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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.

On October 6, Cris was arrested outside the Royal Inn Motel in north Scottsdale for possession of stolen property and false vehicle registration. A police officer became suspicious when he saw the license plate on Cris's Infiniti was haphazardly attached, ran the number, and discovered the plate was stolen. Those charges are also pending.

Cris turned 38 on October 22. Curt didn't send him a present or call. "I have no idea how to get in touch with him."

Months before that last failed intervention, Curt stopped waiting for Cris to come back and moved on without him. In the fall of '97, he formed a monster new band with Bob Mould bassist Andrew Duplantis (now on tour with roots-rock notables Son Volt) and two refugees from the San Antonio wunderkind heavy-metal band Pariah: guitarist Kyle Ellison and drummer Shandon Sahm, son of famed Texas singer-guitarist Doug Sahm, of Sir Douglas Quintet fame.

Curt says Ellison is one of the few people who can relate to his bitter conundrum. Ellison's brother, Sims, played bass for Pariah. Sims went into a deep depression after Pariah was dropped by Geffen Records and killed himself two years ago.

"I think it's a day-to-day struggle for both Kyle and I to deal with our reality right now and keep from irrationally thinking we're pathetic worms because it's all our fault," Curt says. "We help each other out in that respect."

Curt's new band debuted in March at Austin's South by Southwest, the music industry's largest annual conference. They played under the name Royal Neanderthal Orchestra and received ecstatic reviews. One prominent Austin critic dubbed R.N.O. the most promising new band to emerge from the city in years.

"Everyone just assumed we'd be signed to some fat deal in a matter of weeks," Curt says.

The thing is, though, Curt already has a deal. He's under contract with London Records, the company that released Too High to Die and No Joke. And unless he's willing to give up the rights to the name Meat Puppets, which he's not, Curt is obligated to provide London with two more Meat Puppets records, which he's now happy to do, with or without Cris. Curt says he has about four albums' worth of new material and plans to record a new Meat Puppets album early next year.

"It seems like every time I've picked up a music magazine in the last two or three years, I've read about how the Meat Puppets disbanded in '95, or I see myself described as 'ex-Meat Puppet Curt Kirkwood.' And I'm like, 'Hey, I didn't say a fucking thing about the band breaking up, did I?' No. It's my band. Just because I've got a junkie brother, that means no more Meat Puppets? Whatever.

"I had enough money to take as long a break as I wanted, so I did. I have enough money to retire now, but I don't want that. Every other kid in the mall has at least heard my band's name, so I'd say I still have places to go."

So far, original Meat Puppets drummer Derrick Bostrom has not been involved with Curt's new project. He is, however, still an integral part of the Meat Puppets. Bostrom tends the band's Web page, answers 40 to 60 pieces of fan mail a week, and is organizing the coming reissue of eight Meat Puppets albums on the Rykodisc label, which will contain live concert footage and bonus tracks. He is also overseeing the compilation of a live album of Meat Puppets concerts in 1988, due out next spring, also on Rykodisc.

"My future role in the Meat Puppets is somewhat up in the air," Bostrom says. "But, obviously, the Meat Puppets as an entity will continue, new album or not."

Bostrom, who says he never did hard drugs and quit smoking pot long ago, hasn't seen Cris since the Kirkwoods' mother's funeral, almost two years ago.

"I can't help other people slay their dragons," Bostrom says. "The situation as it stands is very sad, but I've known Cris a long time, and I've never thought of him as fundamentally weak. I think he may get out of this mess alive."

Curt also admits he holds out hope.
"No matter how logical or cynical or realistic I try to be to protect myself, of course I still have hope. He's my brother. There would have to be a tremendous amount of mending, but there's always a place for him."

Curt is waiting for the sunset on the huge wooden deck of his new, beautiful home in the hills that skirt Austin. There is a hot tub on the deck and a swimming pool and Curt's bulldog, Lulu. His silver Lexus is parked in the garage. He doesn't look happy.

"I'm unrequited," he says. "It's just hard to fuckin' deal with what's happened in my life in the last three years, with my mom and my brother. I mean, here I am, with my shit so fucking hard-wired and together. I got lots of potential left, and a lot of bread. But it's a cold comfort having real money for the first time in your life when your family is dying off around you."

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