Fifty years ago this weekend, the Stooges played one of their most mythologized shows, on a 400-acre site in Jackson County's Leoni Township – seven miles east of the county seat, Jackson, MI – at the self-styled Goose Lake International Music Festival.
Organizers had expected 60,000 people for the event, billed as “Michigan's answer to Woodstock”; a reported 200,000-strong, mostly youthful crowd, converged on the property for a weekend (August 7-9, 1970) that featured top mainstream draws (Chicago, The Faces, The Flying Burrito Brothers, The James Gang, Jethro Tull, Mountain, John Sebastian, Ten Years After, The Litter).
All these heavyweights, major and minor, paired up with the cream of the Michigan rock scene – Brownsville Station, Detroit (featuring Mitch Ryder), Savage Grace, SRC, Third Power...and the Stooges, whose own performance that night became an essential building block of their own slow-burning mystique.
There's a certain irony at work here, since precious few recordings of Iggy Pop and company actually exist before their the era of their final album, Raw Power (1973), blew in – a gap that's attributed to a dearth of affordable, portable recording technology that, by the early '80s, became common currency. By then, however, a lifetime's worth of music had come and gone, literally and figuratively, along with the supporting cast of musicians playing it.
They'd shed the experimental ethos of Fun House (1970) – whose anything-goes collision of brutish hard rock, free jazz and primal proto-punk is widely viewed as their masterpiece – and also, the support of Elektra Records, who'd dropped them, after the album had failed to sell in encouraging numbers.
That process arguably began at Goose Lake, the last stand for founding Stooge Dave Alexander – whom singer Iggy Pop summarily fired, right after the show, enraged by what he regarded as a total non-effort and non-performance on the bassist's part.
Depending on whose story you believe, and which part of the myth seems to make more sense, Alexander a) froze up onstage at the sight of such a huge crowd, b) drank, smoked or snorted something that didn't agree with his overall constitution, resulting in either a c) shabby or sub-par performance, or d) non-performance, as in – didn't play a single, solitary, stinkin' note.
The mystery only deepened when a clip of one song (“1970”) surfaced in 2010 on TouTube. Yet the resulting footage, which barely cleared the two-and-a-half minute mark, raised more questions than answers. Ron and Scott Asheton sounded inspired as ever on guitar and drums, respectively; so did Iggy's vocals, what you could make out of them, but as for Dave, you couldn't hear his trademark rumble coming from anywhere out of his massive cabinets.
Even so, Dave looked reasonably engaged, to my eyes, anyhow, and didn't seem to be having any trouble staying upright. Had he really fucked up or frozen up, as both Iggy and Ron had claimed, over the years? (Let that point sink in for a moment. As often as Iggy and Ron sparred over so many parts of the Stooges narrative, how did this particular issue end up being the one they actually agreed on?) Or had he simply run afoul of the usual technical gremlins that so often plagued bands in those days?
Still, I suspect the clip raised a lot of hopes: There's gotta to be a tape, because somebody's gotta to have recorded this, somewhere. Well, now we know. Somebody did.
The solution to the mystery is this release, The Stooges: Live At Goose Lake: August 8th, 1970, on Jack White's label (Third Man), sourced from a well-tucked away soundboard recording made by the late audio engineer Jim Cassily, who recorded the Stooges' entire set, plus 10 other bands, including Chicago, the James Gang, and Mitch Ryder, for his own amusement, on his own recognizance.
The family first went through the tapes in 2016, as it prepared to sell the house. By then, Cassily had been gone 11 years, felled at age 60 by lung cancer – his precious tapes from Goose Lake, and many, many, many others, having spent decades in storage. (That's a compelling story in itself, but for simplicity's sake, visit the relevant link below.) Now, here they arrive, like light from a distant star, and...guess what?
Dave did play for the entire 45-minute set, which sees the band burning through the entirety of Fun House, in the same running order – except for a flip-flop of “Down In The Street,” and “Loose,” which typically opened Stooges shows of this era.
Unfortunately, "Loose" is also the most visible casualty of Alexander's fucked-up or frozen state, lack of concentration, overly casual attitude, take your pick. His fingers fumble helplessly out of sync of his colleagues, who barrel relentlessly and ruthlessly through Iggy's ode to the joy of unrestrained carnal knowledge. He fares better on the next songs (“Down In The Street,” “TV Eye”), where he sticks to a dogged two- to three-note rumble, which isn't terribly distinguished – what you can hear of it – but at least one that so consistently at odds with what's happening onstage, anyway.
And then, and then.... And then, we get to the dark heart of the sonic cyclone that we know and love as Fun House, as Scott crisply kicks off the epic side-closer, "Dirt," where Alexander finds his footing, at last -- now prominent in the mix, and playing what he should, while Ron and Scott expertly fill in the spaces, and Iggy pours out his don't-give-a-damn-narrative ("I been dirt...And I dooonnn't care"). This is how we always imagined the Stooges sounding in their lowdown dirty prime, given the relative lack of live tapes from this era, but what a great feeling to confirm that we were right, all along.
That sense of feral ferocity grows ever more vivid on "1970," as saxophonist Steve Mackay steps out to battle with Ron's trademark wah-wah flourishes, grunts and squeals for dominance of the sonic spectrum (though we don't get the all-out assaultive vocal flourishes of its vinyl counterpart that kicks off side two of Fun House proper). Barely three minutes later, the sonic blast is all over, showing the Stooges as seemingly tighter and more disciplined than the legend suggests (at this point in their career, anyhow -- or possibly, shadowboxing yet another technical gremlin, which we wouldn't know, without any visuals to go on).
But the real revelation comes with the closing one-two punch of "Fun House," and "LA Blues," the freeform assault that closed Stooges shows during this era. Up to now, we've enjoyed a set of mostly uptempo songs that sound raunchier, a bit faster 'n' livelier than their recorded counterparts, marred by a few flubs and technical problems -- standard stuff, you'd think, for any recording from this era.
However, all bets are off when Mackay's sax kicks in, blatting, howling and squonking, as the band unleashes a storm squall of amplified sound underneath him. Alexander sounds just fine as he kicks off the central riff to "Fun House," in all its dark, gritty glory, and we don't have to wait too long before all the gloves come flying off.
The band freely swaps roles back and forth with abandon, allowing everyone to function like a lead instrument, At times, Scott's machine clatter leads the charge, with Dave bobbing and weaving underneath him. Other times, it's Ron's wah-wah-draped leads, or Iggy's array of whoops, bawls and screams, which sound eerily natural amid Mackay's own Coltrane- and Coleman-ish-style flourishes.
My own favorite moment comes at the 5:18 mark, where the band coalesces around a song within a song, with Iggy singing whatever comes to mind ("I sing this song, just to break my heart/I sing this song, just to tear it apart" -- or, I think that's what he's saying, at any rate).
The boys fall deftly in step, kicking up the tempo, bit by bit. Just then, the curtain on this brief respite from free-form noise pulls shut, almost as quickly as it began, leaving "LA Blues" shuddering to a halt in a wash of feedback, with nary a beat left to make the point. Hearing this moment from the comfort of your chair is one thing; I can only imagine how it must have felt to experience it in person.
Goose Lake marked more than the end of the original Stooges lineup. The post-festival coverage, such as it was, predictably focused on sensationalist elements, notably allegations of rampant drug abuse...leaving those who showed up to recount the more pleasant aspects of Goose Lake, such as they were, like the revolving stage built specially for the event.
The local authorities that sought to spike the festival beforehand succeeded in getting an injunction against future gatherings at Goose Lake Park, and also rolled out an indictment against co-promoter Richard Songer in December 1971, for promoting the sale of drugs, only to see him acquitted of all charges. (What a coincidence, right? And if you believe that, well...)
Even the state's top officials couldn't resist weighing in. Governor William Milliken thundered, “I do not oppose rock festivals, but I do oppose and will fight drug abuse such as took place at Goose Lake," while Attorney General Frank Kelley offered a more muted response: "I think we have seen the first and last rock concert of that size in Michigan."
It's unfortunate that Goose Lake gotten tarred for so long with this particular brush, and cast such a disproportionate impact on the Stooges' story arc, in particular. What's often forgotten, in the oft-told tales of Alexander's dismissal, is that this was a band riding high, in the middle of its first major national tour, having already picked up a diehard fanbase that seemed ready to follow them anywhere.
Only a month before this show, the Stooges had appeared on network TV, thanks to the impact of its now-famous Cincinnati performance, which seemed fated to ramp up even more press around the band and its outrageous doings. That's not luck, or chance, or even good fortune; as Ron himself said, "We learned our trade by being onstage."
Live At Goose Lake should confirm -- and reaffirm -- that feeling for anyone who still harbors any doubts on that score. Ron and Scott, in particular, show a marked improvement on the rawer form of the first album, but all the individual Stooges have their moments, including the unfortunate Dave Alexander, all his flubs and missteps aside. Even so, this album allows him to finally reclaim some measure of posthumous glory and respect, because he is playing, from start to finish, and reports of his disastrous showing -- mostly, on the opening blast of "Loose" -- seem greatly overstated, at least on this evidence.
That evidence also blows some cobwebs off a few other myths. Nowhere do you hear the plug being pulled, early through the set, nor Iggy repeatedly exhorting anyone to tear down the barriers set up to contain the crowd (unless you count his vocal improvisation about the wall during "TV Eye," followed his shouts of, "Ram it!"; again, without the visuals, it's hard to tell for sure). Wouldn't Cassily have captured such things, as his tape machines kept spinning? Presumably, yes. It makes you wonder about all the other tales of gratuitious drug taking and violence that ate up so much media attention.
That said, is Live At Goose Lake a perfect recording? Hardly. It sounds as you'd expect: a rough 'n' ready document of an equally rough 'n' ready band. It's not a professional and pristine recording, by any means. But it does boast more clarity than the handful of guerrilla recordings that predate the Raw Power era, even if the overall balance isn't all it could be, at times.
For this reason, I don't see Live At Goose Lake as the ideal starting point for newbie fans, who might want to check out The Stooges (1969) and Fun House first, to get a fuller perspective on how they sounded, before circling back to this release (and then, revisit Raw Power, followed by the various live bootleg/studio outtake collections).
But that's the beauty and the curse of such endeavors. I've spent roughly half my life collecting black market and gray market recordings of various provenance and quality, and I'd echo what any member of the tribe tends to say on these matters. The crappiest, lo-fiest recording beats the shiniest, best rendered document of any event, especially if it's historically relevant, in some way.
On that level, Live At Goose Lake succeeds, and then some. Short of a seance, it's the only way you'll ever experience this particular lineup, on this particular night, which also carries an undeniable poignance, since Iggy remains the last man standing.
That brings up one more point. However you decide Dave Alexander fared at Goose Lake, once you've heard this album, his sacking had a profound impact on the Stooges, as they soldiered on without him. His dismissal broke the magic circle of a band that had already achieved some measure of national prominence, one that seemed poised for bigger and better things, all without weathering a single lineup change -- a truly atypical event for a '60s band (compared to situations like Michael Bloomfield's abrupt departure from Electric Flag, or the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, for example).
Dave's exit also profoundly altered the chemistry that had enabled the band to create an album like Fun House. Once he'd gone, he took his dark, greasy sense of tone and timing out the door with him. The Stooges never sounded like that again, nor did they bother to try. Instead, they slowly backed off their artier, more experimental side, and closer towards Raw Power's more conventional full-throated rock stylings. But that's another story for another time. We can't hang our heads all the time wishing and hoping for what might have been. All we can do is base our feeling on the evidence, whatever it's telling us.
That's the value of Live At Goose Lake: forget what the mythmakers and the naysayers have all told us. Now, you can make up your own mind about what happened to whom, and how -- and whether you just view it as a great night out from an influential underdog band, or the final, fleeting snapshot of an era that might have been. Either way, it works for me, and should work for you, too. That's the beauty of it.
DETROIT METRO TIMES: Goose Lake Memories:
DETROIT NEWS: Rock Legend Debunked:
Redemption, Goose Lake and the Lost Stooge:
REVUE: Goose Lake 1970: