Some intriguing stuff going at this charity fundraising auction to create an arts centre in Suffolk. Runs until the 30th August.

Who was handling drums the first time the name Nirvana appeared on a show flyer?

Who was drumming the first time Nirvana played a show in Seattle?

Who was the guy on drums when Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt of Sub Pop decided they were worth a single?

Dave Foster was drummer for Nirvana during these key moments. A tight three-four months in 1988 saw the band make the jump from the obscurity of Grays Harbor County and gigs around Tacoma and Olympia, to the biggest city in the north-west right at the moment when it entered its ‘Rock City’ moment in the spotlight.

People forget that there were a lot of talented bands circling the Sub Pop label at that time, there’s a tendency to genuflect before ‘unique genius’ rather than recognising that a constellation of circumstances have to come together in order for anyone to get a shot. In Nirvana’s case, being friends with Melvins got them elevated levels of attention; Melvins friendship with Jack Endino got them recording time; Endino’s friendship with Sub Pop got them label notice; Ryan Aigner driving the band around so they could make shows outside of their home area got them into Seattle; the U.K. music press deciding to make ‘a thing’ of Seattle brought attention and opportunity to town; Novoselic’s talent as a bassist and entertainer (as well as his height!) drew notice; Cobain’s talent as a song-writer, vocalist, guitar player and performer (and how closely he fit the long blonde hair/blue eyes mode of American idols) made a difference…

…But the other factor at work in that moment was having a really powerful, reliably heavy and accurate drummer in the form of Dave Foster present. It’s noticeable that Cobain, in his Journals, specifically acknowledged how good a drummer he thought Foster was. It’s rare, in his private notes and unsent letters, for Cobain to note someone’s qualities. He was usually too busy gently skewering people.

I’m always intrigued by the early phases of a band. Once a band is famous, their sound has usually solidified into a known quantity, the line-up becomes relatively sacrosanct, there’s maximum attention and minimum mystery. The early days, however, are where there are the crucial left turns, the doors left unopened, the possibilities abandoned. The drummers in Nirvana certainly intrigue! For starters, there’s Bob McFadden, the gentleman Novoselic and Cobain start practicing with in earnest in autumn 1986 but who leaves after a handful of practices:

Then there’s Aaron Burckhard who comes on board – likely in late ’86 – and allows the band to really solidify, get a proper set-list worked up, is with them for their first radio session (which becomes an early demo tape), works on the material that winds up becoming the January ’88 studio demo – the groundwork to becoming a full-time working band. Of course, in that spell, Nirvana still aren’t playing regularly or consistently.

Then there’s the deeply valuable guest spot from Dale Crover who vouches for them in order to get them into Reciprocal. He also gives Cobain and Novoselic a sense of what they could do if they had a dependable presence on drums. That’s where Foster’s skills really come into play. Quite a few of the songs – ‘Big Cheese’, ‘Mr. Moustache’, ‘Sifting’, ‘Blew’ – that would mark the Bleach-era of Nirvana seem to be created with Foster drumming and they definitely fit the ‘Sub Pop sound’ more than Nirvana’s more difficult early songs (‘Blandest’ also seems to arise in this period.

Of course, it’s not surprising Foster’s contributions are unacknowledged. Firstly, there’s only the one known live recording from his time on drums – a real gap not yet filled by anyone coming forward with tapes. Next, he was gone before Nirvana wound up in a studio so the majority of people have never heard his work with the band. Third, disparaging remarks, highlighting youthful indiscretions, appeared in the book Come As You Are mar the perception of his efforts. And, of course, Foster has never been willing to stand up and speak about his time in the band – in his absence it’s not really surprising little there’s little to say. By contrast, Aaron Burckhard has made a concerted effort to connect with fans, give interviews, ensure he’s acknowledged within the Nirvana story. Maybe it’s time for Foster to tell his tale in one form or another?

One of the lyrics that floats through my head quite often is “what happened to us? We were the kings of the back of the bus and now it’s just massage music in your house,” from Steven James Adams’ song ‘Kings Of The Back Of The Bus’ (Old Magic, FortunaPop). There’s more functional sound than ever flooding the world. Muzak infiltrated our ears and minds initially as the wallpaper against which we shopped, wreathed in over-hyped and poorly measured claims about altering our purchasing decisions. Now, it’s increasingly invited into our homes as generic accompaniment for exercise, yoga, meditation, a myriad other activities. Sound voids disconnected from the act of listening as an active engagement with creative art. Mindfulness, a worthy endeavour for those requiring a little stillness, has become a trojan horse for the robotisation of sound production which is the desired end goal of firms like Spotify who benefit if they can cut out payment to record companies or artists (from an already low benchmark).

It’s a shame given this extended COVID moment, with it’s alternating surges of distorting noise/stress/tension matched by the stripping away of distractions and interjections, is a great time to experience music capable of mirroring one’s mental state. That’s what I find in the work of Kevin Drumm.

Recently I’ve been aiming to invest $2-3 dollars a couple times a month in Drumm’s 152 release-deep back catalogue on Bandcamp. His recent monthly missives in particular are all falling in a 20-30 minute zone which feels like the perfect release from day-to-day concern, without requiring a vast ‘stepping away’ from work or life.

What I love about the work is that, when I’m tense, I can let thoughts go and follow the small sounds and intricate detail within a piece like ‘By Way Of No’ (released in March 2021):

Likewise, when I’m chilled out, the music can stoke energy and power, I whip the volume up and it consumes the room with this gargantuan weight. Either way, it rewards this diversion from the day, the deep listening reveals layers and choices and slalom rides orchestrated and designed by the artist. It’s ambient music without the wishy-washy emptiness of so much mindful muzak, that supports a unique independent artistic path rather than corporate sound production.

I’ve been intrigued by Kevin Drumm some 20 years now. I admire the decision to devote himself to a particular approach to sound, one that is so malleable and flexible, that can manifest in so many ways (how about the classic ‘Sheer Hellish Miasma’ for heaviness…?) and has been pursued to the nth degree. An artist of stunning power and whether you’re a noisenik or a meditator, a metalhead or a contemplator of healing crystals, there’s a sound you can live within whether the desire is to go up, or down.

The Russian language music publication Zvuki is inviting musicians to support the ongoing struggles in Belarus with their statements of support and videos.

If you would like to support the campaign, or would like to share this with artists and musicians you believe would be interested, please do so. I’ve included below the statement provided by Editor-in-Chief/Publisher at Zvuki, Sonya Sokolova as she says it far more articulately than I:

Hello there, Sonya Sokolova, editor-in-chief is here!

I am reaching out to ask if you would consider participating in a media campaign that we run together with our fellow musicians from all over the world.

The campaign is aimed to support the people of Belarus in their battle against the dictator regime and to inform the society that has taken a consistently tough stance against human rights violations and aggressive response to peaceful protest, what horrible things are happening in Belarus.

History is now in the making in a country of 9.4 million people located in the center of Europe. You surely know that, following Alexander Lukashenko’s illegitimate election win, police forces violently suppress protests. When people stood up to defend their vote in a blatantly rigged presidential election on 9 August 2020, the authorities responded with a wave of unprecedented violence, leaving at least five dead, hundreds wounded and more than 30,000 detained – all likely an undercount as the government terrorizes citizens and hides the true scale of the oppression. I would very much welcome that you participate in the campaign of support, organized by Zvuki and the YouTube channel World Online Festival.

We already have Blitz Union from the Czech Republic, James Kennedy from the UK, Esma from Italy, Faith No More from California, MD & Healers from NY – and hundreds of others.

How to participate: please record a horizontal (!) video with a couple of encouraging phrases and attach a video with any song (live or a pre-recorded music video). Feel free sending me the link on exchange platforms like Google Drive to

Thank you for your time and consideration! Cheers, Sonya Sokolova Publisher

Sometimes I get asked by music magazines and websites to contribute to ‘best of’ lists and I always have to decline. It’s nothing personal about the format, it’s just that the majority of what I watch, read or listen to each year is rarely new or from that year. I’m usually ploughing deeper into some specific furrow of my own, delving back into stuff I might have missed or that might fill out an existing collection or interest, serving my tendency to fixate on an artist or writer for a time until I feel I have a grip on their work. It makes me feel that fixating on “new in X year”, I’d be consciously ignoring all the “not from this year” stuff that I’ve really been enjoying in favour of a false new-new-new.

So, with that in mind, I just thought I’d list ‘stuff’ that I found interesting or entertaining in 2020 regardless of when or where it came from. I’m doing so while listening to My Cat Is An Alien who – with their release of The World That IS And IS NOT – remain consistently excellent.

Urusei Yatsura have released a load of quality Bandcamp material in 2020 including a much required second compilation of their b-sides and rarities:

Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree’s Names Of North End Women was a delight from start to finish:

Dais Records provided a couple of highlights in their excellent remastering of Coil’s Musick To Play In The Dark Vol. 1. It’s great to see a reissue where the polishing applied allowed me to hear more than I ever had before in a record I’ve been obsessively listening to for two decades. Drew McDowell’s Agalma managed to always tug at my ear and keep me listening deeply. The three-disc The Doctrine Of Maybeness release by Aural Rage (aka Danny Hyde) is still keeping me exploring.

My finest record store score of the year was acquiring Volume I and II of Vinyl On Demand’s Viva Negativa! tributes to The New Blockaders. That provoked quite a bit of renewed listening: VLZ Produkt’s Live At The Rammel Club, Opal Tapes’ Live At Cafe Oto, 4iB Records’ TNB+K2 release and so forth. Vittore Baroni also kindly sent me the Enrico Piva Anticlima box-set, a real labour of love and stunning tribute to a deceased friend. Meanwhile I drank deep of Étant Donnés – including the film work of Marc Hurtado – culminating in the Marc Hurtado/Pascal Comelade Larme Secrete album:

Anything else great? Yep! Lingua Ignota, Jagath, the Jimi Hendrix Live In Maui compilation, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop CD box-set, Dead Neanderthals album Polaris, The Stooges Live At Goose Lake and the box-set You Think You’re Bad Man?, I was really surprised by the Cathedra Time Was Away compilation, Alcest’s Spiritual Instinct, Trunk Records’ Christmas mix CD (I buy these every year – they’re consistently great), Rico Nasty’s new album Nightmare Vacation is awesome, the song ‘Trollz’ by Nicki Minaj (who I think is the finest hip hop artist of the past decade bar none – and Megan The Stallion/Cardi B’s turn on ‘WAP’ was great too.

TV-wise, I keep watching the works of Nigel Kneale (I’m looking forward to watching Beasts, which I received at Christmas), a fixation which started when I found the whole of The Stone Tape on YouTube:

Penda’s Fen shows its age but was also intriguing, as was the reissue of the 1989 TV production of The Woman In Black. Lockdown led to strange fixations: watching ALL the Halloween movies, ALL the Nightmare On Elm Street films (which hold up really well), every episode of Family Guy, all of Tarantino’s movies…I don’t have particularly sophisticated taste it must be said.

Book-wise, the only thing I particularly miss about living in London was the underground and buses (on which I spent a couple hours at least each day without fail) was a perfect environment for uninterrupted reading. Being home, I find it hard to not get distracted by book work, my actual job, by life in general. I’ve been delighted by Timeless Editions’ new book The Universe Is A Haunted House: Coil Through Their Art And Archives:

I spent quite a bit of time on music reading: Reed’s Assimilate, Hegarty’s Noise/Music, Micro Bionic and Unofficial Release by Thomas Bey William Bailey, Fight Your Own War about power electronics, John Lydon’s I Could Be Wrong I Could Be Right…And my fiction reading remained centred around Adam L.G. Nevill’s excellent horror work. I’m still enjoying PanzerWrecks volumes on World War 2 panzers as well.

The Stooges Still Rule

Posted: November 18, 2020 in Other Bands and Nirvana

A month back I did a big three-part piece summarising the known rarities recorded by The Stooges 1969-1974. In a gloriously timely moment, I learnt around the same time that there was a new five-disc compilation coming out from Cherry Red Records bringing together a bunch of the key live recordings from the band’s final six months. I took the chance to review it here for PopMatters:

Meanwhile, if you want to dig deeper, take a look at ‘Rounding Up The Rarities’:

They’re all pretty long n’ detailed so probably only for Stooges fanatics (who likely know most of it!)

I’m just hoping that Cherry Red are going to get involved pulling together all the other outtakes and demos that were put out on various labels in the 80s and 90s. There’s been a lot of re-releasing gone on but it’d be good to see a quality label curate them properly because even I’m not game to go down the rabbit hole into the mass of random compilations out there.

Basic rule: for The Stooges, if you want to go beyond the three main albums (all of which can be readily found with a wide array of outtakes and alternate versions), start with the Easy Action label’s Heavy Liquid box-set, then that label’s live compilations and this new one from Cherry Red. After that, some of the newer represses are decent summaries but I think I’ll wait in hope that some get a grip on the scruff of the neck of The Stooges.

In terms of the best stuff that didn’t wind up on The Stooges’ albums…The material they were touring at the time of their 1971 breakup all sounds enticing but can only be heard in noisy live iterations on the You Don’t Want My Name You Want My Action box-set. After that, you’re into the Raw Power-era: start with ‘Gimme Some Skin’ and ‘I’m Sick Of You’ – then head into the early ’73 rehearsals for ‘Head On’, ‘Open Up And Bleed’ and ‘Emotional Problems (AKA Wild Love, or My Girl Hates My Heroin)’.

As a fan of outsider musicians, fringe music scenes, and alternative cultures, I’ve always been fascinated by mainstream responses to ‘the weird’. In essence, a majority of people are trying really hard to fit in and avoid standing out: it means, when young, they don’t get bullied or abused, and it’s the easiest path to avoid loneliness or the weight of criticism or self-criticism. Most people just want to hide. The model is instilled that the way to avoid such consequences is to present someone else as the target. There’s also guilt and shame involved in suppressing oneself, knowing one isn’t brave enough to fully be oneself – again, it’s easier to send that anger out into the world rather than living with it directed inward. That can happen in small ways, the gentle (and unfounded) claim that to attempt something different is to be ostentatious, or a poseur, or in some way antisocial. It can also swell up into baroque fantasies that promote someone or something as a literal enemy because its easier than looking in the mirror.

The 80s were full of such incidents. The Judas Priest ‘subliminal messaging’ and Ozzy Osbourne ‘Suicide Solution’ court cases were absurd events rooted in the grief of families after the suicide of loved ones. In each case they tried to claim that a band had persuaded their children to kill themselves. Ludicrous stuff: there were no backmasked subliminal messages revealed when an album was played backward, the lyrics of ‘Suicide Solution’ tackle the negative consequences of alcoholism and were quoted incorrectly by the plaintiffs…In the end, families simply couldn’t accept their loved ones’ actions or the more complex realities of mental health. Then there was the even more extreme case of radical musician Genesis P-Orridge. The Channel 4 investigative series, Dispatches, claimed to have video evidence of P-Orridge and his associates in the pseudo cult Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth abusing children and sparked a raid by the Obscene Publications Squad. P-Orridge wound up having to leave the U.K. permanently despite Channel 4 being embarrassed to learn that the video in question was an art piece Channel 4 itself helped fund in the early 80s that didn’t show anything like what was described – they withdrew their allegations. There’d already been the 1987-1990 police investigation, Operation Spanner, where various men involved in private BDSM practices and body piercing were investigated, arrested and charged for what were entirely consensual activities. As is typical when it involves the liberties and freedoms of people outside the mainstream, the court ruled that it didn’t matter that all the people involved had consented, the need to punish deviance took priority.

The backdrop to all these cases was an increasingly hysterical belief in Satanic Cult sex abuse which wound up diverting resources away from the support and protection of actual victims of abuse. The idea that there was this mysterious group of ‘outsiders’ mutilating, abusing, even cannibalising and murdering children led to police investigations in multiple countries…And not a word of it was true. You saw echoes of the same ‘projection’ in 1999 when Marilyn Manson and fantasias about ‘trenchcoat mafia’ bullied weirdos were blamed for the Columbine High School massacre rather than looking at how easily two kids with major mental health issues, who blended in easily, acquired major league weaponry.

More precisely, what it pointed to was very broad awareness that child abuse was indeed a significant issue inside churches and other acceptable and respected institutions of mainstream society. What had happened was that people were unwilling to confront the political, economic, and social power wielded by their own institutions. They were also unwilling to look inward and confront the problems rife in the mainstream – to do so would have required them to take responsibility. In retrospect, everyone claims to have spotted that Jimmy Savile, Britain’s most famous serial rapist and pedophile was odd, what they ignore was that the reason he got away with it was because he WASN’T odd, he was a friend of the establishment, closely connected to the Royal Family and to senior politicians, a buddy of local police leaders – incredibly normal and conservative and so acceptably normal that he was a TV institution for decades. Instead, it was far easier to present popular entertainers, those of different sexual preferences, the marginalised and the excluded as weirdos and culprits rather than looking at what happens when ‘the normal’ acquire power. As ever, the marginalised are more likely to be victims but that didn’t matter. They served a purpose in allowing people to maintain their own illusions of purity and to evade questioning those who had succeeded within the conformist model of society.

Now, here we are 30 years later, faced with QAnon – it’s a virtual reprise of the 80s Satanic Cult panic. The basic claim of QAnon, underpinning bland virtue statements about “stopping child abuse”, is that the Democrat Party in the U.S. and global elites everywhere are Satan-worshipping pedophiles and that President Trump is engaged in a secret war against them. Bleugh.

The elements are pretty obviously rooted in a refusal to take responsibility for failings on the U.S. right. First is the idea that a mythical and hidden ‘other’ is out to get people’s children. The identification of the Democrat Party with people of colour and other minorities makes it overtly racist, homophobic, and ridiculous. It incorporates homophobic illusions about men going with young boys, ignoring that the majority of sexual abuse is heterosexual, familial, and rarely conducted by strangers. It also rests on anti-Semitic cliches about Jews running the world (Zionist Occupied Government) – again, pushing responsibility for society’s failings onto someone else.

There’s a refusal to take seriously the proven criminality and corruption of President Trump or his associates – something demonstrated in court over and over again in recent years. Instead, it’s his enemies who are the criminals, the worst kinds of criminals, and – as required – one can project that idea onto all parts of government, the entire justice system, the law enforcement system. Anyone and everyone who has been a part of investigating and prosecuting the repeated crimes of the current U.S. leadership is part of the ‘deep state’ and not just that, they’re f***ing kids. For QAnon believers, accepting that they were part of electing a criminal/criminal enabler to office would require self-evaluation and critique, so it’s easier to believe the worst of those who point it out.

Finally, it’s a matter of fact that Donald Trump was friends with, or associated with, any/all of U.S. high society’s key providers of young/borderline female flesh for social or sexual occasions. The reports of voyeurism, groping, unwanted touching, outright assault, payment for sex in relation to President Trump has been substantial…So, QAnon projects all of that onto his opponents. It’s no longer him who is the sexual predator with appalling views and approaches to women, there’s a bizarre oneupmanship involved in making it his enemies who are secretly in league with Satan and feasting on children – QAnon means that even if someone accepts, or doesn’t completely dismiss, allegations against Trump, they still get to claim his opponents are worse.

While British defenders of Prince Andrew make absurd claims about him being in a Pizza Express in Woking (where no one recalls seeing him and there’s no record of his visit), hands being photoshopped into pictures, deny the record of him being seen with a sex trafficking victim, ignore the bizarre sight of him meeting a convicted sex offender in a park like they’re Mafia members avoided bugged rooms…At least they engage with the evidence however dimly. In the case of QAnon, no evidence is required. If one is unwilling to believe that one has been part of electing a criminal pervert to office, or if one desires absolution, then the only answer is that all his sins, and one’s own, can be flung over the fence onto ‘the other,’ the outsider who threatens you by making you face and take responsibility.

It’s comical, in a way, that so many people would rather believe in a secret level to the world – one that would require impractical and absurd levels of complicity – rather than just accepting the overt and obvious. It’s visible in the invention of ‘antifa’ as another all-purpose bogeyman, at the same time as ignoring the minimal amount of violence that has occurred during the Black Lives Matters protests; while ignoring the shootings, intimidation, kidnap/murder plots, attempts to spark police responses by provocateurs… The only way to justify one side’s violence is to claim the other side started it, or were much much worse than evidence suggests they were. It’s why, in the U.K., the right stabbed and bludgeoned a politician to death – but then hark to the Baader-Meinhof gang of the 70s to claim political murder is a left wing thing (answer, it’s common to extremists of all shades, it’s just more common currently among those on the right including Islamic conservatives). The same is happening in the U.S. where right-wing violence is the most prevalent current, but honestly examining and evicting such lunatics comes hard when ‘they’re our terrorists.’

Making ‘the other’ into the threat to society and civilisation, one that can be manipulated to fit any scenario or personal inclination also allows a substantial number of people to ignore the extent to which the Republican Party has decided to overtly aim for a one party/one race/one religion South African Apartheid type system. Gerrymandering to try to compress undesirable votes, crippling the U.S. postal service, removing voting facilities from minority areas, fake dropboxes for votes, removing people from voting rolls, maintaining barriers to voting, adding ID requirements that will prevent people voting in order to tackle non-existent fake voting, encouraging one’s own side to vote more than once, reducing counting periods or stopping activities that would allow counting/organization to start before election day, court challenges to complicate and undermine faith in the system, stacking the courts to try to influence the result…it’s all a vast attempt to prevent people truly having their – already small – say in the running of the country. It’s justified by claiming the other side are the enemy of the country, even while one goes ahead and tries to damage the underpinning mechanisms of democracy. You don’t need conspiracy theories because it’s all so overt and obvious.

What we’ve seen in past years via the Panama Papers, Operation Yewtree, investigations into the U.K. housing market, the ongoing knowledge that the sex/drug industries are based alongside our key financial centres for obvious reasons (it’s where the rich people who can afford it are) is that there are massive public, overt, legal, and acceptable careers to be made hiding the money and socially unattractive activities of people with wealth. I’ve sat in expensive restaurants watching the gentleman dining with their ‘nieces’. It’s easier to believe in mystical Satanic cults and the complicity of ‘enemies’ rather than recognising what goes on publicly day by day.

None of this will go away regardless of tomorrow’s outcome. Every few decades we’ll see a major new myth take hold to avoid having to tarnish those identified most powerfully with ‘normal’ whether that’s the Republican candidate for government, or priests in local churches.

A new song (and video) by Elizabeth S with a second vocal by Martyn Bates of Eyeless In Gaza – dedicated to the memory of Jules, the very dearly and truly loved partner of someone I respect who is suffering and enduring her loss.

The death of one’s loved ones is a paradox: we will all – every one of us – experience it…But the experience is entirely unique and private to the individual. I despise the words ‘I know how you feel’ or any equivalent of it because it’s a self-obsessed impossibility, we can only listen to the small part of grief that someone can transition into words and it turns out our language is brutally inadequate to the task. When faced with someone’s loss, all I believe we can offer is to listen, give signs that they are cared for and loved and that their loss matters, and to give presence.

We’re so used to filling everything with our own talking and broadcast, that ‘being there’ for someone in need is underestimated and underrated when really it is the only thing we can give to someone when they hurt. Don’t fill their pain with your words, just be there physically or down a phone line or in any medium…Adding human warmth and love makes a void less cold.

With every hope and best wish to Barry who is enduring such heavy loss.

A different take on the Cobain story with gratitude to Jasmine for sharing with me and permitting me to re-share.

Doubtful Detroit Demos

Wanted to start by giving credit where it’s most certainly due: if you have an interest in The Stooges then the best source on the web is the Stooges Forum ( As ever, the efforts of a thousand fans far outstrip any official source when it comes to gathering up the furthest reaches of available information. Also, just a nod toward Cherry Red Records who are releasing a box-set gathering together several of the previously released Stooges shows from 1973-1974, including the two shows issues on the two-disc Metallic KO.

Anyone who has spent any time delving into The Stooges will have come across a lot of accidental mislabels and a veritable torrent of releases re-compiling the same material over and again. Likewise, unless you’re totally wrapped up in the pro-vinyl propaganda, there’s no reason to switch to 12” LP iterations or 7” single versions of stuff you already have. Credit does have to go to Revenge Records and BOMP! for the role they played in surfacing a hell of a lot of stuff in the eighties through the mid-nineties but, from the perspective of 2020, I’m sorely suspicious of any label that isn’t either a major or Easy Action and only the truly crazy, who sincerely require every iteration of every song, need dive back into all the stuff that came out in past decades.

            Obvious (and persistently) mislabeled songs to be aware of are the demos Williamson and Pop put together for the Kill City album in 1975: despite including attempts at ‘Johanna’ and ‘I Got Nothing’, if you’re a purist then these are not The Stooges. I’ve also seen an even later Iggy Pop track called ‘Fire Engine’ wrongly credited. One equivocal case is the cover of ‘Purple Haze’ floating around. In my view I don’t think it’s The Stooges, but if someone presents me with evidence then I’ll bow but I’m also not going to waste time or money to hear it again. The take is spoilt by strangely prominent drums in the first half, then a whole section where the bass suddenly throbs over the top and submerges everything, the song’s balance is totally ruined and Pop’s rendition of the lyrics is both straightforward and seemingly recorded from another room (a 1980s Pop iteration of the song at least gives it an updated post-Berlin vibe).

            Here we move into terrain where there’s a bunch of songs of no great consequence, with no confirmed provenance, no data, but several equally weighted theories namely: it’s Pop and an unknown guitarist working together in London and that the tapes wound up in Williamson’s possession because Pop wanted to show him what he’d been working on; second, that it’s Pop and Williamson prior to the arrival of the Asheton brothers; third, that some of it is outtakes from the Detroit rehearsals or later 1973 rehearsals; fourth, that it’s Pop and Tornado Turner who briefly replaced Williamson at MainMan’s urging somewhere around April-May until June 1973; finally, that it’s leftovers from the Kill City-era or beyond. I am not going to die on my sword for any of these opinions but I’ll at least say what I feel for argument’s sake.

To start with, there are a few pieces I don’t believe can even be called songs. ‘Old King Live Forever’ is improvised guitar noise set against Pop’s stray poetry and scat; ‘Dynamite Boogie’ has a sunny rhythm ‘n’ blues energy but it’s ultimately just another four minutes of pissing about vocally over a basic guitar track; ‘Move Ass Baby’ hops up and down some very basic guitar runs while Pop moves through vestigial lyrics and wordless keening; ‘Delta Blues Shuffle’, in fairness, begins with some atmospheric guitar that echoes, slides, and shimmers in interesting ways — but then it halts and the back-end is just disjointed riffing and noise before Pop chimes in with muffled thoughts not worth deeper contemplation.

Next there are three guitar/vocal covers: a shot at Bo Diddley’s 1955 single ‘I’m A Man’ made a touch more interesting given Pop seems to slip in quotes from other songs (including from ‘The Jean Jeanie’ which was recorded in October and released in November 1972); an attempt at ‘Waiting For The Man’ which sounds like a first run-through on the part of the guitarist though Pop apes Lou Reed fairly effectively; and finally a similarly stripped down ‘I’m So Glad’ by Skip James (covered by Cream and Deep Purple in the late sixties) which is, again, fine but has nothing to mark it out as anything more serious than two buddies killing time.

The next two songs are unique because they consist of guitar, vocals, and drum machine. First, there’s ‘Look So Sweet’ where the drums underpin another accretion of brief riffs and mouth sounds. Second, there’s a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘The Ballad Of Hollis Brown’ which noodles on for eight interminable minutes. Though the song’s skeletal nature and the prominence of the guitar lends interest, the original is all about Dylan’s storytelling while here Pop’s vocals are run through effects and barely a word can be distinguished. There’s also a full band iteration of this song which, while still too long, sees good work from whoever is on piano with some swaying and surging lines breaking up the steadfast main tempo.

Before discussing dating, there are two significant cover songs that feature a full band lineup. First, there’s ‘Mellow Down Easy’, a couple minute-long instrumental based on a Willie Dixon tune, and including electric piano. Second, there’s a run-through of ‘I’m So Glad’ with no piano which is well worked out with restrained verses and energetic chorus, everything dropping down in unison prior to an even more raging chorus — my only criticism would be that they’ve not worked out how to finish it with the same finesse.

What to make of these 12 waifs and strays…? Groan. My most crucial point would be that I personally don’t find any of them so interesting that I deeply care about tracking them down to the root. Having said that, to speculate, first, I don’t see anything that would give credence to a post-Stooges dating. Second, I don’t believe all of this material is from a single time and place. My reasons for that are that it seems unlikely the band would waste so much rehearsal time on this many random off-cuts; that while there’s evidence of the band jamming on tunes as a breather there’s no other case where they spin their wheels on so much junk; I don’t believe that the band would stand around for this long while Pop and Williamson spit-balled; and finally there’s too much variation between the songs for this to be one source.

Starting simple, I believe the two full band outtakes — ‘Mellow Down Easy’ and ‘The Ballad Of Hollis Brown’ — definitely came from the Detroit rehearsals of 1973: the presence of the electric piano seems telling. While Pop played piano and celesta during the Raw Power sessions and I’ve seen speculation about instrumental/lyrical connections from these songs to Raw Power tracks…I don’t buy it. I believe we’d know officially by now if they were from the Raw Power sessions. While I’m sure ‘I’m So Glad’ is The Stooges, the absence of the piano makes me unsure if it comes from July 1972, or if it’s also from spring ’73 and that Bob Scheff just didn’t take part or wasn’t present.

Next, I see no reason that the drum machine iteration of ‘The Ballad Of Hollis Brown’ was not recorded on the same date as ‘Look So Sweet’. Then my main reason for believing that both versions of ‘The Ballad Of Hollis Brown’ were recorded in the same time period is the way the vocals are obscured on both cuts: it suggests the same location, same mic and recording set-up, and/or the same impulse driving that decision to sink into the backdrop. I lean, again, toward Detroit for both these songs (and both versions of the latter), but it isn’t guaranteed given Pop’s decent memory for what he’s attempted in the past meaning he could have resurrected ‘The Ballad Of Hollis Brown’ in ’73 from a memory of a demo attempt in the summer of 1972. Or maybe the band demo came first and the drum machine efforts really are post-Stooges though nothing suggests it.

For everything else, it’s utterly impossible to decide. I see a similarity between ‘Look So Sweet’ and the four improvisations — ‘Old King Live Forever’, ‘Dynamite Boogie’, ‘Move Ass Baby’, and ‘Delta Blues Shuffle’ — but sonic resemblance just isn’t enough to forge that link or to refute it. If I was in any way certain that some or all of these songs did not feature Williamson then that would make it easier to push them back into summer 1972 or forward into spring 1973 — but I can’t say that (though I do believe it isn’t Williamson). I can understand why a dashed off cover of ‘Waiting For The Man’ would make Pop or someone else think “let’s try ‘I’m A Man’ too” or vice versa — but I’m not convinced the two songs come from the same date and the presence of ‘The Jean Jeanie’ inside ‘I’m A Man’ makes it 1973.

The fact that none of this material seems to feed back into The Stooges makes me want to distance it by supporting the idea that it’s leftovers from an attempt by Pop, having arrived in London, to see if he could gel with a guitarist other than Williamson — or a later attempt to get some fresh writing going with Turner. I could understand them trying some pure improvisation and a couple of covers, but I can’t understand Pop not taking even a single shot at something he had ready and that would later feature on Raw Power. But the fact that I know of no takes of a Stooges song featuring a drum machine or just guitar-vocals could just as equally suggest this is all exceptional and we’re hearing a one-off audition of an unknown guitarist. If Williamson heard and hated it all then that would explain why it all just dies a death after this one set of sketches.

Alternately, if it is Williamson playing, then perhaps on a spare day — somewhere in February-March 1972 — he and Pop tried something different to see if they could take the music they were making in a new direction. Given quite a few of the final songs performed by The Stooges in mid-1973 to early 1974 sound quite different from what emerged from their 1970-1972 heyday, I could believe that, except nothing here ever appears again and I’d still have to believe that they wouldn’t have tried a drum machine or duo take at something that did wind up in a ’73-’74 set-list. I’ll give up there before I go mad spinning the possibilities around!

  • Waiting For My Man
  • I’m A Man
  • I’m So Glad
  • Mellow Down Easy
  • The Ballad Of Hollis Brown
  • Look So Sweet
  • Old King Live Forever
  • Dynamite Boogie
  • Move Ass Baby
  • Delta Blues Shuffle

Final Tour, Final Shots           

One thing that gives me hope for further surprises from The Stooges back-catalog is how studious they were about rehearsing their material. The complete Fun House sessions are already fair testament to that industriousness, but even in 1973 they rehearsed comprehensively ready for their first gig of the year. The same happens again in July 1973 when, in preparation for a week of shows at Max’s Kansas City, to be followed by a short tour, they book time in CBS Studios in New York City. It gives me a slender degree of hope that somewhere there’s a decent rehearsal tape covering the lost 1971 material, and maybe more from later rehearsals at Studio Instrument Rentals (S.I.R.) on Sunset Boulevard between June 15-20 and at Dress Revue Sound Studio on May 6 — there are undoubtedly others.

            With just eight months left to live, hearing ‘Open Up And Bleed’ rise to new heights after the strong demo in the spring is heartening: it opens with a mood of echo and restraint, before pushing into excoriatingly heavy howls from Pop, while the instrumental structure continuing to hold back before it finally slams in heavy. A new song — though possibly first demo’ed under one of the stray names associated with the February-March rehearsals — is ‘Cry For Me’ (AKA ‘Pinpoint Eyes’) which lapses into the boogie-woogie vibe to slightly better effect than other such songs given a few neat lyrics apparently dwelling on a girlfriend’s reaction to the effects of Pop’s heroin addiction and his relative indifference. They’re still visibly working out where to take it, running the song over and over for want of a way to finish effectively. There’s also an update of ‘Johanna’ which keeps its moodiness but has far tighter lyrics and a sparkling electric piano solo before a pretty intense ending that stays the right side of falling apart. Meanwhile arguing the artistic development of ‘Cock In My Pocket’ would feel like musing on penile graffiti — it is what it is. ‘Rubber Legs’ reappears but it’s still going nowhere, it simply pumps away until it’s time for a solo and has otherwise little to distinguish it structurally or instrumentally.

  • Cry For Me (AKA Pinpoint Eyes)

 Tombstone ’74

      Another messy show for New Year’s Eve of 1973 saw Columbia decline to re-sign the band, meanwhile the managerial relationship with MainMan reached its terminus. The band made their way through a fairly stable run of shows from the second week of January into early February before it all wrapped up on February 9 with The Stooges completely adrift. A brand new song, ‘Wet My Bed’ still appeared (seen on the Double Danger record in November and December ’73 iterations then captured in San Francisco in January ’74 on the last disc of the Heavy Liquid box-set) consisting of a good natured sing-along over upbeat Little Richard piano vamping, while the title alludes to the ever increasing level of infantilization created by Pop’s over-indulgences. It’s also a pointer to the key problem with whatever is left of The Stooges by this point, which would be starkly visible at the Michigan Palace, Detroit, on February 9. The last performance captured on Metallic KO’s has an unimpeachable reputation as car crash pornography capturing a band, and a bandleader, in complete collapse. The set-list also emphasized the complete atrophying of the band’s creative edge and ambition: half the set consisted of nothing more than childish audience baiting on the same level as ‘Wet My Bed’.

            Starting with the positive, ‘I Got Nothing’ (AKA ‘I Got Shit’) is a neat change of scene, a remarkably gentle verse with ‘ooo ooo’ harmonies, while the lyrics read like a telling confession of total surrender: “I feel so old today, I feel used and wasted, I ain’t got no way, I got nothing, nothing to say. Lord how I feel so wasted today, I feel burned (sic), I feel screwed, and I got about one more day to live…” The guitar solo is one of the prettiest in The Stooges discography, a soaring, swooping piece that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Guns ‘n’ Roses record. Structurally it’s a pretty standard verse-chorus-verse set-up used to good effect. The other relatively fresh song is ‘Heavy Liquid’ which keeps some forward momentum having gone from being a set-closer on July 30, 1973 (seen on Heavy Liquid) to a set-opener half a year later. It’s a decent up-tempo rock song with a neat instrumental but it’s another sign of The Stooges decay given it’s just a reworking of Gary U.S. Bonds’ 1960 hit ‘New Orleans’ with the lyrics a straight crib. There’s also the relative lightness of both songs indicating the band’s move away from the dirges and nihilism that made their name (and are the core of their influence) toward something more in keeping with the hard rock standards of the time. Williamson may deserve mention in the same breath as Keith Richards or Jimmy Page but The Stooges, by this point, had also traded in quite a bit of what made them distinctive.

            The other three songs just seem to be makeweights dragged out to excessive lengths to kill time. ‘Rich Bitch’ is a spiteful little whip of sexism aimed at god knows who over some twittering piano work all leading up to a skittish instrumental break with Pop exhorting the band to take a few more turns before a few chanted lines, then the song pulls apart again…And jeez, as it winds down Pop repeats the first verse over to no great end, and it just keeps on running. ‘Cock In My Pocket’ is at least enlivened by an opening yelp of “fuck you pricks!” to give it some punch. Otherwise, it’s a long run around a song that really hasn’t evolved since it first appeared, but that’s because there’s just nowhere for the joke to go. At the New Year’s Eve gig at the New York City Academy Of Music they had chosen to wedge ‘Rich Bitch’, ‘Wet My Bed’, ‘I Got Nothing’, and ‘Cock In My Pocket’ alongside each other making for one pretty dispiriting sequence and also evidence that this wasn’t just a one-off accident.

The last song the band played live was ‘Louie Louie’ and they actually turn in a pretty powerful rendition — Pop guiding the band down to a low ebb — with a couple of squalidly effective verses: “a fine little bitch is waiting for me, just a whore from across the way, every night I take her upon the lawn(?), she isn’t the type I lay at home,”/“she got a rag on so I move above, it won’t be long before she’ll take it off, I feel a rose down in her hair, her ass is black and her tits are all there.”

            That’s it. By April 1974 a fragment of something called ‘From The Inside’ would be played on KROQ Radio in Los Angeles making it either the last Stooges piece or the first new song of the Iggy Pop solo career. While Johnny Rotten’s “ever feel like you’ve been swindled? Good night,” is music’s most enduring on stage kiss-off, Iggy Pop deserves respect for murmuring “I never thought it would come to this, baby…” prior to ‘Louie Louie’ and for making his final words a defiant, “you nearly killed me but you missed again, so you have to keep trying next week.” That’s where Metallica KO still dazzles, the band are still tight, they make the most of even the most slender material, and Pop — as well as a lot of smirk-worthy stage banter — seems entirely conscious that he’s playing out every aspect of his psychically broken and exhausted state on stage. There’s an honesty in that which remains stunning, and rare, even at this far remove.

  • Wet My Bed
  • Heavy Liquid
  • I Got Nothing
  • Rich Bitch