013: Meat Puppets - Forbidden Places (1991)
“The Meat Puppets gave me a completely different attitude toward music. I owe so much to them.”
—Kurt Cobain, blurb on sticker affixed to Too High to Die's jewel case, which was annoyingly impossible to remove without acetone or something
MEAT!!! Chris Willie Williams is the eighth and final Discord & Rhyme host to take the helm — and, ever the prankster and hopeless hipster, he has chosen an album that is out of print. 1991’s Forbidden Places was the major-label debut for Meat Puppets, a critically adored 1980s Phoenix alternative rock band known for its mixture of country and psychedelia, as well as vocalist Curt Kirkwood’s only vague regard for a song’s meter. Forbidden Places was meant to give the Puppets a Traveling Wilburys-style spitshine for the airwaves — then, three months later, Nirvana’s Nevermind came along and changed the face of music. Acknowledging the Puppets as an influence, Kurt Cobain invited Curt and brother Cris to Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged sessions to play on covers of three songs from Meat Puppets II (1983), but by that point, the band’s momentum had been interrupted. So with today’s episode, Will hopes to do justice to a fine, sturdy power pop album that, in an alternate universe, would have made the Kirkwoods & Co. huge.
Shortly after this episode went live, Will sent it to Meat Puppets’ drummer Derrick Bostrom. Derrick very kindly replied with a wealth of background information about the making of Forbidden Places and corrected a couple of facts we got wrong. Here’s what he had to say, reprinted with his permission:
Thanks for the great show!
It’s always interesting, nowadays, learning how people connect with our music, especially, younger people who came to the band much later. Here are a couple tidbits you might find interesting.
“That’s How It Goes” was not meant to be on the album at first. It was included among the many demos submitted for approval to get the label to green light an album. We didn’t record it during the band sessions, but during the overdubbing sessions, after I had already left for Phoenix, out label head came out and insisted we do it. The drums are actually a machine. Listen back and now you won’t be able to un-hear that.
“Backwater,” from “Too High To Die,” is another track we did under duress. But the label declared it to be “radio ready” and would not let us do an album without including it. We didn't like it much either.
“Nail It Down” was Pete’s favorite, and he insisted on taking it in hand as a personal project, giving it a “radio-friendly” Tom Petty arrangement.
If you listen closely, note that “Popskull” is the only track on the album that’s just the three piece. No second guitar or any other shit. Another Pete idea.
It is NOT true that we signed with London because we like ZZ Top! We actually pitched to a lot of labels, but only Atlantic was interested, and only because a certain guy who ran the joint liked us. When he jumped to Polygram, we followed him. Polygram decided to reactivate London in the US as a more-or-less “indie” imprint, and assigned us to that label. We didn’t have much say in the matter.
And yes, the album is now captive to that very contract, along with “No Joke.” The label is not interested in working with us in any way to get it back on sale. Not worth the trouble for them to even license it to us. We’ll get there though, one day...
The so-called “nonsense” and “silliness” you guy note in the lyrics, and in some of the music, is really just a reflection of our dedication to our psychedelic roots. This isn’t just about drug taking, getting high or partying — it’s about consciousness expansion. Thusly, our work has always been full of contradictions, odd connections of ideas and images, and the general air of zen. This is not just a “bad commercial choice” on our part. It’s deliberate!
One other point I wanted to make that you really didn’t talk about was the role of MONEY in the making of Forbidden Places. We made the previous records on SST — including the ones that didn’t grab your panel — for next to nothing. Our London records had astronomical budgets, which needless to say we never recouped. In those days you couldn’t cram a whole studio's worth of gear onto your phone. During our SST period, we were lucky if we could afford three days of studio time, and it really shows! To give the songs on Mirage, Huevos and Monsters their true due, you really need to spend some time in the Meat Puppets wing of archive.org’s Live Music Archive.
Anyway, great show! We linked to you on our Facebook page, naturally, and hope you are looking forward to our upcoming “Dusty Notes” album.
Derrick also noted that the first verse of “Whirlpool” tracks with this Sufi fable.
We are indeed excited for the release of Dusty Notes in March 2019, available now for pre-order! (Amazon affiliate link)
The work of Matthew Smith-Lahrman was invaluable in putting this episode together. His website Perspective features scads of interviews with the band that he personally conducted while putting together the scholarly tome The Meat Puppets and the Lyrics of Curt Kirkwood: From Meat Puppets II to No Joke! His companion website, That's Dishonest, is an amazing attempt to house as much material on the band (from any source) under one roof as possible.
This very interesting, completely heartbreaking piece from the Dallas Observer goes into great detail about the addiction problems Cris developed around the time of Too High to Die. Warning: The article contains some very frank details of the physical impacts of heroin abuse.
Luckily, Cris cleaned himself up during a prison stint (for what frankly sounds like a bum rap), and Curt allowed him to rejoin the band thereafter. Thus, this AV Club interview is a far more upbeat read than the Dallas Observer piece. We at D&R especially enjoyed this quote from Curt, and have taken to quoting it around the office: "I kept this ship afloat when [Cris] was getting fucked up and getting put in jail. I call the shots now. I have 12 more years experience than he does. In the past I had two partners and they could be like, 'The fuck you say,' but this time I'm like, 'We're taking it into the rocks, boys!' and nobody can say a thing."
Apparently Meat Puppets are a no-“the” band, which means that they do not envision themselves as meat puppets, but instead are named for the concept of meat puppets.
Special thanks to John McFerrin and producer Mike DeFabio, who put together the Ren & Stimpy-inspired cold open with no input from the rest of the D&R crew (skip to 5:45 for the pertinent bit). The podcast does not personally endorse John Kricfalusi, who is an asshat.
If any of you around Columbia, MD, were planning to go buy that $4 copy of Forbidden Places that Phil mentioned, you’re too late. Amanda has already claimed it.
For the first time, our Spotify playlist for this episode does not actually include the album we’re talking about. That’s because, as we’ve mentioned about a million times, it’s out of print, and not even Spotify has it. Your only option for listening online is YouTube (and we highly recommend that you do). Joe Squat, uploader of the album, is the hero we need.
Discord & Rhyme roll call
Chris Willie Williams (host)
Phil Maddox (moderator)
Mike DeFabio (special appearance)
John McFerrin (special appearance)
Forbidden Places tracklist
Nail It Down
That’s How It Goes
No Longer Gone
Six Gallon Pie
Other clips used
Enemy Love Song
Fly Like the Wind
Split Myself in Two
Out My Way
Nirvana - Lake of Fire
Tom Petty - Love Is a Long Road
Ween - Stroker Ace
Ween - Fluffy
They Might Be Giants - Whirlpool
Flamin’ Groovies - Shake Some Action
Ween - Don’t Laugh (I Love You)
Tom Cochrane - Life Is a Highway
Yes - Yours Is No Disgrace
Songs we mentioned but didn’t clip
A White Sport Coat
In a Car
Sleep - Dopesmoker
Blind Melon - No Rain
R.E.M. - It’s End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
Savage Garden - I Want You
Blackalicious - Alphabet Aerobics
Neil Patrick Harris - Brand New Day
Billy Joel - We Didn’t Start the Fire
Blues Traveler - Hook
Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit
Spin Doctors - Two Princes
Molly Hatchet - Flirtin’ With Disaster
The Dean Ween Group - Exercise Man
R.E.M. - E-bow the Letter
XTC - Mayor of Simpleton
Blur - Popscene
Yes - The Clap
Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Hoedown
Curt Kirkwood – lead vocals, guitar
Cris Kirkwood – bass guitar, backing vocals
Derrick Bostrom – drums
“Discord & Rhyme (theme),” composed by the Other Leading Brand, contains elements of:
Amon Düül II - Dehypnotized Toothpaste
The Dukes of Stratosphear - What in the World?? ...
Faith No More - Midlife Crisis
Herbie Hancock - Hornets
Kraftwerk - Autobahn
Talking Heads - Seen and Not Seen
Meat Puppets - Forbidden Places (this episode only)
You can find Forbidden Places only used or on YouTube, because Will is a hipster and chose an album that is out of print. Follow Discord & Rhyme on Twitter @DiscordPod for news and updates. Follow Phil @pamaddox, Rich @zonetrope, and Dan @DanSWatkins. Special thanks to our own Mike DeFabio, the Other Leading Brand, for production duties. Check out Will’s music at disclaimer.bandcamp.com. See you next album, and be ever wonderful.