#191: The Stooges, "Fun House" (1970)

191 Fun House.jpg

I came to the Stooges lateit must’ve been like 2003 when I started listening to Fun House (and after that, what else was there to do but seek out the other records?). But by the time I started, I already knew them:

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As a teenager, I bought every Sex Pistols bootleg I could find. This was not an inconsiderable number, mind you, such was the interest (dare I say market?) for their stuff.

The cassettes’ qualities were no indication of vault-digging. Some of the shittiest releases, rehashing the same practice tapes for the umpteenth time, came packaged with J-cards boasting six or seven double-sided full color panels; some of the good ones, with unheard demos, offered only a single black-and-white photo on one printed side.

I remember being thrilled to find a VHS tape of the Sex Pistols playing Scandanavia, the first time I’d seen the band play at length; its rudimentary packaging listed only live dates and song titles.

A live cassette of American tour dates was much the same: song titles, a single black-and-white photo. An absolutely terrifying version of “Belsen Was A Gas,” which I didn’t know how to feel about, and a long new song called “No Fun.”

“You’ll get one number and one number only,” Johnny Rotten said, “because I’m a lazy bastard. This is no fun.”

Years later, first Julian Temple’s fantastic doc The Filth and the Fury, then YouTube, confirmed the performance was the last of the band’s career, in San Francisco (unless you count the reunion tour, which is a tangent we can agree I don’t need to get into here).

If you’re a Simpsons fan, you know the episode where Lisa gives Ralph Wiggum a pity valentine and subsequently breaks his heart on live TV. Afterward, Bart slo-mos the tape and shows Lisa the exact moment Ralph’s heart tears in two. If you haven’t seen the Sex Pistols’ last performance, check it out: like Ralph Wiggum, you can see the momentthe secondJohnny Rotten realizes the band is over.

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Later, a buddy made me a mixtape with a bunch of songs from Dischord’s Flex Your Head comp, which I subsequently sought out. The full LP includes a version of “No Fun,” this time played at a million miles an hour by Ian MacKaye’s pre-Minor Threat group the Teen Idles.

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One’s Sex Pistols obsession cannot omit repeated viewings of Sid and Nancy.

It’s a hard film to watch.

My friend (and RS 500 contributor) Connie Squires recently wrote a book in which a documentary filmmaker vowing not to interfere with his subjects does just that. He hooks up with the film’s subject, a musician, and tries to discover the identity of the musician’s son’s father, a shrouded secret.

In discussing her book Live From Medicine Park, Connie told me that everyone has a blind spot, some issue or idea they can’t see in the mirror. It’s that lack of vision that makes everyone a gently unreliable narrator about some subject(s).

Chloe Webb’s depiction of Nancy Spungen is nuanced: is she helplessly self-deluded when she continues to insist post-Sex Pistols Sid is a “big star,” or does she know the ship is sinking and she has no lifeboat?

Either way, in the film Sid sings “I Wanna Be Your Dog” to an empty club.

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There wasn’t much of a scene in Concord, New Hampshire circa 1992. I knew some guys who recorded a basement demo, walking closer to or further from the boombox depending on how loud they wanted to be. And a bunch of skaters started a band and played covers of Minor Threat, stuff like that.

One weekend, a girl my girlfriend knew had a party at her parents’ place. Everyone under the wide umbrella of punk rock/crunchy/alternative/goth/skater showed up.

The boombox band played one of their two shows, with a cardboard cutout of Bartles and Jaymes next to them onstage. The skater band had already played a single show and broken up.

But a few other groups played. They were older than usin their twenties, easyand didn’t take breaks between songs, maintaining eye contact with the audience instead of glancing nervously at one another. They had long hair and grimaced musically and played gear that looked battleworn.

The girl hosting the party was in such an act, even though she was a year younger than me. Her band played a droning, repetitive song I recognized from repeated viewings of Sid and Nancy.

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I’m big on repetition, on overlap. Doing the same thing on the same day the same way.

I moved to Boston around the same time as a bunch of other people, this huge batch of UNH friends and their friends and their friends’ friends who went to parties, attended shows, held vegetarian potlucks, fought, dated, broke up, formed and reformed in differing configurations of factions, cousins, bands, and splinter groups.

Early on, we met weekly at this one dive bar in Allston. You know the one. Dark, almost completely empty until ten at night, octogenarian cocktail waitresses tottering through the teeming crowd without spilling a drop.

The dive had a great CD jukebox. My roommate Brendan and I would play deliberately vulgar Ween songs and giggle in anticipation as the crowd swelled and the wait between cocktail waitress visits grew. But even when our songs came on, they were barely audible over the din of so many drunk conversations.

The only stuff that punched through the density of the room was primal and simple. Pounding and repetitive music sounded the best in the jammed bar.

The same pulses, rhythms, every time I went in, once a week at least for years.

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One night the bar was empty when everyone arrived, meaning we could hear the music, not just feel it.

A familiar scream ripped through the speakers.

Cool, I thought, they got a Minor Threat CD. Someone is playing “Guilty of Being White.”

But instead of machine gun chatter, a slow riff unfurled instead, a TV Eye.

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The house where I lived in grad school had a garage and a basement, both luxuries absent in city living.

My buddy Damian gifted me a drumset and I learned to play, dutifully bashing along with records in headphones for an hour a day.

I’d always wanted to be in a band. I figured drummers were more difficult to find than guitarists or bass players.

After my first year, a new cohort started the program.

At the inaugural party that August, I met a guy named Tyler who had moved to Maine from Virginia. He wanted to start a band that played banjo covers of Velvet Underground songs.

Well, I said, you should come over. I play drums.

We added Paige on guitar, Steve on bass, Bec on saxophone. Katie on vocals. And we learned “No Fun.”

I can’t think of a song more incorrectly named. Sometimes we’d stretch it out to fifteen minutes, twenty, laughing and mugging and having a great time.

Threads connected.

Certainly the Stooges’ influence extended because of bands that had covered them. But those bands had covered them because the music was fun. And easy! The fact that anyone could play Stooges songs meant that everyone played Stooges songs. Including us, in the garage, like thousands before and after.

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The Stooges announced their Boston show, and I bought advance fan club tickets for me and Bec. Rich got one, so did Frank.

The band played the Orpheum, an old theater where I’d seen Johnny Rotten play with Public Image Ltd. when I was fifteen. At that show, I’d been way in the back of the balcony, nowhere near as close as Bec and I were this time, like five rows away, stage right.

When Iggy started yelling at the security guards during “I Wanna Be Your Dog”LET THEM UP! EVERYONE COME UP!it was easy for the front rows to swarm.

I stood, mouth open, thinking, This is amazing. Look at everyone get up there! There’s not going to be any space for the band with so many people jumping around. I wonder if

Bec grabbed me and pushed me towards the stage.

If she hadn’t, I might have stood there the whole time, mouth agape, watching in amazement.

Instead, I ran the few feet up the aisle and clambered onto the stage, where the band played “I Wanna Be Your Dog.”

Anyone could get onstage.

Anyone who wanted to could join them, no matter their entry point.

Maybe they’d been there back in the day.

Maybe they played covers in their bands.

Maybe they were new to the music.

It didn’t matter.

I didn’t know what to do with myselfI was onstage with Iggy Pop and the Stooges!so I pogoed, merrily crashing into other showgoers.

No, that’s not the right word.

Revelers.

I found Rich in the pogoing mass, Frank, and we grabbed arms and bounced up and down together, grinning like idiots.

—Michael T. Fournier