Thursday, February 28, 2013

My Excerpt From "The Stooges: The Authorized and Illustrated Story"

 When Bob Matheu was putting the above-mentioned book together around four years ago he asked if I would be so kind to contribute a review of the Stooges Fun House to be included. While a record I knew backward and forward I spent even more time with it and truly do feel like I've encapsulated all of my feelings about this record below. Enjoy.

The copious thoughtless platitudes heaped upon Fun House over the past forty years are numbing. That the greatest rock and roll album of all-time has actually been deemed so on more than one occasion seems like some kind of dumb luck. Too often in the circles of rock snobs and tastemakers this amount of praise is reserved for the "forgotten" classic…the unreleased album, the private press LP recorded in a basement…so in that regard, Fun House is almost obvious.
This was an album recorded in a proper studio, by a fine-tuned band, released on a major label and supported with not only actual touring, but also a prime time network television appearance. The fact that it didn't "catch" at the time and is still yet to even be certified as a gold record still makes it refreshing response to the typical Beatles/Stones/Dylan album slobbering.
Fun House really does offer anything the post-modern savant could want in straight-ahead rock and roll and yet the Stooges were a band that was wholly embraced by the ends of society back in 1970. Bikers, ex-cons, dealers…anyone completely removed from "straight" culture/society was sure to "get" the Stooges in a way that didn't seem to cross-over until well-after the band was merely a memory.
If their self-titled debut was quintessential teenaged Midwestern boredom distilled to brainless brawn, Fun House is your early-twenties, manic restlessness manifested into swift, intensive action. The potential for pain is there (like these punks finally got their hands on switchblades) and it hangs in the air along with Ig's overdriven barks and howls, Ron's rapier-to-bazooka guitar range, Zander's irreplaceable bottom and Rock Action's propulsive thud to create an entirely violent miasma.
This is a record done almost entirely live in the studio, surely with amps cranked to ten and all kinds of unholy bleed between the channels on the mixing desk.  Envision Iggy, microphone duct-taped to his hand, terrorizing his "please don't hurt me" bandmates in the studio like an uncaged monkey and it helps complete the overall image of conflict amidst the connection.
"Down on the Street" oozes all kinds of cruising cool and if a riff could better approximate the swagger of a Detroit muscle car, it's yet to have been written. As Scott switches to keep time on the bell of his ride cymbal at the 2:42 mark he's so crisp, so precise, so tight that he makes the song as it rolls out to the end.
"Loose" is double-entendre to the max "I'll stick it deep inside…" is intoned with a borderline fey lilt to its final syllable, knowingly nudging you with exactly what you think Iggy is going to stick deep inside.
"TV Eye" is a song that needs nothing more than Ron's air-raid siren lick coupled with Scott's Black Cat firecracker snare. The bass is superfluous and while the confrontational vocals brim with unparalleled attitude you'd be hard-pressed to find one who doesn't think this is Ron's crowning achievement in a trick bag filled with crowns and achievements.
"Dirt" is the tipping point. No other song in this band's history says or does as much as this throbbing dirge. "Dirt" shifts the band portrait from dumb juvenile delinquents to "wink at you wise" beyond their years.  Ron's sweeping wah-wah washes create miles of atmosphere to lose one's self in. At the 5:03 point Scott flips the pummeling beat around, throws in an un-telegraphed snare accent that almost sounds like a fuck-up. Alexander's virtual bass clinic was tempting him and he bit and it gives the jam all the more personality because of it.  Seeing them at DTE in '03 a buddy of mine bemoaned "Scott's playing a fucking grace note on 'Dirt'!" as if someone had just wiped their ass with the Declaration of Independence. You need no more evidence of fan dedication than virulent dissatisfaction with a song because the drummer is hitting his bass drum ONE EXTRA TIME.
"1970" as the beefed-up older brother to the first album's nigh-Bo Diddley "1969" flips the beat around and ups the intensity a thousandfold. Only the Stooges could drop one of the most blistering screeds of the 20th century and have it be, basically, about feeling "alright." Listen how loud the bass is in the mix…Dave's tone pure liquid and rubbery, drowning out the guitar and leading the entire mess. After Ron blazes through his wicked solo and the chords transpose it feels as if there's nowhere to go, that the song is already turned around and aurally cannot resolve itself. At that point, three minutes thirty-one seconds in, we're introduced to Steve Mackay, a secret weapon if there ever was one. His participation inspired by the Doors' use of saxophone on "Touch Me" (a song Ig and Ron thought was shit…EXCEPT for the sax) Mackay bleats free jazz blood all over the fresh carcass of the record…a carcass only because he completely kills it. His first four notes brazenly declare "I'm here motherfuckers!" and he doesn't let-up until the end of the album.
I've never, not once, heard the bass line to "Fun House" played with the sheer funk it has on the album. You wanna hear it right then sit with Alexander's dexterity and take some notes. Iggy begging "let me in!" always seemed funny to me. While clearly just employing jazz terminology in regards to the start of his vocals (coupled with his "BLOW  STEVE!" you wonder when Ig's subscription to DownBeat expired), I always envisioned Iggy standing on the front porch, the rest of the band jamming in the basement, just full-on ROARING. He's rapping away on the front door, lost his keys probably, just trying to join in on the fun…"LEMME IN! LEMME IN!" No one wants to be left out of the fun house, least of all the singer.
While the old joke says you know you've bought a bad Stooges bootleg when it contains alternate versions of "LA Blues" to knock the album closer is to completely miss the point. These liberal college-town deviants took to Los Angeles and fucked the city harder than anything they'd ever felt by recording this album there. But all that sunlight will mess with your mind, it'll turn you kinda orange (just check the album art). "LA Blues" (originally titled the equally-as-gnarly "Freak") is an unholy exorcism of all the built-up, pent-up West Coast bullshit and is also the best way to see who your real friends are.
The album art is perfect. The orange glow battling for supremacy against the vibrant, rich reds, each face bathed in creepy light, the whole thing has the look of lava reaching for and conquering everything in its path, much like the music contained within does. The pseudo-collage front cover is spellbinding…the way Ig slides in, the parquet floor beneath him…it truly needs to be turned 360 degrees to fully absorb it all…how Iggy's torso slowly melts into the close-up of his own mug, with Dave's black-eyed noggin stare and you think you've seen a ghost. The gatefold is crucial…the way Iggy curls in his "come hither" pose, his Cuban-heel beetle boots and his ripped jeans. Yes, those torn at the knee Levi's were a gay signifier at the time and Iggy recontextualized the sartorial snag and laid the foundation for the Ramones and all the punks to follow.
I have a friend who got the catalog number of Fun House (EKS-74071) tattooed on his wrist. And that's a perfect example of how this album works…you either think it's the greatest rock and roll record of all time and scar yourself appropriately to show so - or -you just don't get it at all
American Armed Forces Radio pressed an LP that contains all of side two of Fun House intended for overseas military radio play. Imagining our boys over in the shit, worried about Charlie raining fire down on their asses chills me. Realizing that "1970", "Fun House" and "LA Blues" were possibly the soundtrack to this fear is no more comforting…it scares the shit out of me, in fact. But to see a Stooges record with an American flag depicted on the label (as if by appointment of George Washington hisself), is by no means justification for the ills our nation has perpetrated. It's just further evidence that everyone…from the United States military to the unaware who caught the peanut butter-smearing on TV to some brat who picks up this here heap and reads about an unbeatable band who's long-gone…we're all entitled to a little bit of dumb luck when it comes to crashing a party at the fun house.