Friday, November 04, 2011

Iggy Pop

The Stooges were a legendary kind of band for me in 1977 when I embraced the NME and its tales of punk London. Iggy Pop was the Godfather of Punk or something stupid like that. There was a photo of a semi-naked Iggy (I think he wore a dickie bow and something to cover his cock) next to an equally naked 15-year old looking girl. There was a photo of Iggy on the floor of s stage, tangled in wires and with cuts all over his body. There was the photo of Iggy walking on the hands of a crowd.


The Iggy albums of the day were The Idiot and Lust For Life (both 1977) and they were very contemporary and Berlinesque and did not seem too dangerous at all. The NME wrote up Iggy as some kind of demi-god or wild beast or universal bad boy and spun tales of his out of control behaviour and notorious lifestyle. There were plenty references to The Stooges, the band he led before he went all proto new wave and weird electro disco. Allegedly Iggy taught the musicians in The Stooges his songs note for note. All the songs on their first two albums, The Stooges and Funhouse, were his visions and his destiny. The best songs on the debut album, basically everything not written by John Cale, are so basic that it is hard to fathom what the big vision was. Or how much Iggy had to do to teach his band his songs.


Anyhow, I read about Iggy and his awesome past for a couple of years before I actually owned any of his records. I do not remember whether any of the songs from The Idiot or Lust For Life were ever play listed on any of the South African radio stations I listened to then. There was no incentive for me to buy these records. I was much more interested in the legend and the assertion that The Stooges, along with the MC5, were giant influences on the punk bands.


Ragtime Records was a major independent music store in Cape Town that opened a branch in the then Trust Bank Centre in Stellenbosch. This branch lasted maybe a year and at the end it held a massive clearance sale. I bought not only the first three Blue Oyster Cult albums and a couple of Dylan albums but also the first two Stooges records. In one fell stroke I owned the original Iggy Pop firestorm of punk delights.


The Stooges sounded very much like punk, or how I imagined punk to sound like, basing my impressions purely on what I was reading in NME, as none of the punk bands were played on South African radio and their records were not available at Sygma Records. The Stooges played simple, basic music that sounded like the kind of three chord rock the NME was celebrating. Except for the weird psychedelic guitar freak-outs on the tunes. The basic rhythm sounded like punk. The guitar solos sounded like a totally different band altogether.


The second side of The Stooges (1969) from "No Fun" to "Little Doll" and the first side from "1969" to "I Wanna Be Your Dog" (and that would be from first cut to second cut) are well-nigh perfect as punk statement of intent. That this album was recorded and released in 1979, the year of peace and love Woodstock generation seems impossible. This rough, tough and ridiculously exhilarating stuff must surely have come from the heydays of punk, somewhere in 1976 or early 1977.


Only the 10 minute long tedious drone of "We Will Fall" seems of its time. it is a 'what the fuck' song, after "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and I've always thought it was imposed on The Stooges by John Cale, who produced The Stooges, as penance for the gall of all the other tunes. I think I listened to "We Will Fall" about once, on my first spin of the album and then ignored it for ever after. I don't care how avant garde it might have been or still is. I don't care if it represents a higher form of artistic expression. It sucks. It sucks and it fucking sucks.


"1969", "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and "No Fun" were my top tunes. I could easily sing along to them. I could sing them in the shower. I could shout out their words and not care whether I could hold a tune. It seemed that Iggy was the king of the non-singers. His words were not as profound and certainly not as knowingly poetic as the best Bob Dylan songs and yet they were probably truer.


Funhouse (1970) was the eye opener though. The first side from "Down In The Street" to "Dirt" (only 4 songs) and "Fun House" on the second side are just so achingly visceral; somehow more of a punch in the gut than even the debut album's finest moments. The words are better, the emotions rawer and the guitar dirtier. The most startling thing is the punk saxophone that excoriates the mental flesh. The two albums could have made a deliciously addictive single record – take away John Cale and "1970" and "LA Blues" sand you have perfection on vinyl.


I love primitive in music and The Stooges had that in spades. The MC5 were prog rock by comparison.


Nude & Rude is a collection of what the compilers must deem to be the best or best known Iggy Pop tunes. It starts with "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and ends with "Wild America" from American Caesar (1993.)


The narrative is the rock journey of a primitive, who was not as self-destructive as the myth would have it, reaching towards the standard rock dream of making a living from the only thing he was good at, gaining sophistication and experience and longevity along the way and where he might have been the Godfather of Punk when he was much younger, he is now the Michael Corleone of punk. Although incredibly wrinkly and loose of skin, Iggy still has an incredible body and it seems, like Anthony Kiedis from Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Iggy insists on performing with bare torso. I would imagine he no longer cuts himself with shards of broken glass on stage.


The Idiot and Lust For Life, the back to back comeback albums recorded with David Bowie guiding Iggy in Berlin, are probably the best Iggy albums to own other than the first three or four Stooges albums and this late Seventies era rock modernism no doubt inspired by metronomic Krautrock, gave us "Nightclubbing" and "The Passenger", respectively interpreted by Grace Jones and Siouxsie & The Banshees. "The Passenger" was a big hit in South Africa and remained a club favourite into the late Eighties.


I have no idea how many other artists have covered Iggy Pop songs or how many of those interpretations have been commercially successful in any way but my guess is that that there can't be that many. Iggy has an idiosyncratic vision and off-kilter way with a song and this approach is not for everyone.


One rather alarming impression, given how I have also thought of Iggy Pop as some kind of extreme rock performer, is that the majority of the late period tunes in this compilation seem kind of thin and without much rock muscle. The Ig can croon and he can roar and I prefer the roaring Iggy, or at the very least the petulantly yelping Iggy of The Stooges or Funhouse,

with Ron Asheton's freaked out guitar blasts. Iggy got older and perhaps wiser and needed a more commercial sound to sustain his career longevity, but his producers did him no favours by smothering the guitars.


On the evidence of this package I'll stick to the first two Stooges albums. I no longer have the LPs and I should order the CDs from Dumb fun gets no better than this.

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