The Three-Chord Train To Hell: The Stooges – Part 1
Some folks find their religion in church, me I found mine in the 99 cent record bin of a trashy southern Woolworth’s. On that fateful day in 1971, from that bin of unwanted vinyl, came the road map to my life– The Stooges and Funhouse, me all of twelve years of age. Other life changing discs too– Howlin’ Wolf’s Evil, the Flamin’ Groovies’ Flamingo and Teenage Head, I’m Jimmy Reed, The MC5’s Back In The USA, Little Walter’s Best Of and Hate To See You Go. Raw Power would eventually find its way there, although by then I’d already worn out two copies.
I was already well aware of the Stooges from the ominous photos of them I’d seen in Circus and Creem, but that hardly prepared me for that night in August of 1970 when a truly perverse television moment would enthrall my already warped little mind. It was the infamous broadcast from the Cincinnati Pop Festival, aimed at the newly-defined demographic– the Woodstock Generation. In a truly clueless network moment of admirable idiocy, it was hosted by two goofy sportscasters (dressed in blue polyester blazers with the network logo sewn on their pocket) whose attempts at colorful commentary made them both sound like dueling Fred Willards. But the Ohio audience was less the flower children of Woodstock, and more the “lumpen hippie” (to use John Sinclair’s phrase) of the lower mid-west. For those who’ve never been there, Cincinnati sits at the north bank of the Ohio River, across from Kentucky, and seems like the spot where every toothless hillbilly headed north for a job ran out of gas and settled in. These kids were a decidedly blue collar bunch, and they liked their rock & roll hard, loud and ugly.
“From the other side of the TV screen, I felt like I’d been sucked into the O-mind. And could never leave.”
I don’t remember the other bands except a pre “I’m-Eighteen” Alice Cooper, covering the stage in feathers, sheets and feedback, until some weisenheimer from the crowd pied Alice in the face. Eighteen months later they’d be the biggest band in the land. They were great, and would define a certain style of juvenile delinquent R&R in the coming years, but Alice Cooper was tame stuff compared to what followed.
Which was without a doubt the most riveting five minutes of rock & roll that had ever been presented on network TV. There they were, with no introduction, in all their glory– Iggy, dressed in silver elbow-length gloves, torn jeans and a dog collar, was practically foaming at the mouth. As Ron Asheton churned out the propulsive riff to “TV Eye,” Iggy spun on his Cuban heels, lets out a scream and then broke out a few moves he stole from James Brown on the TAMI Show.
Chills went right up my spine.
“That was the moment that I knew I’d never live a straight life; that I’d never wear a suit and tie to work. After seeing the Stooges, I knew there was another life out there somewhere…”
As Iggy dove into the audience the bewildered sportscasters, following the action in the booth, reported “there goes Iggy right into the crowd… we’ve lost audio on Iggy,” and then wouldn’t you know it, the network nitwits cut to a fucking commercial! The longest commercial break of my life. When they returned one jarhead reported, “Since we broke for a commercial Iggy’s been in and out of the audience three times.” By this time The Stooges were blasting away at their masterpiece “1970.” Cut to a hippie girl actually sketching Iggy from the crowd (no cameras on your I-Phone in those primitive times), then Iggy’s suddenly in the crowd (“we seem to have lost him”), his left glove is gone, he’s up on their hands like a snot-nosed, teenage messiah, smearing himself with peanut butter (Stiv Bators no where in sight), one sportscaster duly noting– “That was peanut butter!” The clip ends with roadies pulling the Ig back to the stage.
From the other side of the TV screen, I felt like I’d been sucked into the O-mind. And could never leave. That was the moment that I knew I’d never live a straight life; that I’d never wear a suit and tie to work. After seeing the Stooges, I knew there was another life out there somewhere…
It took almost a year to the day to track down their records, when I scored ‘em both for two bucks plus tax. Funhouse was like getting hit in the head. Their first LP puzzled me at first (“Oh my and a boo-hoo…” was this guy serious?). But they reminded me enough of my favorite 45’s of five years earlier—“Talk Talk” by the Music Machine (they wore leather pants, vests and one elbow length leather glove each), “Pushin’ To Hard” by the Seeds, and “You’re Gonna Miss Me” by the 13 Floor Elevators (a top ten hit in South Florida where I grew up) that I kept coming back to it until a half dozen plays later I decided it was genius.
Needless to say, the other kids at school didn’t care much for the Stooges (even the ones that liked Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper). It’s not that kids had never heard of the Stooges— they were well-known, infamous in fact— but that kids hated them. Not like today where every lame assed “indie” rocker has to give ‘em lip service (“they really influenced my music…”) wouldn’t you like to stick a copy of Funhouse in their mouth? But I was possessed, pouring over Circus, Rolling Stone, Fusion, and of course Creem magazine for any mention of their name, or their activities. I discovered intriguing photos, like Iggy covered in silver glitter at the Electric Circus, or a new double guitar lineup photographed by Peter Hujar (new guy James Williamson sans pants). A few articles, a few reviews, then nothing. They were gone, up in smoke. Blame it on the drugs, the indifference of the industry or the hostility of the audiences, the truth is kids had gone lame. In the few years since 1966 which had produced such milestones as The Stones’ Aftermath and James Brown Sings Raw Soul, radio was now shoving CSNY, Chicago and prog rock down people’s throats. The Stooges never really had a chance.
But you can’t keep a guy like Iggy down for long.
A year later Iggy was back in the news, championed by a new kid from England named David Bowie (who I’d seen performing as Ziggy Stardust to a few hundred spaced out freaks at Pirates World Amusement Park around the same time). Iggy in England giving interviews (“where I come from, I’m a legend”) recording a new record with a revamped version of the Stooges. Photos of their one U.K. gig– a double bill with the Flamin’ Groovies at the King’s Cross Cinema had filtered back to the states– Iggy in silver leather pants, silver streaked hair and black lipstick. New guitarist James Williamson looking menacing in front of a Marshall stack.
Looking back, rock & roll itself nearly made a brief comeback in the summer of ’72 which was dominated by the Stones’ Exile On Mainstreet and their summer tour, and the all time summer classic “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper. T. Rex had topped the charts with “Get It On,” Mott The Hoople were on the charts and even Elvis’ was rockin’ again with “Burnin’ Love.” Surely, the world was now ready for the Stooges. But rock & roll’s resurgence was brief, and the world was not ready for the Stooges three chord train to hell (as I once heard a prog rock fan describe them).
Raw Power (not to mention the 45 rpm of “Search & Destroy” b/w “Penetration,” which I bought back then and still treasure) was finally released in the winter of ’73. I remember buying the only copy at my local record store, Sid’s, and tearing ass home on my bike to play it. That was nearly forty years ago, and it hasn’t left the turntable since. It got great reviews but except for a gig in Detroit, and short residencies at the Whiskey in L.A. and Max’s in NYC, the Stooges couldn’t get a tour (a report in Creem’s gossip column sticks in my head, both T. Rex and Humble Pie nixing the Stooges as a possible opening act, can’t blame ‘em, who’d want to follow Iggy?). Radio wouldn’t touch Raw Power. Fourteen years later Iggy would tell me “I knew FM disc jockey’s wouldn’t be sayin’ that was the Stooges with ‘Raw Power’ and before that we heard Rod Stewart with ‘Maggie May…’” and it too landed in my beloved 99 cent bin with the rest of the Stooges’ discography. (stooges live ’73 clip:)
“If I’d learned one thing as a kid, its if you’re too young to be where you are, act cool, share your drugs and keep your mouth shut, and there’s a good chance no one will ask you to leave.”
By the Fall of 1973 Raw Power had come and gone, and the Stooges were nowhere to be seen. Only a few photos in Creem and Rock Scene appeared (the most play being given to a disturbing image of Iggy bloody and defiant at Max’s, his chest torn open, head thrown back). I don’t even remember how I got wind of it in those pre-internet days, when news traveled slow, or not at all, but the Stooges were booked for a four day stint at a club in Atlanta called Poor Richard’s, a mere six hundred miles away (as it turns out they may have played Jacksonville, Florida earlier that week, 349 miles closer to home, but how was I to know? In fact to this day no one seems to know if that gig happened or was cancelled). At fourteen I was too young for a driver’s license so I simply packed a bag (extra black t-shirt, sixty Quaaludes, half an ounce of pot, rolling papers, and a copy of The Family by Ed Sanders) and stuck my thumb out on I-95. Three rides and seventeen hours later, a car full of University Of Florida sorority girls (who proved you can drive on Quaaludes while having sex) let me off in front of Poor Richard’s, just in time to walk in an open door as the Stooges (minus Iggy) were getting familiar with their rented back line.
If I’d learned one thing as a kid, its if you’re too young to be where you are, act cool, share your drugs and keep your mouth shut, and there’s a good chance no one will ask you to leave. Back then the drinking age was eighteen in most places (I assume it was in Georgia, because the audience was filled with mostly teenagers), but kids rarely got carded anyway. Hell, my high school was surrounded by bars with a five drafts for a dollar lunch special that you could have ridden in on a tricycle to most of those joints and still gotten served (and CBGB’s was no different). I hung around in the backstage corners until show time, the only Stooge I’d talked to was Ronnie, who, when I offered him some ludes, grabbed ‘em and told me “Keep those away from Iggy,” putting a handful in his pocket “just in case, for later…”
“Today you can’t walk two blocks in any major city without spotting a Stooges T-shirt, but back then when you met a fellow Stooge fan, you had made a friend for life. All my oldest friends I’d met directly or indirectly because of the Stooges.”
The experience of seeing the Stooges live is still vivid, like a series of still photos seared onto my brain. Some bands are great even before they plug in. The Stooges just looked so cool, making their way to stage, despite the fact that they all seemed to have that look that Viet Nam vets called “the hundred yard stare,” the slightly shell shocked continence of young men who’d been through a war. After tuning a bit they began pounding out the opening bars to “Raw Power” for what seemed like ten minutes before Iggy appeared (in fact, the second night he had to be carried into the club unconscious); Ron in his finest Hugo Boss SS officer’s uniform, James Williamson in a threadbare and ratty Vampira costume. Scott Thurston with a cigarette dangling from his mouth pounding on the piano, and Scott “Rock Action” Asheton immobile except his wrists, glaring out from behind the drums through mirrored shades. Anyway, that’s the way I remember it, and if you’d produced a video of the event that showed that they were wearing cub scout uniforms it wouldn’t change my mind. They played four tunes from Raw Power (“Raw Power,” “I Need Somebody”—which segued into John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom”—“Gimme Danger” and “Search & Destroy”) and nothing from the first two albums. Instead they played mostly new originals– “Head On,” “Open Up And Bleed,” “Cock In My Pocket,” and something that sounded exactly like Gary U.S. Bond’s “New Orleans” that Iggy introduced as “Heavy Liquid.” Iggy. Dressed in a banana sling and thigh high boots, his hair bleached platinum, was out for blood. A preview of the hostile, agile and mobile little guy we’d know and love from Metallic K.O. was in beautiful form. He taunted the audience, although unlike the contentious bikers he faced down on the aforementioned live document, this audience (which couldn’t have been more than a hundred strong) was rooting for him all the way. No matter, Iggy was out for blood, yours, his, anyone’s. His bellicose and belligerent screams seemed to come from deep inside, bubbling over with both self hatred and narcissism. The world’s forgotten boy. From the second Iggy grabbed the mike, the Stooges seemed to elevate off the ground, like a jet taking off. A sensation I’d only experienced a few other times before or since (Jerry Lee Lewis in a tiny club in Florida, The Stones in ’72 ). Truly magic.
It wasn’t until Atlanta that I’d even met another Stooges fan, but eventually, over the years, we all seemed to find each other. Today you can’t walk two blocks in any major city without spotting a Stooges T-shirt, but back then when you met a fellow Stooge fan, you had made
a friend for life. All my oldest friends I’d met directly or indirectly because of the Stooges.
Those four nights at Poor Richards blend together in what’s left of my memory. The opening act, Capricorn Records’ (whose owner Phil Walden had managed Otis Redding and the Allman Brothers and was pals with then President Jimmy Carter) heavy metal act Hydra had brought out a contingency from Macon bearing much snortables, and proved to be more approachable than the Stooges (their singer Orville would end up on the same east village block as me many decades later), and ready to party. One night, Iggy, having ingested his body weight in various powders and the greater part of a bottle of vodka, mistook Elton John—who had wandered onstage resplendent in a gorilla suit—for a real gorilla, or so it seemed to those of us watching as Ig shrieked in terror while Elton grabbed him in a bear hug and lifted him off the stage. It was the greatest rock & roll show I’ve ever seen.
Then they were gone. By the time Iggy graced the cover of Creem magazine for the last time in the winter of ’74 (with an article by Lester Bangs promising Stooge world domination), they had broken up, the final bloody shows eventually appearing on the Paris based Skydog label as Metallic K.O., a most dramatic live document, on par with James Brown’s Live At the Apollo (King) and Jerry Lee Lewis’ Live At The Star Club, Hamburg (Phillips), but I don’t need to tell you about that.
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