Jumpin’ in the Night #3: Dancing To The Beat Of The Living Dead
In his quest for a so-called “New Sound”, ANDREW STAFFORD gets overwhelmed by feelings of nostalgia.
Although there have been various occasions in my life when I’ve wanted to neck myself, most of the time, I sincerely hope I don’t die before I get old. I’d miss too many great records, to start with. More than that, I’d miss too many great gigs – gigs by people for whom rockin’ out in their 50s and 60s would once have seemed not just unseemly, but impossible.
It’s funny to think of the fuss reunion concerts created when they first started appearing, long before the “Don’t Look Back” series gave them a more high-minded purpose than just cashing in on an act or album’s enduring appeal. Not that there’s anything wrong with that in my book – why should anyone ever be criticised for exploiting his or her own creative work?
I consider myself extremely fortunate to live in the age of the reunion. I saw Sonic Youth do one the very best shows I’ve ever seen a couple of years ago, doing full justice to Daydream Nation in a perfect blend of recreation and extemporisation. I saw the Saints in 2007, and though I might be accused of bias there, I thought they were pretty fucking great, too – certainly better than the Sex Pistols on their Filthy Lucre tour of 1996. I saw the Pixies earlier this year, too, but let’s not go there. (As I write this, an email has landed informing me that Gang of Four are touring.)
A few weeks ago, I saw Concrete Blonde. Not in the same league as the above acts, perhaps, but a damn fine show all the same, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the band’s most successful album, Bloodletting. Before Nirvana, Concrete Blonde was one of those groups chipping away in earnest at the artificial divide (in radio programmers’ enfeebled imaginations) between what was then known as alternative music and the mainstream.
They had a great set of songs – memorable, hook-filled tunes delivered by an evil genius guitarist in James Mankey and a living cross between Stevie Nicks and Ian Astbury called Johnette Napolitano. She is 53 and let me tell you, she looks and sounds better than ever – in a totally ravaged way, of course. (Mankey looks like a professor, guitar held up high, short silver hair nothing like the old LA rock locks. He definitely looked a lot better.)
Mostly, I wanted this column to be about my adventures with new music as I undertook my Mighty Boosh-like search for the “New Sound”. But damn it, I’m feeling nostalgic today, because I know that in a couple of months, I will attend my first Big Day Out since 2003. The reason for this is simple and overpowering: Iggy and the Stooges are playing, and what’s more, they are playing Raw Power. That will do me nicely, thank you very much.
I have two all-time favourite records. The first is Marquee Moon by Television, the rear-sleeve image from which I have tattooed on my lower right arm. (Albeit in reverse – on the album, it’s white on black; mine is of course black on white, and people occasionally ask me if it’s actually a black hole.) Raw Power, which I made my brother buy for me for my 18th birthday, is the other. For me they represent the two poles of white rock ’n’ roll: vaulting ambition and hallucinogenic beauty on one hand; brute force and transcendent, life-affirming energy on the other – life-affirming even as Iggy takes you along on his death trip.
Really, Pete Townshend has a lot to answer for. I know he and Roger Daltrey like to say that famous line in ‘My Generation’ is about a spirit-thing or something – nothing meant to be taken too literally, you understand – but I’m guessing Pete would have smashed his Rickenbacker over your head if you told him in 1965 (when he was all of 20) he’d still be playing the damn thing 45 years later.
Iggy, God love him, is nearly 64, and hardly nearing any kind of saccharine Paul McCartney-imagined retirement. I remember seeing him for the first (and only) time in early 1993, when he practically wiped the floor with the Beasts of Bourbon and Mudhoney at Festival Hall. I was amazed. The man’s simply a freak.
“Iggy, God love him, is nearly 64, and hardly nearing any kind of saccharine Paul McCartney-imagined retirement.”
I missed the Ron Asheton-driven version of the Stooges a few years ago, for which I’ll be eternally regretful. I was actually in Antarctica when they toured here, which wasn’t a bad excuse really, but I was probably the only one on the ship who wanted to be somewhere else at the time. I remember asking my friend and fellow Stooges-phile Evil Dick, from the magnificent Hits, about it later. Dick, I knew, would have been prepared for disappointment: how could the reality possibly live up to the myth? His eyes glazed over as he described what was clearly a religious experience for him. (Of course, they also recorded The Weirdness, and again, it’s probably best we don’t go there. Reunion albums are another topic for another day.)
You could pretty much predict that James Williamson would be taking a call from the Ig only just long enough after poor old Ron’s untimely passing last year, but I for one am more than happy about it. I love those first two Stooges records like anyone; Ron Asheton’s guitar sounds like hot lava bubbling and oozing its way down a mountain. But I love Raw Power more, because with Williamson it sounds more like a volcano is actually erupting out of your speakers – great boulders and plumes of fire tearing chunks out of your living room.
I think I’d better stop now, before my prose turns any more purple. But, in keeping with this rather backward-looking piece, my recommendation for this month is a cover. It’s the aforementioned Hits, tearing their way through a version of Devo’s ‘Gates of Steel’ (the B-side to a split single with France’s Dimi Dero Inc., on Brisbane label Mere Noise) – it sounds more like an Antipodean Sex Pistols, and all the better for it. Enjoy.