Jesus Loves the Stooges

Posted in Rock 'n' Roll, Sludge in the Seventies at 9:12 am by George Smith

Today marks the ‘release’ of Columbia’s Legacy edition of Raw Power by Iggy & the Stooges.

Undated and remarkable, Raw Power marked one of the more memorable instances of my mother shrieking at me over rock ‘n’ roll in the bedroom. Mixed by David Bowie, it came out of the cheap stereo shrill, glassy and dangerous. No other band had a guitar sound like the Stooges on Raw Power. Credit it to James Williamson, who piped his axe into a Vox AC-30 .

The only photos on the album were of Williamson in front of Marshall stacks — which still throws everyone off because it’s difficult to get into the area of Raw Power tone with that rig.

Never duplicated by any other hard rock band, it’s a benchmark, belonging exclusively to the Raw Power-era Stooges.

Iggy Pop’s remaster of the album sits in my stacks. He screwed it up terribly, rendering it unlistenable if you loved the original. Done only for the sake of correcting what he idiosyncratically thought was David Bowie’s bad mix. The original CD issue was then allowed to go out of print in the US. It suffered only from not having the volume it could have had for the digital format — something that afflicted every CD from that time when passed through an analog-analog-to-digital conversion. It was a ‘fault’ remedied simply by turning up the volume on the stereo even louder. Louder, got that?

Ten years ago I wrote a long piece on Rhino Handmade’s Stooges Funhouse box for the Village Voice.

Funhouse is the record for you today if you like repetition.

In terms of career, Raw Power was the top of the mountain. What made Iggy Pop, and what still does, is “Search & Destroy,” a number that’s the apotheosis of deadly hard rock.

Here’s a reprint of the old Voice piece, originally entitled “Net-surfin’ Cheetahs with Hearts Full of Outtakes.”

My first reaction when I heard about Rhino Handmade’s seven-CD box set of the Stooges’ Complete Funhouse Sessions was that it had to be a product dreamed up by lunatics for lunatics. Take after take after mind-rotting take (19 in all!) of “Loose,” among other eternal Iggy relics, available only to a subset of obsessed Netizens with their browsers set to secure encrypted transmission and $120 in the electronic billfold.

But after more examination, it appeared such a well-developed travesty, I had to laugh in appreciation! After all, this is the same Iggy Pop who says in the liner notes to the remastered Raw Power—in the part entitled “Stooges in the Funhouse”—that his band’s real 1970 audience was “high-school drop-outs, troubled drug kids.” A “constituency” —such an elegant weasel word for “penniless losers”—Elektra Records couldn’t and didn’t want to market to.

Yep, there’s an annoying poetry in the high-grade-steel fact that the Stooges could travel in the space of three decades from music for bottom-out-of-sighters —motorcycle gangsters, their floozies, and lovers of skank weed and roller derby, an audience of such presumed shallow pocket that advertisers ignored them — to an item at the pinnacle of weird-computer-snob-driven e-commerce: a domain reserved for those who dump hundreds of dollars a week on the Internet, and a creature never imagined on the broken-glass-littered stages of Michigan or in the dark of Don Galluci’s California studio.

Part of the credit, I reckon, must go to Rock Critic Received Wisdoms 101. It’s gotten so it is almost impossible to turn around without reading how some band of people not alive in 1970 have made a record that sounds like the Stooges. If it sounds like bad altie hard rock that you should buy anyway because bad altie hard rock is better than whoever is the current favorite critics’ scapegoat, it will be claimed to sound like the Stooges. And if it doesn’t sound like anything, if it is so glum and nondescript that all that can be determined from it is that people are playing guitars, beating a drum, and shouting loudly, it will be said — by some fanzine editor or David Fricke, somewhere, indeed, many times — to sound like the Stooges.

Pure gold: This is the kind of indirect, relentless hagiography that no amount of cash money can buy. And since it appears, to me, anyway, to have been going on more or less for at least a decade, it has generated a kind of kook Stooges fetish, one visible symptom of which is the Funhouse Sessions.

Stooges kooks, presumably those at which this box set is aimed, seem to have some parallel characteristics with the woozy fans of Star Trek,who can often be found at conventions paying stupid sums of money for trash: crumpled scripts or prosaic items supposedly clutched at one time or another by their heroes.

The Stooges lasted three albums, the third of which was almost accidental. The original Trek lasted three seasons, the third of which occurred only after fans conducted a campaign to admonish the network for canceling it after two. Most of the Stooges went nowhere after the end, until VH-1 dug a couple of them up as elder statesmen last year. Most of the original Trek actors went nowhere until conventioneering and movies rescued them a couple decades later. Bill Shatner wore a Nazi uniform in “Patterns of Force”; Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton wore a Nazi uniform. Shatner made TJ Hooker; Iggy, at times, seems to have made as many unlistenable albums as there are unwatchable episodes of TJ Hooker. Trek was kept alive by a media mania that gathered steam in fringe sci-fi magazines, where Gene Roddenberry was given God-like status. From the standpoint of rock journalism, Stooge devotion is functionally indistinguishable.

It only stands to reason, then, that Stooges worship will mirror some of the weirder excrescences seen in the Star Trek universe. To wit:

Like the production of Star Trek genre science fiction novels in which the same Trek plots are recycled again and again, with only the book covers, names of characters, times, and places subject to change, the endless recycling of wretched Stooges demo tapes released as historical CDs will continue and perhaps even accelerate. Some possible titles: Iggy’s Piles Opened Up and Bled for You, Pumping for Jim,and The Ignoble Prizes: Achtung mit Asheton,the latter of which Iggy could claim is a tape of the concert at The Joint in the Woods, where he goaded Ron Asheton into dressing in full SS regalia and introduced the show in Deutsch. (See Iggy’s bio I Need More for the provenance.)

Star Trek has “KS” literature — samizdat fiction about forbidden love between Kirk and Spock. Stooges worship will spawn “Jim Bowie” Net fiction, centering on imagined romantic relationships between Iggy and David Bowie.

Inevitably, Stooges conventions will appear. Horrified by his experience with dotcom stalker nerds who bought The Complete Funhouse Sessionsat an early assembly, Jim Osterberg will write another book, published only in Europe, entitled I Am Not Iggy. As the conventions gather interest, old Stooges, A&R types, engineers, and hangers-on associated with the Stooges will realize there is money to be made in speaking at such affairs. James Williamson will be the first to capitalize, giving a $5000 lecture about how his hand was broken in a fight with a roadie for Alice Cooper and what it meant for his professional career. Scott Thurston will speak about how he’s tired of being ragged on by nincompoop Tom Petty fans for being an ex-Stooge. Eventually, Iggy will recant his previous book, and receive a handsome publishing contract for two more: tentatively entitled Stooges Memories and I AM Still Iggy.

In 2050, a rock documentary will be made for the independent-film circuit. Entitled Jesus Loves the Stooges, it will be a history of the band framed around the recent discovery in a desert shack in Arizona of about 12 unlabeled tapes of undocumented Stooges rehearsal material of good quality. The documentary will show various rock critics, archivists, academicians, and label execs arguing acrimoniously about the nature of the tapes and expounding theories about how the sessions could have escaped scrutiny for so long. Carbon dating will indicate the tapes were created in the ’70s. At the end of the film, the tapes will turn out to be the work of Josefus, an obscure Stooges-like Texas band that never made it out of Houston in 1970 — part of an elaborate hoax conceived by a sophisticated con man who accepted a $300,000 check from a record company for them, and subsequently fled the country.

An anonymous seller on a Net auction site will receive a $40,000 bid for the reputed SS colonel’s uniform worn by Ron Asheton at The Joint in the Woods. Three weeks later, another anonymous seller will post a message saying the first uniform was a fake, and that he has the real one. . . .

As for Stooges bootlegs, my titles had a better sense of humor:

More Power, You Don’t Want My Name … You Want My Action, Heavy Liquid, Live in Detroit, Telluric Chaos, etc.


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