New book delivers a worthy roadkill dissection, one gig at a time
Iggy & The Stooges Onstage 1967-74 by Per Nilsen (Sonic Bond Publishing)
Cutting to the chase: This is an amazing book and an essential item for any Stoogephile. Swedish author Per Nilsen has pedigree – he wrote the world’s first Iggy Pop biography, “The Wild One”, way back in 1988 – and he’s an academic, so you know it’s going to be researched to, er, within an inch of its pretty face going to hell.
The concept is simple: Nilsen divides the original lifespan of the Stooges into logical chunks, provides contextual information and then lists every show played, accompanied by as much information as is available. Yes, every show. He draws on a mix of primary sources and published interviews. He relies heavily on advertisements and reviews from local papers, underground press like The Fifth Estate and Natalie Schlossman’s fan magazine “Popped”.
You can’t beat great research. Nilsen picks up inaccuracies published elsewhere and rules out advertised gigs that were never played. He even calls out a minor error in Paul Trynka’s definitive “Open Up and Bleed” book. I’m not sure the road crew accounts here of the alleged Goose Lake shutdown tally with the Third Man Records record of the same show, but they make fascinating reading.
The roll-call of first-hand accounts is impressive. Early manager Jimmy Silver is a big catch. James Williamson’s bad guy rap for poisoning the band is shown to be the ill-considered myth that it is, with tour manager John Adam (aka The Fellow) confirmed as the real catalyst for various members’ heroin habits.
The Decline Years of the Stooges, post-Mainman, hold a certain fascination for hardcore fans. Part of it is voyeurism – a peek into the on-the-road medicine cabinet and the approval-seeking, self-insulating excesses that it fuelled in a damaged singer – and the other part is wondering why the band kept going on its march of death.
Of course the answer is that there was no alternative, and “Onstage…” gives us a front-=row seat at the circus. There are fan accounts from in the crowd and backstage, insights from sound operator Nite Bob about the quality of shows and Iggy’s bravado/fucked up antics, and unadorned reviews by zine and industry press writers. They’re not all glowing. There’s even a dissing of the band from Paul Stanley of PISS (sorry, KISS) which carries a degree of unintended irony.
A light is shone on every phase of the Stooges’ storied, pre-reformation life. Nilsen’s writing style is clinical and he leaves the participants to add the colour in their own words. There are surprises. Warhol crew member-turned-management-sidekick Tony Zanetta balances the historical ledger in favour of Tony Defries, pointing out what the Mainman organisation gave the Stooges only for them to fall back into their decadent spiral.
Details count when you’re a Stooges obsessive. Warren Klein’s I-94 Bar interview fills gaps about the fleeting tenure of “Tornado Turner” as a replacement for Williamson. Saxophonist Steve Mackay’s similarly brief spell as emergency fill-in for Scott Asheton at the Eastown Theatre in Detroit in 1971 shows Alice Cooper members Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton had a fine time.
The big take-out is how much chaos surrounded the Stooges at almost every step. Nilsen’s deep research shows a surprising number of blown-out gigs – and not all of them as a result of the band’s excesses. There are as many instances of ineptitude on the part of promoters or venue bookers.
Which isn’t to infer that the Stooges were a well-oiled machine. If Rock Action isn’t (famously) driving a 14-foot truck under a 12-foot bridge, a tour manager’s MIA with hepatitis or a club owner’s withholding a fee that would have financed flights to the next gig. As important a mentor as Danny Fields was, by his own admission he was a manager by long distance. Arguably, nobody could have saved the Stooges.
“On Stage” is a paperback and its 150-odd pages are sprinkled with rare and previously unseen photos. You know what to do.