Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk

Book PageSteve Waksman is Associate Professor of Music and American Studies at Smith College. He is the author of Instruments of Desire: The Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience, and most recently, This Ain’t the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk (UC Press, January 2009). Please visit Steve’s blog, The Metal/Punk Continuum.

By: Steve Waksman

The cover of This Ain’t the Summer of Love has a great, iconic photo of Iggy Pop surfing the crowd at the Cincinnati Pop Festival, 1970.  I love this photo, as it captures a perfect 1970s rock moment.  Large crowds like the one that gathered that day at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium were becoming more and more common at the dawn of the Seventies.  The age of arena rock was upon us and most observers took that to mean also the age of the rock superstar, whose larger-than-life persona towered above the crowd.  But in this photo, and at this concert, Iggy towered above the crowd in a completely different way.  He wasn’t a superstar and never would be in the sense of Mick Jagger or Robert Plant.  Rather than take his place above the crowd for granted, he tested it, messed with it, and made it tangible rather than an abstraction.  Lester Bangs captured it best in his great 1970 article on the Stooges that appeared in Creem:

“Iggy is like a matador baiting the vast dark hydra sitting afront him – he enters the audience frequently to see what’s what and even from the stage his eyes reach out searchingly, sweeping the joint and singling out startled strangers who’re seldom able to stare him down.  It’s your stage as well as his and if you can take it away from him, why, welcome to it.  But the King of the Mountain must maintain the pace, and the authority, and few can.  In this sense Ig is a true star of the rarest kind – he has won that stage, and nothing but the force of his own presence entitles him to it.”

Since my publisher and I decided to put Iggy on the cover of my book, my sense of connection to the Stooges has grown even stronger than it used to be.  I’ve dug their music for years, although I came to it later than I would have liked.  Back when I was a teenager, I went through a phase when I used the Rolling Stone Record Guide as my main source for navigating through the back history of rock records.  Even though the Guide was co-edited by Michigan rock refugee Dave Marsh, the Stooges were nowhere to be found in there because their records were out of print at the time (late 1970s).  I read about them elsewhere but it wasn’t until the early 1990s when their original albums were being re-released on CD that I finally had my first hearing of Fun House, which definitely blew my head open.  By that time I’d been listening to varieties of hard rock, metal and punk for years, and had also heard my fair share of avant-garde and experimental music, especially free jazz.  Fun House was one of the few albums I’d encountered that seemed to combine the two and I took to it immediately.

For obvious reasons, Iggy gets the bulk of the attention and acclaim for what the Stooges accomplished.  But as with any great band, he didn’t work as a lone figurehead.  The team of brothers who played first guitar and drums, then bass and drums – Ron and Scott Asheton – were the true heart of the Stooges sound.  All you need to do for proof is listen to “TV Eye” from Fun House, which gets my vote for best Stooges song ever and one of the best, most pounding, unrelenting and downright intense rock songs ever released.  Ron’s guitar and Scott’s drums drive the song forward from start to finish, and Ron’s main riff is a stunner, working the powerful combination of an open throbbing. A string with some crashing barre chords, brutal and basic three-chord rock but with added rhythmic crunch and a touch of dissonance to boot.

I was back in Simi Valley, California, paying my annual winter visit to my parents, when I heard the news that Ron Asheton had died, now just a little over two weeks ago.  He will be missed.  Rather than a moment of silence he deserves a moment of unreserved noise, the most suitable tribute for a true metal/punk pioneer.

Here’s a link to some thoughts by Mike Watt on the Stooges and playing with Ron:

latimesblogs.latimes.com/music_blog/2009/01/mike-watt-riffs.html