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Too high. Period.

Curt Kirkwood, now living in Austin, is still a Meat Puppet. His brother Cris is a missing-in-action junkie.

"Anyone who knew my mom will tell you she's one of the craziest fuckin' people they ever met," Curt says. "But she'd run circles around everybody. She didn't need anything from anybody. She was doing them favors all the time. Odd as she may have been, my mom was a beautiful and energetic woman. She was just really hard to follow in a conversation."

Curt laughs and sips a Beck's. He all but quit drinking earlier this year, and one beer lasts him an hour.

"Psychiatrists said my grandfather wouldn't have been such a bitch if he was on lithium, at least," Curt says. "There's always been a demon, and a real heavy one, in my lineage. My mom had it, and I think my bro got it from her."

There is another Meat Puppets birthday to report today. This time, a Happy Birthday is going out to Cris, who is celebrating his 38th birthday today. Happy Birthday, Cris!

-- Meat Puppets fan web page, October 22

Curt looks different when he talks about his brother. He looks tormented. Wizened. For a change, he looks his age. He wears glasses now. Big, black, Buddy Holly frames. And his untamed hair, which used to cascade from his shoulders to his abdomen, has been cut short, into a kinetic, black ball around his head. The first few streaks of gray have appeared. Curt says watching your brother shoot up into an open sore will do that.

He spends most of his days hanging out in his rehearsal space and newly outfitted recording studio, within the catacombs of the fabled Austin Rehearsal Complex. His space there is a sanctuary. There's no phone. Some days Curt jams, some days he writes songs. He says he's writing some of his best ever these days. Some days Curt records, some days he just sits around with the guys in his new band and draws cartoons. Curt was going to be an animator before he became a rock star, and his artwork has graced the covers of most Meat Puppets albums.

When Curt is able to clear his mind of trouble, to forget about Cris just for a little while, the transformation is remarkable. When he puts on a tape of his new music, takes off his glasses and closes his eyes, he looks for a while to be at peace. His eyes are bright, his face smooth, his limbs loose. He looks like he did and should. Intense. Free. Weird. And loving it.

But always, the pall settles back over him like a shroud.
"I hope the record company gets my ass busy, soon," he says. "I don't want to sit around, thinking about all this awful shit every day anymore." No, Curt says, he doesn't want to talk about his brother's late wife. "I'll just spit vitriol. I'll say this much: She was a groupie. Also, I always thought she'd kill my brother first. Beyond that, I don't believe she deserves any coverage, to be quite honest. If she's out there in ghost land right now, and she knows you're doing this article, she's laughing. She's going, 'Fuck, this is so perfect.' "

Among the Kirkwoods' close friends in Tempe and Phoenix, Michelle Tardif is not remembered with fondness. They say she was combative, in your face, and behaved as though she were on camera most of the time. Curt still calls her "queenie" and remembers her pulling a chair from beneath a 10-year-old girl at a party "just because she could."

"I don't think anyone ever figured out exactly what Michelle's deal was," he says. "She always just seemed really out of place and trying way too hard to compensate. She was just heinous with that mouth. Her whole deal was, 'Here I am. Now, deal with me.' She was just so, so punk rock all the time ... She set her sights on my bro, who's always been weak where women in his life are concerned."

Cris had had a junkie girlfriend once before. Curt says his brother saved her life when she overdosed on heroin in a Tempe home the brothers shared. The three of them had been doing heroin together, and Curt was in the living room when his brother yelled from the bedroom that his girlfriend was dying.

Curt took one look at her, dialed 911, then went into his room, closed the door, plugged in his guitar, turned the amp way up, and started to wail.

"I didn't know how it all turned out until this lady cop walked into my room," Curt says. "My brother had given her CPR and kept her alive until the paramedics got there, and she made it. I think it was about then me and my bro decided it was time to edit drugs out of our lives. The truth is, Cris and me, our lives were always rife with drug abuse -- our own and others' -- so it's no wonder one of us wound up fucked, really. Still, my bro and I conscientiously stopped shooting up dope more than ten years ago. I thought we'd come out the other side unscathed.

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