Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Stooges Reflections, Long Overdue

"Iggy is like a matador baiting the vast dark hydra sitting afront him – he enters the audience frequently to see what’s what and even from the stage his eyes reach out searchingly, sweeping the joint and singling out startled strangers who’re seldom able to stare him down. It’s your stage as well as his and if you can take it away from him, why, welcome to it. But the King of the Mountain must maintain the pace, and the authority, and few can. In this sense Ig is a true star of the rarest kind – he has won that stage, and nothing but the force of his own presence entitles him to it."

That was Lester Bangs writing back in 1970, in one of the best pieces of rock criticism ever to see the light of day. Back then, Iggy Pop shattered the rock and roll proscenium in ways that were unprecedented. His presence on stage was uncanny in its physicality and the audience had to always be on its toes when Iggy was on the stage due to his tendency to call people out or move from the stage to the floor and back again at a time when such things were far from ordinary.

Now, 40 years later, Iggy's stage diving isn't quite as radical as it once was. That's the price of being influential...what was disruptive is now just another part of the show. Not that it's not still a kick to see 60-something Iggy, his body withered but still lean and mean, jump head first into the crowd, or wander into the audience with mic in hand, singing while getting up close and personal, as he did several times during the Stooges recent show at the Boston House of Blues. But the charge of novelty is no longer there. The kick comes from seeing an old veteran take ownership over the moves he pioneered way back when.

On the other hand, Iggy's willingness to break the boundary between stage and floor, audience and performer, moves in the other direction as well: yeah it's cool when he leaps into the crowd, but at this point in time his more radical move may be inviting the crowd to join him on the stage. He did this when I saw him play with the Stooges at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony back in March, but then it was a crowd full of rock stars and industry moguls and while a good little crowd joined him on stage it was mostly folks like Billie Joe Armstrong and Eddie Vedder. But at the House of Blues, it was a much bigger crowd who joined Iggy when he beckoned them to come onstage for the song "Shake Appeal" (a fun song from Raw Power, not necessarily the high point of the Stooges catalog but good nonetheless). I didn't count but I'd guess maybe 50, maybe 60 people went on stage, maybe more. And Iggy sang, and he danced, and they danced too, some basking in the spotlight, some trying to hog attention, some just happy to have a moment close to the star of the show. Men and women alike, they projected a genuine air of giddy enthusiasm, and Iggy seemed happy to have the company.

To really get the subversive character of this moment in the show, though, you had to keep your eyes on the bouncer. A bouncer's job is, at root, to preserve a certain modicum of order, and that order depends on making sure the stage stays clear of all unwanted intrusions. So what's a bouncer to do when the singer invites anyone who wants to join him up on stage? In this case, the bouncer tailed Iggy like his life depended on it. Iggy seemed like he could give a fuck - although maybe this was just part of his act, who knows - but the bouncer continually pried away anyone who got just a little too close. To his credit, he kept his cool. He recognized that Iggy was calling the shots and so, damn the usual club rules, he had to go along.

The real kicker, though, came when the song was over. "Shake Appeal" came fairly early in the set, and once it was done, the show was set to go on. But first, all those dozens of people who joined Iggy on stage had to get off, and that took a good 5 minutes at least. Awkward pause mingled with weirdly casual exchanges as the lucky several wanted to get their handshake in or just say hi to Iggy, who seemed somewhere between impatient and bemused by the whole thing. As just another guy on the floor, I found it a puzzling piece of showmanship but also kind of brilliant. Sure, Iggy was still the proverbial King of the Mountain when all was said and done, but in demonstrating his power he also showed himself a figure who was still willing and able to go against the grain of expectation.


  1. Made mention of your book in my latest piece and quoted from it - hope you don't mind. Have a look - it's on the origins of the title "This Aint The Summer Of Love", something we've discussed previously...


  2. Thanks for the heads up Bryan...don't mind at all, I appreciate the notice. Not sure if you saw it but I blogged about having gotten a similar email from Waller some months back, it's in the archive for The Metal/Punk Continuum. He seems like a cool guy and the old Imperial Dogs stuff is pretty rockin'.