Tuesday, September 14, 2010

They're The Stooges and Not for Nothing

The term stooge implies comedy at one's own expense. The stooge is the butt of the joke. In comedic hierarchy he is the underling, the lackey. In this video capsule from 1970, the Stooge otherwise known as Iggy Pop shows himself to be the most brilliant of clowns. (Feral clown, might be the better description.) On this night he entered the stage a Stooge, but left as something else entirely.

Hallelujah! for whatever dysfunctional circumstances that came together to bring us a creature such as Iggy. Whatever else he's done in his career, for this performance alone we should all construct altars of thanksgiving in our homes. The sound, like the man himself, is raw and crude. (Primal is a descriptive often used here, primate may be a better one.) But you don't need to care one whit for the band's sound to appreciate the un-boundaried performance here. Nearly common enough to be considered banal now, it's easy to forget that once Stage diving was tactic used only by fourth wall breaking avant-gardists. Iggy may be the first to bring it out of the extreme margins and into the (small) arena. When Iggy dives here, it's more the act of a gladiator entering the death cage for his bout with the audience. The audience's response is nothing less than amazing as well (and unrepeatable, I'm sure). Watch as they lift him to stand on their hands like the laurel-crowned victor, given the rabble's blessing to go forth and slay the king. (Note that someone in the crowd offers Iggy a large jar of peanut butter (!) like a bouquet of victory flowers, to this he responds appropriately by spreading it on himself. In a stroke he becomes both hero and feast.) Like no one else Iggy breaks the boundary of the stage. This is what is meant by a Dionysian Frenzy. The actor thrown into the maw of the crowd to do with what they will: Their peanut butter-flavored fetish object. All of these antics could've easily gone completely out of control and it's Iggy's risk averse-ness that makes it so sexy; a fact of civilization that probably hasn't changed since Dionysian times. This is the stuff that Jim Morrison only dreamed about: While Morrison (whom Iggy admits as an influence) may've unzipped his pants (and was nevertheless arrested), Iggy would actually pull his out. Though many of his reported stage antics have the yellowy glow of legend (vomiting on stage, exposing himself, rolling on broken glass, striking himself with a hammer), there is enough extant photographic evidence to substantiate enough of the claims to confirm that he is indeed the genuine article.

As a recording unit, The Stooges found little success either commercially or critically. As is often the case with history-in-the-making moments, the critics were as mystified as the multitudes; it certainly wasn't for the want of a good producer (John Cale, David Bowie, and Funhouse's Don Galucci, the producer of The Louie Louie fer cryin' out loud!). As for their reputation, as this early television performance shows, the legend required no assistance from multitude or critic. As for this particular night in Cincinnati, you could say Iggy is either the model of extremely aggressive self-infatuation or the most lowly self-sabotage case study imaginable.

Whichever, I think it's an act of genius.

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