Thursday, November 16, 2017

Cameron Smith/Sur Duda's "Paper Knife"

After the Wreck Room on West 7th Street -- my favorite rawk dump of all ti-i-ime, which I saw as the locus for a community based around music that I'd idealized since I was a kid -- shut its doors in 2007, my wife and I were like stateless people for awhile, trying to find new spots to dock. We were never really regulars at 1919 Hemphill or the Where House, but we dipped our toes in those scenes while they existed. (I'm still waiting for someone to document them the way we did our old haunt with Wreck Room Stories.) Eventually, my bands were able to gig at the Chat Room, a dive over in the funky-but-chic Fairmount district, and the now-defunct Fairmount, a former gay bar a few blocks east of the Chat, but a bridge too far back when all the storefronts in that part of West Magnolia Avenue were dark by show time.

In 2012, I stopped gigging on a regular basis, but was still able to observe the blossoming of the Fairmount district into a thriving hip enclave with anchors like the Chat and its impresario Brad Hensarling's other watering hole The Usual; pioneering vegan eatery Spiral Diner; local roasters Avoca Coffee; the Boiled Owl Tavern; and old favorite Benito's Mexican restaurant (across the street from which an old ally of mine will be opening a record store, Panther City Vinyl, later this year). Leon Bridges' breakout success (Major label contract! National TV appearances!) put Fairmount on the map for folks from elsewhere who follow such things, while no less an authority than Texas Monthly has hailed the Near South Side 'hood as a scene to watch -- and Cameron Smith as a key player in its development.

Since 2011, Smith has fronted War Party, a punkish outfit with roots in earlier forms (from the Belmonts to the Kinks and Velvets) whose stock in trade has been its leader's smart songwriting, wedded to unusual instrumental textures (their lineup includes a full-time trumpet player, but their sound is redolent of neither jazz, nor Cake). In 2015, War Party's label Lo-Life Recordings joined forces with fellow musos (Year of the Bear, the Fibs) Jennifer and Robby Rux's label Dreamy Soundz to birth Dreamy Life Records, a concern which has documented Fort Worth's indie scene on over 40 releases -- so far -- in various media (cassette, CD, and vinyl, as well as digital), and grown to include a small record store co-located with the Fairmount Community Library, and Cloudland Recording Studio, also located on the Near South Side.

This month, Dreamy Life is releasing Paper Knife, Smith's most fully realized solo work to date, and it's a corker, consolidating all of his strengths and presenting them in sterling settings he crafted with the able assistance of co-producers Peter Wierenga and Britt Robisheaux. Smith's lyrics are observational and only occasionally obtuse, and they tumble out as though he has a lot on his mind and wants to make sure he gets it all across, with a delivery that alternates between casually slurred lines and others that soar with longing. The backing musos -- War Party drummer Peter Marsh on guitar and bass, Jesse Gage (Movie the Band) on drums, Andy Pickett (an estimable songwriter himself, with a self-titled album about to drop) on keys, and flautist Alex Rhea -- provide solid support that makes the songs shine.

"Baby Teeth" kicks the door open with a rumination on crossing over from innocence to experience, with a subtle nod to Leon Bridges and an '80s pop bounce: "They don't tell you selling out is more innocent than unemployment / They don't tell you getting soft just means living how you want to live....But they don't call it paying dues when you're in there washing dishes / They only call it paying dues when their hands are holding tickets."

"Long Hands" bespeaks alienation over sleek post-punk sonics: "Every face in this place has got something to hide / I've been thinking a lot about where I call home / Every square inch of space in this room is occupied / and in a crowd this size, I'm always alone."

"Royal Jelly" is an electric piano-driven garage rock pounder (shades of the Remains!), leading into the title track and lead-off single, wherein Smith wearily slogs through the day-to-day hoping for redemption (sounding for all the world like Paul Westerberg or Joe Strummer circa Sandinista!), with a guitar hook that'll imprint itself in your synapses on the first or twelfth listen. "It's Whatever," which Smith introduced at Lola's back in September as being about "what your kids think," examines the disconnects between parents and adult children.

The doleful beauty of "Rearrange the Room" harks back sonically to the heyday of the Smiths and Joy Division, while "Lie In It (Sunshine)" captures the angst of searching for moments of peace in a country at perpetual war: "I saw bodies falling from buildings when I was in school / and the live feed is streaming still -- It's cruel / but it's hard to let go of a battle habit, / especially when you're still in love with it."

In "Fort Night," Smith expresses some ambivalence about the community he's helped create, over backing that chugs along like primal VU, with backup vocals that fairly ooze ennui: "When the sun goes down the neighborhood really comes alive / But lately I've been drinking, thinking I'd rather see it dead again." Paper Knife's deceptive simplicity reveals new levels on each listening. This might just be the best new record I've heard this year.

Friday, November 10, 2017

"The World of Captain Beefheart (featuring Nona Hendryx and Gary Lucas)"

A few weeks ago, I was stoked to stream a hot set by the reunited members of Ornette Coleman's Prime Time Band (augmented by David Murray, Wallace Roney, Badal Roy, and Marc Ribot) from an unlikely venue: San Francisco's eclectic Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. The band after Prime Time was Cheap Trick. Go fig. But it made me unreasonably happy, not just because they played well, but because such occurrences are a sign that Ornette's music continues to be performed and heard by new audiences after its creator's passing.

More recently, I got a similar kick when I stumbled across a Dangerous Minds piece (which may be gone by the time you read this) announcing the release on Knitting Factory of a set of Captain Beefheart covers by Don Van Vliet's former manager and accompanist Gary Lucas and an unlikely collaborator: Nona Hendryx, best known from her time with salacious R&B divas Labelle. Those of A Certain Age will recall Labelle from their disco hit "Lady Marmalade." I also have the memory of seeing them get booed off the stage when they opened for the Who at Forest Hills in '71, imprinting on my 14-year-old mind the idea that rock fans can be racist goons. (The 'orrible 'oo themselves loved their opening act, having first shared a stage with them at Murray the K's '67 Easter show, when they were still known as Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles.)

Hendryx herself has bulletproof Lower Manhattan underground cred, having gone on to perform with Talking Heads, her own New Wave outfit Zero Cool, Bill Laswell's Material, and the Black Rock Coalition. She'd previously sung Don's songs at NYC's Bowery Poetry Club for a 2011 Beefheart tribute organized by Jesse Krakow (ex-Doctor Nerve, who played with Lucas in the Van Vliet repertory unit Fast 'N' Bulbous and is the bassist and co-producer on the record under consideration here), and at an Amsterdam Paradiso event that featured a 65-piece orchestra playing Beefheart tunes. Lucas has also performed in Magic Band reunion groups that included original Beefheart drummer John French. With French having announced his retirement following a series of shows this year (including one in Austin where he was backed by Churchwood), Lucas is the last Magic Band veteran still playing this music. He knows the material well enough to synthesize two and even three guitar parts, when necessary.

The World of Captain Beefheart documents Hendryx's Amsterdam set, backed by a stripped-down four-piece (guitar, bass, drums, keyboards) in place of the orchestra. The selection of tunes reminds us that Beefheart music wasn't all one thing. Besides the jagged dissonance that made Don's reputation on monumental albums like Trout Mask Replica, Lick My Decals Off Baby, and Doc At the Radar Station, there was Safe As Milk's garage psychedelia, The Spotlight Kid's doomy swamp music, and the accessible -- even danceable -- R&B-flavored rock of Clear Spot and Shiny Beast.

Hendryx draws on each of these strains, starting out in Clear Spot territory with a take on "Sun Zoom Spark" that grabs you by the lapels and shakes you with its shuddering syncopation, gliding into the beautiful soul ballad "My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains," showcasing Don's often-overlooked lyricism with a vocal approach that makes the song hers for a minute. Safe As Milk opener "Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do" gets a treatment closer to the Delta than Ry Cooder et al. originally gave it. Keyboardist Jordan Shapiro throws a little barrelhouse piano in among the "Rollin' and Tumblin'"-isms, and Lucas' snaky slide slithers all over. "Sleep with me, and I'll sleep with you," indeed.

"I'm Glad," another song from Safe As Milk, is as close as Don ever came to Smokey Robinson's turf, reminding one that the Magic Band started out as popular locals, playing for car clubs in the high desert. Hendryx and backup vocalists Kiki Hawkins and Keith Fluitt take it all the way uptown. "The Smithsonian Institute Blues" is a sturdy piece of ecology crank-ism from Lick My Decals Off, Baby, released back around the time of the first Earth Day; Hendryx invests it with a repose that might indicate resignation, or that she's seen worse. "Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles" is another Clear Spot item, on which Hendryx's soulful approach manages to reconcile its blues and its lyricism. Lucas' solo recalls Jeff Beck around the time his Stevie Wonder influence started showing.

I think I first heard "Suction Prints" from a tape of the '73 show at NYC's Town Hall that Lucas mentions in the liner notes. After that, I had it on several bootlegs before seeing Don open with it twice with the '75 Magic Band (Walley-Tepper-Feldman-Williams) -- a revelatory experience in which I realized that what I'd previously thought was chaos was actually through-composed, while hearing musos different than the ones on the record playing Trout Mask songs note-for-note. The tune itself, a crashing-and-thumping instrumental that winds its way through several sections, never fails to speed up my heartbeat. I can feel Richard Dorkin's kick drum in my solar plexus. Feels good. And the absence of trombone makes it sound more like what I originally heard than the version on Shiny Beast.

Hendryx and Co. pay a visit to Trout Mask via "Sugar 'N Spikes," a relatively lighthearted bit of wordplay with backing that is alternately playful and majestic, and the insane stop-and-go of "When Big Joan Sets Up" -- which today sounds like an early commentary on body shaming; Don was ahead of his songwriting contemporaries in more ways than one. Hendryx's vocalismo only comes up short when she's imitating Don's constricted-larynx falsetto. She's back on familiar turf with the Stax-ish romp "Too Much Time" from Clear Spot, on which she sounds more at home than the song's author. Oh, to have heard Sharon Jones sing this!

To these feedback-scorched ears, they might have saved the best for last. The Spotlight Kid's "When It Blows Its Stacks" -- which Krakow previously covered with Doctor Nerve -- juxtaposes doom-blues with a delicate melodic interlude, and Lucas' solo summons the shade of Winged Eel Fingerling. They close the program with the carnivalesque and slightly menacing "Tropical Hot Dog Night," which had me scratching my head when I first heard it on Shiny Beast but now just might be my favorite Beefheart tune of all. While this is the kind of project that makes old fans dig out their albums, it also works on its own terms. This band sounds like it'd be a blast to hear live.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Hy Maya's "The Mysticism of Sound and Cosmic Language"


Smog Veil's "Platters du Cuyahoga" series continues to bring us unheard gems from the '70s heyday of Cleveland's musical underground. This latest is the logical successor to last year's release of the Robert Bensick Band's French Pictures in London and the more recent one of Allen Ravenstine and Albert Dennis' Terminal Drive

Hy Maya was an amorphous experimental ensemble, led by Bensick, which included Ravenstine, Dennis, and future Pere Ubu drummer Scott Krauss among its regular participants. The Mysticism of Sound and Cosmic Language compiles live and studio recordings, most made during the second half of 1972, to provide a snapshot of their visual art-inspired sound. (Their first gig was an art exhibit of Bensick's at Cleveland State University.) The album drops on November 24 in double LP and CD or digital download formats (the latter two including six worthwhile bonus tracks, Bensick's incandescent flute features "Amplified For Clarity" and "Orb Overview" among 'em). The tape transfers, sequencing, and mastering were the last work undertaken by longtime Pere Ubu engineer Paul Hamann, who died in September. The estimable Nick Blakey does his usual exemplary job of research and documentation.

On the opening sequence ("Awareness Now" into "Neurons Fire," recorded live at the Cellar in Sandusky), dark ambience gives way to motorik riddim with spacey slide guitar glisses and wordless vocals over a two-chord jam. "Dance of Illusion (Camel Song)," from a summer '72 rehearsal, unfolds at a leisurely pace, propelled by Krauss' busy drumming and Bob Friedhofer's hypnotically monotonous piano, with which Dennis' bowed bass and Bensick's extemporization on a variety of instruments combine to produce a soundscape where the Near Easternism of Sandy Bull and Kaleidoscope meets the early VU's droning grit. (The bonus track "Dissolving the Contradiction" from the debut art show gig lives in the same space.)

On "Consumption of the Core Self," Ravenstine's synth and tape manipulations provide a sinister introduction and contrast to the rolling acoustic sound of Cynthia Black's piano arpeggios, while on "The Fabric of Time and Space," they create a lysergically pastoral atmosphere worthy of Barrett-era Pink Floyd. "Is This the Moment (Antimatter Does Matter)," a nonlinear collage of sounds from the debut gig, and the studio-recorded "Left Brain Reflexions (Quantum Entanglement)" demonstrate that Hy Maya was exploring territory in the early '70s which bands like Ghost and Sunburned Hand of the Man would continue to inhabit in the 21st century. 

Some of the material borders on jazz: "A Quantum Mechanic Mambo (Bigfoot)" sends Bensick on safari through an electronic jungle like Miles on Get Up With It, while the opening salvo of the home-recorded "Hold the Holograph (I Think Now I See)" is Ravenstine rampant, with Krauss shadowing him every step of the way. On the live-at-the-Cellar "Ship of Fools (Dissolving the Contradiction)," Bensick blows flute squiggles and then declaims over a two-chord vamp and another motorik beat. Replete with sonic surprises, The Mysticism of Sound and Cosmic Language is a fascinating and multifaceted listen, ahead of its time and vibrantly resonant in the present.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Sardines tribute/fundraiser

To all who remember Sardines, once FTW's best date/jazz/dinner spot, pianist extraordinaire Johnny Case (who played there every night for 28 years) sends:

Dear Friends,

The tribute to Sardines Ristorante Italiano held at Arts Fifth Avenue shortly after the restaurant's demise was intended to be an annual event, yet no other such tributes took place. No others were being planned until I heard about a former employee in need of a liver transplant. Kenny Hardee was a manager at Sardines and his wife Adrienne also an employee for many years. Kenny is currently employed and has medical insurance, yet the out-of-pocket costs for his desperately needed transplant add up to a daunting $100,000 (!!).

Sardines' employees have always seemed like "family" - unified by a shared connection to the unique Fort Worth institution that was a historic and cultural treasure. Never has there been a better reason for a repeated tribute than to aid one among the family members at a time of dire need.

"Remembering Sardines" will be held Friday, December 1, at Arts Fifth Avenue in Fort Worth. Gracey Tune and Deb Wood of A5A are donating the venue for the charitable purpose, withholding only operating expenses which will be reduced by donated food and drink for attendees. The musicians are performing without pay and an intriguing Silent Auction will include Sardines memorabilia and more, in the form of posters, works of art, A5A packages, recordings and artifacts from the original Sardines. Of special interest in the Silent Auction: a Gemeinhardt flute that had belonged to the late Suzan England, longtime Sardines manager. She gave it me in hopes I would know where it could best serve a good purpose. In twelve years I've not encountered a prodigy deprived of a quality instrument, so it seems to me that we are now confronted with that "good purpose" Suzan's flute can serve. The talented Ms. England was a visual artist who also played piano in addition to the flute. She was much loved by those who knew her, and Suzan was the musician's advocate whenever she knew of such a need.

Performers who will join me (I was house pianist/band leader at Sardines for 28 years) include Joey Carter on vibes and piano; Chris White on bass, trumpet and flute; Keith Wingate on drums. Carter will perform on the second set. This is the core group, other players will join in for an unbridled jazz jam, as was so often heard at Sardines.

The cover charge of $25 includes a delicious Italian dinner served along with "food for the soul" in the sounds of modern (acoustic) jazz. The festivities begin at 7:00 PM. Please attend if possible and make your reservations ASAP by calling Arts Fifth Avenue 817-923-9500.

I realize that logistics will prevent attendance by those who live far outside the D/FW area. If you cannot attend, but would like to contribute to Kenny Hardee, please visit the designated donation site.

Thank you for reading all of the above, and I hope to see many familiar faces on December 1 - a show of strong support is a great way to exhibit the spirit of the holidays.

Your Friend,

Johnny

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

"I Never Metaguitar Four"

The "death" of the guitar continues to be periodically announced, usually by executives of guitar manufacturers or retailers whose business models have reached the point of no return, not realizing that their biggest competition is their own old product, or other merchants who can provide similar utility for less money. (Pro tip: Try marketing to women, fellas. Big untapped market.)

While the guitar's days as the dominant instrument in popular music might be over (I emphasize "might" because I'm not really tuned into the Zeitgeist enough to have an opinion), nobody bothered to tell the 16 solo performers whose work is compiled in this latest volume of Elliott Sharp's outstanding series of anthologies for the estimable Portuguese Clean Feed label. Rather than hot licks, slick chops, or NAMM booth flash, they operate in a realm of extended techniques, imaginative signal processing, and composer's intent. With the exceptions of American in Paris Rhys Chatham, Finnish jazz rocker Kalle Kalima, the late Ornette Coleman sideman Bern Nix (to whom this volume is dedicated), and Brooklyn-based electro-acoustic composer Marco Oppedisano, all of these players are unfamiliar to me, which is part of what makes things like this such a treat. As is my custom with comps, I shall provide three-word reviews of each track.

Knox Chandler -- Everything is pulse.
Tashi Dorji -- ECU episodic atonality.
Monika Roscher -- Alien insect transmission.
Rhys Chatham -- Slow motion arpeggios.
Kalle Kalima -- Neil Young waltz.
Ryan Choi -- Multiple aleatory voices.
Marco Oppedisano -- Who "Relay" synthesis.
Bern Nix -- Peripatetic chord melody.
Markus Reuter -- Celestial chiming harmonics.
Hahn Rowe -- Concentric feedback circles.
Pete Matthiessen -- Resonator tone poem.
Robert Poss -- Drones for dancers.
Ron Anderson -- Neural net soundtrack.
Morgan Craft -- Overlapping long tones.
Roberto Zorzi -- Pitch shifted soundscape.
Erdem Helvacioglu -- Delicate pastoral vignette.

The truest response to those executives I alluded to at the top of this post might be this: The guitar is not a commodity. It's a tool, a canvas, a medium for expression. Long after your quarterly reports are filed, creative humans will be using it to shout at the sky, "I am."

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A hot date with King Crimson, Fair Park Music Hall, Dallas, 10.21.2017

1) Expensive? Yep. Worth it? You betcha. A wish fulfillment show for sure.

2) Whoever booked this in a venue without reserved parking while the State Fair was in progress probably lost their job (or at least got a stern talking-to). The house was about 3/4 full, which gave balcony sitters who were so inclined the opportunity to go snag floor seats. Myself, I kind of liked the view from up top (we were in the front row of the balcony).

3) The difference between going to a big rock show as a 20something and a 60something: getting a buzz is less important than emptying your bladder.

4) Any chance to hang out with my dear friends Jeff Liles and Dennis Gonzalez is worthwhile. Bonus: As soon as we got to our seats, we ran into Cameron Long and Chris Donley from Fort Worth. Cam admitted that as a youngster, he'd been a frequent visitor to the Dallas Summer Musicals, and predicted the sound would be ace, which it was.

5) Before the band hit, there were signs onstage (and on the video monitors, which were turned off during the performance) requesting that the audience refrain from "viddying" or recording. It was further explained by the genial disembodied voice on the PA that photography would only be allowed after the encore, when Tony Levin (stellar as always on Chapman Stick, electric and acoustic basses) picked up his camera, because he wanted to take pictures of us, and it was a quid pro quo.

6) The "Radical Action" Crimson -- which quirky mastermind Robert Fripp has referred to as "King Crimson reimagined" -- played two long (about 80-minute) sets, with a 20-minute intermission, proving conclusively that "rock as repertory" can be not only engaging, but compelling. The sets were beautifully paced, with material from every stage of the band's career, including some surprises: a fair amount of material from Lizard, the title track from Islands, the never-performed-live-before "Moonchild" from In the Court of the Crimson King (which omitted the meandering improv in favor of brief cadenzas from bass and piano before segueing into "In the Court" itself), "Neurotica" from Beat. This eight-headed hydra, including three drummers (one of whom doubled on keys) managed to embody the characteristics of all the great Crimson lineups past -- the orchestral grandeur of the original '69 unit, the visceral gut-punch of the '73-'75 lineup (minus their epic improvisational flights), and even the spidery, pointillistic electronic gamelan of the '81-'84 band -- while adding some new material to the canon (clustered near the end of the second set, after the Crimheads were assured they'd gotten their value for money).

7) About those drummers (from audience left to right, Pat Mastolotto, Jeremy Stacey, and Gavin Harrison): I wasn't sure how this would work, but it was magnificent -- sometimes working in unison, sometimes splitting up a part three ways, sometimes conducting conversations, sometimes making the sound move through space like a Stockhausen piece. Mastolotto (was this guy really in Mr. Mister?) has now logged more time in the KC lineup than Bill Bruford, and added percussion and electronic drums to the mix. Stacey, in a John Bonham bowler, doubled on keys to supplement main keyboard man Chris Gibson when needed. Harrison is listed as "main drummer," and got applause from Mastolotto for his solo turn in the obligatory "Schizoid Man" encore, but they're all stupendous.

8) A friend and Crimhead had derided Mel Collins' contributions as "like Kenny G." Nothing could be further from the truth. Besides replicating the recorded wind parts, Collins doubled the heavy rifferama on baritone, filled in for David Cross' violin on alto, and generally soloed with more abandon than his recorded work would have led me to expect. MVP of the show, for my two cents.

9) Guitarist-vocalist Jakko Jakszyk (ex-21st Century Schizoid Men and, someone alleged, Fripp's son-in-law) has also been the subject of some negative talk, to which I reply, "Well, you can't ask Lake or Wetton anymore." I've read that Fripp and Adrian Belew have buried the hatchet (or resolved the misunderstanding), which opens the door for AB's participation in the next Crimson tour. Belew himself inspires some dissension among Crimheads; his goofiness can be seen as either cloying or endearing, but Fripp clearly digs him enough to have retained his services through multiple incarnations of the band. That said, I think that what he brings to the table is different -- but not better -- than what Jakko does. Jakszyk has good voice quality, and hits all the right notes. While his leads are kind of pedestrian, he can play all those knuckle-busting parts just fine. Good on him.

10) The setlist, as cribbed from King Fripp's Facebook page:

Set One
"Drumsons"
"Larks Tongues Part 1"
"Pictures of a City"
"Cirkus"
"Neurotica"
"Fallen Angel"
"Epitaph"
"Island"
"Larks Tongues Part 2"
"Red"

Set Two
"Drumsons"
"Indiscipline"
"The ConstruKction of Light"
"Moonchild"
"Tony Levin Cadenza"
"Jezza Cadenza"
"In the Court"
"Dawn Song"
"Last Skirmish"
"Prince Rupert's Lament"
"Meltdown"
"Radical Action 2"
"Level 5"
"Starless"

Encore
"21st Century Schizoid Man"

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Things we like: The Ig and I

St. Lester was half right when he wrote that never again would we agree about anything the way we did about Elvis. David Bowie, Prince, and now Tom Petty have proven him incorrect in the specifics, but he nailed the big overarching thing: only music can unite us the way grief and loss do. Put 'em together, and...goodbye, baby, and amen, indeed.

When Ron Asheton died, my buddy Geoff in Philly called me up and said, "Day the music died." For me, it was and it wasn't. Sure, Ron was the guy -- not Iggy -- whom I wanted to be from the time I watched the Stooges at the Cincinnati Pop Festival on my mother's TV when I was 13. In my 40s, was fortunate to be able to interview him (although I kind of got the impression he'd tell those stories to anybody who'd listen, in those years between the Stooges' 1974 implosion and their 2003 resurrection), and to get to say "Thanks" to him in person (and see him play Those Songs three times). After that, I didn't need to see the reunited Stooges play (although I had oppos), because I'd already seen the part I needed to. (By then, I was also playing Stooge songs in a band that had all my favorite local musos on their respective instruments. Lucky me!)

As much as I love the Stooges, there's other music that's given me as much enjoyment over the years: the 'orrible 'oo, the Stones (as much the water I grew up swimming in as Hendrix, I've lately come to realize), Uncle Lou and the Velvets, Zappa and Beefheart, Ornette and Shannon Jackson. Almost all gone now. When Townshend checks out, it really will be "the day the music died" for me. (For some reason, I'm not as invested in Mick and Keef.) And then...there's Iggy.

Even though I lost the thread of his career after Raw Power, briefly picking it up again for the James Williamson-produced New Values, I have no trouble acknowledging that it's Jim Osterberg who now owns the Stooge story, by virtue of his being the Last Man Standing (Strait James having gone on to other musical projects, and more power to him). It's Jim/Iggy's voice that dominates Jim Jarmusch's Stooges doco Gimme Danger (which I discussed at length with Phil Overeem here), as well as Jeff Gold's coffee table book Total Chaos: The Story of the Stooges.

Both of these artifacts appeared in late 2016. Put 'em together and you have a pretty comprehensive document of the Stooge saga as told by its protagonist and uber-alienated "ethnographer," as Maria Damon characterized Iggy in her review of Total Chaos for the literary journal Rain Taxi. Add Ron's stories from Please Kill Me and Paul Trynka's well-constructed narrative from Open Up and Bleed and you've got as close to the full story as anyone who wasn't there is going to get. (Although there's always more; Ed Caraeff just pubbed his photos of the Stooges' stand at the Whisky-a-Go-Go, just after recording Funhouse, in a volume entitled Iggy and the Stooges: One Night at the Whisky 1970.)

The Achilles heel in Jarmusch's film is the paucity of live footage of the Stooges in their heyday (the Youtube-era reunion is, of course, extensively documented). To compensate, Jarmusch used still images in a manner that could uncharitably be compared with humorist John Hodgman's Ken Burns parody Hobo Matters. In a way, the Gold book (edited by the estimable Jon Savage) serves the same purpose as the cornucopia of stills that flashes on the screen toward the end of Jarmusch's film (bringing to this viewer's mind the cathartic reel of romantic scenes at the end of Cinema Paradiso), with the added benefit of being able to hold them in your hand and linger over them.

Ex-record label guy Gold and his collaborator Johan Kugelberg (the main man behind the excellent The Velvet Underground: New York Art coffee table book of a few years back) are elite fans, mavens with access and enviable memorabilia collections (a nice term for the administrative detritus of rockaroll), and they ask the kind of clued-in questions any Stooge fan would, given the chance -- often using a photo or piece of memorabilia as a springboard or memory jogger.

The Iggy of Gold's book and Jarmusch's movie is an intelligent man of wit and charm, impressive recall (even of extremely dissolute periods in his life), and a fair amount of self awareness -- a friendly, plain-spoken midwesterner, reminiscing from the perspective of someone with 50 years' experience as a professional entertainer. "Yeah," he tells Gold, "I'll tell you I've made every wrong move that anybody has ever said I've made. The only thing that bothers me is that how consistently the people who tell tales the most on that have never figured out their own wrong moves. They're all peerless, flawless, and blameless."

Ig's spiel is less self-aggrandizing than one might expect, and his comments shed light on his collaborators' contributions in a way that makes them ring true. Who'd have guessed that the early Stooges had stage fright, and were in awe of some of the bands they opened for at the Grande? As a guitar player, I nodded my head reading Iggy's observation that unlike "a normal white guy blues asshole," Ron the once-and-future bass player started out using very heavy strings, which explains why he never bent a string more than a half-step on those first two albums, and awoke in me the sense memory of the first time I kicked on my Fuzz Face and tried to bend the wound G from a set of Black Diamond heavies. The revelation that Ron used a Leslie rotating speaker to get the shimmering sound on "Dirt" made me feel idiotic for trying to imitate it with a wah-wah pedal for the past 11 years.

The most telling comment comes in response to Richard Creamer's photo of the five Raw Power-era band members (by this time, future Tom Petty sideman Scott Thurston had joined on piano) in the dressing room at LA's Whisky-a-Go-Go. Iggy and Scott Asheton are seated and obviously junked out -- their hooded eyes tell the story. Thurston, mustachioed Ron, and James stand behind them in glam drag. In Iggy's recollection, "The two guys in front who are the most fucked up are the guys who have to do the actual physical work, and we're the two guys who at all times were the most totally committed to the insane romanticism, to the Quixote aspect of the group. Here you have the three little birds sitting on the fence. The vulture, that's James, the magpie, that's Ron, he love to gossip and chat. And...[Thurston just] imitates whatever he hears and plays along, that's what I see. They're sitting on the fence and these two guys in front are taking the hard knocks."

And there's this -- Iggy on how his access to a paternal role model growing up affected his dealings with the other Stooges, who lost their fathers while they were young: "There's a father [thing] going through this band, and it goes like this. If you ask -- or God forbid, demand -- of an Asheton brother to do anything, no matter what the words or action that comes out, the real statement is, 'You're not my dad. You're not my dad. I don't care about you. You have no authority. I don't have to. You're not my dad.' If you ask Williamson or tell him anything or fight any, 'Fuck you. You're my stepfather. Fuck you. You're my step-dad.'...With me it was, 'I'm your dad. Hey. Hi. I'm [your] fuckin' dad!' And that's what I was for this fuckin' group."

To read any band bio (or view any band biopic) is to be reminded of how merciless young men can be, how ephemeral their alliances, and how enduring their grievances. The most compelling parts of the Stooge saga, to me, are the "becoming" years, culminating in Funhouse, before every move was made with an eye toward "keeping the career going." The Jim Osterberg who speaks in these pages reminds me of the man I heard speaking to Detroit DJs Deminski and Doyle the day after Ron died, capable of more compassion and vulnerability than his stage persona would indicate. The bits in Gold's book on the Asheton brothers near the end of their lives are poignant, and make Jarmusch's interview segments with Scott Asheton -- appearing frail and wizened for someone with such a fearsome reputation -- seem even more so.

If I have a beef about the book, it's that I really don't care what contemporary rockers -- even Josh Homme, who worked with Iggy after Scott Asheton's death put paid to the Stooges reunion, or Joan Jett, whom I saw wipe the floor with Ig in Dallas, ca. 1980 (in fairness, her guitarist at the time said that Iggy smoked three joints of angel dust before his set) -- have to say about the Stooges' importance. A better use of the space might have been reproducing the text of some of the articles from broadsheet newspapers illustrated here, which are a little taxing on the eye (although some of the correspondence from Stooges manager Jimmy Silver and Elektra company freak Danny Fields presented in this manner is both legible and delightful). A minor point.

I recently responded to a Facebook post by Pete Townshend, atypically doing his own social media during a brief tour with "Classic Quadrophenia," in which he contemplated whether or not he would continue to do so. I would say the same thing to Iggy, if I could: "You owe nobody anything. But thank you for what you have given us."