Book Review – Total Chaos – The Story of The Stooges / As Told by Iggy Pop

TOTAL CHAOS

Book review – By Madeline Bocaro

THIS IS THE STOOGES BIBLE!! Even the footnotes are revelations! There is something enlightening or hysterically funny in every single paragraph. The chronological story of the band –  old testament and new –  is told by Iggy Pop, prompted by intelligent questions and incredibly rare, unseen memorabilia (from the collections of the book’s author, Jeff Gold and others). It is the ultimate reclamation, entirely in Iggy’s voice, as he articulately, sincerely, candidly and reverently recounts his phenomenal memories of the Stooges’ legacy in this lengthy love letter to the band. And now at last, the world is ready!

We have all heard the monolithic stories that we thought were mythological; cowering audiences, Iggy cut up and bleeding, or covered in dripping wax (here he is holding the candle in his silver-gloved hands), covered in glitter at the Electric Circus, or smeared in various condiments. (Notoriously, Stooges fans brought edible arsenals to the gigs.) Total Chaos includes unseen photos and details that prove that it all really happened! There are also ads, posters, Polaroids, rare records, press releases, and contracts. There are remarkable concert and album reviews from odd publications of the time, with headlines such as, Punk Messiah of the Teenage Wasteland, Wiggy Iggy & The Stooges, Man, Beast or Superman?, Iggy Stooge “I Am The Audience”, and Lester Bangs’ Fun House review, Of Pop, Pies and Fun. I could write a book about this book!

The Stooges’ beautiful noise, which deterred most but intrigued many, was very well informed; Chicago Blues, The Fugs, Hendrix, John Lee Hooker, The Velvet Underground, Ravi Shankar, Balinese gamelan music, Tuareg medicine chants, Harry Partch… It starts with blenders, oil drums and vacuum cleaners, and develops into a buzz like no other! Throughout the book, Iggy pays homage to the band. “The Asheton brothers – those two wonderful people lived their whole lives in a trance…you get those Asheton guys locking in a certain way and it will put you into a kind of trance.” This is absolutely accurate! I have seen the Stooges during their reunion gigs, and witnessed their glorious sonic blast (akin to sticking your head inside a lawnmower tuned to the exact frequency that takes you to the planet that you yearn to visit). If you have ever been a willing participant in Iggy’s assault you have been anointed!

We’ve heard the tale many times, and it’s amazing to see an actual photo of young James Osterberg with blues drummer Sam Lay of the Butterfield Blues Band (who also played with Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters) upon Iggy’s excursion to Chicago while he was still in the Prime Movers. I’d envisioned Sam as a really old and weathered guy, but he kinda looks like Little Richard! Chicago is where Iggy picked up his drumming skills by osmosis, amongst ‘super fly people’ “…the music was just dripping from their fingers, and they knew they were real stars…they had a sense of movement, of motion in their whole lives. Everything they did made me understand there’s no such thing as sound. There’s just motion and you think you can hear it, and that’s music.”

There is also the history of Iggy as a pick-up drummer for The Crystals, The Shangri-Las and The Four Tops. Also support flyers/posters for the pre-Stooges Iguanas, the Prime Movers and (Psychedelic) Stooges and a double billing with Chubby Checker. Iggy’s superb memory recalls Chubby’s neat Afro, and exactly what he was wearing that night – ‘a 2-piece velour sky blue leisure suit with a great big medallion on a gold chain.’

Back from Chicago, Iggy, intuiting their greatness, summons the delinquent Asheton brothers (Ron & Scott) and Dave Alexander to form a band. “They constructed a whole comic fantasy. Iggy thought, “I can learn from these guys.” He teaches Scott to play drums, and lures the Ashetons with pot (as they could only play when stoned), knowing unconditionally that these were the ONLY guys who could complete his vision – he didn’t want actual musicians. Iggy was “a third mind between those three people. I could never really enter it. I was always the opposing thumb… I willed it into existence.” Iggy being a drummer was crucial to the Stooges sound. He suggested the rhythms through his dancing. “They were my best audience y’ know.”

A reprint of an old Crawdaddy article cites Iggy saying, “I just wanted ‘dudes who understand motion, who had a sense of comedy and frugality in music.”

About Dave Alexander’s improv bass style, Iggy recalls, “He’s just looking at the strings and going, ‘I think I’ll just go over here and see what happens….having fun amusing himself, which makes the music special’ A real musician will never do that.”

The book contains countless humorous tales about the band’s excessively druggy communal living situation in Stooge Manor (the Fun House), complete with photos of the rooms, especially Iggy’s messy bedroom.

A big revelation: although he was drugged and crazed, Iggy was the organizer, because the rest of the band was in even worse shape!!! Iggy was the guy on the phone with mangers, PR, scouting out connections, contacts, food and drugs – yes, in HIS condition! He was like the ‘dad’ of the fatherless group, who lost their dads at a young age.

There are many details of when the Stooges played at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom twenty-two times in 1968, doing free benefit gigs as protégés of the MC5 prior to their first album’s release – two weeks before Woodstock in 1969.

Danny Fields’ discovery of the band is detailed, and the resulting Elektra Records contract is pictured. The simultaneous signing of The Stooges and The MC5 (10/4/68) is explored in detail. This leads to the recording of the first album in a New York city studio in February 1969 with strange tales of John Cale producing, and the weirdly enchanting presence of Nico.

Author Jeff Gold offers that Jim Morrison of the Doors planned / timed his stage wildness. Iggy admits that “There must be consistency and openness in a performance – an arc.” Influenced by shirtless pharoas and Living Theater, Iggy’s best stage tips are;

 “Never give the audience a chance not to applaud…Don’t let them judge you! Feedback the instruments.”

 “Violate all conventions – I got very ill and crazy.”

While speaking about bleeding onstage at the Whisky, Iggy recounts, “I used to wanna get out of my skin.” He tells Jazz & Pop, That’s my whole struggle, to be able to excite myself.”

In a re-print of an article titled, I Am The Audience, Iggy explains – “…If the audience is not satisfying me or if the experience is not satisfying me, I consider it my place and it’s my joy as an artist to take that burden on myself.” 

When ensconced in a London hotel room with a wall of mirrors, Iggy realized, “I was gonna front a band, y’know, so you have to be narcissistically prepared.”

 An article called ‘Pluto Rock’ describes The Stooges perfectly!

“…They transmit raw power units which put everything in the vicinity under a total aura of subjugation.  It’s easy enough to see this force reflected in the faces of the spectators. Glazed, fearful eyes, gaping mouths drooling spittle, fear-stricken wincing faces cringing in anticipation of a direct physical assault from Iggy… You can hear it on their records, after every human effort has been made at vinylizing and filtering it down to ‘easy listening music.”

The most fascinating review is Warhol superstar Jackie Curtis’ conversation with Rita Redd in Gay Power about the Ungano’s gigs… (Feb. 21-24 1970). An excerpt:

RR: “(Iggy) wasn’t there for the audience’s benefit; the audience was there for HIS benefit, and he told them so. He commanded the audience exactly like the Master would have done in an S&M situation. He grabbed a little hippie girl and dragged her across the stage by her FACE just waiting for her to respond…she fled in terror back to her place in the audience…and when he’d taken complete command…he turned his back on them. Proceeding to stand there for 15 minutes while the people in the club just stared, their eyes were glued to Iggy – enthralled by his torso, his silver lame gloves and his ripped jeans…He slaps himself in the face but I think he does that for reaction because he isn’t really slapping himself, but really slapping them, and don’t forget he’s wearing those silver gloves, and that’s quite a different slap…People who were singled out for abuse were the ones who really dug it the most.”

 

We are taken through the Stooges recording sessions for Fun House in L.A. (April 1970) adding Steve Mackay on sax “for depth.” Iggy muses, “Jack White says he likes when I say ‘Take It Down’ during the song ‘Fun House’, and they don’t!”

 

Then we re-visit the televised Cincinnati Pop Festival (June 13, 1970) –  the first stage walk ever!  Iggy climbs atop the crowd on two hits of acid during “1970” and smears himself in peanut butter. “I don’t think I would have done that to ‘Hang On Sloopy’!” Author Jeff Gold astutely comments, “So you’re literally in a way like Sinatra at the Sands there!”

Iggy takes us through some specific influences; ‘No Fun’ gets its phrasing from Johnny Cash ‘I Walk The Line’, ‘Little Doll’ is a Bo Diddley jam. ‘Penetration’ – “Here we have detail. We have syncopation a la Fun House, but more sophisticated…a moody violent vibe.”  ‘Gimme Danger “…is just a fancy way of playing ‘Dog’. It’s just stretched out more, and (James) put some filigrees in.”

December 1970 ushers in James Williamson. Iggy describes his ‘very dirty sound’. “There are two gears to Williamson; one is, ‘You better look out because I’m thinking about kicking your ass’, and the other gear is, ‘I’m kicking your ass and it feels good!!!’”

We learn that Iggy had never heard of David Bowie, who had chosen him as favorite top vocalist in May 1971 Melody Maker poll. He is summoned to Max’s Kansas City to meet Bowie. Iggy later sees a Ziggy Stardust concert in London where Bowie copies Iggy’s act – walking on (not enough) people, and falls down!

The Mainman/Columbia Records contract, to which Iggy alone is signed, begins the London story. Iggy brings James Williamson along when he is told to drop the Asheton brothers. But this arrangement doesn’t last, as no British musicians could compare. Re-enter the Ashetons. When Ron and Scott arrive in England, the atmosphere is ‘sullen and crappy’. Raw Power is recorded in Oct. 1972, with Ron relegated to bass, and released Feb. 1973.

Iggy tells of purchasing the infamous faux leather jacket (only five were made, by John Dove & Molly White, 1971) at Kensington Market. He prowls around London inspired by the cheetah on the back to write the lyrics to ‘Search and Destroy’.

The Stooges’ only 1970s London gig (at King’s Cross Cinema) is monumental, yet only 200 people attend, mostly American journalists flown in by Bowie’s team for his Aylesbury gig on the same night. Many audience members grow up to form bands, inspired by the Stooges. Although Mick Rock’s photo on the cover of Raw Power is from this concert, those songs were not performed that night. A spectacular vintage concert review is included.

 

James is in makeup. Iggy wears silver hair and pants, with black eyeshadow on his lips. He describes his style as “Smooth, slinky and super forward.” In his ‘silver period’, “more glamor became necessary.” Iggy had “The spiritual need to shine a little.”

The book includes all the detailed grumblings about Bowie’s wimpy production of Raw Power, and Iggy ‘getting deranged’.

Back from London and dropped by Columbia, Iggy booked the Stooges himself for the now infamous Whisky (5x), Max’s (4x), and Atlanta (5x) gigs. Describing a backstage photo at the Whisky of Scott and himself, Iggy observes, “The two guys in front who are the most fucked up are the guys who have to do the actual physical work…who were totally committed to the insane romanticism…taking the hard knocks.”

You can see it in their eyes.

In February 1974, Iggy goes on WABX Radio and threatens the Scorpions biker gang, which ends with the final Stooges gig, released as the Metallic K.O. bootleg (at Michigan Palace). Having been a bass player on Raw Power, Ron essentially plays lead guitar on bass, using heavy bass strings. But by now, all are junkies except for Ron. This is the end, and nobody is surprised.

Total Chaos includes both Stooges reunions. Iggy made amends with his ‘Dum Dum Boys’ by reuniting them for gigs and albums starting in 2003. Now in his sunset years, his dedication to the band continues as he perpetuates The Stooges’ legacy. “These guys were the closest I’ve ever had to having what are traditionally called friendships in my life.” Iggy also reflects on the passing of Ron (2009) and Scott (2014).

Regarding the reunion tours, Jeff Gold asks, “Were Ron & Scott blown away? Iggy replies, “I think they were…I’d be in tears because of the acceptance, because (of) the nature of the struggle. Ron would say, ‘This is the way it should be.’”.

And finally, the Stooges’ legacy. Iggy surmises “I think it’s the eyes of a kid looking at the world…there are good and bad things to come from that.”

I am in tears from this beautiful statement, and to have reached the end of these wonderful 350 pages! God bless The Stooges!! We will ALWAYS need their noise!!

The back of the book features interviews with Stooges devotees Johnny Marr, Josh Homme, Dave Grohl, Joan Jett and Jack White, and an essay called How Michigan Is The Fifth Member Of The Stooges…Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 12.49.29 PM

P.S.

In 1971, at age thirteen, I heard about a widely despised band with a wonderful name. I went to a record shop and asked the clerk for the album Fun House by The Stooges. He dismissively told me to look in the children’s section! I was highly insulted. There I was, a young kid with elitist taste in music being treated like a mere child. I am now vindicated! – Madeline Bocaro

 

 

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