Fun House by The Stooges

thestooges_funhouse-1

The marathon was starting to take its toll. “Only three left to go,” I told myself, trying to overcome the weighty tiredness that coursed through my body. The stress and strain of attempting to make it to the finish line was evident by the disappearance of the smile lines that normally grace my silky smooth complexion. I could feel tightness in my sufficiently ample chest, as if my athletic bra were either two sizes too small or had shrunk from the sudden appearance of perspiration from a body that rarely breaks a sweat. Looking towards the sky as I completed another stage, I thought, “It’s a beautiful day, only two more,” and felt my spirit rise in response. When I reached the final stage, however, I was dismayed, discouraged and discombobulated to find myself running through the mud and muck of a sudden rainstorm. The crowd had thickened, their vocalizations sounding like wild animals in the rain forest, their primitive tones filling my spirit with fear and loathing. I pumped my shapely legs as hard as I could but there were several spots where I felt ensnared as if I were running through quicksand. As I neared the finish line, the sounds of drums and an unintelligible chant surrounded me on all sides, enveloping me with an unspeakable terror. “So close, so far,” I whispered as the crowd pressed in on me from all sides. I called up every ounce of strength and courage I could muster, but the rain intensified, the mud turned into a black, viscous liquid, and as I felt myself falling into the abyss only a few strides short of the tape, I called out to the only person who could save me in this, my darkest hour:

“Iggy . . . Iggy . . . Iggy Pop . . .”

And as if by magic, the Woodstock album faded into silence and finally, finally, I could listen to some real, god-honest, fuck-me-in-the-ass rock ‘n’ roll for a change.

I was about halfway through The Psychedelic Series when I knew that the first album I wanted to hear when it was all over—-correction—needed to hear—was Fun House. It is the antithesis of psychedelia. None of that platonic love, love, love crap, but flat-out, no-holds barred songs about fucking. No sitars, no harpsichords, no vocoders—just bad-ass guitar, thundering drums, throbbing bass, wailing sax and howling vocals. Fun House is not only one of the purest rock albums in history, but one of the great fuck-to albums.

When I tell my partner to put Fun House on repeat mode to accompany the evening’s sexcapades, she knows she’d better take her vitamins, because I mean fucking business.

Contemporary reviews panned the album. Charles Burton’s unintelligible piece of self-indulgent tripe in Rolling Stone (where else?) contains the curious line, “They are so exquisitely horrible and down and out that they are the ultimate psychedelic rock band in 1970.” The reviewer on Melody Maker called it “the worst album of the year.”

My interpretation is that these writers did it in the dark with their eyes and ears closed . . . if they did it at all.

I also read several articles about The Stooges’ alleged anti-Semitic leanings, given credence by Ron Asheton’s adolescent rebel habit of wearing swastikas on stage. I fully understand and empathize with those who take offense to that. I ran into this crap all the time in my teenage years with the skinhead part of the punk scene (yes, even in the liberal Bay Area). My strategy was to avoid them, like I avoid all losers. Racists are as obsolete as dinosaurs, with brain-size to match, so there’s no point giving them any power by paying the slightest bit of attention to them. All I know is that Fun House contains no such nonsense: it’s raw, kinetic, animalistic rock ‘n’ roll that has had an enormous influence on the development of punk music, even if the length of the songs don’t comply to punk norms. Few people dismiss all of Shakespeare’s canon because of the anti-Semitic references in The Merchant of Venice, and only purists dismiss Mark Twain because of the uncomfortable parts of Huckleberry Finn. Shit, I’d never listen to blues or early rock ‘n’ roll if I insisted on strict adherence to feminist principles.

I think Iggy’s right-wing politics stink, too, but when I’m listening to Fun House, the political center of my brain is completely inactive. This is a record designed to stimulate the G-spot or whatever else you got down there. To get closer to the primal sound of their live performances, The Stooges, with the help of producer and former Kingsmen keyboard man Don Galluci, essentially wrecked the recording studio, ripping out baffles, soundproofing and isolators that clean up the sound but often denude it of its energy. Even with some truly superb panning and sound field placement by engineer Brian Ross-Myring, the tracks bleed and the heavy bass rattles the snare . . . and it sounds fucking fabulous. This was one great band hitting on all cylinders, and by all accounts, they were a hundred times better live.

The Stooges wanted to open the album with “Loose” but were overruled by the suits at Elektra in one of the few examples of helpful record company interference. You don’t open a fuck album with an all-out bash unless you’re into premature ejaculation, and “Down on the Street” simmers more than screams, even with Iggy’s animal growls and whoops. This is a great foreplay song—not the teasing, coaxing, whisper-sweet-nothings kind of foreplay—but the nipple-pinching, ass-slapping version marked by sudden shots of pain and pleasure hinting at the active volcano beneath the surface. While The Stooges keep driving this sucker, Iggy’s taking in the excitement of mating rituals on a hot night in the city:

Yeah, deep in the night I’m lost in love
Yeah deep in the night I’m lost in love
A thousand eyes they look at you
A thousand eyes they, they look at you
Where faces shine
A real low mind

I love feeling that “real low mind.” That’s when I’m in my element, when time is suspended and I feel waves of erotic excitement coursing through my body. The lyrics to “Down on the Street” may be simplistic, but when you’ve let go of civilized decorum and are really feeling the animal heat inside you, the language center of your brain obeys the call, leaving you capable of uttering only short phrases of titillation or delight.

Goddamn! One song and I need a cigarette!

The band amps it up on “Loose” following a killer intro of bashing drums and screaming guitar that ends with Iggy’s spoken “Oh, look out,” in a tone that sounds like he means it. The stark honesty of this song in contrast to the layers of meaningless meaning in the psychedelic era is as refreshing as it gets:

I took a record of pretty music
I went down and baby you can tell
I took a record of pretty music
Now I’m putting it to you straight from hell
I’ll stick it deep inside
I’ll stick it deep inside
‘Cause I’m loose, always

Hooray! A man who admits he’s a whore! Here Iggy Pop becomes the anti-Dion, embracing the ethic of Runaround Sue with a vengeance. In both pre-and-post liberation society, women who liked to fuck multiple partners were considered sluts while men who did the same were just doing what men do: sowing their oats. Iggy calls it like he sees it: we’re all whores! Let us set aside the misapplication of morality and embrace our essential whoreness! Instead of judging it, let’s celebrate it! As for the music supporting the message . . . well, Ron Asheton may have been an anti-Semitic asshole but the guy knew his way around the fretboard. He attacks the solos here with sadistic delight, supported heavily by Dave Alexander’s outstanding bass and Scott Asheton’s energetic, spot-on drumming. When it comes to bad-ass rock ‘n’ roll, it doesn’t get much better than “Loose.”

Iggy said he was channeling Howlin’ Wolf while recording Fun House, and his primal vocal on “T.V. Eye” is the clearest manifestation of that style. Over raw and heavily reverbed guitar, Iggy screams, growls and grunts while drawling and twisting syllables to capture the rough, primitive feel of Wolf’s vocal style. The combination makes this track the most garage-like piece on the entire album. The lyrics are simple and sexually loaded; I’ve always interpreted the phrase “T.V. eye” to refer to the skin-penetrating effect of television cameras and lighting. When I have my T.V. eye on someone, I’m looking deep into their eyes or under their clothes because I want to see what’s beneath the surface, both body and soul. The lyrics here imply that the chick who is focusing her attention on Iggy is doing so while another guy is trying to engage her (“See that cat down on her back”). That’s a terribly naughty thing to do, but stealing a chick from another guy is also terribly titillating to a competitive male in heat.

Speaking of the relative morality in sexual interplay, in “Dirt,” Iggy confronts the specter of naughtiness that contaminates and distorts our erotic impulses and leads to the absurd situation where we feel a sense shame for doing what is entirely natural for a human being to do: fuck! Fucking is not dirty! Sure, you have to clean up afterwards, but you have to clean up after puttering around in the garden, and no one thinks you’re being nasty when you’re trimming the hydrangeas!

Ooh, I been dirt
And I don’t care
‘Cause I’m burning inside
I’m just a yearning inside
And I’m the fire o’ life

“Dirt” is the slow-dance song on the album, but it’s a grinding slow dance with absolutely no space between the bodies. Iggy sounds like he’s in an erotic trance, seasoning the vocal with random phrases, pauses and other interruptions that reflect the difficulty of capturing sexual tension in an intelligible fashion. Ron Asheton’s guitar solo probably expresses the experience better than the vocal—his licks spurt like flames of varying height and intensity as the lovers vary the dance according to the rise and fall of the orgasmic experience.

Cigarette!

“1970” is a stutter-step basher about celebrating the new year with a great fuck. What would you rather do? Freeze your tits or balls off in Times Square or come to a climax at the stroke of midnight? I guess you know where I stand on this critical issue. What “1970” is most noted for is Steve McKay’s incredible tenor sax solo that dominates the extended fade. The saxophone was certainly not uncommon in the early days of rock, and I’ve always thought the instrument had tremendous potential in punk because of its growling and screaming capabilities. Unfortunately, there are very few examples of the saxophone in punk. Lora Logic integrated it with her punk-funk band and played sax in a few guest appearances; The Clash squeezed it in on London Calling; Sleater-Kinney used the sax to fill the soundscape on “It’s Enough.” McKay’s solo is la crème de la crème: his avant-garde and hard bop-flavored attack blends perfectly with the simmering chaos that always exists beneath the surface in great punk music.

McKay gets another turn in “Fun House,” providing counterpoint throughout the track. The effect isn’t quite as powerful as his sudden appearance on “1970,” but this is more of an ensemble piece guided by Iggy’s vocal than a saxophone concerto. I’ve always loved this track for its irony; a fun house is an experience of distortion, yet in the sexual context the “distortion” is the manifestation of deeply-held fantasies and desires usually repressed by cultural shame. I spend a lot of time in the fun house, so I feel very comfortable there, and my attitude is perfectly captured by Iggy’s use of a phrase normally associated with a baseball player who gives it his all—“he came to play.”

Callin’ all you whoop-de pretty things
Shinin’ in your freedom come and be my rings
Hold me tight! — callin’ from the fun house
Hold me tight! — callin’ from the fun house
Yeah, I came to play and I mean to play around
Yeah, I came to play and I mean to play real good
Yeah, I came to play.

To borrow another analogy from sports, when I fuck, I want to feel that I’ve “left it all on the field.” The Stooges nearly always do.

The album closer, “L. A. Blues,” reflects The Stooges’ avant-garde roots, a chaotic stew of screams, bashes, distortion and bass that I’ve always associated with the experience of multiple, simultaneous orgasms. I would, wouldn’t I? I’ve also found this piece to be an excellent accompaniment to whipping; the paradox of giving pain to the one you love to intensify the pleasure of both parties cannot be explained through linear thinking.

Cigarette!

It’s funny how I stumbled onto Iggy Pop. Neither parent was a fan, but I heard about Iggy and The Stooges through my exploration of punk roots in my teenage years. I never followed up on that lead and didn’t hear their music until my last year of high school thanks to a rare family ritual. We were never that much into television, generally limiting our use of the boob tube to baseball, soccer and the occasional interesting piece on PBS. The only exception was that we would sit down together every week to catch the latest episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Someday I’ll do a whole piece on that obsession, but the salient piece of information is that Iggy Pop appeared in the role of an alien in one of the episodes. That simple act increased my interest in him a thousandfold, and that’s when I started to explore his music.

And as luck would have it, the first album I listened to was Fun House. Coming right at the time when I was really starting to manifest my dominant BDSM tendencies, I felt like I’d found my soul mate. The transparency, honesty and complete lack of shame about human sexuality was incredibly validating, and hearing that message couched in the musical language of proto-punk made it a seriously titillating experience.

Of course, I didn’t know at the time that Iggy had campaigned for Ronald Reagan for president. That kind of stupidity makes him completely unacceptable as a sexual partner, but I’ll take his music with me to any hotel, motel or dungeon any time to enhance the ambiance of my favorite art form.

Fucking!

3 responses

  1. At one point, one of my favorite records! Unfortunately, since I’ve listened to it nearly 200 times, I’ve grown sick of it. Always loved the Stooges. I remember first hearing their debut album. Man, was I blown away(“1969” and “We Will Fall” in particular). As always, stellar review!

    Like

    1. Thank you! Sorry if my comments are bit clipped but I’m in Montreal after a seriously delayed set of flights and feeling a bit frazzled and out of sync with time.

      Like

      1. That is quite alright! Thank you for taking the time to respond to my various comments!

        Like

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