Iggy Pop was a drummer in blues bands before he and his fellows formed the Stooges in the 60s, and as this song demonstrates, the experience wasn't wasted. Iggy and his mates understood that is to say, felt the vaguely described but conspicuous force that blues had, simple, sonic, repetitive and impolite to any standard measure of tempo. This was the kind of music that was the blend of instinct and wits, a boxer's set of reflexes to things that get in your way. Guitar, drums and are a distorted grind and the tempo of nails hammered. The Ashtons smashed mightily. Iggy, of course, was the man alone, a three-semester course of unreconstructed Id that inhabiting the center of every ganglion of nerves the brain tried to lay claim to; the superego to twitch and become more reptilian by the second. He was that kid in drainpipe jeans who carried a sharp stick with a brown, mung encrusted nail through it, waiting on the corner for someone as yet unknown to walk by and get poked with it. There was no fun, so you made your own, just to see what happens. These were Mailer's White Negros for a fact, except they shivved me a man who was tailing them and talking too much in the other muse mute streets of two-story burn pads and deserted storefronts that had their front windows sealed with concrete and layers of old concert posters and spray paint exclaiming gang signs and Jesus. Anyone daring to talk past this kid deserved to be whacked with the rusty nail. It was cruel and pointless until something genuine happened to change everything; the bit that everyone knows in the world of the Stooges is that transcendence is not on the agenda, ever.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Saturday, September 3, 2011
This was the sticking point with a majority of critics at the time when their first album, The Stooges, was released in 1969. In a counter-culture that was ironically putting premiums on the extreme professionalism of well-trained musicians who could hit notes precisely and improvise at length over increasingly tricky time signatures, the Stooges were the textbook example of the anathema, an insult to the taste-maker elite. Reviews were generally insulting to the band’s repetitive slam and clang approach, and it is one of the wonders of staying alive long enough to see a groundbreaking band, unfiltered from the start, outlast the negativity and change the critical consensus. The intelligentsia had to catch up with them. The Stooges rejected formal instruction on their musicianship and, in turn, weren’t about to suffer the instructions the snoots, snobs and snoids demanded they follow.
What’s ironic is that Rolling Stone, the arbiter of quality in matters of the New Rock, still had integrity in their record reviews at the time and allowed one of their original rock critics, Ed Ward, to let the air out of the inflated importance of over-serious rock music and the earnest critiques they inspired with his review of the album. The first two paragraphs have Ward offering a thumbnail sketch of the band’s background, quickly followed the expected litany of sins, that Iggy is a bad Jim Morrison imitator, the lyrics are sub-literate, the guitar and drum work is lifeless and lacking even the dignity of being mechanical. The something wonderful happened halfway through. He summarized his feelings thusly “Their music is loud, boring, tasteless, unimaginative and childish.” Then something wonderful happened.
With the grievances listed and the verdict delivered,Ward added, in a single sentence, standing alone , unencumbered by other sentences, “I kind of like it”, Ward performed an endearing bit of proto-deconstruction, using the aforementioned deficiencies in the music as examples of virtue, value, honesty, artistic vision. It was one of the great pieces of rock criticism because here Ward created the basis of real aesthetic argument that maintained, essentially, that the Stooges were the true face and sound of a rock and roll that was relevant to life as it was being lived by millions, a voice, sound and poetry from the curb, alley and shuttered doorway that wanted nothing to do with millionaire musicians with long hair striving to achieve legitimacy by mimicking and misreading the most superficial elements of High Culture. Ed Ward established the concerns that Lester Bangs soon picked up and turned into a masterful argument with the dying of the light. We can thank Ed Ward and the Stooges for that relief.
This was a band that went in the other direction when they began their quest to find what lay beyond avant-garde posturing in Music during the 60s away from trudging drum solos and long-form guitar essays. Iggy and the Stooges were primitive, out of tune, irritated and irritating in turn. It was a matter where the band and their front man, Iggy Pop (nee Stooge) blended perfectly, given their ability to turn something that sounds horrible and repetitive into a crashing, sustained drone of attitude, and Iggy's serpentine stage presence and clipped verbal dexterity. He was the guy who couldn't sit stand and would stand for nothing less than what he wanted in full, and they were the grind of the city turned into a droning inner voice prodding him to smash down whatever walls came before him. It wasn’t that he was a bad boy going contrarily to the niceties of all things middle class and calcified, it wasn’t that he as a sentient being had identified an artifice he disliked and defined himself in opposition to it; it was more like Iggy Stooge was unaware of the feelings of others, greater ramifications of dangerous self-gratification, or any code of behavior the rest of us depend to keep drivers and pedestrians, for example, on the streets and the sidewalks, respectively. He was unadulterated id, a squirming mass of impulse that transgressed boundaries, mashed together poetry and porn, and displayed no interest in theorizing about what he had done or about what he was thinking of doing. His was the case of living in the present tense solely, and whatever sensation at the moment was utmost. Let us not be mistaken about this, as Iggy Stooge’s persona and psyche had the virtue of being monochromatic; his immediate impulse was not the only thing that mattered. There simply wasn’t anything else. All this play against the quarrelsome insomniac raunch of Ron Ashton’s guitar work, very simple, rudimentary, undeniable effective, endlessly influential. What he lacked in technique he made up for in essence, a counterpoint to the corrosive thrills of Iggy’s distilled juvenile delinquency; his guitar work might be politely described as “steady”, but this a dodge against the annoyance factor this band turned into a new aesthetic. “Persistent” is more apt, like a dislodged bit of a fender dragging along the highway, kicking up sparks near the gas tank, or a door slamming for hours in a strong wind, or jackhammers at night carving up your street at precisely the moment your brain demands you sleep or die inanely. Obnoxious, profound without knowing. We should all be grateful these guys wielded musical instruments, not guns. Or worse.
Saturday, June 12, 2010
I like loud and distorted guitar the old school way, in the form of jamming power trios, guitar-bass-drums shootouts where the downbeats started at debated counts, and the length of the improvised middle section was unpredictable. Ad-libbed solos, riffing, vamping, monochromatic chord mongering, the center portions of this species of random noise took a cue from several generations of black American blues geniuses. The young Turks to the clear, elegantly expressed formulations of anger, pain, dread, and joy and tweaked the pentatonic elements to a narrowed strain of white male rage, performed at volume levels beyond endurance levels, with the nimble, simple, eloquent rhythms and solo configurations of guitar, harmonica, banjo being replaced with a wave of distorted notes bent to their furthermost pitch of emotional credibility. It was perfect for the smoky ballrooms I went to in the late '60s, where the likes of Cream, Blue Cheer, Sir Lord Baltimore, T.Rex, and Mountain belched, groaned, and assaulted a beleaguered audience of addled brains with their instrumental abuse; on some nights the commotion and clamor reminded you more of a demolition derby instead of a unique engagement with a fleeting muse. The impact was more important than configuration. There was joy when I came upon the MC5 and the Stooges in Detroit, where I lived. The 5 were every car Detroit had manufactured being tossed off the top of the Penobscot Building, the tallest building in the city at the time. The MC5 had a speed and power only the fury of an accumulating gravity could provide, and half the fun of watching these guys batter, abuse, and flail their instruments while the wiggling and wrenching in hip-thrusting deliriums. This was the guitar version of Demolition Derby. The Stooges were, on the other hand, the guitar that was tossed off with a violent fling at a lousy rehearsal and left on, still plugged into the amp, humming and crackling the whole night. Ron Ashton's guitar work was perfect, imperfect, with a wood-chipper rhythm, an excellent three and two-chord background for Iggy Pop, whose psycho-sexual explorations into teenage impatience would make you think of a zombie severed arm. It still twitches across the blood, the hand is still making grasping motions for your neck, you realize that even death cannot stop this force that requires your attention.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
It's a strange turn of the New Year when we first say adieu to arguably the greatest jazz trumpeter of the second half of the 20th century, Freddie Hubbard, and then this week discover that another musical pioneer with qualities opposite those of Hubbard's has died as well, guitarist Ron Asheton of The Stooges. Hubbard was a virtuoso force of nature, to engage in an abrupt use of cliche, a technical wizard who had, additionally, the great gift of melodic invention that put his untouchable skills in the service of riveting improvisation. In the company of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Hubbard coaxed an infinite number of dialogues and moods from his instrument, and he could place in the center of the emotional core of extemporized outings--the virtuosity made you feel alive , with emotions you forgot you had.It might sound too high hat, but metaphor aside, the Stooges were an alternative all the same to the pat bohemianism of the counter-culture;Rolling Stone and other hip capitalist media convinced America that there was a consensus among those of us in the "youth culture" and that all of us rock and roll fans were docile and enlightened, ergo harmless. The Stooges , along with the MC5 , showed everyone what was under the rock, a festering mess of violence, irrationality, youthful impatience. Sooner or later the lie had to be given to the hype about the Sixties and it was fitting that Ron Ashton's guitar work, a cranky machine of attitude, served as the battering ram against the edifice.
Ron Asheton, though, was of a different sort, a merely adequate electric guitarist who harnessed a narrower array of moods, attitudes, those being, I think, anger, diffidence, defiance, indifference to authority, characterized by a grainy, fuzzy, brashly fumbled yet heavily set of major and minor guitar chords. If Dave Davies of the Kinks invented the power chord with "You Really Got Me", Asheton reduced the formula to an even more primeval essence, his guitar work droning, groaning, distorting , aggravating and lumbering a set of teenage attitudes that crystallized the state of being inarticulate with a mind flooded with sensations and drives that had no experience nor wisdom to grant the spectre of coherence. He was the perfect foil for Iggy Pop, rock and roll's master of the throwaway lyric and the over driven ego; Asheton's primitivism had the gravity of a great boulder teetering precariously on a high cliff, finally sliding off with a crash, gaining momentum and mass as the huge rock approaches the bottom of the canyon; whatever was at the canyon floor was about to be smashed. Asheton made it clear on Stooges tune "No Fun", "1969" , "Search and Destroy", "Gimmee Danger" that whatever bad mood and impatient being lay at the center lay at the heart of Pop's lyrics wound up in the barbed wire snarl of his bleeding fuzztone and wah-wah pedal. Ron Asheton, an American rock and roll genius, one of the most influential fretsters of our time. Thank you, sir, and rock on.