Back in the days before there was a Meat Puppets, I used to funk it up with high school chum Jack Knetzger. Jack deserves a lot of credit: not only is he a fine guitarist and songwriter in his own right, but he also the one who had to endure the embryonic boopings and bappings of Yours Truly. A legend in my own mind long before I had any chops whatsoever to back it up, I dragged my old pal kicking and screaming into the world of punk rock with our group Atomic Bomb Club, which held court for the better part of four years. Jack was a good sport about it, even as it became clearer and clearer to him that my head-first ambitions might be a little too ascance from his own chosen career path.
Jack and I initially bonded way back in 1976, first over comics, then over rock and roll. But mostly we were into humor, and it showed up as much in our musical collaborations as it did our comics. Though most of Jack’s original songs back then were bittersweet and ultra-introspective, we attacked the rest of our material — cover versions culled from classic rock and my collection of punk rock records — with a zaniness that presaged my efforts with the brothers Kirkwood. Years before anybody was garnering kudos for a “roots” approach to punk, the Atomic Bomb Club attacked the Beatles, Hendrix and anything else that caught our fancy with a ridiclulous ferocity and sense of irony that strongly influenced the Meat Puppets.
My first drum set was a couple of coffee cans hung on the back of a dining room chair. I rigged this setup when I was eight in order to play along with my heroes the Banana Splits. Always on the lookout for potential aptitude, my mother gifted me the next Christmas with a proper kiddie set, which my little brother promptly destroyed. It wasn’t until a decade later, and the advent of punk rock, that I fancied another go. My mom gifted accordingly, and as 1978 dawned, I pressed my pal Jack Knetzger into service.
I tried to force him to switch alliegance from classic rock to that of my new heroes. But the truth is, all we did at first was make an awful lot of noise, all feedback, string bending and marching band beats. Somewhere around the time I started figuring out how to syncopate my arms and legs, Jack started bringing homegrown songs to the table. They weren’t punk; they were that kind of Beatles-influenced white boy guitar pop typified back then by the likes of Todd Rundgren or maybe Lindsey Buckingham. We applied Jack’s Jimi Hendrix filter and my demand for raw punk rock tempos, and we christened it the Atomic Bomb Club.
I guess you could say it would have been “power pop” if we’d ever gotten our shit together. But about the time we started getting good, I started getting impatient. Jack reacted to my restless ambition with ambivalence and increasing dissatisfaction. Attempts to get gigs or fill out our two-man lineup only served to underscore our frustration. So, while he pursued his studies with greater earnest, I dropped out of school and began to cultivate the Kirkwood brothers. In the meantime, we continued to get together informally, learning songs from my record collection or from fake books. Sometimes Cris or Curt would sit in on bass and then things would really cook. But the Meat Puppets practiced a lifestyle too extreme for someone as devoted to the promise of a secure future as Jack was. So, when it came time to make the call, he pulled the plug and moved on.
Jack and I reconnected years later, passing fat envelopes of art and cassettes back and forth through the mail. When this whole internet thing started catching steam, he was the first guy to ever send me an email. From the start, he pushed me to put together a Web site, and by mid 1995, we were both up and running. (He got the blogging bug about a year before I did, but he quickly allowed it to languish.) These days, he directs most of his energy to posting his music online.
Recently, he’s been revisiting the old Bomb Club days. To my horror, however, he was posting rips from ancient third generation cassettes fed to his computer from an old boom box headphone jack. The muffled sounds of hiss and the distortion were enough to make your skin crawl. So I made a deal with him: use my “restored” digital masters, and I’ll try to drive some traffic your way. He made good on his end of the deal, and I’m doing my part. The rest is up to you. Jack’s ABC site has around two hours of classic recordings, circa 1980. Meat Puppets fans will find plenty of Kirkwood guest bass performances, but be sure to check out Jack’s generous selection of his current work as well.
You know, I made out pretty good on my teenage ambitions. I have a gold record hanging in the back room and a little something saved for a rainy day (exactly one day’s worth in fact — if it doesn’t rain too hard). But I can’t help but wonder what might have been had things gone another way. Who knows: the Atomic Bomb Club could have been as big as Greg Kihn or the Romantics.