Book Review: The Stooges Head On
Author: Brett Callwood
Author: Brett Callwood
Wayne State University Press, Painted Turtle
All Access Review: B+
Sorting through The Stooges’ trash to dig up whatever dirt is left to uncover about the Ann Arbor proto-punks has become a sort of blood sport with rock journalists. By now, though, it would seem that every lurid tale of debauchery and mayhem involving Iggy Pop and the boys — especially, Iggy — has been told and retold to the point where nothing’s shocking with them.
The whole ugly, unvarnished truth has been exposed, and if there is more out there hidden by the fog of time and fading memories, it probably wouldn't add much to a mangy mythology built on The Stooges' violent appetite for self-destruction. With the heart of a fan, then, author Brett Callwood, who is familiar with the terrain having written about the MC5, smartly rises above the fray with “The Stooges: Head On,” preferring to tell the band’s story without a great reliance on sensationalism, and that's to be celebrated.
And it is The Stooges’ story that Callwood sticks to. This is not a band biography masquerading as an Iggy tell-all. In fact, Iggy’s part in this tragic-comedy is muted in Callwood’s book. Relying heavily on in-depth, and often very funny and insightful, interviews with both Asheton brothers, Ron doing his before he died in 2009, and all the other Stooges, including Iggy, James Williamson, Steve McKay, Mike Watt and Scott Thurston, Callwood paints a broad, graffiti-splashed mural that encompasses the band’s entire history without getting bogged down in unnecessary details. Other offbeat characters, underground journalists and Detroit-area musical revolutionaries, like the MC5’s Dennis Thompson make sure the weirdness never ends.
In drawing and developing fully realized portraits of each Stooge, Callwood doesn’t play favorites. His solid, substantive writing humanizes and spotlights every character in The Stooges’ epic, giving them all equal time. Callwood’s interest in The Stooges is undeniably genuine, as he dissects the recorded violent they put on wax and walks through the fists-flying riots they spawned in concert. He traces The Stooges' origins in bleak, rusted-out Michigan and follows each band member's life prior to The Stooges on through the band’s 1970s implosion and all the way through the post-millennial reunions. Of particular interest is the thorough excavation of Ron Asheton's musical adventures in Destroy All Monsters and the New Order, the post-Stooges' groups that he took part in to fill the void in the wake of the breakup. Perhaps no other Stooges' book has paid more attention to Ron, including the deep disappointment he felt in being replaced by Williamson on guitar for Raw Power.
While there is much to digest here, Callwood organizes the book in a free-flowing fashion that makes it an easy read. Much of the content is delivered in long, well-chosen quotes that, when pieced together with Callwood's light transitional touch, carry the story along like a fast-moving river current. A black-and-white photo section in the book's midsection seems like a dysfunctional family album, one awash in the white-trash environs that birthed the Stooges. And, even though Callwood doesn't dwell on the scary chaos that surrounded the band, he doesn't run from it either. There's enough violence, hilariously mean pranks and borderline insanity to fix any reader who comes looking for it.
- Peter Lindblad