Category: Fun House


Punks

I’m often frustrated by punk and the punk attitude. I’m cool with rebellion and not following the rules. But the rules need to be bad in order for rebellion against them to be good. So many punks see the enforcement of societal norms to be oppressive, regardless of what those norms actually are. When the question “What are you rebelling against?” is asked, “What’ve you got?” is not a valid response. Wanna hold a Bible study in Communist China? Thumbs up. Don’t like that your parents set a 10:30 curfew? Boo frickin’ hoo. Sit down and stop wasting everybody’s time.

 In 1970, the attitude and aesthetic known as punk didn’t have a name yet. As far as the fashion goes, there were no multi-colored mohawks or safety pin nose-piercings; those things wouldn’t come around for another six years, heralded by the Sex Pistols and The Clash. But the founding principles of disorder, rebellion and misanthropy are to be found on Fun House.

That’s the main reason I like Fun House: it perfectly captures the mindset, attitude and emotional color of an entire movement 6 or 7 years before the movement even existed. It’s the quintessential punk album, but it doesn’t have all that ripped shirts, spiked hair, DIY fashion foolishness.

James Franco as Daniel Desario

There’s a scene from the show Freaks & Geeks where Daniel (played by the indomitable James Franco) is hitting on a convenience store clerk with corpse makeup and a 12-inch high haircut. Putting on airs, he says he’s “a punker,” but she responds with this. “You know what punkers don’t do? Call themselves punkers.” Punks don’t really have a need to prove to everyone that they’re punks. From my own perspective, the same is true for Christians. You don’t need to tell everyone you meet that you have the light of Christ in you; they should be able to see it anyway, if they’re paying attention.

Fun House doesn’t put on any airs. Everything you get from it comes from a place of unflinching honesty, the ugly truth. And sometimes it’s really ugly, like on the song “T.V. Eye.” At first glance, everyone thinks it stands for “Television Eye,” but it doesn’t. Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton’s little sister Kathy and her friends used a term for when guys would stare at them, laughing and saying “he’s got a twat vibe eye on you!” I’m familiar with that look; I think I’m guilty of inadvertently using it one or twice. Mouth open, face relaxed, eyebrows lifted the slightest amount; it’s the 50-yard stare of someone dumbstruck and incapacitated by what they’ve just seen. Iggy thought the phrase was funny, but then he flipped it to say, “hey, girls get the twat vibe eye, too.”

Then comes “Dirt,” a slowed-down number that’s almost hypnotic in its groove. You wouldn’t expect it due to the raging intensity of the first 3 tracks, but the Stooges display exceptional prowess here. Whereas the rest of the album is heavy-handed, “Dirt” is just the opposite. It lulls you into a false sense of security, only to have it dashed with the next song, “1970.” Borrowing its name from the year of Fun House’s release, it’s cursorily akin to the opening song on their first album “1969,” also the year of that album’s release. That’s where the similarities end, though. “1970” is like being beat over the head repeatedly with a shoe. Iggy snarls “I feel alright!” over the chorus; he may, but his voice sounds anything but “alright.” It actually sounds like if he goes on much longer like that, he’ll need surgery.

Steve Mackay w/ the Stooges on sax

“1970,” as well as the next two tracks, features the novel addition of a saxophone. While the sax is historically a part of the jazz tradition, it works here as a source of wildness and cacophony. Jazz, while smoother and subtler, has the same free-form chaos element to it that Fun House uses as its centerpiece. The sax lends even more of an unpredictable air to the album, as if Fun House didn’t already have loads of it.

If you want ugly truth, it doesn’t get any better (or worse) than the last two tracks, “Fun House” and “L.A. Blues.” These two songs are over 12 minutes of chaos and disorder. “Fun House” at least has form and a beat, and actual lyrics. They’re probably improvised by Iggy on the spot, but he says actual words.

That’s more than can be said for “L.A. Blues.” I think it’s nothing more than five people doing their best to destroy their instruments, which includes Iggy and his voice. What you’re meant to get out of these songs, though, is the unbridled joy and wild ecstasy of music, and the complete release it brings. “L.A. Blues,” if you’ll pardon the somewhat base phrase, is a musical orgasm. When the tingling electricity and overwhelming rush have passed, the participants are utterly spent.

Fun House is the sound of a garage band if they were in the final stages of radiation poisoning. There’s vomit, headaches, a seething fever, and a gurgling mass of bile. It might even be a bit much for some punk enthusiasts, and definitely too much for the posers. And I’ll admit it’s not for everyone. But for a dose of messy, unmixed passion and overwhelming force, Fun House is a good place to go.

Thursday: IIII AAAAAMMMM IIRROOONNN MAAAAAAAAANNNN…….

The Stooges – Fun House – 7/7/1970

Let’s be honest: rock and roll is a dirty business.  I try as much as I can to elevate it to its true height, emphasizing its beauty, grace and transcendent nature. But I often forget or ignore that rock has some rough edges. Not even rough, though; sharp, dangerous. If you get a cut from one of them, it could become infected and before you know it your foot is being amputated. Sometimes rock and roll is just a great big pile of crap.

Did that sound negative? It’s not, really. I have to admit that I like the crap of rock and roll at times. It feels good to rub it on my skin, to feel the waste circling back to me, and find that it’s not waste at all. When an animal takes a crap on the ground, the ground is nourished. It doesn’t smell that good, but it takes that crap and says “thank you.” We should all be so grateful.

Wow. I just disgusted myself a little; I can’t imagine how you must be feeling.

Iggy Pop is someone who must understand the excrement nature of rock music better than anyone else. Watching one of his live shows, even archival footage, is like sitting square in the middle of a pit bull’s brain. He’s shirtless, unwashed, sweaty and gross. He leaps around wildly and ungracefully. He spits, growls, shouts and verbally abuses his audience. The climax comes when he unzips his jeans, loosens them a little, then leaps up and down wildly, letting gravity do the rest. Sometimes he’s wearing underwear, sometimes he’s not.

When Fun House came out in 1970, few people knew or cared about Iggy and his band, the Stooges. But just enough people cared that they could operate, release albums, do shows and the like. They were satisfied with that. It took quite some time, but Fun House eventually became one of the most respected albums ever, and if you have even the smallest spark of punk in you, it’s easy to see why.

What do I mean by punk? It’s difficult to explain, but I’ll try. “Punk” has been around much longer than the term or the genre of music it lends its name to. Any time you are being told what to do and not do and you feel the fire of anger in response, that’s punk. In the musical sense, it could be said that punk rock is the boiling down of rock music to its most elemental form, stripping away every added social aspect until what’s essential remains. And what remains is rebellion – often for no apparent reason.

The Stooges’ self-titled first album was relatively tame. It was produced by John Cale of Velvet Underground fame, about a year after he split from that group. Despite a good pedigree, The Stooges didn’t have the grit and grime of their second album, Fun House, and also didn’t capture even an iota of the energy of their live shows. But for Fun House, Don Gallucci was at the helm, and he took a very simple approach: just let them play and get in on tape.

Consequentially, Fun House has an untamed and dangerous tone from the first seconds of the lead-off track. Lyrically, “Down On the Street” is pretty clumsily written, as all Stooges songs are. It wasn’t until Iggy teamed up with David Bowie and went solo that “real” lyrics emerged. “Down On the Street” is about an acid trip, but the real gold is in the music. Iggy hoots and growls like a caged animal, and his voice has a primal, untreated quality to it. Then the chorus comes, the cage disappears and the animal is loose.

“Loose” is also the name of the very next song. It continues the wild and dangerous musical motif that is present for most of Fun House. It’s hard to miss the meaning of “I’ll stick it deep inside.” As the chorus declares in forceful tones, Iggy is indeed loose; loose on your daughters, on your morals, and on the youth of America. Protect your family! The Stooges will destroy the very fabric of our society!

Oh, come on; who doesn’t love moral panic jokes?

Tomorrow: what is a T.V. eye?