Monday, December 05, 2016

BOOK REVIEW BY BRAD KOHLER! TOTAL CHAOS: THE STORY OF THE STOOGES by Jeff Gold (editor), Iggy Pop and Five Others (Third Man Books, 2016)

In conjunction with the GIMME DANGER documentary it seems there is a rush to record history before the Grim Reaper is not foiled again in his attempts to pluck the highest profile Stooge from the earth. So, yeah, Iggy lays it all out and I am sure if not for him those irascible Asheton boys would have done nothing but get fired at bag boy jobs for putting the bread at the bottom and squashing it. And yes, Iggy's myth-making with the mental picture of Ron Asheton traipsing down the steps in the band house to snatch lit cigarettes from the mouths of comatose junkie co-Stooges before the place caught fire.

At one point Iggy tells of getting off on acid with Dave Alexander and checking out the trees as they walked along a road. It was the first trip for both, and Iggy remembers Dave saying "things should always look this way" or words to that effect, which shot a psychic shudder up Pop's spine what with the vestige of straight lower middle class upbringing still anchoring him deep within. He knew intuitively that a comment such as that almost always comes from someone not long for this world.

Amidst other recollections triggered by the generally on-target author, some stirred by rare photos presented to Iggy, there are lots of old posters (Stooges, Chubby Checker and lost-to-time openers Lobotomy anyone?) and ephemera like Electra contracts and correspondence. And look! There's Scott Asheton playing that fifty-pound oil drum at a Psychedelic Stooges gig when Iggy was still rocking the white face and perm. A letter from Danny Fields to Electra pleads for them to spare no expense in trying to break the first LP big time. Contracst this world beater optimism with the Fields who would soon enough be receiving calls like the one informing him all the band's equipment was destroyed when the twelve-foot van tried to go under a ten-foot underpass. Fields wasn't even with Electra at that point, but was still trying to plug ever-widening leaks in the dam that threatened to break and deluge the band he believed in so much.

My favorite photos are from a gig in a high school gym. Iggy's down in the audience natch, and the front of his jeans are open to expose bright red underwear. The kids around him are mostly trying to look cool and non-plussed, but you can detect bug-eyed disbelief.

Looking at the photos, I was struck by the following imaginary scenario: What  if one of those students, a kid from a strict family who forbade rock 'n roll in the house had snuck into the gig under the guise of staying after school for debate team practice? (Which, ironically, Iggy took part in once.) Of course this kid osmosed all the clandestine rock he could, sneaking a transistor radio into bed at night with the volume turned low. One time his parents were gone and he got to see American Bandstand and some flavor of the month band politely answer some questions from  Dick Clark. What could he have made of the almighty Stoogian roar--amplified by typical gymnasium acoustics? What could he have made of this front man who seemed on the lam from an asylum?

Years go by, and, out in the boonies, he starts a family, lives paycheck to paycheck. He doesn't have money for non-essentials like records. Oh, he listens to rock 'n roll on the radio, but he's never going to hear the Stooges there. Unlike his classmates, who also had never seen or heard anything like the Stooges that day, he has no context to put them into, never hears the records, where some sense can be made of the blitzkrieg attack. Decades alter, as an old man, he tries to tell someone about the show, which has stuck with him all these years. How it gave him the courage to smoke some dope, feel up some chick he had his eye on, grow his hair over his ears and run away when things got too heavy. I can picture him...gesturing with his hands, trying to put into words how liberating that crazy noise was, and finally trailing off. It would be like trying to describe a U.F.O. encounter.

Yeah, what with the documentary and the book it feels like the epitaph is being carved into stone, and that may soon enough come to pass, but THERE AIN'T NO GRAVE DEEP ENOUGH TO HOLD THE STOOGES!


Puddinhead said...

That flying object was no UFO, that was the Iggster crowd surfing! Describing a UFO encounter would seem infinitely easier than describing an early Stooges gig that took place in your H.S. gymnasium. What H.S. was that anyway? The biggest gig my school ever landed back then was John Sebastian (sans the Lovin Spoonful) who did his Welcome Back Kotter theme song as an encore.

Anonymous said...

Haven't got my copy yet (there seems to be some hold-up with the UK shipment). Despite that, I confidently predict this Ig-centric effort will be surpassed by 'One Night At The Whisky 1970', another Stooges coffee table book coming early next year. 200+ photos of the band before and during the Whisky performance that yielded the images for the Funhouse cover. Some boss interviews in the next book too (Danny Fields, Jac Holzman, Mikael Maglieri [son of the Whisky owner] etc.) - much better than the bozos who pad out the Total Chaos book.