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Sarre Chasm | column | review | Lollipop
Fun(house) with Technology: Musing over the Sessions Set
by Jon Sarre
Jeez, I feel like I've been slackin' off here... It's that usual what's-there-to-write-about (passionately or otherwise) shit time again. News? News? Where's the news (uh, I hear Dave Grohl's got the flu... Get a shot, Dave)? I dunno. Missed South-By-Southwest (again). I hear the dot.commas muscled their way in this year, gettin' the musicians and other scammers droolin' o'er the bucks to be had by postin' wholey bodies of life's work on the web (or is it in their web, sayeth the spider to the fly?). Radio (a joke since it hasn't functioned worth a damn since format-happy marketing lunks hi-jacked the jocks' good vibrations by hookin' 'em all on coke back in the time period best described in Fred Goodman's excellent Mansion on the Hill [Times Books, 1997]. Read it: it'll piss ya off, if ya give two shits) is gonna be obsolete, record stores, too (what will all them snotty know-it-alls do now? Can't have my job, 'sides, it pays worse than retail!), labels, everything, soon as every goggle-eyed geek indie rock twat and crusty punker buys in and hooks up with their own personal Net yogi with their Brave New Rockin' in the Free-Market World vision.
Fuck, and I thought the availability of CD technology already ruined things to the point of whybotherness! Now ya don't even need sub-20th century "hard media" or whatever ya call it to get yer heard-it-before drivel into my trashcan ('bout a year ago, I celebrated my freedom from the bondage of bookin' what-ya-call-a "rock club" by dumping two mover's boxes' worth of demos, etc, blech, into the garbage. I woulda burned 'em too, but I figured the spawn of mediocrity hell wouldn't burn worth a damn). Now ya can probably find a way to just call me up at dinner time a la telemarketing lowlifes and subject me to yer prowess at writing really lousy songs (kinda like one of those radio surveys where they play ya snippets of what they wanna sell into heavy rote -- between the commercials, natch -- to see if ya like it. I once got a call like that, but they hung up on me when I told 'em I didn't listen to radio ever, save the Christian pop station my alarm clock's set to -- that Jesus stuff really makes me jump outta bed, for no other reason than to turn that shit off).
Back to South-By-Southwest, tho', yeah, the big story was Net-networking (as opposed to last year when the big story was Tom Waits, I think). The adjunct film festival was a close second (gotta keep the options open, nobody would show up if they knew it was just a buncha dorks givin' seminars about broad-band wavelength as it applies to modems). To quote ex-Angry Samoan Gregg Turner, "Mebbe rock is dead, I dunno."
Yeah. Sure. Probably. May explain why my girlfriend listens to lotsa Bowie and Mott The Hoople right now (I mean right now, "All the Young Dudes" is playin' this very second). Me, well, I listened to Jerry Jeff Walker's first two records today, but I guess he doesn't count cuz he's a country sanger, albeit a stoned-out cross 'tween Gram Parsons and Willie Nelson. I wonder if he's still holed up in Luchenbach these days... Mebbe he's got religion like Waylon Jennings or just waitin' for Garth to cover "The Continuing Saga of the Classic Bummer or Is This My Free One-Way Bus Ticket to Cleveland?" or simply sittin' on his front porch smokin' dope'n'strummin' his old guitar while he waits for the taxman to show up. He's probably not wanderin' 'round his living room lost in 1970: The Complete Funhouse Sessions.
The Complete Funhouse Sessions? Oh yeah, now this is a kick! Thirty years after Elektra unleashed the Stooges' ultimate classic on a disinterested world ("universally panned" crows the new press release), Rhino's boutique lil' sub-label, Rhino Handmade, has put out a goddamned seven (count 'em, seven) CD box set containing every last second of screwin' 'round with the seven songs on the original record that made it to tape. Not only that, ya seemingly get each and every mono-syllable that crossed the lips of Iggy Pop, Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton, Dave Alexander, and squawking sax player Steve Mackay to boot! Safe to say, I fuckin' love the 140-something tracks and they haven't left my disc player since the damn thing showed up in the mail (birthday present from my Mott The Hoople fan who's wisely decamped for Europe for the next couple months).
The set's a ticket to overkill city: expanded depth perception w-a-a-a-y past any rational reason for such shit. Funhouse, in its original LP version, is overkill in itself: Iggy screeching like a wounded panther locked outta the recording studio at 4 a.m., banging on the locked doors to wherever on the title track; the way "1970" goes on way longer than it should "F-e-e-e-e-e-l A-l-l-l-l-l-l-ri-g-g-g-g-g-ght!!" repeating, lest we doubt anyone who can summon Ron Asheton's squall would have the ability to feel otherwise; those major minor classics like "TV Eye" or "Loose" (14 and 28 takes, respectively on the Sessions Set, not countin' a couple rough takes of each labeled as "demos") with the heavy riffage that sparked ten million garage bands long after the band broke up, cymbol'n'snare droppin' makin' ripples in ponds into ugly wailin' tsunamis of blood rippin' thru the walls of the rec room in the basement of the real "Funhouse" in Ann Arbor (which is where everyone usedta clean off their works, according to Ron Asheton in Please Kill Me); there's Iggy's rage and self-loathing or raging self-loathing or mebbe just plainspeak on "Dirt," but even there, Asheton's guitar hurls sharp sticks of noise thru Iggy's hate-fetish ego and backs up the snarl with some meat, whilst the rhythm section gangs up on everyone in the room along with the listeners' sensibilities. Then ya got "LA Blues": over-the-top overkill! I've had people walk into a room while that song is playin'. Mackay's tenor blowin' out not so much notes as the musical equivalent of the dogs in the Son of Sam's mind, an autistic's notion of "free jazz" -- and just turn it off (not down, either, off) with nary a "hello." Off with a sideways look like "I can't take this shit, you understand, and I don't care if it's the Stooges imploding into some other kinda space'n'time of their own imagination cuz they probably didn't remember doin' it two seconds after they finished." And that's just the 4:55 second take that made it onto the original Funhouse (which always feels like ten minutes plus) -- the first take's almost seventeen-and-a-half minutes long!
Picture all that times seven, complete with inane chatter -- ha! A work of genius of criminal proportions! It's funny too, cuz ya can only get it offa the friggin' Net (www.rhinohandmade.com)! Rhino sez they're only gonna make 3000 copies of the thing, but ya can probably still pick one up. The original Funhouse sold 2000 copies in 1970 and still has only moved something like 79,000 copies in thirty years. Considering I see it as second only to the Stones' Exile on Main Street (no hits there, either, 'cept maybe "Tumblin' Dice") for braggin' rights as "Best Record Ever Made," what alla this means is, if rock's really dead, then people's ears've been dead a long fucking timenav.'s a wonder it's taken so long for the reality to set in.