Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fun House

With the possible exception of "Nevermind", no album has probably shaped my musical tastes and exploration more so than "Fun House" by The Stooges. It's hard for me not to gush over the brilliance of this album. For it is a part of me and it's definitely not hyperbole to say my life would be different if I had never listened to it. Though that's not really fair either, as I would have discovered "Fun House" at some point. Still, most of my musical tastes flow straight through "Fun House". Needless to say, this has had a profound influence on my life.

I actually do not remember when I first listened to "Fun House". I probably got it for either a birthday or Christmas gift, as my want was to ask for albums I knew I should own but did not. More times than not, these were CDs I had not really ever heard. Then again, I may have picked up "Fun House" on some rainy afternoon in between classes as I stopped in that used record shop next to Stairway to Heaven. Really doesn't matter so much I guess. What does matter is that it was definitely in college and at least Junior year, as that was the year I traveled to The State Theatre to see Iggy live in concert by myself. So by that point I was fully in love with this album and felt a desperate need to see Iggy perform, even if he would only play a handful of songs by The Stooges.

Prior to "Fun House", I was obsessed with all things grunge. Or alternative nation. I watched 120 Minutes religiously, maybe to the detriment of schoolwork. I had seen what seemed like a billion shows, from Pearl Jam to Nirvana to Smashing Pumpkins to some more obscure yet contemporary bands like Girls Against Boys and Shudder To Think. I had already expanded beyond the real popular alternative bands yet I had not yet fully embraced the music that lead to the alternarock revolution. Even a band like Sonic Youth I had only scratched the surface of their discography, focusing on some recent releases. There was a world of music I needed to be exposed to and "Fun House" was my door into that world.

My initial reaction to "Fun House" was being utterly blown away. It was unlike anything I had ever heard. So loud and sinister and grimy and primal. The Stooges didn't so much play their instruments as they f$ckin' destroyed them. Even when a saxophone is added to the mix it is battling the guitars against the bass and the drums for supremacy in some glorious punk rock battle. It demands your attention and will pummel you senseless if you try to ignore it. These are not nice guys and they are not here to play nice. They will stomp on your face and screw your girlfriend and then wonder why you are so pissed off. They were dangerous and this was reflected in the music.

Recorded in 1970 on the major label Elektra, it's amazing to think this was ever released. For while Dylan and Jefferson Airplane and The Byrds and Marvin Gaye and others all reflected the times in their own way, so did The Stooges. But it was the nasty side that most people want to keep hidden. The side society wants to pretend does not exist. Given the turmoil running through society, it's somewhat shocking this album never found a larger audience. But like the tired cliche that not many people bought albums by The Velvet Underground but those that did formed bands, so it can be said about The Stooges. For it's hard to think of music we hear today existing without The Stooges. It's hard to think there would be The Ramones or The Sex Pistols or The Clash. You could continue on and on all the way up to Nirvana and beyond.

For me, The Stooges were a clear starting point that surprisingly lead me backwards to then lead me forwards. I have always been curious musically and interested in background/influences. So after "Fun House", I sought out similar bands and influences. Unfortunately, there are not many similar bands to The Stooges. They were of a different time and very unique. With the exception of The MC5 and maybe The Rationals, it was hard to find anyone else who was a contemporary of The Stooges. Sure there were The New York Dolls but I've always hated them because they struck me as fake and just trying to ape the sound and attitude of The Stooges. They have importance in musical history, but as a more mainstream version of The Stooges crossed with the glam of Bowie, Lou Reed, and Iggy once again. As an aside, Iggy is truly interesting to me. For the past 20 years he has been the shirtless old guy who people outside the know can't understand why he's so revered. But looking back he has to be considered one of the 10-15 most influential musicians. The fact he was so instrumental in both punk and glam is truly remarkable.

With very little luck finding similar bands to The Stooges, I went back to find out what lead to their sound. This resulted in my period of infatuation with garage rock, eventually leading to my psych-pop infatuation and Elephant 6 obsession. I bought a bunch of garage rock compilations, included one of Michigan bands that instantly became a favorite. I purchased the Nuggets Box Set and poured over the booklet with all the shouldabeen and couldabeen bands that had a lot of influence in popular music but very little recognition. I discovered the link between The Beatles and The Stooges and I was hooked. I wanted more.

So I set out on a couple different paths. There was the aforementioned path towards more of the psych pop stuff, heavily influenced at this point by Syd Barret solo CDs and the Pink Floyd classic "Pipers at the Gates of Dawn". This lead to my infatuation with all things Elephant 6 related after "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" and "Tone Soul Evolution" and "Cubist Castle". Then there was the punk rock path, which admittedly I had scratched throughout my life. Hell, I even owned "Combat Rock" in high school. But that was for the radio friendly and HS dance hits "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" and "Rock the Casbah". It was not really punk rock. I had never fully embraced punk rock, though it was such a big influence on all the music I was listening to.

I began with the classics, though there are less punk rock classics then you would think. At least when thinking about the mainstream punk rock classics. And I had known most of the singles if not the albums themselves but again, I never fully immersed myself in punk rock. So I turned to The Ramones and The Clash and The Sex Pistols (who to this day never fully got). And well, that's about it for true 1977 punk rock alumni mainstream classic bands. But I wanted more, as I became a huge fan of The Clash. So much so that I read the huge ass book "Return of the Last Gang in Town". Trust me, it's a big deal getting through the first 100-200 pages which are as much history about all members than a story.

And I wanted even more, turning to lesser known bands like Wire, Gang of Four, The Jam, Mission of Burma, Minutemen, and Husker Du. I filled in all the gaps of CBGBs era NY with "Horses" and "Marquee Moon". I understood why Elvis Costello was always on SNL as a kid. I heard "Remain In Light", appreciated its brilliance, and wondered why nothing similar has been replicated since. I got why the high school in "Heathers" was called Paul Westerberg High, after initially being confused by "Dyslexic Heart". Everything was starting to make sense to me now.

And it continues to this day. I'm pretty sure I would have eventually ended in the same place, given my starting place but I'm not sure. Regardless, I can definitely trace it all through "Fun House". That is why it is considered a perfect album for me and why I hold it so dear. Highly recommend it if for some reason you have never heard it. It might not change your life like it did mine. But it has the chance, and that should be reason enough to take the chance.


music indie punk garage psych rock The Stooges Fun House Iggy Tom G A Perfect Album


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