Not Quite Ready to Die: In Defense of Iggy and the Stooges
Iggy and the Stooges, headliners of this year's Free Press Summer Fest, recently released their first new record under their current moniker since 1973. Titled Ready to Die, it's also the group's first record with guitarist James Williamson since then, following the death of guitarist Ron Asheton a few years ago.
Photo by Marco Torres
Their previous record, Raw Power, is widely regarded as one of the greatest rock records ever recorded and the foundation for much of punk rock. How does Ready to Die stack up? That requires a little bit more thought and a lot more background.
In many ways, time has been both kind and unkind to the Stooges and their legacy. Their last record with Asheton, 2007's The Weirdness, was released as simply "The Stooges" and widely ridiculed as an embarrassment to their legacy. On the other hand, their reputation as one of the most important (and awesome) rock bands of all time has only grown since their intial breakup in 1974 and they continue to be one of many fans' favorite bands, regardless of their recent records.
Seems a contradiction, right? What gives?
Iggy and the Stooges are trapped in a peculiar position. By making new records, and being an active band in the way front man Iggy Pop demands they be, they're actively defying the very nostalgia that is the basis of their current career.
The band never made much of an impact when they first came out. They had industry support, including from David Bowie, a superstar even then who decided to produce their final record if they agreed to make it. That record would end up being Raw Power, that classic we all love so much today, but which at the time was a complete flop both commercially and critically.
Steadily, they built a fanbase, but it wasn't a base that was built in and wanted more. It was an adoptive base who came in after the fact, feeding off nostalgia for things they never experienced, wanting more than anything to have just been there when it was happening.
That kind of fanbase doesn't want new music. That fanbase wants a band to be exactly the same as they've seen in videos and pictures, and heard on recordings. They want the band to recreate 1973 for them as accurately as possible so they can pretend they were really there when it was happening.
That means the Stooges could release the best album of all time, but if it wasn't a note for note cover of Raw Power like they played at All Tomorrow's Parties in 2010, 75 percent of the fanbase would be disappointed and pretend it doesn't exist. When you build a fanbase entirely off the back of forced, false nostalgia, your legacy ends at the moment you broke up in the first place. For the Stooges, what they do post-1974 doesn't matter, and will be received tepidly at best.
But is it all really so bad? When viewed with a certain amount of distance, when viewed through the lens of 2013 where Iggy Pop is a real 66-year-old man, not a fictitious rock icon perpetually stuck at age 26, is it all really so very bad?