The Stooges – “The Stooges” (1969)

September 10, 2008 at 11:42 pm (Reviews & Articles)

Written by Lenny Kaye for Fusion magazine Sept. 19, 1969…

 

I was once thinking of doing a piece on Blue Cheer where I wanted to show, through all sorts of diagrams and convoluted logic, that given the context of their chosen field, i.e. 400 decibel tasteless rock, they were actually Unrecognized Masters of Form.

While I never got around to formally putting the thing on paper, it did start a whole train of thought about Good and Bad, and how generally recognized musical standards could and should be thrown out the window under certain conditions. The key, it turned out, was really in what the group was (consciously or unconsciously) attempting to do, and whether their music mirrored this and made it work.

Which is as good a place as any to start with the Stooges. By any formal criteria, they are a retrogressive group, a pale copy of the early Rolling Stones. Their music revolves around one modified Bo Diddley chord progression, and neither the singing nor musicianship on their album attains any memorable level of competence.

But like the Velvet Underground, (and remember that John Cale produced the album), or the Seeds, or a select number of other bands, any formal criteria here become basically irrelevant in the face of what is actually happening within the music. All the above factors, negative though they seem, ultimately become necessary to the success of the Stooges, to the emotional set of moods they are trying to portray and, in consequence, they all work within the context the group members have set out for themselves.

The world of the Stooges, simply, revolves around boredom. Not only a mere lack of something to do, but rather a total negation of anything to do. The Stones used to touch on this feeling when they sang ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’, but the meaning of their song was set against the background of 1965. Way back then, in the old days, Jagger was able to add a touch of defiance and social protest to the overwhelming frustration he and the people he spoke for justifiably felt. But this is 1969 now, nearly another whole generation later, when the hope that came out of Haight Street is nearly dead, when the protest has been neatly swept up and glossified by the mass media. In consequence, the only stance that seems to be left is that of lggy Stooge:

 

Well last year I was twenty one
I didn’t have a lot of fun
And now I’m gonna be twenty two…
Another year with nothin’ to do

 

And thus begun, the theme is repeated in every song on the album, reflected in the hypnotic quality of each cut, over and over again until the album itself becomes a symbol of the boredom.

The titles are self-explanatory: ‘No Fun’, ‘Real Cool Tune’, ‘We Will Fall’. Even the only near-love song, ‘Ann’, is paced to a death-like cadence, floating in a kind of lethargic limbo. The record sounds no hopeful notes; there is no sense of rebellion, no cry of protest, nothing except a kind of resigned acceptance to whatever is happening around them. More, the Stooges seem to enjoy their rootlessness, almost sinking gratefully into the mud surrounding them, embracing the inevitable decadence to follow.

And maybe that’s why the album succeeds so well, why you finish listening and find yourself strangely moved. Because rock is ultimately decadence, revolving as it does around the physical and spiritual senses; feeding and re-leasing them from the strictures of civilization. And though decadence may just be another form of defense and social protest, the Stooges use it as a tool to cut through the other layers of defense, bringing us all the way back home where we belong. The al-bum works, not because it is such great music, (although no-one can deny its force and power) but rather because the Stooges have touched on one of the major characteristics of where we are today, then extracted it, crystallized it, and have ultimately taken us through it to the other side, where the Good Things lie waiting.

If 1967 was the year of the Beatles and ‘Get Together’, if 1968 was the year of the Band and Beggar’s Banquet, then 1969 may well be the year of the Stooges. You might not like it, but you can’t escape it.

Lenny Kaye

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