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.
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.
“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…….