their whole life in Phoenix. I know very few people who were born here and are still here fifty years later.
My mother’s father got an opportunity in the late-fifties to run a development financing company. My father’s father was a Methodist minister who got a parish here. So they met while they were here.
M- Were your parents born in Phoenix?
D- No. They were born in the Midwest. My mother’s folks are from Minnesota, my father’s folks are from Iowa, I think.
M- That’s a pretty standard story for people in Arizona.
D- I suspect that the generation before ours, mine anyway, was a little more rootless because of the mid-century depression and war, etcetera, etcetera. Whereas the era I was born into was much more stable.
M- So your grandparents moved your parents to Phoenix?
D- Yea, but actually both of my parents were adult by that time. Both of them were college-age by the time they moved in.
M- In the little research I did for this interview, if you look at the numbers, the city of Phoenix, in the year you were born had 439,000 people. By 2010 it has 1.4 million people. Then if you look at the entire Phoenix metro area in 1960 only 663,000 people, and by now it’s over 4 million. How do you account for that growth in your lifetime?
D- Personally, I account for that growth from the fact of the Rustbelt phenomenon and loss of industry jobs in the Midwest and also the rise of extremely business-friendly governments here. I think a lot of that has to do with trying to attract people to the desert by letting them do whatever they wanted. So, like, you had Motorola moved out here, created a lot of jobs. A lot of aerospace. I know that in parts of the city the pollution regulations were quite a bit laxer. So you can find plenty of evidence of groundwater pollution and “cancer corridors” as it were. Plus making it easier for developers to build. Same thing as Las Vegas. Another town hard hit by the recession.
So in the post-war United States not only was there air conditioning, there was also freeways and airports and things like that, making people spread out more. And also the irrigation phenomenon which came around as a response to the dustbowl. They began to irrigate more and spend more time focusing on dams and water management. Obviously water management is a huge thing here. We are basically fed by the Colorado River through a series of uphill waterways that are run by pumps called the Central Arizona Project, which keeps the city from having to use its polluted groundwater.
When Phoenix was a smaller city there was a lot more vegetation, a lot more trees. Trees lined the major thoroughfares. There were a lot more grass lawns. Now we have a heat island here cuz of the size and also because there is a lot of land banking in the city proper. There’s a lot of failed developments that are now just vacant lots, retail-type office real estate in the city that is basically vacant lots because they just don’t want to spend the money to build them or sell them.
We also have, over the last five years, a greater rise of dust storms that are coming in from Tucson. Weather always comes up from Tucson during the Monsoon season in the summer. Due to extreme developments, failed developments, and also increased development that now there is so much open ground that it pulls so much dirt off of the ground when the wind comes from Tucson that Phoenix gets engulfed by dust a couple of times a year. This is a recent phenomenon. The people who are from out-of-town, they call them “haboobs,” and that is a term that we never used to use. We’ve always had dust storms but nothing like this where you’ll see walls of dirt that engulf the city in the summertime.
They say that we’re not so much experiencing a drought as that we’re no longer experiencing a wet season. In the late-nineties climate changed a little bit so it wasn’t quite so moist. It used to start cooling off around August or September and now that’s pushed back by at least a month or so. We’re seeing the effects of a certain amount of climate change here.
M- What about something I think you’re interested in, based upon your photography, the architecture of Phoenix? Is there anybody interested in preserving the older architecture or is it just raze a building and build a new one?
D- It’s a city that during the post-war period, mid- late-forties through the mid-sixties, had a strong modern architecture movement. There are a lot of celebrated architects who come out of here. There’s a strong movement to preserve buildings. Obviously Frank Lloyd Wright settled here. There was a big fight just last year to save a house that he designed for his son. That was actually saved. He has Taliesin West out here, which is a beautiful, beautiful place. It’s also getting old and needs to be restored, needs to be preserved. If you go to the Modern Phoenix website you’ll see a really well-documented website about Phoenix modern architecture; the drive to save it, some of their successes, some of their losses.
M- I read that “Phoenix is reinventing itself into oblivion.” What does that mean?
D- Well there is that. You move to the outer edges of town where there are all sorts of failed developments and future failures of tract houses and malls and areas that are not sustainable. Ten years ago, during the crash, we lost a lot of development. Lots and lots of money was lost in the construction industry. Attempts to revitalize it is usually still along the lines of what they did before. There are young people trying to do things in a scaled down, more sustainable way. Your usual suspects. Your artisans joined with your developers. Still the question is: Can a city out in the middle of the desert survive in the face of post-peak-oil, post-water crisis, and financial crisis? We shall see.
Most of the stuff that gets built out here is ugly as hell. But that’s my opinion. I’m fifty-years old. I have an affinity for the stuff of my youth.
M- Well, let’s talk about your youth. Did you go to public schools, Derrick?
D- I did go to public schools. I went to Tavan public school on Osborn and Forty-Sixth Street. Then when we moved up to Paradise Valley I went to Kiva Elementary School. Then I went to Chaparral High School. Aside from a year at U of A [University of Arizona] that was all the education I got.
M- This is the seventies, right?
D- I graduated from high school in 1978.
M- What was the public high school like?
D- I went to high school in 1974 through 1978. Back in 1974 through ’78 there was probably one computer in the whole school. It was kind of a scaled-down mainframe. There would’ve been one computer programming class that you could do the usual punch card routine with. We had an AV class where we had a black and white two-inch videotape machine and all the nerds used to like to play with videotape. It wasn’t really computers. I was the editor of my high school newspaper my senior year and was a staff member in my junior year.
M- What was the name of the newspaper?
D- The Chaparral Ashes. I cut my teeth writing journalism paste-up, etcetera, for my second half of high school. That was probably the main thing that I did besides read comic books and listen to rock music. Then I got into punk rock. But I really liked the journalism classes that I had taken. It led me to some of the probing that I did later, some of the reading and the writing that I did. But obviously I was more interested in being a rock musician, so I did that.
M- What was the popular music atmosphere at your school? What kind of stuff were the kids listening to?
D- Top Forty. Disco. We were listening to Frank Zappa, Todd Rundgren, Yes, King Crimson, Grateful Dead. But the average teenagers were listening to whatever was on the Top Forty. Disco was massive. We hated it. I learned to like it later, after it had ended. People used to dress-up with their Farah Fawcett hairdos and their disco clothes, and we dressed-up in our jeans and t-shirts.
M- What was radio like? The stuff you’re telling me you listened to you weren’t hearing on the radio.
D- No. Well, that’s not entirely true cuz Phoenix was one of the birthplaces of progressive radio in the seventies. There was a station out here, which still exists but it doesn’t have the same programming, called KDKB. It started in the early-seventies. It started as an AM radio station and when they moved to FM it was KDKB. It was one of the most progressive radio stations in the country. It was in the format of the San Francisco progressive stations where DJs would do long freeform sets that had a theme which you were supposed to guess. They had alternative news. Those kind of stations were the ones that were breaking the Fleetwood Macs, Bruce Springsteens, Patti Smiths, of the period. We actually had a rich radio situation in Phoenix when I was growing up. AM radio was just the usual. You looked at the playlist and that’s what you got. You got Wings, you got the Sylvers, whatever.
M- Where were you getting most of your music? Record stores?
D- Record stores. Friends and their older siblings. Most of my friends had older brothers, although I was the oldest in my family. Most of the stuff I was getting was from the older brothers of my friends. And then KDKB. They would play the latest from the Grateful Dead and Zappa and all that kind of stuff.
We also used to go to the Unitarian Church when I was growing up. So my main social group was an organization in the Unitarian Church called the LRY, the Liberal Religious Youth, that was disbanded in about 1980 for being entirely too radical and too independent. It was really big on the East Coast, not as big out here, though it was certainly big to us. But compared to the organization they were doing on the East Coast, we were nothing. It was pure counterculture, pure hippie. Much more so than the church would’ve allowed had they known. When they did find-out they disbanded it.
In fact we used to sneak into the church and jam, and that was one of the places that I met the Kirkwoods for the first time as they started to gravitate towards our little clique of Unitarian hippies. In fact we mentioned that in one of our interviews in the local press, that we used to break-in to the church, and our minister sent a letter retracting it to the magazine saying, “It does not reflect the views of the church.”
The LRY was a national network of countercultural teenagers. I have some newspapers of theirs from back in the times, in ’75 and whatnot, the stuff that they talked about then is the same stuff that you’re hearing about now in the mainstream press. It gives you a sense of how this stuff has moved to the mainstream a little bit, but it’s still contentious: alternate sexuality, race, women’s issues. We were big on that then, the country really wants it now, or at least a large portion of it, but there’s still a great reaction against it. The beautiful thing about the seventies was we could talk about this stuff amongst ourselves and the disco fans didn’t know from it, and we weren’t in their faces and we could ignore them and they could ignore us, and now we’re all in each other’s laps. Back in the seventies we were a counter culture. Nowadays a lot of the same stuff has become tedious in the constant back-and-forth about it. When Obama became president it was like, “Great! This should’ve happened in 1968.” And now the forces of reaction against it are a world-wide embarrassment.
M- So then punk rock. Do you remember a moment when you realized that “this is punk rock.”
D- Sure. I first heard about punk rock in the front pages of Creem magazine. I had gotten into Creem probably a year before punk rock happened and had noticed that the really good stuff in there were by artists I’d never heard of. People like Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. Creem gave grudging acceptance to Zappa and Rundgren, the bands that we liked. But they really liked these harder bands. I didn’t care for that kind of music, didn’t even care for the Rolling Stones when I was a young hippie. I thought they were too hard, but realized that guys like Lou Reed were actually saying stuff that was intelligent, that I could relate to. And then when I started reading interviews with Johnny Rotten I was like, “This guy knows what he’s talking about! I agree with this guy!”
KDKB began talking about some of the local punk rock bands and I started hearing some of that stuff. I started realizing that punk rock was a movement that I could relate to. I started going to the shows that I could get in to. There was one show I could not get in to. I tried to, but it was at a bar and I was underage. The New Times wrote an article the following day about how “if you didn’t go to the show you suck.” So I wrote them a letter going, “Uhm, if this is supposed to be so great, they should play where young people can see it.” I was actually contacted by the writer and his roommate, who was the singer in the band. I got to know those guys and began to go to their shows and they turned me on to punk rock music.
M- The Consumers.
D- Right. That’s what really got me into it. You could go and see Todd Rundgren or Frank Zappa, but that was just so alien and so isolated. But actually having the local punk rock heroes send you a letter going, “F*#! you! You should come and see our show!” was a revelation. So seeing the stuff up-close and personal and meeting another group of older guys that I connected with was a big inspiration to me. After that I wanted to get into a band.
Most of my friends thought that punk rock was appalling. They not only thought that the music sucked but they thought that it was a betrayal of our ideals and that it was reactionary. The funny thing about it, of course, is that there were plenty of people who likened the hippies to the Nazi Youth movements of the thirties and the twenties, and the hippies were comparing the punk rockers to the Hitler Youth. From now on any time a youth movement comes along they get compared to the original kids who used to get together to talk about how they hated their parents. So no matter what happens, no matter who comes along, you’re always compared to the Nazis first. So it was with the hippies and so it was with the Black Panthers and so it was with the punks. But obviously I was not a Nazi.
M- When Meat Puppets started in 1980 was there anything you could call a “punk rock scene” in Phoenix?
D- There were some private parties and private shows being done. No bars had opened up. Nowadays you will find people talking about the “first punk rock bands” in Phoenix. These are bands that I just did not care for. These were, like, not even really power-pop bands. They were just bar bands that wore colorful clothes and had short hair. They probably considered themselves punk, but I considered it to be frat-rock and I did not care for it. One of the things I didn’t like about them was that they were buds with the bars and they used to hang-out with the bar people. I was not into the bar scene. I didn’t want anything to do with it. I wanted it to be completely alternative. I wanted it to be completely our own thing. It took longer for our types of people to get out there and connect because we were not looking to join the mainstream.
The Consumers left in early 1978 to move to L.A. to become a part of the Hollywood scene. I was really into the L.A. punk rock bands like the Germs and X and stuff like that. It wasn’t until 1980 that these bands begin to show-up at a bar called Star System in Tempe, where I got to meet some of them. Not the Germs. They never came to Phoenix, but a lot of the L.A. bands did. I remember talking to the Plugz, and the Alley Cats, and X, and bands like that. But before that bar opened-up we were doing private parties. The Meat Puppets hadn’t existed yet, but I began to meet this older group of guys. Got encouragement from them.
The Meat Puppets had actually gone down to Tucson to play cuz there was a scene down there which I had actually been a part of when I had gone to college for a year in ’78-’79. I had a band with another U of A student called the Atomic Bomb Club. We had also rubbed shoulders with some of the local musicians down there. We’d hang-out with people, listen to music, share money and goods. Tucson had a bar that had bands play, so we went down there and did our first show. And slowly but surely, as we got to know these bands we started to get on the opening bills. We actually were getting our first gigs in town opening for bands we met in L.A. We could get shows in Los Angeles before we could get shows in Phoenix. And then entrepreneurs came around, started opening clubs. Things got a little bit easier. Some of us opened clubs. But that was more-or-less over by ’84 or so. Then we started playing at the same bars that these original frat-rock punk bands were playing in the late-seventies. Finally we were of enough status to play in these exalted locations. Then we played in clubs and we toured. By then we had records out. So the main Phoenix scene was probably eighty to eighty-four.
M- What was the impetus for going to L.A.? When was the first time you went to L.A.? How did that come about?
D- The Consumers, when they had moved to L.A., I had made friends with a couple of them. I sent them tapes once the Meat Puppets were starting to record. Just practices, not albums. That stuff started circulating around our friends from the Consumers’s circles and the ones that liked us invited us to L.A. to do shows. The first show we played in L.A. was with 45 Grave. . .Maybe that was the first show we played in Phoenix. No, it was with Vox Pop which was basically the same group of guys, Don Bolles. We also played with Human Hands who was David Wiley, the singer of the Consumers, and his friends, Monitor, who took us under their wing and really liked our stuff. When Monitor came to Phoenix or when Human Hands came to Phoenix we would open for them. And then, you know, a half a dozen bands in town got to know each other, we started to be able to do shows in rented halls. Some of the other bands who were actually a little bit more successful playing a little more mainstream sounds started having some of us open for them. Basically, Monitor and the Human Hands and the Los Angeles Free Music Society adopted us and began to have us over to do shows. Eventually we met up with Black Flag, through our connections with a company that was just distributing Monitor’s records. We met Joe Carducci who was going to put out a record with us. When he went to work for SST he arranged for us to put out records with them.
M- So you become a touring band, a band that outgrows Phoenix, but as opposed to some of your friends in the Consumers and the Liars and 45 Grave, and the Germs why do you guys stay in Phoenix? Why don’t you go to L.A. or somewhere else?
D- That is a good question. You could just as easily ask, “Why did the other guys move?”
M- Well, the answer to that is that the industry is in L.A.
D- I suspect that, first of all, it’s not just the industry in L.A., there’s a party scene in L.A. The three of us were never particularly social. We didn’t really like to party that much, at least not back then. I never really did, anyway. I didn’t have a great urge to go out and hang-out. We didn’t have a lot of money. We didn’t want to work.
We didn’t work. The last job I had was parking cars, which I did for two weekends. Cris and I both were parking cars for a guy and we quit in order to play a gig. That was the last time we worked.
So one of the main reasons Cris and Curt didn’t move out was because they were living in homes supplied by their mom, who was a real estate agent, and had a little bit of money through her father, their grandfather. So she was basically keeping those guys going. They were getting a lot of help from their mom, and so was I cuz ultimately I was living with them. So I’d say the main reason we didn’t move out of Phoenix was because Vera White, their mom, supported us the whole time. Ultimately you can’t disregard her input to our group, cuz we didn’t work. It’s not like she showered us with money, but those guys had some inheritance from the family and we just did gigs and we hung-out. Plus Curt got twins fairly early-on. We were just kind of homebodies.
M- In the long run, in the fifteen years you were in the band, how did staying Phoenix influence your career?
D- It probably kept us going. It was an insulated scene. Mostly, we relied on each other, doing our own little thing. We didn’t see anything we liked better than what we saw, what we already had. There was no reason for us to leave because we weren’t discontented.
I think we’ve always been of the opinion that we controlled our career. So it was our choice to stay. Staying in Phoenix didn’t influence us, we influenced ourselves by deciding to stay in Phoenix. Obviously I don’t know what it’s like to not be in Phoenix, so I couldn’t really say. I would assume if we had left and lived in a city that had, like, hundreds of bands, we might have broken-up if somebody had gotten in our ear and said, “You need something better, you need a better band.” But since we more-or-less hung-out together and we were bigger fish in a smaller pond, we probably got more attention, and more sycophantic attention, than if we had been in L.A. and had to compete for the same piece of pie with other bands. Anybody who didn’t like us sucked, and anybody who liked us could bow down. We just ran our own thing the way we wanted it. We didn’t have any pressure. We never got chased out of town by the police.
It wasn’t until later when we started being a much larger band, and things began to become unpleasant for us, Curt decided to move out to L.A. Then I decided to move out of Phoenix for awhile. We stayed because it worked for us right out of the chute. We didn’t feel like we were struggling. I’m sure bands leave Phoenix because they feel like they deserve better and they figure they can get it somewhere else. But we were content with what we were getting. We got good success. We were able to travel to other cities. We could leave. You go out to L.A. and people are living underneath desks and they’re living off of hand-outs from the guitarist’s dad and bags of thrift store clothes. What, are we gonna go, “Oh, God, we gotta get in on this! This is what we want!” We had a better deal at home.
M- And forever more you’re “that band from Phoenix” whenever anything is written about you.
D- That’s another thing that helped us, was being in Phoenix. In the early-eighties there was a push to regionalize punk rock, to Americanize it by, “Here’s a scene from this city. Here’s a scene from this city. This type of music is indigenous to here.” So that was kind of a media-hype play. It suited us very well. People were interested in that kind of thing. “Here’s the bands from Milwaukee, here are the bands from Seattle, here are the bands from Phoenix.” Unfortunately, I don’t think the Meat Puppets actually represented Phoenix the way Phoenix actually was. Phoenix is not cow punk. Phoenix is not psychedelic. Alice Cooper represents the Phoenix music style better than the Meat Puppets do. But if you really want to dice it well you gotta find the common ground between us and Alice Cooper, and you’ll get a better picture of it.
M- Did you listen to country music when you were in high school?
D- Not at all. None of us listened to country music. We were all into progressive music. Curt liked more rock and roll than Cris or I. Cris was really into fusion jazz. I was really into the bands I mentioned earlier. But none of us listened to country music. That country music thing is obviously filtered through Grateful Dead and Neil Young. We could pretend – wink, wink, nudge, nudge – that it’s country, but it’s actually Neil Young.
M- I wonder if there were more country music radio stations in Phoenix than, say, L.A. Just walking around you might have heard a little bit, and saw cowboys once in awhile.
D- Of course. Certainly the cowboys were at school. If we saw them we would walk the other way. These are the people that would pick on us. These were not people that we emulated or idealized at all. That was another concept of the punk rock regionalism, was when we were starting to embrace these styles, this was a reproach model of people who used to beat-up on us. It’s like, “We’re only pretending to be country because we’re saying, ‘We now own country and you can’t pick on us anymore.’” I think this is part of the whole impetus of the American punk rock scene in general, was for us to take over. Not for us to express any love of the people that tormented us as children. We were erasing country music and taking it on.
When we were putting out our first record with the guys from Monitor, they were actually going, “We’re gonna get you guys on country music radio!”
We were like, “No, we’re really actually not gonna get on country music radio.”
They were thinking that we could make “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” or “Walking Boss” a single and put it out on mainstream country, back in, like, 1981 when they were playing disco country.
But country music had a couple of major stations out here. There was a major country station in Phoenix that was a nation-wide hit-breaker owned by Buck Owens. But it wasn’t like we had anything to do with it.
M- What about your more contemporary life, Derrick? You’ve been out of Meat Puppets now longer than you were actually in the Meat Puppets as an active musician. You work for Whole Foods. What’s your official title?
D- I’m the Systems Integrator for the Arizona Metro, which basically means that I’m the top IT guy for the seven stores in Arizona.
M- At what point did you get into the IT stuff, the computer stuff?
D- In 1994 I lived next door to a guy who had a Mac, and he wanted to sell his Mac and get a better one. I, by 1994, had a good system going. That year we were touring pretty much constantly for the entire year. We weren’t getting paid, but we were getting $25 per diems, plus there was food backstage. We were also getting fed food in the backstage. So I was pocketing those per diems. By mid-summer of 1994 I had saved-up, like, a thousand bucks. Cuz you go to the backstage with a bag and throw all the bananas and the waters into a bag and throw them back on the bus and you’re covered. So I bought this computer off of my neighbor and began to stay up twenty-four hours trying to figure-out how to make it work.
Around this time the internet started mainstreaming, so I got on the internet. Did a website for the band starting in 1995. I gotta tell you, back then you actually had to know something to get on the internet. I remember it took me months to figure-out how to get my computer to make a dial-up connection for free.
So I started doing websites. I met my wife through . . .she was also a web designer. We got to know each other. So we were both into tech. I thought the internet was great. I got access to stuff that I’d been wondering about forever. I slowly but surely watched it build-up into the hype machine that it is today.
I started trying to get small design jobs. Back then if you knew how to make a break tag, is the joke among us oldsters, if you knew how to write a break tag you could make a living. So I was doing web development and stuff like that right up until about 2000. I got a job doing graphic design work for a friend of mine, a start-up. That company died in the dot-com bust. For awhile I was a lead designer and an art director for a company. But for just a very short time, less than a year. Then I took odd jobs and realized that you had to do an inordinate amount of client service and you had to hustle and you almost never got to do the stuff you wanted to do. And I sucked at it.
So after being unemployed for too long and struggling for too long, about the same time the money ran out from the band, I took a job working at Whole Foods cuz they opened one near my house. Started at the bottom slinging produce and slowly but surely worked my way up to the reasonably exalted cul-de-sac of a position that I have now, as a middle-manager.
M- What about some of your other artistic interests? You like to take pictures, right?
D- Well, I in 2003 or ’04 I began to read a blog called Forty-three Folders which was a productivity blog that I’d read about in the New York Times. I began to become exposed to the notion of not wasting time so much. This was a discipline called “Getting Things Done” by a writer named David Allen. I started getting into that for awhile and I began to take stock of some of the stuff I was doing. I was like, “I’m going to fire all of my remaining clients and I’m gonna start a website and only do what I want to do.” I think we call those blogs. I was a late-comer to that. I needed an excuse to write, anyway. So I began to try to publish something on the blog at least once a week, and there’s still a lot of it up there and a lot of it shows what you come up with if you are extremely unproductive and you give yourself a one-week deadline. I did a lot of sharing albums that I had ripped from my thrift store collection or scans of funny stuff I’d collected over the years.
I started getting more interested in some of the history of Phoenix and my own interest in older buildings. I started taking pictures of stuff that I was afraid was gonna get knocked-down. I got myself a small camera and started reading-up on photography, digital photography. By the time my first point-and-shoot died I decided to get a proper camera and started paying a little more attention to taking pictures. I started going out and taking mostly pictures of buildings in Phoenix or other locations in the state that are in danger of getting knocked-down. Some of the stuff has gotten knocked-down. It’s just a hobby.
I have been super, super busy at work over the last couple years as we are in the post-recession period as we struggle to expand. So I don’t do as much creative stuff as I used to, but I have written substantially about the Meat Puppets. Some of it I’ve published on my blog, some of it I have not. Some of it is still gestating.
M- Like you say, many of your photographs are of old buildings, decaying buildings. Is your main interest in preserving history or do you just have an interest in buildings that are falling apart?
D- I tend to like them better before they get renovated. I have a soft spot in my heart for the buildings right before they’re gonna get knocked-down. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve ever snuck into a building more than once or twice that was, you know, closed. But there are a lot of urban spelunkers out there. Part of my interest is fueled by looking at some of these sites. There’s a lot of documentation of Detroit, for instance. I’ve been to Detroit and I can attest that it’s an amazing sight. They say that Detroit is the greatest collection of mid-century skyscrapers in America, largely because they don’t have enough money to knock ‘em down. Whereas a place like New York they knock their old stuff down. Phoenix is definitely a growth engine, so a lot that of that stuff gets knocked-down. But obviously there’s nothing here on the level of Detroit.
So just in that spirit sometimes I’ll get the itch, I’ll go out, drive around. My wife does not like me prowling around the slums with a camera. So I only do as much of it as she can stand. I’m not one of those teenage hardcore kids who sneaks into abandoned warehouses at midnight.
M- What about your show on Luxuria?
D- I’ve had a weekly show on Saturday afternoons at Luxuriamusic.com which is devoted to essentially oddball squirrely stuff. Occasionally I’ll get on their chat room during my show and people will be like, “This is awful!” It’s from a long time interest I have in oddball novelty music. I used to work on a magazine called Breakfast without Meat with a fellow who works with Neil Hamburger. He used to put-out Neil Hamburger’s records before he stopped doing a label. Also the guys in Monitor. Monitor were the first people to really turn me on to that kind of stuff. We used to hang-out with their friend Boyd Rice who called himself “Non” back then. He had a passion for certain types of teenage pop and so did the guys in Monitor. I started getting into it from there. I started collecting stuff from thrift stores. Of course nowadays you can find so much of it on the internet that you can have an international scope. Probably around the time the band broke-up, this kind of late-sixties easy-listening music started getting played in clubs. Luxuriamusic.com, the first incarnation was part of that bandwagon. They were the greatest thing on the internet for me for the two years that they were in business. Then they got bought-out by Clear Channel. They basically bought their internet assets cuz this was at a time when everybody was trying to figure-out how to make the internet pay.
After a couple years of being off the air they reconstituted themselves in a much more standard kind of record collectors, oldies, pop history enthusiasts kind of a station with much less of a focus on that lounge core trend.
But I still like the lounge core stuff. I still like extremely schmaltzy instrumental easy-listening music. My show on Saturday afternoons still reflects that.
M- Is it live or do you put it together ahead of time?
D- It’s recorded. When they were reconstituting themselves they did not even have a studio. It was only prerecorded shows. They now have a studio, but it’s in Los Angeles, and the only time I ever go to L.A. anymore is for work meetings, so I’ve never got a chance to go out there.
The station is still hanging in there. It’s still going strong. It’s still listener supported. It’s still just a labor of love. It’s pretty much not-for-profit. We all donate our time to play the music we love on it. It’s a very cool group of people that do it. They give us very little hard time. They let us be as whiny as we want and reign us in very infrequently. It’s a great station. I wish I had more time to listen to it but, honestly, I don’t listen to internet radio much, but I still find the time to put together a show for them. I do a new show and then a rebroadcast, I’ve been doing it since 2006, so I do two new shows a month. Usually I have to take a day off work to record everything, edit everything together, write all the bits, and press them and stuff. It’s time consuming.
Although I’ve talked with Derrick a number of times on the phone, always within the context of an interview, I’ve only met him in-person once. It was at Northwestern University in February of 1994 and the Meat Puppets were in the midst of their “Munchies” tour in support of their biggest-selling album Too High to Die. They were playing a free afternoon gig in the Norris Student Center. Along with being a graduate student in Sociology at Northwestern, I was a DJ on WNUR, the school radio station. I had already interviewed Derrick and Cris Kirkwood by phone for my dissertation (a study of selling-out), I thought I’d take advantage of my position as a DJ to get a radio interview with the band.
I made to the Norris Center on time, just after the band had set-up, but before they were ready to play. I admit that I was a bit disappointed that Derrick was the only Meat Puppet coming to the station with me for the interview. I was hoping, of course, for Curt, the band’s “leader” and publicly most charismatic figure.
On our walk over to the station Derrick and I talked about Arizona (I had lived in Flagstaff for six years while working on my BA and MA degrees). We talked about the heat wave that hit Phoenix only a few years earlier in which the temperatures reached 120+ degrees fahranheit, closing Sky Harbor Airport. Derrick told me that that was the summer he stopped doing drugs.
Thinking myself tricky and witty and trying to show my expert knowledge of all things Meat Puppets, I opened our interview by asking, “Have the Meat Puppets sold out?” I don’t remember his exact response; the undergraduate college DJ in the station at the time forgot to push “Record!” I do, however, remember it being a vintage Bostrom response. He was direct and to-the-point, letting me and our Chicagoland listeners know that the very idea of selling out was absurd. He was a professional musician in a professional rock band. My insinuation that by making a professional sounding record they had somehow compromised anything artistic was silly at best and most obviously misinformed.
It would be seventeen years before I’d talk with Derrick again. I’ve interviewed him by phone or Skype six times in the last three years (mostly for a book I’m working on). In those seventeen years Derrick has made a full break from his life as a working professional musician. He’s “settled-down,” as they say. He’s a married, vegan, mid-level manager. But he hasn’t lost his artistically progressive vision of the world. As evidenced in this interview, he is keenly aware of the social and cultural spaces in which he lives, has informed ideas about how these spaces got to where they are and about where they are headed, and he documents these ideas in numerous creative ways.