You'd never know it now, amid the plethora of boxed sets, bootlegs, remasters and reissues hitting the racks these days, but once upon a time, copies of the Stooges' landmark albums – The Stooges (1969), Fun House (1970), and Raw Power (1973) – were on the level of Bigfoot encounters, UFO sightings, or exotic rock rumors (“Jim Morrison is alive 'n' well, reborn as a corporate warrior/7-Eleven counter lackey/off the grid adventurer”). In other words, experiences and glimpses of something bigger, to speak about reverently, but not taken seriously, since – what were the odds that anybody would ever actually get to hear any of those so-called legendary platters?
Few bands started with such a promising bang, yet fewer still made the transition from hero to zero with such rapidity. I came of collecting age in a world where the infamous, in-concert snapshot, Metallic KO (1976), was the only Stooges album that you might even spot in a record bin – coming two years after their final breakup, even as their body of work languished in out of print limbo, curiosities to be seen, and maybe furtively enjoyed, but never actually heard.
Eventually, the world caught up -- somewhat. By the time I began rounding up the usual suspects in 1994-95 for my eventual MC5/Stooges retrospectives in DISCoveries, and Goldmine, the albums had finally become common currency (though, even then, workarounds persisted – hence, I found myself making do with a French import of The Stooges, after I'd snagged the other two albums). The notion of “Detroit rock” had finally become embraced as some sort of legitimate sub-genre, and highbrow rags like MOJO had begun publishing in-depth pieces – but that was as far as any power broker sitting behind their desk seemed prepared to go.
It's hard to imagine what followed, in hindsight, when I spoke to the Stooges' perennial backbone of Ron and Scott Asheton, on their Ann Arbor turf. Although they were finally getting a bit more respect – and even royalties from their albums, God forbid – neither were enshrined in rock 'n' roll Heaven just yet. Scott was playing locally, with various bands – including Stand Fast, fronted by his sister, Kathy – while Ron was dividing his energies between his major post-Stooge band, Dark Carnival, and trying to get various movie projects off the ground.
The phenomena that led to their renewed prominence – the Stooges reunion (2003), and their induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame (2010), along with the resurgence of the Detroit music scene, and Stooge music featuring prominently in commercial – lay a good half-decade or more off, light years away, in pop culture terms.
The notion of an academic exploration of the Stooges' music and legacy seemed equally far-fetched – what light, if any, could you shed on the lyrical mindset behind the likes of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” – yet that's exactly what Michael S. Begnal has done in his new book, The Music And Noise Of The Stooges, 1967-1971: Lost In The Future (Routledge), which offers a fresh look at the band, while trying to pierce through the fog of myth that surrounds so much of their history, as you'll see shortly. (Full disclosure: I provided full transcripts of my interviews with the Ashetons, because when you're involved – you're involved.) For availability, or other information, visit www.routledge.com.
Drawing on the critiques of scholars like Theodor Adorno, and interviews with many of the principals – notably, the MC5's guiding light, John Sinclair – The Music And Noise Of The Stooges raises the curtain on the collision between art and commerce, “with the band's 'noisy' music and singer Iggy Pop's 'bizarre' onstage performances confusing their label, Elektra Records,” its back cover blurb notes. “As Begnal argues, the Stooges embodied a tension between market forces and an innovative, avante-garde artistic vision, as they sought to liberate audiences from passivity and stimulate an imminent joy in the rock 'n' roll moment.”
All of these subjects definitely seemed worthy of deeper examination, once I read The Music And Noise Of The Stooges, which we then explored in our interview (3/09/22) – so crank up, drink up, rear up, and proceed accordingly. The highlights follow, as always, for your reading pleasure below.
PT. I: “THEY ALL HAD A VISION”
CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): So let's get down to it, I guess, without further ado. Let's start with the level of fandom. I've told you my story. When I started, Metallic KO – for a long time – was the only Stooges record you could get, let alone find.
The Stooges were a name that everybody seemed to know, but not a lot of people got to hear. So what was your journey through all this? How did you find them, and how did that affect you?
MICHAEL BEGNAL (MB): I was into the Ramones when the first album came out in '76, when I was 10, thanks to a family friend, who brought the record to our house. At first, it was the Sex Pistols and the Ramones. The Sex Pistols had covered “No Fun,” so, I knew that was a Stooges song, even though I hadn't heard the original yet. And that Sid Vicious album, Sid Sings, he does “Search & Destroy.”
CR: That's right.
MB: So I was like, “Those are really good songs,” and I got Raw Power. I got it in New York City – we would go to New York a couple of times a year, when I was a kid, when I grew up in Central Pennsylvania. It was '81, and I got an import version of Raw Power, which was the '77 reissue, with the British reissue.
So I was into that, Raw Power, even before the Elektra ones. Of course, as you can tell from the book, the Elektra ones were the ones that really became the big ones for me, probably even more than Raw Power, obviously. They're all great. So I was into Raw Power, and then – was it '82, before the Elektra albums were finally rereleased?
CR: I'm gonna say '83, because that's when I remember buying Fun House, in the summer of. I'd gotten Raw Power during my high school days, at the mall, of all places – in the bargain bin, at Boogie Records!
MB: Yeah. Well, I bought 'em in '84. I remember getting into the first album, in the summer of '84, and I kept seeing the guys in Black Flag, Henry Rollins and Chuck Dukowski, at least a couple of times, mention that Fun House was the shit.
So I got that rerelease of Fun House, which isn't the gatefold, and then I had all three of the studio albums. Then I started getting into them, and I picked up Metallic KO around that time, too.
CR: Wow, so your trajectory's completely opposite of mine, basically.
MB: Yeah. It was just what was out there, you know? I'd heard of them because of the Sex Pistols. I knew it was Iggy Pop – Iggy Pop was having solo albums out, that I'd heard. I had the Soldier album, probably got that around the same era, and the same time I got Raw Power.
Also, there was an Iggy Pop Autodiscography in Trouser Press, in '83. And that had him talking about all the Stooges albums, so I was aware of them from that, too.
CR: And, of course, he was continuing to play the Stooges material live.
MB: Yeah. I mean, I didn't see him live at that time. But you'd hear the name the Stooges mentioned, any time you heard something about Iggy Pop.
CR: So, what made you decide, to write about them, and especially, to take the route that you did? At the time – in purely commercial terms – they didn't achieve a lot, really. As you point out yourself, they only really got welcomed back to the party, once their influence spread enough, to the point where they had something to sell.
MB: Right, right, yeah. I mean, that's one of the main arguments of the book, is the way that capitalism drives all this stuff. It's not like they were welcomed back, or got into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, simply because of three influential albums, and then, nothing.
But yeah, why? I mean, it was one of those things, where it was, “Oh, they influenced the Sex Pistols, and all these punk bands. I guess I should check them out.” But then, it's the power of the band itself, and I don't know, it just got me at the right time, I guess.
When I started getting into Fun House, in '84, I guess I'd just turned 18. Fun House was one of those albums, that it grows on you over time. You keep listening to it, and hearing different things in it, and hearing it differently. In fact, when I first played Fun House, I was like, “Nah, I didn't like it quite as much as the first album, or Raw Power.”
But yeah, something's weird about the sound, it's got that big echoey metallic sound, as opposed to the, sort of fuzztone sound I'd been getting into on the first album. But then, I kept listening to it, and it started to grow on me, and it just becomes too powerful to deny, I guess.
CR: Oh, OK, that makes sense, I think.
MB: Actually, it is kind of funny, though, because a lot of the ideas that I've had about the Stooges' music over the decades, all came out in the book – but I wouldn't have had the wider critical context, or the theoretical context, to kind of somehow connect all these dots. That's something I've only been able to do later.
CR: So basically, the book is your attempt to put all these things into perspective, not only for yourself – but those that don't know a lot about the Stooges, or just maybe only know the name, and a song or two, and that might be it, them.
MB: Yeah, right. Well, I wanted to really bring out their importance beyond just, “Oh, it's cool music,” or, “I really dig them.” I wanted to do more than just describe them, but rather, to actually analyze, to the extent that I could. And honestly, I wanted to do more than just do, yet another Stooges fan type of book.
I wanted to take it somewhere else, and bring this critical context to it, and analyze it, in this wider context. Because I think, a lot of people actually tend to see the Stooges as separate from any context. “They were just out there, doing their own thing, and they were ahead of their time.”
I'm arguing back against that idea, throughout the book. And why that subtitle, Lost In The Future? Because a lot of people see them as ahead of their time, or influences on the stuff that happened later, and not that many people really stop to think about them in their own moment, in their own context.
CR: Even if they didn't sound like everybody else, to say the least. But what contributed to that impression? I mean, why did people take it like that?
MB: Yeah. I mean, I guess you could understand that with Fun House. That doesn't really sound like a lot of other stuff that was happening. The first album, it's almost – you listen to it, and it sounds very '60s now, with the wah pedal, and the fuzz tone, and all that.
When you really stop to think about the musical structures, the things that they're doing, they really are connected to the blues, and they really are connected to rhythm 'n' blues.
But that's one of the points I make in the book, is that that had gone out by the late '60s. That's when you had all of these players trying to be real slick, and do concept stuff. So that basic rock 'n' roll sound had come to be seen as passe.
CR: Yeah, and I'm reminded of when I interviewed Jimmy Silver for my Goldmine piece. You may remember the quote, when they opened for Ten Years After, the guys passed the time in the dressing room, making fun of them, and doing impressions of them, calling them Five Minutes Later?
MB: Yeah, Ten Years After, they're the villains for a part of the book. Even in your Stooges article, at that period in '69, the Stooges played with them a few times, and really hated them, and hated their audience, and their audience hated them, so Ten Years After gets to be the villain. But they do sum up what we were just saying, I mean, because Ten Years After was playing old rock 'n' roll covers, and they were doing some blues rock, but they were doing it in a slick way.
CR: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Well, and of course, to what extent does the influence – and the isolation, or the relative isolation of the Midwest – play into all this?
MB: Well, I mean, again, they weren't isolated from everything. The Detroit sound was its own thing, and they were part of that, for sure. It's not like they weren't original, in any way. Of course, even in the Detroit scene, they were seen as weirdos, or whatever, musically.
CR: Again, to go back to this way that the Stooges are seen – of course, you've got the Ed Ward review, which is awfully condescending, to put it mildly: “Yeah, this is pretty crappy, you might see something in this, God knows why.”
MB: Yeah, I think the line is, “But the fun is infectious.” He spends most of the article slagging them, but then condescends to be like, “But it's fun.”
CR: But I guess, one of the other things that I thought of, did that reputation get baked in, in some ways?
MB: Yeah, I think that's true. That's also easy, to critics like Ed Ward – and that is a condescending review – but a lot of critics really liked them, like Bangs, and Marsh, and all those guys. They got a lot of really good reviews.
Sometimes, the good reviews were still driven by that, “It's a clear degeneracy,” kind of thing. But they got a lot of good press. Yeah, I mean, maybe Elektra could have done more, maybe they just didn't resonate, to an extent.
But one of the points I'm making in the book, and that other people are making – that was a big thing that Sinclair was telling me. He said the Doors got big, because Elektra pumped a lot of money into promoting them. And they didn't do that for the Stooges.
CR: No, and one thing occurred to me when I read your book, that popped into my head was, you could even see that, in the way they were signed – because the MC5 got a $20,000 advance, and the Stooges only got five [$5,000]. Kind of underscoring their position as not just an underdog, but almost as an afterthought.
MB: Yeah, right, and that's why you got to thank Danny Fields for getting them signed at all. But yeah. I mean, Elektra thought the MC5 was going to be the next big thing.
CR: For sure. A bit more conventional, in that sense. So what do you think was the key factor, then, in the Stooge evolution, between the first album, and Fun House? Two albums, that are worlds apart – hard to believe it's the same group of people behind them, too, really.
MB: I know. I mean, I think they had a vision. This is the thing – the standard narrative is, “Iggy had the vision. The other guys were kind of just of his backup band.”
CR: They were there for the ride.
MB: Yeah, but I think they all had a vision. At the time, they were really locked in, as a unit, and it wasn't just Iggy. I don't meant to discount, Iggy, obviously, but I mean, I think Ron's vision is just as important as Iggy's. And all the guys were – I mean, they were playing all the time.
Yeah, I mean, it's hard to put your finger – it's hard to analyze that sort of intangible thing that happens, when an artist takes their art seriously, and puts their vision into effect, what's the chemistry behind that?
It's tough to quantify, but I think they had a collective vision, that they wanted to take a giant leap forward, and made it happen together, by playing all the time.
CR: Or, as Ron said, “We learned our trade by playing live.” And that, I think, is pretty much on the money.
MB: Yeah. And I guess Ron practiced a lot. There was that CREEM piece on the Detroit bands, where it talks about Ron practicing with Bill Cheatham. Bill was his understudy, and it talked of Bill being on Fun House, but then, he wasn't. But I guess Ron was teaching Bill the rhythm parts, so that he could work on his solos. So there was a lot of thought and effort and practice behind it.
PT. II: “JUST GO WITH THAT SOUND...”
CR: Well, and of course, when I finally got to hear the complete Fun House sessions... I spent, what was it? The whole summer of 2018, driving around in my car – which, I guess, is a very Stooge-like thing to do, and listen to these things – and what struck me about it was, it seemed much more disciplined and thought out, than we all had been led to believe, all these years.
MB: Right, even by the band members themselves – whether they just forgot some stuff, or they were purposefully, or maybe subconsciously, trying to create this myth: “It was almost all first takes.” No, it wasn't! There was, thirtysomething takes of “Loose,” or whatever.
CR: Forty-four. I mean, I spent a whole day or two, listening to those. It was almost like highway hypnosis, at a certain point.
MB: Yeah, yeah, I know. I've listened to the whole thing through twice now, and some of the other selections, just a number of other times. The last time I listened it through was in the early stages of writing this book, and I actually was driving back from a trip. And it was a 10-hour trip, and I listened to four of those (CDs), straight through, on that drive.
MB: Yeah. I know, but right, they were really intent on playing them, over and over and over, till they got the one that just felt right.
CR: Which is, in an odd way, very similar to the way that the Rolling Stones did stuff.
MB: Yeah, right, right. I've read a bit about the Exile On Main Street sessions, anyway. But with Fun House, the whole idea that it was basically just a live album just turned out, not really true.
I mean, in a way, yeah, because Iggy was singing live through a PA, but there's overdubs on almost all the songs, and it wasn't like the Kingsmen doing “Louie, Louie,” where they're like, “All right, go in. We wanna do a practice one.” “OK, go ahead.” “Wait, that's it, it's done.” “What?”
CR: Exactly. And then, of course, you have Steve Mackay as the X factor, which dramatically changed the sound.
MB: Yeah, absolutely. Steve Mackay's great on that. You know, it's weird – a couple of the reviews that came out, like Dave Marsh's review, and I think, Jazz & Pop, said something like, “These guys have a few things to work out yet, but I'm sure they'll end up being really good.” And it's like, “What? What are you talking about?” His playing is great on that album.
CR: Yeah, for sure, so you even still see a little of that, “What is this?” kind of stuff dogging the proceedings, with comments like that.
MB: Yeah, right.
CR: So, with that being said, when Iggy's asked, “How do you think they're going to take it?” He says, “I think the kids are going to flip out of their minds.” And some of them did, obviously, but not nearly enough. Why not?
MB: I don't know. I mean, again, part of it could be marketing, or lack of marketing. Like Iggy always says, he wanted to make music that he could get off on, the way that he got off on music that he really dug. So I think that they did that, and why that didn't resonate at the time for others, I don't know. I mean, it definitely doesn't sound like a lot of stuff that was happening out there.
One of the things that I'm arguing in the book is, by 1970, and really, a little earlier – but definitely by 1970 – the big thing in rock was going back to your country roots, like the Byrds, and the Dead. I mean, I like the Byrds, and I can even listen to Grateful Dead stuff, once in a blue moon, and the Band.
CR: They were the apostles of that, of course.
MB: Yeah. That kind of thing was getting really big around '69-'70, and the Stooges just didn't fit into that kind of zeitgeist.
CR: You also mention, of course, the '50s revival was starting to gather steam, too. And obviously, they weren't anything like that.
MB: Not really. I mean, they had the Bo Diddley beat on the first album, but they weren't overtly doing that in a recognizable way. So that couldn't be their shtick, or whatever. They were using elements of all that kind of music, but not in a recognizable way.
CR: Of course, as you point out, in the book – your here and now isn't working, so you're going back to some imagined halcyon time. And you can recreate this on your terms, and it's not a very exciting choice, right?
MB: Yeah. I mean, it's the narrative of authenticity. You think of the Dead and the Byrds: “We did that psychedelic thing, we were into the drugs, and we were into all that weird stuff. But now, we're into this real thing,” which is going back to, like you said, this idealized version of Americana.
CR: So I guess the Stooges didn't fit into anything like that, did they?
MB: No, I mean, it's that nostalgia thing that you see happening at the end of the '60s, and they definitely weren't doing that. And Alice Cooper wasn't doing that, at the time, and Alice Cooper was able to get gigs in '71.
CR: Well, because he, of course, and his merry men shed their artsier, psychedelic leanings on their first two albums, which – at times – sounds quite club-footed, to put it mildly, but it's entertaining, in that sense.
You're hearing them try all these weird things. But then, suddenly, when Bob Ezrin comes into the picture, it gets much more focused in the pop-rock realm, with some heavier guitars, basically.
CR: Yeah, I know, just poppy enough to get on the radio, but also hard rock enough, in a more structured way than their first two albums, that they're able to still keep their hard rock cred, or maybe even their new sound, hard rock cred.
They adopted Detroit, and I guess, Detroit kind of adopted them, and they took on that Detroit hard rock sound, and then, Bob Ezrin gave them just enough of that pop edge to get on the radio, which the Stooges couldn't do. The Stooges couldn't get on the radio, really.
CR: Not really. Even though, again, you go back to the first album, the shorter songs are are all pretty much to the point, and catchy, on their own terms.
MB: Yeah. Well, that's true.“1969” is pretty catchy, right. Just listen to it, on its own terms – it's catchy enough, that if there was promotion push from the label, who knows? That's what Danny Fields was arguing in that letter that's reproduced in the Jeff Gold book, where he writes to Jac Holzman, trying to tell them to do just that.
CR: Yeah. He's arguing, “You're missing the boat here, if you don't do this.” Although, when we get to Fun House, and they try the single there, what's telling is – the full-out assault, it's all edited out, before your ears are allowed to get to that point.
MB: Yeah, I think they edited the solo on “Down On The Street,” right?
CR: Yes. Well, there's that. And then, of course, you have that brief experiment, where Don Gallucci is doing his best Ray Manzarek impression...
MB: Yeah. That never came out at the time, though.
CR: No, but it's almost as if somebody upstairs felt, “We need to hedge our bets a little bit, so we can sneak this strange cargo across the counter.”
MB: Right. Yeah, like, “Is there anything you can do with this, make it a little more radio-friendly, or something?”
CR: “A little more presentable?” I mean, I have no complaints with what he played. What he played is appropriate. But it just ends up sounding like the Doors with a heavier guitar, maybe.
MB: Yeah, it does, it does.
CR: And it loses their identity, and I thought, “I'm glad that this didn't come out, because that would have been the wrong direction to go in,” as far as I'm concerned.
MB: Yeah. That totally would have.
CR: As you say, part of your book is how capitalism drives this stuff, this push, and this pull. They were able to get signed, and yet, from the very beginning, there almost seems to be this hesitancy on the part of the Elektra regime, to fully embrace what they have taken on.
MB: Yeah, exactly.
CR: So, from your perspective, when do things start to go south? When does it all go “pear-shaped,” as they say in the UK?
MB: I mean, in terms of just working with the label, or...
CR: Or even, in terms of the promise of the group, especially, because there's a lot of talent in in the original band, right? Scott's a terrific drummer, always knows what to play.
CR: And Ron, need we say more? Ron is the guy that launched a thousand ships on guitar. And Fun House, for my mind, is Dave Alexander's peak as a bass player, really.
MB: Yeah, well, I mean... They fired him, what was it, three months after that, or something?
CR: I know. But, I mean, “Dirt,” and “Fun House,” it's that big, booming sound of his, that really drives the song along.
MB: Yeah, I know. You can really hear the difference between the two albums, the two Elektra albums. Dave's playing on the first album is fine, and he does a couple interesting little things, here and there, but like all the other guys, something happened in that year, where you hear his playing on Fun House, and it's just like, “Whoa, that bottom!” And his playing is doing things, like bending the notes in and out, and it's a heavy bass sound. And yeah, that group, with Steve Mackay? Just incredible.
I mean, this isn't that original for me to say, but I think the promise went south, once they realized that Fun House wasn't really selling. And then, of course, that's when the heroin came in, big time. So Fun House came out in August 1970, and a couple, few months later, it didn't seem to be going very well. The habits started getting out of hand.
CR: Yes, exactly. Although, as we see in that final chapter – and you make that point quite well – they almost pull it out of the ashes, even on the edge of oblivion.
MB: Right, right.
CR: There's all those songs, poorly recorded as they are, on that boxed set – which is the only evidence that we have of them, right? Yet it suggests, had they been allowed to, they could have made a pretty compelling third album, that – again – would have sounded nothing like the other two.
MB: Right. No, I mean – yeah, I think it would have been a great album. It's weird to me the way, more recently, that Iggy and James both have been, I don't know, critical of that material.
Maybe it's just the recordings, where it's hard for anybody who's not really into it, to just tune into the murk of the recordings. Obviously, it puts a lot of people off, but when you really do tune in, through the murk, the material itself – it's amazing stuff. It really would have been a great third album.
Then again, it would have been, probably not that marketable, which – aside from the drugs – was Elektra's issue. But who knows? There's a couple of pieces in there, that maybe could have been catchy enough for a single, or whatever.
CR: Yeah. Well, “Big Time Bum,” when I first heard it on YouTube – I thought, “This sounds like, if you had taken Mick and Keith and company, and fed them Mexican super meth (laughs). It's the Rolling Stones on meth, really.” But it has that raunchy rhythm 'n' blues-style drive, that you don't hear in other bands of that time period.
MB: Yeah, right. I mean, it's kind of a piece with “I Got A Right,” in terms of the tempo, and so on. Just a year later, the Stones are doing “Rip This Joint,” which is about the same speed, but a little more rockabilly-fied, there.
CR: And a little more cleaned up, obviously, to say the least.
MB: Yeah, yeah.
CR: Yeah, I've seen some of the comments on YouTube: “But I can't make out the words!” I think, “Just let the music carry you along. The music tells you what the mood's going to be, really.” It's not an issue for me, and it's not an issue for you, obviously.
MB: Right, right. Yeah, it's not, and that's a good point. Obviously, you can analyze lyrics as lyrics, and write about their meaning.
But there's another level, where you're just hearing the whole thing, and the lyrics is part of it, but it's a sound that's not analyzable, in the same way as just getting at the meaning of lyrics. And like you said, you can just go with that sound.
CR: To go back to the subtitle of your book – 1971 is where you draw your line of demarcation. Because there was a third album, Raw Power, and a different guitarist, in James Williamson – and Ron, of course, infamously gets shifted over to bass, and there's that whole drama.
CR: So why is it not included in your line of thought? Why is that not the Stooges, or is just, Iggy & The Stooges?
MB: Well, it is the Stooges. I'm not even making a value judgment, about which is the better version – I think they're both great. I felt like stopping, and the band broke up there (in 1971). It's a natural stopping point.
There's a trajectory to the Elektra years, from when they started, to '71, that I track in the book. I think it's convenient for me, to those arguments that I'm making, because it does allow you to focus on the Stooges, how they were treated by Elektra, and their attempts to make the third album, and then, the breakup, and the collapse. It makes sense to follow that arc. And they pick up again, and the arc kind of repeats itself.
CR: Except, this time, it's [MainMan overseer Tony] DeFries, and Columbia, and not Jac Holzman, and Elektra, right?
MB: Right, exactly, but it's kind of the same thing, although the arc peaks and dips much more quickly, in the Raw Power years. But yeah, it seems like, the '67-'71 period is like a unit in their history, and they break up – it's a clean break.
At the time, that was it. Well, actually, there is the thing in the White Panther paper. They announce the breakup of the Stooges, and it does quote Iggy saying, he might use the name for something in the future. So that actually ended up happening, of course, but at the time, even Iggy and James, none of them knew what was going to happen.
The band was broken up. Iggy was like, “Yeah, I'll go to New York, and hang out in Danny Fields's apartment, and see if I can meet some people, and try to get something going.” But he had no idea that he was gonna be reforming the Stooges.
CR: Right, there were no guarantees.
MB: Yeah, so it was a clear break. The band was done. So, I mean, it seemed like a good stopping point. I guess, I don't know if this'll work out – it might not, so I'm not making any promises – but I've started trying to write an intro for a book, on the '72-'74 years.
CR: Yeah, because you could almost make the case for treating that on its own, just like you treated the Elektra era, really.
MB: Yeah, I think so. Yeah, definitely.
CR: We'll see how it turns out. Was there anything that surprised you about the Stooges, in all your research? Or something you learned, that you didn't know before?
MB: I mean, there's a lot of myths about the band out there, that aren't really true, and a lot of information keeps getting repeated, as if it were true, but it's not.
CR: Such as?
MB: Well, I knew you were gonna ask me that. I mean, one, which we've kind of already covered, is that it's all Iggy.
But really, they wouldn't have been who they were, without all four of those guys contributing. And Ron, especially, I think, didn't initially get as much credit for the vision of the Stooges' sound, as he does now... I'm not saying, that's all thanks to me, obviously.
CR: Right, right.
MB: But, boy, I think one of the myths is – when did the heroin start? Some people think Fun House is a heroin album, and it's not. OK, Iggy may have sampled it one time, in San Francisco, but even that, Iggy denies that.
And it was late summer, or early fall, really, when that stuff started. So Fun House is definitely not a heroin album. And then, “Loose,” “I'll stick it deep inside,” is definitely not about shooting up.
CR: No. Well, I never thought that, even when I first heard it.
MB: Yeah, I know. I never thought that, either, but I've seen people saying that. “What? And then, that makes you like it? That's why you like it?” You're crazy.
CR: Maybe that says more about them, than it does about us. OK. What else? Well, people treating them separately from everything that's happened, we've kind of covered that.
MB: Separately, yeah, I mean, and that's one of the main arguments of the book, that we've kind of touched on, this idea that they were punk before there was punk. Well, punk was already being talked about in 1970. It's not exactly the same as punk as we know it now, but...
MB: So they weren't proto-punk – that's a term that I hate.
CR: You dislike that, you make that pretty clear, I think.
MB: Yeah, yeah, it's just a retroactive term. It doesn't really make a lot of sense. It's like, “Hey, guys, I've got a great idea for what we should call it! Let's call it proto-punk, and then, in 1977, there'll be some British bands that...”
CR: “That'll pick up on it...”
MB: Yeah (laughs). “And they'll call it punk,” even though it was already being called punk in America, from 1970 onwards. This is something, that if I'm able to manage to write book II, that I want to get into more, is because the punk thing actually does start to take off, in around '72, '73, even before the CBGB's scene.
The term starts getting used a lot more often, and people are defining it a little bit more specifically, than just like, an odd mention here or there, than something like Lester Bangs does there, or something.
PT. III: “THEY DID CREATE SOMETHING ORIGINAL”
CR: What is the thing that you want people to take away most from your book, in general, and the Stooges, in particular? What do you hope they understand?
MB: I would like people to understand that the Stooges were great artists, and that they thought about their art, and that they had a vision for it, and that they were pretty uncompromising in their vision, and it wasn't just a bunch of, “Oh, I don't know, let's just play some crazy rock 'n' roll.”
Like Ron Asheton says in that interview – I think that's a filmed interview – “People would see us onstage, and doing all this stuff, smashing things, and they'd be like, 'Oh, it's the Stooges, just being these crazy guys.'” But they actually were also very serious about their art, and they knew what they were doing.
It wasn't just random chance events that led them to do what they did, and I think they really wanted to create their own genre of music, that would be original. But I think that they thought that they could also be commercially viable somehow.
MB: In retrospect, I don't know, maybe that seems a little far-fetched. But then again, that's the other part of the book is, we like to think that all this stuff is just random, “Oh, you know, people's tastes, and it was just ahead of their time.”
But the way that the music industry has a stranglehold on this stuff, and shapes people's tastes, and basically tells them what to like, plays a big factor in it. And the industry chose not to allow the Stooges to be a viable band for very long.
CR: Yeah, I guess, Culture Industry: 1, Stooges: 0, and all roads lead back to Paul Butterfield, at some point, is the box score, right?
MB: Yeah (laughs). I mean, I guess I didn't really talk too much about Butterfield. I mean, of course, there's the famous connection to Sam Lay, and Iggy's time in Chicago. But yeah, I know, the Stooges were pretty into those early Butterfield albums, as I recall.
CR: Exactly. Of course, you had the band that Iggy was in before the Stooges, the Prime Movers, who were even more overtly influenced by that kind of material.
MB: Yeah, that's another one of the myths. Because Iggy tells that story about coming back from Chicago: “I'm not gonna do the blues anymore, and I'm create something totally original.” So they did create something original, but it is actually, also, connected to the blues. There's blues stuff and blues material throughout the Stooges, but it's just not in that recognizable eight-bar form...
CR: That we're all used to.
MB: That we call the blues. That's not a completely original idea, either, but it's something that I think needs to be reiterated. There's a really great book on punk that just came out, pretty recently, by Evan Rapport, on punk. And he makes that point, too, that these early punk bands were a lot more connected to blues roots than we realize. It's called Damaged: Musicality and Race in Early American Punk.
CR: Wow. That's quite a mouthful, but I think that sounds promising.
MB: He's approaching it from a musicological standpoint, and also, a sociological standpoint. He transcribes, in musical notation, some of these songs – and then shows you how the early Stooges, and the New York Dolls, and he writes a lot about the MC5, as well – he shows you the connection to the blues roots that these bands have. Even the Ramones, who pretty overtly claimed they didn't have any blues influences, in fact, do.
CR: Sure. Well, they're using the classic I-IV-V form, again and again and again...
MB: Right, right.
CR: That's the early template that sets their style, right?
MB: Well, “Blitzkrieg Bop,” that totally uses the I-IV-V.
CR: So that's what you want them to take away, that's what you want them to know. That there's more here than meets the eye, and what you've been told is not necessarily true.
MB: Yeah, I mean, pretty much. On the one hand, yeah, there's an intangible quality that serious artists have, where they're taking that stuff, and transmuting it into something new – but it's not as if they're completely sui generis, as if they're not connected to history, or their own time, and place. Because, of course, they are.