MC5 * STOOGES * DAVID PEEL * MOLLOCK
The PAVILION , Flushing Meadow Park , NY - 9/1969
©1969 by Chris Hodenfield
When I was back there at the Seminary School, they used to call it a "rep." The brand you carried with you. . . who you fought. . . who you smashed. . . whose girl you stole. The MC5 have a rep, and in the sophisticated circles of tasteful musical acknowledgement, they have the worst.
Phony guerillas. White Panthers (who needs THEM?). Belching Detroit Revolutionary screamers. On the first Elektra album, Rob Tyner harangues at the audience (live at the Grande), "TIme has come, bruthahs and sistahs!. . . time has come to decide whether YOU are gonna be the problems or the solutions! It takes five seconds to decide!"
From there, they bend into hard-core rock'n'fuzz music. If I'd have heard the album before I'd seen them, I'd have junked it.. The recording quality doesn't separate sounds and notes. The likely aim was to capture the power and glory, but they got this secondary to a lot of noise. The album does move with no let-up, and loud loud power, but it just doesn't do them justice.
For their concert at New York's Pavillion, what had we to expect from them except more frustrated revolutionary spiels? It was double feature with another Ann Arbor, Michigan, group, the Stooges. (Josephine, out at Elektra Records, called it "Perversion Night." But more about them later.) The MC5 run out onto the stage, hurriedly plugging everything in, smiling and grinning. After the preliminary "do you feel alrights?" Tyner introduces the lead guitarist, "Now ovah heah is Wayne Kramer, weighing in at 165 pounds, as the heavyweight Fender guitar champion of the world!" Kramer walks up with a delirious smile on his face, shaking his clasped hands over his head. Big smasm, and they break into "Rambling Rose". . . and it doesn't sound too much like Nat King Cole.
They're a great rock'n'roll band. They have dropped the revolutionary jargon and the whoopla. They have American flags on their eight-foot high Marshall amps. They wham from one song into the next, without any of this business about constant tune-ups and equipment breakdowns. And spirit, drive, enthusiasm, jokes. Kramer looks like the craziest loon that ever came from a Marvel Comic. He gets on down with his playing, big ol' euphoria on his face, his tongue sticking out and he's slobbering all joyous.
The only time they slow the pace down is for Brother James Brown's, "It's A Man's World." Tyner's voice doesn't have that lowgut easy scream, but he is and able singer. The band seems to be free from spotlight-grabbing egoism. When someone else takes a solo or a verse, Tyner jumps back to the rear of the stage until they're finished, then he leaps back.
Their numbers last about three or four minutes each. For "Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa" they skip around the stage playground style, looking all the more ludicrous in their dazzle suits, all glitter and sequins.
They are American in a very well-meaning up-to-date way. Kicks, thrills, unleashed lust. (Yah!) Somebody once called Bryan Hyland "good teenage music." Which is a fine thing if you're unfettered by things like war, pimples, the broad who lives next door, and your guitar that wants to kill your dad. This is where MC5 fits in. Their music fits together in a certain power-mesh, each guitar is distinguishable. Mike Davis' rhythm guitar sets down these very emotional sounding patterns, and Kramer seems to splice in his lead segments at just the right time. (How can you keep screaming about their playing? It fits, and it's loud, and I think they're "terrif.")
Stooges, on the other hand, are from an entirely different door. After
seeing THEM, I was ready to hand in my credentials. They are being
advertised as representing the sexually repressed American male, etc.
They're dogs, more like it.
They are a quartet made up of lead guitar, bass, drums and lead singing by none other than Iggy Stooge. Iggy doesn't really sing, he sort of talks out his songs; sounding like a tripped-out gas station attendant. ("We're gonna have. . . a real cool time.")
I was prepared to hate them as i wrote this, to be inflammatory and merciless towards them. Then I talked with my good friend David, who wisely said, "if they're a blues band, and they play bad blues, then you can criticize them. But if they sing about boredom and that, how can you criticize them?"
The band live in a commune in Ann Arbor. Iggy lives in his squalor in the attic. And he watches television, and spends a lotta lotta time alone. He played drums for a few years behind differing black bands, and the Stooges is his very own vehicle. He told the guitarist to get ready to play in a rock band, and even though the cat hadn't played before, he was ready in three days.
The music is incessant and pounding, with usually one certain theme laid down again and again, all loud and insane. Iggy wriggles and oozes about on stage in various sexual posturing. He makes use of the microphone stand; he does fandangos around, he sits on it, lies on it, caresses it.
At on point, someone in the crowd (who were all sitting on the flat concrete) made an obscene gesture. Iggy leapt, head-first, out onto him. Suddenly, the whole place was up on its feet, crowding around to see their fantasies being acted out. The crowd managed to get him back on stage. He ambled around, while the band was keeping with the same feedback and hi-screech cachexia. He drifted to the back of the stage, and then, with new vigor, ran across the stage, into the air with a set expressionn on his face, and onto the person again.
By the time he got onto the stage again, he was drained and livid at the same time, stalking uncertainly. He started to claw at his glistening, sweaty chest, and welts that had been there began to get bloody again. Raising fresh weals, uttering one word over and over; the band working their amplifiers into a frenzied fuzz-fog. All fall down. Guitars thrown at the amplifiers; finis.
I asked Iggy about times he jumped from the stage later on, and he explained, "The guy insulted me, so I either wanted to make it with him, or embarrass him in front of everybody. Which I think I did. . ."
The Stooges no doubt appeal to base, broken tastes. My friends and I all just shook our heads and mumbled about the loss of civilization. (Is this what Rome and Athens went through before they fell?) But there was another guy there who really dug Iggy. (As a reporter, it is my duty to be objective.) He said it was really different. . . that it was really some fine performance.
Now this is all part of that same family of reasons that made the MC5 get their bad publicity. Nobody talked about what a great band they were, they talked about revolution, badness, meanness. These are things they could relate to. Things that are hopelessly hopeless. They could relate to the Stooges sonorous bedlam about boring times, more than they could relate to the total energy of the MC5.
It's the people that can line their kind of spirit up with the crash and kill pictures in the centerfold of the Daily News. People who go around thinking about bad news and No Cool Times. ("It's such a hassle to cross the street, man.") Iggy represents boredom and, possibly, "sexual repression." And then, this appeals to some people. And there's a few of these unhappy cats sitting around right now. (Not running around, but sitting around. They rarely get beyond their own muddled psychosis.)
Rock music is something we align with our personalities. Almost all of us dig Jimi Hendrix cause that's sex, and who can knock sex? The MC5 are stimulation and electricity. The Beatles are happy stoned thoughts, fresh breezes too. The Rolling Stones are hard knocks and more sex. The Doors used to have something of each, and mostly dark poetry of the soul. Bubblegum is what it says it is. Whatever your favorite band is, it's kind of a parallel of what you are or want to be.
The Stooges are dungeon scuttling remains of "no cool time."
x x x
Iggy was mightily impressed in his youth
by Chuck Berry, Wagnerian operas, and "Carmine Burana." (Some spread,
those.) Imagine them, now all mixed together, and then curdled.
Imagine, more like it, Kraft-Ebing's "Psychopathic Sexualis" as
performed by Marquis de Sade, and the wicked Witch of the East. Add,
come to think of it (for fairness sake) a dash of Frank Sinatra.
It is not right for someone to sit back in their cubicle and sneer at musicians. A musician is doing something valid, and the Stooges are a direct extension of Iggy's pretentions and emotions.; (McLuhan said, "Art is anything you can get away with.") The Stooges also seem to capitalize on wrecked heads and cheap thrills inside people, waiting to be sprung with $3 tickets. (The doors were opened to everybody free for the last 15 minutes of the MC5 concert, it should be said. And it was the bands that demanded this.) The Stooges are an effective and authentic directive for SOMETHING. I don't like them at all, and ultimately they are real bad kicks. But books have been banned for the same reasons. Do you want them? They have an album out on Elektra, and it is, by their own admission, rottenly engineered. John Cale, formerly of the Velevet Underground, produced it, but he didn't know what he was doing. The album has one good cut, a 10-minute dirge, but the rest is gaggling idiocy.
"'I Wanna Be Your Dog' is my favorite song," says Iggy, "but some kid hears that and he can't relate to it. The nearest thing he can associate it with is Question Mark & the Mysterians."
©1969 by Chris Hodenfield