Click Here To Purchase The Stooges: Head On: A Journey Through the Michigan Underground (Painted Turtle)

Author: Brett Callwood

Publisher: Wayne State Univ Pr (September 2011)

ISBN-10: 0814334849:   ISBN-13: 978-0814334843

Until recent years, I suspect most rock fans had heard more about The Stooges than had actually listened to them. That is, outside of Michigan where the band, along with Alice Cooper, The Amboy Dukes, and The MC5 paved the way for a harder-edged rock scene than was predominant elsewhere. Back then, The Stooges were defined as belonging in the catch-all “garage band” category. But before the end of the 1970s, it was clear they had been ahead of their time and were pioneers of what became known as “punk.” Back then, their stage antics—using a vacuum cleaner, oil drums, and a blender to create feedback while Iggy Pop smeared his body with peanut butter etc.—made  them an avant-garde act before the term “performance art” was coined.

At the time, while their stage shows became legendary, their recordings didn’t stir up much of a buzz. For one thing, they were punk in several ways, including being musicians with limited chops, at least on their 1969 debut. Their 1970 Funhouse, which included saxophonist Steve Mackay, by most accounts, was a major step forward in the band’s development.   Then they fell apart. Come 1973, Iggy Pop, now in David Bowie’s entourage, called on some of the original Stooges to back him on what was essentially a solo project, Raw Power. Then they fell apart again. It would take decades before they’d reform for tours and recording new material.

Along the way, Iggy Pop became a rock icon and his story has been well-chronicled in a series of biographies. But the rest of The Stooges have not been so well served. And that’s one contribution of Brett Callwood’s new history. Beyond Pop, The Stooges started out as brothers Ron (guitar) and Scott Asheton (drums) with bassist Dave Alexander. A number of players came and went after that, and the most important was clearly guitarist James Williamson. Leaving the majority of Pop’s story to other sources, Callwood dives into the lives and times of these other Stooges, particularly the Asheton brothers. This means he spends considerable effort tracing the origins of the band from the other players points of view, why the band rose and fell and fell again, and the false starts and disappointments for each of them from the late 1970s onward.      

The other draw for this rather short book (less than 170 pages) is signaled in the sub-title. It is indeed a “journey through the Michigan underground.” The Stooges, while using vacuum cleaners on stage, did not operate in a creative vacuum. Their recording deal, for example, was tied to the success of the MC5 who suggested Electra Records sign their friends. As a result, both bands got contracts from the same company at the same time. After the break-up of The Stooges, past members and friends of the Amboy Dukes and the MC5 would work with past Stooges. The Asheton brothers and Williamson found themselves sought out and courted by many Michigan groups who wanted to follow in The Stooges wake. These are the stories Caldwood has dug up, diving not only into the highlights of the Stooges’ careers but their lives outside of the spotlight as well. There’s plenty of rock and roll comic bits along with the tragedies of drug excess and early deaths. Not to mention the triumph of ultimate vindication with The Stooges now, as agroup, honored as being proto-punk royalty. 

You don’t necessarily have to be a fan of the Stooges in particular or “punk” rock in general to enjoy this book. However, being at least somewhat familiar with the music would certainly help a reader’s appreciation of the saga. In the case of this reviewer, I’ve been inspired to go back in time and listen again to Funhouse—an album I liked at the time but haven’t replayed in many a year. If this story inspires others to check out The Stooges again, or for the first time, that alone is worth the price of admission. Along with the toppings of an Afterword by Glenn Danzig and a Foreword by Alice Cooper.

Click Here To Purchase The Stooges: Head On: A Journey Through the Michigan Underground (Painted Turtle)