The Stooges were the band where punk began, not just in sound but also in attitude. They were almost too incendiary for the music industry to house, thus within a few short years, their fuse burnt out in a blaze of absolute madness.
Their mantra as a band was summarised perfectly by Lou Reed who wrote in testimony to their output: “I have always loved Raw Power. I like the sound – the honest sound of young guys trying to break the barrier of stilted moulded sterile rock. And they did. Great guitar and wonderful vocals from Iggy. And inspiration for young men to this day.”
One such young man was Charlie Steen from Shame, the latest shirtless punks to rattle the industry about like a Skoda driving over a cattle grid in a crosswind. We chatted with him about the Stooges, and he joyously celebrated their legacy saying, “The Stooges changed my life. Only three albums to their name and these three records seem to have altered the fate and direction of so much that came after them. The list of artists that cite this band as the reason they picked up an instrument is endless.”
Adding, “It seems as if this band has nothing to lose when you listen to them. No willingness to sacrifice their sound in hopes of achieving a high rank in the charts. No sign of trying to mould themselves to be something they were not. Nobody had seen anything like them at the time and nobody has seen or heard anything as real as them since.”
However, their ferocious assault on banality and uncompromising frolics into punk paradigms made their demise somewhat of an inevitability. You can only stay in control of a tailspin for so long before you end up in a ditch, but it sure was glorious fun while it lasted.
By February 1974, things were beginning to get a little too treacherous for the band to stay on a steady course and an incident with a Detroit biker gang, dubbed the Scorpions signified a dangerous portent for the band. The Stooges had been booked to play their local hangout, The Rock & Roll Farm in Wayne, Michigan. When Iggy emerged wearing only a skimpy leotard it was not to their liking.
What followed was a melee of abuse and a steady salvo of eggs. Bathed in a gloop of chicken zygote, Iggy decided not to follow his band’s lead in a scramble for safety and instead leapt into the crowd only to be promptly stopped in his tracks by a big old biker fist.
Iggy, however, was not perturbed by this ordeal and when he appeared on WABX radio to promote the band’s next show he actually challenged the Scorpions to an ill-advised rematch. The show at Detroit’s Michigan Palace also happened to be their last, and while no bikers appeared to be in attendance, it was no less hectic as a result.
As captured on the live album Metallic K.O., Iggy goads the crowd like the proverbial Firestarter, whipping up a riot of his own mad design. The crowd violently responded to his barrage of abuse with a wave of hurled beer bottles. This mayhem is perfectly preserved on the record, in which you can actually hear a beer bottle smash against guitar strings in a twang of chaos.
While it would seem that the fracas consisted purely of ordinary punters and the proto-punks on stage as opposed to a notorious biker gang, the result was perhaps the most riotous live record of all time. The sound seems to encapsulate Iggy’s mantra in the era, “They say that death kills you,” he once said, “But death doesn’t kill you. Boredom and indifference kill you.”
The album is among the most immediately transportive in music, placing you instantly amid a sticky moshing mass of a dive bar and while you wouldn’t necessarily want to listen to it on a Monday morning, it seems to say, ‘Who likes Monday morning’s anyway?’ Best of all though, with growled lines like: “I’m a street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm/I’m a runaway son of the nuclear A-bomb,” it was clear that the Stooges audacious victory over vapidity was not without depth or design, no matter how impossible it proved to sustain.