Category: The Stooges


Danger

Brian and Curt

David Bowie granted Iggy Pop (born James Newell Osterberg, Jr.) a second chance. He was simply enamored with Iggy’s style, energy and reckless flailing about. The movie Velvet Goldmine plays it as a jealousy; Brian Slade has a desire to possess Curt Wild’s uncontrolled flair for the animalistic, probably because his own style is so opposite. Slade is cold, nihilistic and near-sociopathic, things which are much harder to come by genuinely, but the grass is always greener on the other side. Velvet Goldmine also translates it into a sexual desire; Slade has lust for Wild’s body as well, and his sexual appetites are a big part of his undoing.

Now, Todd Haynes can make up any story he wants, but Bowie and Pop’s real relationship was much brighter and not wrought with nearly as much drama. It was a good partnership, mostly because while David and Iggy worked well together, they were also friends. When you look at their dual appearance on The Dinah Shore Show, it’s clear that they’re very chummy with each other, and there’s genuine affection there.

Like any friendship worth having, it must have taken work. For instance, shortly after the dawn of Iggy’s resurrection, he was left to his own devices to record his comeback album. He produced Raw Power on his own, and presented the finished product to his record label, like a 6-year-old with a finger-painting. It was a monstrous mess.

The issue with Raw Power in its initial form, as far as the folks at Columbia saw it, was that the whole thing was mixed on merely three tracks: the vocals on one, lead guitar on another, and the rest of the band on a third. In my opinion, this lends Raw Power a lot of rawness, an untrained quality that’s eminently appropriate. Sure, it doesn’t make for the most pleasant listening, but the Stooges weren’t the most pleasant band. You can’t dress a lion up in a tux and monocle and expect it not to eat you.

David and Iggy (and Lou Reed as the famous Third Wheel)

Nonetheless, the Columbia execs were shaking their heads in disappointment. But rather than just drop Iggy from the label and have done with it they called up David Bowie and said, “you convinced us to take on this joker; you deal with him.” So Bowie was given the near-impossible task of remixing Raw Power, polishing it to an acceptable level. When he put in the 24-track master tapes of the album, just three were used. When Iggy said, “see what you can do with this,” David responded with “Jim, there’s nothing to mix!” It’s kind of like being handed a paper clip and a stick of chewing gum and being told, “now get out of Russia.” Unless you’re MacGyver, it’s not gonna happen.

But because they were friends, Bowie took a deep breath and did it. With Iggy at his side, he spent a day going over the mix on an ancient sound board, doing little more than adjusting the volume up and down in places. For that, David Bowie enjoys producer credit along with Pop. Tracks 2-8 may have Bowie’s improved mix, but Iggy insisted that his original mix be used for “Search and Destroy.” Good thing, too, since it’s the most fire-powered song of the eight, and Pop’s messy mix really plays it up.

For the most part, the record execs left Raw Power alone, but they imposed themselves in one of the most horrid ways that exists. The only made one demand about the content of the record, and it was that it needed to contain two ballads, one for each side of the vinyl.

I can just imagine Iggy’s reaction. “Ballads? You want me to do ballads? Who am I, fuckin’ Andy Williams??” But from what actually ended up on the record, I think one of several things might have happened. Either Iggy doesn’t know what a ballad is, the record execs don’t know what a ballad is, or they came to some sort of middle ground – it might be all three.

The two ballads were supposed to be “Gimme Danger” and “I Need Somebody.” The latter has a slower tempo, but that’s the only thing ballad-ish about it, and that’s only if you use the pop music definition and ignore the classical poetry meaning of ballad. The lyrics of “I Need Somebody” are about a bad boy finding a good girl. In other hands, they might be seen as sweet and endearing, but Iggy makes them sound dirty and dark with his snarling whine.

“Gimme Danger” stands out on the record as being filled with exactly what its title implores for. The Stooges have always been a dangerous band, but “Gimme Danger” is the first place the danger ceases to be an accident; here, it’s downright malevolent. This is the perfect theme song for a classic villain, like Professor Moriarty or the Joker, hinting at a kind of evil that giggles maniacally, hunched over in the dark, unendingly amused at the depths of corruption it could bring about.

Iggy went on to a solo career, several hits and several million dollars. He now stands as one of the most respected names in punk rock, one of the success stories/cautionary tales of the genre. Where aspiring pop icons have Michael Jackson and Madonna to look up to, punk rockers everywhere have Iggy Pop.

The Sponge

The Stooges – Raw Power – 2/7/1973

Iggy Pop is among the more fascinating rock stars that graced the planet. There is a great amount of material to sift through, and Iggy shows many different sides to himself through it. But no matter what facet of himself he’s letting shine on any particular day, he’s always honest about who he is, sometimes brutally so.

In 1977, he appeared with David Bowie on The Dinah Shore Show, a very strange venue for the two punk sires, to promote Iggy’s album The Idiot. During the performance, Iggy was his usual self; shirtless, scrawny and wiry, moving his body in a wild and worry-inducing way. In the interview, Dinah says in a demurely shocked voice, “And you were causing great harm to yourself!” Iggy responds with a giggle and a smile and says, “Yeah, and to other people.” He used to take a glass bottle, smash it to a jagged weapon, and scrape his naked chest several times until his front was a bloody mess. He must have been a real shock to the housewives who were Dinah’s primary audience. Given that, though, he was extraordinarily pleasant.

Just a few years earlier, right before the Stooges broke up for the second time, their last public concert was in February of 1974 to a bunch of bikers. Learning about Altamont has made me think that any time bikers go to a rock show, it can’t end particularly well. That concert had people throwing things at the band; things like eggs, jelly beans, ice, and beer bottles. At the end of their cover of “Louie, Louie,” you can actually hear glass breaking over guitar strings on the official bootleg of this concert, Metallic K.O. Iggy, like he usually did during his Stooges day, antagonizes and berates the audience, insulting them, ridiculing them, and swearing up a storm all the while. He takes the hate they give him and absorbs it like a sponge, spitting it back out even stronger. The bile and vomit grow more and more repugnant with each cycle of hate given between audience and performer.

Yet other aspects of Iggy shine through, too. He’s quite a savvy businessman, as his dealings with the advertising industry prove. And now that he’s completely drug-free, he’s actually very polite and well-spoken. He also has a certain wisdom about him; most wisdom is born out of horrible decisions that leave you with the thought, “I probably shouldn’t have done that…”

But for the most part, Iggy is a roaring lion, a slithering snake, a laughing hyena, and a charging, pissed-off bull, all at once. The place it’s most on display is every song on Raw Power. “Search and Destroy” and “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell” are intense and over-driven like nothing had been before it. In “Search and Destroy,” the guitars are loud and clumsy, but Iggy sings almost in a falsetto. There’s a balance between ferocity and sibilance, until it all goes to hell and Iggy ends up hollering with abandon at the end. “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell,” on the other hand, features Iggy’s growl all the way through. His voice sounds like he’s breathing out rocks.

But for some reason, that same chaotic force serves only to bludgeon instead of excite on the title track. Perhaps that’s because “Raw Power” lacks the hookiness of other songs on the album. But the hooks return with “Shake Appeal” and “Death Trip.” The Stooges are not only intense and forceful – anybody can be those things, so that’s not what sets them apart. Under all the grime and clutter, there’s a kind of musical genius to the Stooges, and it’s something second generation punk musicians have been trying to emulate ever since. They’ve had little success.

Like a Martin Scorsese picture, over half of Raw Power plows over you with its brutal austerity. But there’s something else in the music of the Stooges, too, which only got bigger once Iggy went solo: a sense of fun. It’s a subtle message that the world is going to go down in flames, and Iggy will be playing a fiddle.

Iggy: the Sequel

Before the late 2000s when I first started actively listening to the Stooges, my biggest experience with Iggy Pop was in commercials. They were for everything from cruise lines to diet plans to greeting cards to luxury cars. (click here to see a 90s ad for Carnival cruise lines). Iggy had granted blanket permission to any company to license his music for their use, regardless of what they were selling. He made a lot of money from it, but I don’t think that’s why he did it. He says the songs weren’t commercially conceived, so he doesn’t care how they’re used commercially; in his mind, those are two separate things. I imagine some shoe company was bugging him to use one of his songs on a TV ad, and Iggy finally said, “do what you want; I don’t care.”

Iggy’s thought process is similar to a lot of other artists’, but he ends up in the opposite place that most people would. Every artist out there would say (or pretend) that their art didn’t have any commercial element to it. Making money is looked at as somehow beneath people who make art, even though it’s always part of the goal. So many musicians would completely reject a thing like a song of theirs’ being used in an advertisement. If I were a musician, I’m not sure where I’d fall in the spectrum.

Iggy making lots of money off of corporate America is pretty ironic when you consider Iggy’s place in the punk music pantheon. If somebody came to Johnny Rotten asking for licensing, he’d probably do his best to defecate on them. Punk is all about disobeying the rules and not falling in line, so that includes a middle finger to big business. But give punk music just a little money and public exposure and it becomes a corporate brand, much like anything else.

Grrr… off-topic. This is supposed to be about Raw Power

Dave Alexander, died in 1975 at age 27

By 1971, the Stooges were effectively broken up. Rock and roll stardom is not the only thing that brings on decadence and drug abuse; it also comes when you have almost no success at all, like the Stooges. Bassist Dave Alexander was fired from the band in August of 1970 for showing up to a gig too drunk to play. Alexander is one of the many less-known members of the 27 Club, musicians who died at age 27. After leaving the Stooges, his alcoholism only got worse. He died in an Ann Arbor hospital from fluid in his lungs, admitted for pancreatitis due to his extreme drinking. In 1977, Iggy released “Dum Dum Boys” in which he talks about him.

They carried on, hiring James Recca to fill in for Alexander, and even adding childhood buddy of the band James Williamson as a second guitarist. But even apart from Alexander’s drinking, all the other members except Ron Asheton were hooked on heroin. Iggy’s addiction was particularly bad. Their live shows moved from wild and unpredictable to disappointing and dangerous. The Stooges were sick, like an end-stage cancer patient, and could not sustain itself for much longer. Elektra saw it coming and dropped then unceremoniously from the label. After that, there was nowhere to go, not even down. The Stooges were kaput a mere 3 years after they started.

you know you’ve been watching too much Velvet Goldmine if…

Enter David Bowie. A year after his band split, Iggy met Bowie and became good friends (not that kind; you’ve been watching too much Velvet Goldmine). Their friendship was based on Bowie’s admiration for Pop and his talent, and since virtually no one had heard of Iggy or the Stooges, his desire for Pop to get his due recognition. Iggy relocated to London, and Bowie’s management company agreed to sign him as a solo artist. Bowie also convinced his label, Columbia Records, to sign Iggy to his very own contract.

With this rebirth, Iggy contacted his old friend James Williamson, member of the Stooges in their last iteration. The two of them set out to record another album with British supporting musicians, but couldn’t find any good enough. This would become Raw Power. Since no suitable English studio men could be found, original Stooges members Ron and Scott Asheton were flown over. It’s not exactly the Cinderella reunion story you might have been expecting, but it worked… sorta. Ron Asheton was very annoyed with his and Scott’s “second choice” status, as well as his relegation to bass while Williamson took all the guitar duties.

There was also the unevenness of the new project being named Iggy & the Stooges; Ron had to be asking why Iggy was suddenly the top dawg. The answer is David Bowie; if Iggy hadn’t been resurrected under Bowie’s wing, we wouldn’t even be talking about him now.

Next: You can call me Jim… or Iggy… whatever you’re more comfortable with… Jim, Iggy… yeah, call me Iggy.

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?