During the first week of freshman year in college I immediately bonded with a fellow supercharged, true believer in rock ‘n roll named Doug. The kid had a raw nerve quality that fed into my own need for letting it all hang out. With a wiry build, a head full of thick curls, and a jagged nose, Doug talked in quick spurts, in deep grunts. His days were spent on a teeter-totter of partying his ass off at night and then spending the following morning jogging off the ills of the previous night. In those days I maintained a more even-keeled dedication to destructive behavior, so I rarely saw Doug while the sun shined.
We’d get together a couple of nights a week to do bong hits and examine the grooves of our favorite records. We’d each pull out 3 or 4 records the other guy didn’t know or may not have fully appreciated and then spend a couple of hours pointing out all the transcendent moments, all the while gauging each other’s reaction and calculating “turn-on points” we might be collecting. (Looking back, no wonder we weren’t getting laid nearly as much as we would have liked.) One record we both loved that we agreed required exclusive examination was The Stooges’ Funhouse.
One night, following dinner, we planned to score a bag of weed and spend the night listening to nothing but Funhouse. Getting inside Funhouse. If possible, being Funhouse. We checked with all our usual sources, but they were all out. Doug had already acknowledged that he was one trip over the line, so mushrooms were not on the menu. I got in touch with a Deadhead friend named Rachel, and sure enough, she got me in touch with a friend of a friend who could help us with our plans.
All he had was a quarter ounce of shake, named so for being what shook free from the highly desired, tightly packed buds. Any bag you bought was sure to include some shake, but a whole bag of shake was a last resort, the bottom of the barrel. Short of outright dirtweed, this was the big bummer of pot purchases. Nevertheless, plans were plans, and the deal went down. The Stooges were never a Humboldt type of band anyhow. We would listen to the album repeatedly until we finished the quarter ounce bag.
Let’s just say the night was one I’d be better off not remembering, but I’ll share. First we listened to the album for content alone, marveling at its energy, the variations on simple pentatonic riffs, and Iggy’s exhortations. How great is “Loose” when you’re 18, high, and en route to a late-adolescent breakdown? If you can’t get into “Loose”, you must have your head screwed on straight! The true genius of The Stooges really kicks in on “T.V. Eye”, where the band keeps recycling the main riff until a garage version of Coltrane’s “sheets of sound” or the most saturated moments of Fripp and Eno’s No Pussyfooting album kick in. It’s that moment when the wheel is spinning so fast that it looks like it’s going in reverse. It’s that moment of irony, as defined by Stephen Dedalus in The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It’s what’s at the heart of any deep, extended blowout between friends, and we’ve only just begun.
By the second or third spin of the album, say a “nickle” into the bag, Doug wanted to get into the heads of each of The Stooges. He started acting out how he imagined each player might have been moving during the recording sessions, egging me on to help articulate what his gestures represented. As we air-played along to the songs, we got inside the mind of each guy, focusing on his commitment to the primitive and the stupid. We decided that Ron Asheton and Dave Alexander were the keys to the record. They lay into their 5-note riffs with all they’ve got, refusing or unable to embellish them. Even when they slow it down for the bloozy “Dirt” they resist trying to pull off a fancy triplet that a more accomplished musician could do on a number five times as fast. By keeping it simple and avoiding hotshot mugging, I could fully enjoy da blooz.
Side two is where the band’s beginner’s commitment to the pentatonic scale fully unleashes its glory. Steven Mackay’s sax enters midway through “1970”, and there’s no need for analysis and articulation of imagined gestures. It’s all there, getting higher and higher. You ain’t never coming down. “1970” is followed by the title track, and this time Mackay’s blowing along from the git-go! Oh, the humanity! By the fourth time through this album, Doug and I had little to say to each other. The blurp-blurp-blurp of the bong water, inhale, a “Here” through held breath as one passed the bong to the other. By the fifth time through, all the songs started to sound like “L.A. Blues”. The whole evening had saturated to the point of the final minutes of Steve Reich’s early tape piece “Come Out”.
The promise of the great tracks on The Stooges’ debut album had been realized. The rot and waste that would set in with James Williamson’s guitar wankery on Raw Power was nowhere near the horizon. The next morning a sweat-soaked, gym short-clad Doug knocked on my door to tell me about his “amazing” run. Yeah, right.