Posted June 22, 2004

The Barman's Rant
Occasional thoughts on Real Rock Action


Get Ready to Hate the Stooges. That's the topic that was gathering steam at the always compelling Garagepunk bulletin board. But why would you want to hate the Stooges?

I can understand it, back in the day. Having a half-naked Iggy sitting in your lap, smearing your girlfriend with peanut butter and yelling something about her Twat Vibe (TV) Eye wouldn't have held much (shake) appeal, even with the Asheton brothers providing the romantic soundtrack at stun volume. That accompaniment sure beats a violin serenade at a five-star restaurant where they charge you the price of a small African state for a plate of nuts and dried fruit, but at most of those places you only get assaulted when you don't pay the bill, not when you pay admission. Nor does the waiter drip silver hair dye all over your shirt. Plus, by his own admission, the Ig of old was a committed vegan who didn't have great personal hygiene habits. Dunno about you but I hate the smell of lentils in the morning - OR night.

Nevertheless, I would have loved to have been there in the '60s and '70s when Stoogerama was touching an enlightened few. People who were lucky enough to have seen the Stooges live and up close tell me it was a blast. I'd also love to be at one of the current shows. If you own an airline and have a free seat, you know where to find me. Now, if the world's passed you by in recent months or you have other ways of getting your vicarious thrills other than following the escapades of loud and crude rock and roll bands, the Stooges reformed for a festival in California earlier in 2003. Dates in Greater New York and Michigan (home turf) followed (with the latter being rescheduled, thanks to the Big Black Out). There are even impending dates in Europe and a couple of parties have been talking about securing the band for Australian shows.

Of course, the Stooges were the Kings of Confrontation back when an unrestrained exchange of energy between audience and band was not the done thing, at least when the transaction collapsed into mutual abuse. So "getting a rise" from punters is no new experience for Ig and Co. The murmurs of discontent among the chattering classes have their origins in the past and present live and studio experience that is the Stooges. While it's nowhere near the crescendo of reaction to the MC3 gathering in London, it's even spread as far as the No-Fun mailing list, where one brave subscriber had the temerity to call the Stooges were "fake" for not playing any songs pre-"Raw Power".

(Now, if you've been watching closely, you'll know that Ron Asheton and post-"Funhouse" material do not mix. He co-wrote most of the first two albums, the band imploded and everyone went their own way. By the time the Stooges had been reconstituted, the singer and James Williamson had cornered the co-credits and relegated the Ashetons to hired hand status. Along comes smack, and conspires with bad management and record company apathy to consign the New Stooges to Bozodom Great that "Raw Power" is, is it any wonder that Uncle Ron doesn't take to playing the more recent stuff?)

The grumbles really go to the broader question of reunions of bands that everybody thought were consigned to that great bargain bin in the sky. Specifically, this all relates to fan expectations. Despite having a bit to say about the MC3 thing in London (mostly about the non-sustainability of that venture and its one-off, "closed shop" nature rather than the philosophical aspects of revolutionaries jumping into bed with a sponsor - the latter is, for me, a yawn), I don't have objections to reunions, per se. With a few important caveats.

Firstly, money can be one thing - just not the only thing. I don't buy it that the Sex Pistols did it just for cash when they wheeled themselves out on the Filthy Lucre Tour a decade ago. (The current U.S. dates might be a different matter). I didn't go, much to my regret, because everyone I spoke to that did reckoned they played like a band with something to prove. Therein lies the rub.

Secondly, give due regard to the fans. They don't own you, but they're a goodly part of why you're up on the stage. To my mind, Townsend and Daltrey going out as the Who before the Ox was cold in his grave did not. I don't care how good the subsequent shows were (or weren't for that matter). That doesn't playing well-known songs, in modified cabaret form, to please mum and dad baby boomers.

One of my favourite moments at my least favourite Australian venue was a late '80s Sydney Entertainment Centre show by Neil Young and the Lost Dogs. (The Lost Dogs being part-Crazy Horse, part-other collaborators). The first half was given to singer-songwriter stuff. Come intermission, the piano and acoustic guitar were carted off. Neil came back on, plugged in and let loose an E chord that lifted the roof off the EntCent, causing gently-minded souls to squirm in their seats and insert fingers in the ears of themselves and their loved ones. Neil then shoulder-launched the missile of feedback that signalled the start of "Cocaine Eyes" (which is on the criminally under-released "Eldorado" mini-album, if you have $US100 and an eBay account).

OK, it wasn't a reunion as such, but you get the drift. As sweet revenge on those who would have made him play the hits ad infinitum, it would have been fitting. It probably wasn't, but he'd delivered the required payoff, and now he was gonna have fun.

Bottom line is that all these reunions have to be REAL. That doesn't mean with 100 percent original personnel - god knows people change over the years and very few retain the same values, motivations and skill levels that drove them 20 years previously. It's more that the original spirit has to be intact - and they must play like they mean it.

There have been plenty of recent reunions that have worked. Radio Birdman are a standout. Technically, they're better players than they were 20 years ago. Attitude-wise, it's all now about fun. No point in trying to shock - we've now seen it all and a singer spitting out a skull full of lambs' brains ain't going to do it in 2003. And they're knocking 'em dead in Europe. The Scientists' run through Australia 12 months ago was sublime (pity it hasn't yet translated to overseas dates, but you never know). Again, the emphasis was on the music. The Aussie X have had so many reformations, it's hard to keep track. The modus operandi remains direct and overwhelmingly good. The Buzzocks actually go from strength-to-strength, on the limited current oeuvre I've heard. Can't say thereีs too much wrong with the reconstituted Rocket From the Tombs either. Television are back after a decade away and the live stuff I've heard from audience tapes is stunning. Gimmickry never really was a part of their show, anyway.

But back to the Stooges and if some people are looking for this to fail, you can put that down, in part, to Iggy's chequered history as a solo artist. And let's be blunt: The last consistently good album he made was "New Values". Maybe that's instilled a fear of failing. If so, you can't blame him, what with the Stooges being installed in many people's personal Halls of Fame (if not the official one in Cleveland). Couple that with the obvious desire not to distract from his current career, throw in the odd off-the-cuff insult thrown in the direction of his old bandmates, and you can see what might have this from happening for so many years. The fact is that this is something that could have been gracefully managed in parallel with Ig's own solo endeavours is another issue.

The other problem at hand is the Dreaded Fourth Album Syndrome. By this, I mean the pressure to come up with new material, as a unit, almost 30 years after last playing together. The Stooges took it sensibly, getting together during the recording of the new Ig album and churning out a modest four songs together. (In fact, doing that was the precursor to the live reunion). Without the benefit of hearing the output, it can't have sounded too bad because all parties have made a commitment to an album of all new Stoogetunes in 2004. (And I'm cheating here - I have heard "Skull Ring", one of the new songs, on a boomy audience tape of the Stooges' first New York show at Jones Beach. Nice and primal, is the take on this tune). So far so good. And the real Stooges are a far better choice as Iggy collaborators than Sum 41, who will also appear on the new Ig solo platter.

The crux is that the Stooges produced three of the best albums in the history of all that's loud and rock, so how can a new one possibly measure up? Maybe it won't, but I'm willing to give them and anyone else who wants to have a go the benefit of the doubt. By not dwelling on it and letting what happens in the studio develop at its own pace, they all can do something worthwhile. The Dictators took more than two decades to follow up on "Blood Brothers" - and "DFFD" is a winner on all scores. The trick is letting the past be a road map and not a freeway with no exits, no chance to diverge. It's about managing expectations - as well as you can do that when they exist in the minds of fans. So give 'em a go. God knows we need bands like the Stooges now, more than ever. - The Barman