Modern rock as we know it, obligatory distortion and all, would absolutely not exist without the irrepressible Iggy Pop. Here is a man that has confounded progressive medicine through his refusal to burn out and fade away. Even if we assume that Iggy is part feline, and consequently has nine lives at his disposal, he definitely expended those eight mulligans before Reagan’s gubernatorial run expired. In early 1974, Iggy and the Stooges, probably the best garage band in history, recorded the only live album that features the sound of bottles breaking against equipment as a viable production technique: “Metallic K.O.” Such passion, anger and outright insanity have never been expressed with more unrequited triumph.
After more than 30 years of such absurd exertion, this guy does not even begin to resemble anything that approximates biological authenticity. I saw him in concert with the reunited Stooges on Long Island recently, and following a completely nonchalant mic-stand chuck, he took off down my aisle to bond with his fans. As I reached my arm out to touch any piece of the Pop, I swore that I had latched onto a Wilson’s baseball mitt. I do not mean this in any derogatory way because, believe me, the former James Osterberg (Iggy’s Christian name) is one of the only men for whom I could ever be gay. I feel like it wouldn’t really count, though, because his closest physical resemblance could not possibly contain any sort of double helix (though his body frequently contorts in such a way).
Even with this presumably-living legend corkscrewing right in front of me, I could not take my eyes off the stage. There, in all his grizzled glory, lay the one and only Ron Asheton. Everyone knows deep down that Hendrix just used his Fuzz Face pedal as a crutch, but Ron Asheton plugged his entire torso into his distorted wah-wah console. The best thing about watching him play guitar is that he appears so unconcerned. You just know, as he rattles off filthy blues lines in his deviously steady swagger, that he constantly thinks to himself, “Man, I could REALLY use a cigarette right about now.” Amazingly, drummer Scott Asheton (his brother) consistently holds the same brand of cagey lunacy. David Bowie once told Iggy that his music was so primitive that his drummer should sound like he was wailing away on logs, and Scott couldn’t even begin to fake his characteristically primal style. Of course, the whole sound could not coalesce without the peerlessly guttural howl that is Iggy Pop’s voice — he does not so much sing as wail viciously into the microphone. On a sojourn that brought him to my sweet home Chicago, Iggy decided that his mission in life was to entirely demolish American folk and blues. Once you hear him jumpstart a song with that scream, his success in that regard is undeniable.
The Stooges’ first, eponymous album, produced by John Cale (one of the founding members of the Velvet Underground, complete with perennially bad haircut), emphasized tactful song structure. Nothing disappoints, especially since it contains arguably the best song ever written, “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” It’s one of the few songs, actually, that is wholly impossible to cover poorly (that and “Louie Louie,” which, appropriately enough, became a fundamental part of the Stooges’ live show).
Still, Cale’s stamp never quite lifts, and for this reason “Fun House,” their next album, remains the band’s greatest accomplishment. The first song, “Down on the Street,” begins with an utterance that will never be found in any lexicon of any language because it’s an Iggy yelp. From there on, each subsequent song unfolds in the same startling manner. “TV Eye,” the album’s best song (which stands for, I kid you not, “twat vibe”), commences with an aggressive “Looooord!!!” When I listen to this album, however, I am continually astounded at the ridiculously high level of passion that the band sustains throughout each track. So fierce and unrestrained is the music that Steven Mackay’s Ornette Coleman-esque saxophone in “1970” never once sounds dissonant in this innately corrosive atmosphere.
There are really two types of blues — Delta and Mississippi. The first refers to that vacillating arrangement that emphasizes the distinctive “I-IV-V” chord progression in order to enhance the vulnerability of the emotion being expressed. Mississippi blues, on the other hand, chugs relentlessly into each transition. This is where the power of the Stooges resides. Their ability to crawl, snake and charge through every song with such relentless intensity is astounding. Although their technique seemingly stresses spontaneity, their discipline remains intact as they plow through the seemingly constricted structure of the blues.
The Stooges’ idiot-savant aspect emerges in their dogmatic obedience to the sentiment of each song title. “Loose” is limp and wobbly, “Dirt” is absolutely foul, and “1970” is rife with excess and utter disregard for moderation. Iggy unquestionably proves the old adage that “blonds have more fun.” Or, more accurately, that “it’s fun to be dumb.” As their nearest progeny in the way of consistent lunacy, the Ramones, would say, “Gabba gabba hey!”