Kill Your Idols


I have bad things to say about a lot of artists. I have bad things to say about most things, really. That’s kind of the point about this column. It’s not enough for me to trash talk a couple of bands behind closed doors to my friends. No, I have to desecrate the fine journalistic tradition of The Cluster in order to tell you that your favorite band sucks. That Nevermind wasn’t that great, in retrospect. That Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over the Sea is, at best, poorly-written and overhyped. That the Eagles are the worst band to ever walk the Earth.
Well now I’m going to say something positive. There’s one artist out there about whom I can’t say a single  negative word. A man so wild, innovative, and electrifying that close to 40 years later, his records stand as testament to the sheer transformative power of rock music. He is an absolute madman on the stage and a visionary in the studio. I’m talking, of course, about Iggy Pop and his band, The Stooges.
Plenty of people lump Iggy and the Stooges into the category of “proto-punk,” and consider it an honor bestowed on the band. They claim that the band’s primary contribution to the world was to influence coming artists like The Ramones, Crass, and the Dead Kennedys. Those people are wrong. The Stooges’ great contribution to the world is Raw Power, one of the most shocking and intense rock records ever unleashed on the general public.
Hell, Iggy Pop’s stage presence was so powerful, so impressive and earth-shattering that not only did visionary artist David Bowie insist on producing 1973’s Raw Power, he directly modeled much of his Ziggy Stardust character on Iggy. If punk rock had never existed, Iggy and the Stooges would still have gone down in history as some of the most influential rock artists of all time.
Perhaps I should get one thing straight. Iggy Pop, the performer, is not a human being. The Muskegon, Michigan-born Jim Osterberg Jr. might be. I’m sure that man lives pretty much like the rest of us, goes shopping, does the dishes. But the second someone places a microphone into Jim’s hand, he becomes something else entirely, a being of pure, unstoppable energy. He just isn’t recognizable as a member of the human species anymore. I’m serious. Look up some live videos. It doesn’t matter if you’re watching a video from 1973 or 2012. Iggy is absolutely insane, no matter what time period you’re seeing him in. And that manic energy extends to his studio recordings as well.
I remember the first time I heard “Search and Destroy.” I was fifteen, and I could barely process the sounds my stereo was making. The guitars were literally howling, and some deranged man kept shouting into the microphone. I was nearly knocked to the floor from the song’s sheer intensity. I loved it. I needed more.
The rest of Raw Power didn’t let me down. “Penetration” plays out like a bizarre study in sexual power dynamics, presented by the feedback of James Williamson’s guitar amplifier. The mix of electric and acoustic instrumentation created on “Gimmie Danger” is at the same time both unsettling and immediately inviting. The title track takes a fairly standard classic rock chord progression and distorts it beyond all recognition, filtering commercial radio rock through the band’s characteristically unhinged energy. I don’t know if any other record has the intensity, shock value, and, well, raw power of The Stooges’ final release. It might just be a perfect record.
Classic or catastrophe: classic.