When James Osterberg (better known as Iggy Pop) and brothers Ron and Scott
Asheton sat down with Rolling Stone's David Fricke for an interview at the
Austin Convention Center during the recent South by Southwest Music
Festival, a thousand devoted fans listened to the three musicians recall the
years they spent in one of the key bands that laid the foundation for punk
-- the Stooges.
Originally completed by bassist Dave Alexander, the group came together
in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1967. Iggy had been a drummer, he told the SXSW
crowd, and a year earlier, he'd moved to Chicago to gig in the blues clubs
and study under the great Sam Lay. "I'd play five sets a night, almost every
night of the week, and I'd get paid like 50 or 60 bucks a week, cash. But
the first time I set foot in one of those blues clubs, I was blown away by
the openly sexual nature of blues dancing. ... That had a great influence on
my later stage presence. Blues dancing, belly dancing and Native American
ritual dancing -- I'd say those are the three main ingredients of who I am
Iggy returned to Michigan determined to bring that raw sensuality to the
role of frontman. The sound of the group that initially called itself the
Psychedelic Stooges stemmed from the fact that the four musicians shared a
series of communal crash pads -- one of which would be dubbed "the Fun
House" -- living together, eating macrobiotic food, smoking pot, dropping
acid and listening non-stop to music ranging from raw '60s garage rock to
the Velvet Underground (whose John Cale produced the band's debut), James
Brown to Motown, and Indian ragas to free jazz.
All of it went into the mix -- "Creation often comes when you don't have
to do the pedestrian things that people expect of you," Iggy said -- and
although the group had no expectations of stardom, it signed to Elektra as
part of a package deal with its "big brother" band, the MC5. "We just sort
of walked in the door when nobody was looking."
Loud, abrasive and notoriously confrontational, the Stooges alienated
more listeners than they impressed. One was influential concert promoter
"We're up on stage, and I grabbed one of Scott's broken drums sticks and
started making marks on my skin, and these little specks of blood start
coming out," Iggy recalled. "By now, I'm getting p---ed at the total lack of
reaction in the crowd, so I jumped them. Then, after the concert, I walk up
to Frank Barcelona -- he had this 'Goodfellas' look about him -- and I'm
covered with specks of blood, wearing hot pants and moccasins, and he says
to me, 'Kid, I can't do anything for you, but I'm sure in 25 years, you'll
be relevant.' The man was a pro; he knew his business!"
Indeed, the "The Stooges" (1969) and "Funhouse" (1970) made little
commercial impact at the time, and aside from a few visionary critics like
Lester Bangs, the band was universally panned. "I never got upset,"
guitarist Ron Asheton claimed. "I thought bad reviews are better: More
people will come and see the Elephant Man." But starting with the punk
explosion of the mid-'70s and continuing to the present, the Stooges would
increasingly be viewed as one of the most influential and powerful bands in
The group never really split up, Asheton maintained -- "None of us ever
said, 'F--- you, I quit!' We just needed a break... a long break" -- and
now, 34 years after their last album, the Stooges have reunited, with former
Minutemen bassist Mike Watt filling in for Alexander, who died in 1975. And
they are touring behind a new album, "The Weirdness," recorded in Chicago
with producer Steve Albini.
Whether or not fans embrace the new disc, the band's catalog cannot be
denied, and few ever thought they'd have the chance to hear "I Wanna Be Your
Dog," "Loose" and "Funhouse" performed live. "Success to me is when people
know your songs," Iggy said. But he made it clear that the group hopes to
add to rather than coast on its legacy.
"I don't think people will like us if we're not as good as history."
We'll find out Sunday night.
'Raw Power' absent from Stooges' gig
In addition to the late bassist Dave Alexander, an integral part of the
Stooges' history is missing from the current tour: The set list focuses on
songs from the new album, and the group plays a handful of favorites from
its debut and "Funhouse." But don't expect anything from the 1975 album "Raw
Swamped by debt, drugs and exhaustion, the Stooges broke up -- or took
their first break, if you prefer -- in 1971. A year later, Iggy Pop signed
to MainMan Management, which handled David Bowie, who was a big fan. Swept
up in the glam movement, Iggy decided to reform the Stooges, though this
time, he co-wrote most of the songs with guitarist James Williamson.
Ron Asheton clearly resented this new partnership, though not enough to
pass on the opportunity when Iggy asked him to play bass beside his brother
Scott on drums in the studio and on tour. Now, with Asheton back in his
original role as guitarist, the group is essentially writing "Raw Power" out
of the Stooges story -- even though the album is every bit as essential and
possibly even better than its predecessors.
Originally produced by Bowie, who seemed to just turn every instrument up
until it peaked the meters, "Raw Power" was remixed by Iggy and remastered
by Columbia Records for a new CD edition in 1998, though I'm not alone in
preferring the original. "I personally think it sucked," Williamson said of
the new mix in a 2001 interview with the Web-zine I-94bar.com. "I like the
idea of what he tried to do, and I talked to him about it... but [Iggy]
didn't have a lot to work with. Bowie's not my favorite guy, but I have to
say that overall, I think he did a pretty good job."
IGGY AND THE STOOGES
• 7 p.m. Sunday
• Congress Theatre, 2135 N. Milwaukee
• Sold out