Raw Power

Is there a more moronic band name than “Iggy and the Stooges?” Looking at the cover of this, their third album, you’d have every reason to think them to be gas-huffing clowns, midnight wankers, mental defectives. To a certain degree, you’d be right. This is a stupid record - however, stupid and smart are not mutually exclusive. Idiocy and genius sometimes travel together, like the ghosts of Siamese twins.

Raw Power is an album about war-as-sex and sex-as-war. And while it’s sloppy, self-indulgent and out of control, it is also the greatest piece of art to emerge from the imaginal jungles of Viet Nam. Was Iggy a vet? Hell no - while the grunts were dying in the mud, Iggy was in high school drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon and Romilar. Did he watch the whole war on TV? Everybody did, eating supper as the seven o’clock news gave us body counts, live executions, and endless fire fights in misty rice paddies.

The album’s first track is “Search and Destroy,” and it ends with “My Death Trip.” In between Iggy howls about disease, penetration, “hallucination true romance,” falling deep into the underworld and dancing “to the beat of the living dead.” In “Search and Destroy” he warns every girl in America to look out - because he’s got a “heart full of napalm” and he’s “using technology.” This is a new kind of war with a new kind of casualties. The smoke still hangs over the jungles and bombed-out cities and this “streetwalking chetah” has already become “the world’s forgotten boy.”

In 1972, glam rock had exploded like an antipersonnel mine full of silver confetti and mylar streamers. A year later, Raw Power exploded with a far less glamorous look and sound. Punk rock is all here already: snarling vocals, sludge-guitar riffing, cretin-hop drums, caveman bass, minimalist chord structure and speed freak energy. The gleam of glam is still here too, though already tainted with street-dirt, beer stains and dried body fluids. The mascara is running down Iggy’s face and his silver lizard pants hang loose from his emaciated hips. He pouts on the back cover, trying for a soulful mirror gaze, though he looks more like a brain damaged transvestite hooker than a Glamor Boy. On the front cover he manages a slightly more dignified pose - staring straight into some celestial amphetamine spotlight glare. Still, with his jutting jaw, sloppy lipstick and blond shag he might be the bastard spawn of Mussolini dressed by his alcoholic burlesque-queen mom.

It all ends with his Death Trip. It’s all revealed in the last track, where the “sick boy sick boy going round” wails, hoots, and barks at some slime-flecked moon. He shouts in an incoherent jabber about someone (everyone?) who must “come and be my enemy.” Then as the band jerks back and forth like a shot-up jeep stuck in a swamp-hole, Iggy gives his big proclamation: “We’re going down in history.”

Who is this “we?” The Stooges, who never made another album? Iggy and some nameless girl in a sleazy hotel room? Dead soldiers? Glam rock refugees? Americans staring at their TV sets? Every survivor of the era who remembers, who keeps listening, who knows?

And what is this “history?” The truth about a lost time and place. A ghost story with a punk-buzz soundtrack. A tale told by an idiot-genius. Or maybe all three.