Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Iggy and the Stooges, 1970

Here's a classic performance of my latest obsession, very much in their prime in Cincinnati.

You know, no one ever quotes the lyrics of the Stooges, and for good reason. First, they aren't generally all that quotable, and second, the words just don't mean much unless they are screamed or barked or spoken against a wild, reverby, cheesy, Nuggetsy, mind-numbing, churning guitar.

Like, say, in "Funhouse," when Iggy Pop, at the peak of his punk glory, lets loose at the climax with a "Shah-duh-lah-duh-dah-duh-dah-duh-DAH-DAH-DAH! Shah-duh-lah-duh-dah-duh-dah-duh-DAH-DAH-DAH!" Sure, it looks silly on the page or the computer screen, but if you have the speakers cranked up and the windows down and you've got this overwhelming desire to not just bang your head but bash it against the windshield until it breaks in a million pieces -- well, at that point there may be no greater, more primal, more purely transcendent and sublime moment in rock and roll history, on par with Roger Daltry's scream in "Won't Get Fooled Again."

The Stooges were the prime post-Velvets, pre-Pistols punk progenitors led by Iggy Pop, whom I now consider some kind of a hard rock god. If I wasn't a Christian, I'd make him the Jesus of my religion. This religion would involve heavy liquor, violence, self-abuse, stupidity (not unlike a lot of religions, granted) and riotous services cranked up so loud the stained glass would be replaced on a regular basis.

All three of the band's classic early discs have been reissued in suitably complete fashion by Rhino, and every one is beautiful in its own way.

The first, The Stooges, is a great gallumphing mess made by a gang of hooligans who didn't have anything better to do, and didn't know what they were doing.

The first cut, "1969," is a great kick-off and a greater kiss-off, as it has nothing to do whatsoever with the end of that tremulous decade. It's about facing another dull, aimless year of life -- always the great punk struggle. (Think of "Boredom" by the Buzzcocks or "Pretty Vacant" by the Sex Pistols or "I Can't Do Anything" by X-Ray Spex.) The second classic follows: "I Wanna Be Your Dog," which I am proud to say also serves as my ringtone, an anthem and a send-up of pure adolescent, I'll-do-anything-for-pussy lust. After an interminably druggy 10-minute chant called "We Will Fall," which was apparently written on acid and meant to be heard that way, we get one of the album's second paean to boredom: "No Fun," and one of the true punk anthems, carried along by both Iggy's petulant solo and a wonderfully cheesy, shitty, paint-scraping guitar solo.

The rest of the record, as Iggy tells it, were songs written in the course of 24 hours to fill out the rest of the record, and they don't amount to much; they're mere spontaneous acts of chaos the Stooges pulled right out of their stupid, bored, dope-addled asses.

Long before the Sex Pistols, the Stooges were going for a truly raw, unvarnished sound, and it's interesting that in at least two of their albums this became a production issue. John Cale's original mix of the debut, which is included on an additional disc, sheared off a lot of the rough edges, which Elekra head Jac Holzman and Iggy restored before this influential record shipped out. It's interesting to hear both mixes, because in either Iggy's personality and manic intensity come blazing through.

Powerful as the debut was, it was no preparation for the sonic explosion known as Funhouse. The power of the record is in its grants and whoops, whether it's the "OOH!" that starts "Down on the Street" or the "LAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWDDDDDD!" that begins "T.V. Eye" or the aforementioned "la-duh-dah" breakdown of the title cut, or the sheer chaos of "L.A. Blues." Listening to the record is a draining, exhausting, pummeling experience, but in a good way, because you can't stay still listening to it. To play this CD is to put your life in its sweaty, shaking hands. It's full of joyous, silly, warped, ferocious free-your-mind nonsense from start to finish, and every song is a stick of dynamite. The greatest hard rock record ever made? If it's not, well, point me in the direction of a harder, tougher, more unrestrained one. This is a record that holds nothing, absolutely nothing, back.

It's hard to follow-up a masterpiece like Funhouse, but the Stooges closed out the heyday of their recording career with another masterpiece: Raw Power, which has the high energy level the title suggests, but is a little more lyrically focused; Iggy seems bent on writing real songs this time out.

I bought a freshly-minted LP of Raw Power some time ago, the last one before the turntable went on the fritz, and it's quite different from the CD. David Bowie produced the record and he focused a lot more on the vocals, making it a very menacing record, as Iggy snarled his way through "Gimme Danger," "Search and Destroy," and "Penetration."

Iggy never liked the final mix that much, and he remixed the CD LOUD -- everytime I pop it in the CD player in the car I have to dial it back a notch because it just blows out the windows. Normal volume for other CDs is cranked up to 11 for Iggy. He seems to have amped up everything, and there's clearly a lot that was missing from the original mix, namely the percussion.

Anyway, as I think James Lipton might have once said, take these three discs, play them sequentially, turn the player up loud, and drive like a maniac. It will change ... your ... life.

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