Brett Callwood Takes The Stooges Head On

  If you don’t know about The Stooges, then it’s time to do some research and learn about the primitive blueprint for punk, the precursor to primal musical minimalism, and an integral part of a late 60s/early 70s hugely influential rock ‘n roll scrapyard in Detroit that also spawned the likes of the MC5, Ted […]

by Scott Alisoglu


If you don’t know about The Stooges, then it’s time to do some research and learn about the primitive blueprint for punk, the precursor to primal musical minimalism, and an integral part of a late 60s/early 70s hugely influential rock ‘n roll scrapyard in Detroit that also spawned the likes of the MC5, Ted Nugent & The Amboy Dukes, and Alice Cooper. One way to do it would be to pick up a book by Brett Callwood entitled The Stooges: Head On – A Journey Through the Michigan Underground. And I’m not just saying that because the North American edition of the book (following the original British edition) is brought to you by Wayne State University Press, the publishing house of my esteemed Detroit alma mater. Well, maybe just a teeny tiny bit, but still…

While it is true that several books have been written about the band and even more about its iconic, enigmatic front man Iggy Pop since The Stooges released their self-titled debut in 1969, the difference with Head On is that British author Brett Callwood gives no more focus to Iggy Pop than he does to any other musician involved with The Stooges.  Callwood didn’t take the easy route by making his observations from across the Atlantic in England either. He actually visited Ann Arbor, Michigan (the actual Stooges home base) and Detroit, soaked it all in and chatted with musicians, fans, club owners, industry folk, and damn near anyone that had anything to do with The Stooges and that fertile Motown scene. I mean shit, Callwood – who also authored MC5: Sonically Speaking: A Tale of Revolution and Rock ‘n’ Roll – even ended up moving to Metro Detroit and made it his home.

In other words, Callwood gets Detroit in ways that most people from outside the area never will. It is/was a City of underdogs, hard scrabble survivors, and chips on shoulders bigger than the sculpture of Joe Louis’ fist that sits outside Detroit City Hall; of cold beer, freezing winters, and more square footage of bowling alleys than anywhere in the nation. It is the birthplace of the labor movement, a case study in the economic devastation that is sure to follow a one-dimensional economic base (the auto industry), and a City that lost 800,000 people from its peak of 1.7 million in the mid-1950s. Detroit is also a City of revolutionaries, militants, proud renegades, talented musicians, independent artists, and a type of person for which West Coast image-consciousness, East Coast pretension, and soft underbellies are anathema. And all of it pours out of the real life characters examined by Callwood in this eminently readable and penetrating document of Motor City rock history.

Between an enthusiastic Foreword by Alice Cooper about The Stooges and a short, though no less interesting, Glenn Danzig Afterword is a story informed by insightful interviews and inclusive of just enough detail by Callwood to paint an accurate historical picture without resorting to factoid overload. The author doesn’t just tell the story of the making of 1969 self-titled Stooges debut, 1970s Fun House, and 1973’s Iggy & The Stooges’ Raw Power, and then rush through an encapsulation of the 21st Century reunion. He sets the stage with portraits of the Detroit area personalities that had a hand in the creation of scene and music and allows the story to unfold naturally, following the careers of core members Scott and Ron Asheton and, to a lesser extent, Iggy Pop (mainly one chapter) years after The Stooges had become inactive and before this century’s reformation. Callwood skillfully weaves together referential material, interviews, and his own opinions in a way that is thorough, seamlessly flowing, and anything but verbose. He paints a detailed picture of the only place in the world that could produce music so universally praised and reviled.

After a thorough examination of the period defined by The Stooges self-titled debut and Fun House Callwood addresses 1973 Iggy & The Stooges album Raw Power, which saw Ron Asheton move to bass to make room for the flashier style of guitarist James Williamson. As Callwood notes in a manner most astute, the music of the David Bowie mixed Raw Power may have been defined by more conventional song structures, but sure as hell wasn’t anything resembling standard hard rock.

Callwood then takes us through a story of complex situations, emotional fragility, and egos big and small. Under David Bowie’s tutelage Iggy Pop’s star would rise, while the Asheton brothers continued to fight the good fight and keep that rock ‘n roll train steaming down the tracks with mixed results. Though Destroy All Monsters and to lesser extent Dark Carnival (both featuring another enigmatic Detroit figure in vocalist Niagara) would push boundaries and offer the world a more eclectic brand of Detroit ruckus, success was measured largely by an adoring underground community.

The author’s telling of the events surrounding and the personalities involved in the 21st Century Stooges reunion/reformation (preceded by J Mascis and Mike Watt enlisting the Asheton brothers to introduce a new generation to The Stooge) is masterful.  Watt’s commentary in particular offers keen insight. Callwood superbly captures the raw emotion and rather complicated psychology involved in the triumphant tours, the release of a somewhat polarizing new Stooges album in The Weirdness, and the sorrow felt around the world with the passing of Ron Asheton on January 6, 2009.

If you know nothing about The Stooges and are interested in learning about some of the most influential heavy music ever recorded, then I would strongly advise you to start with Head On: A Journey through the Michigan Underground. Awareness and/or general knowledge of Iggy Pop’s career doesn’t come close to making you informed. That’s why Callwood had to write the book. It’s also why you should read it. – Scott Alisoglu

Check out a song from each of the four Stooges albums here:

The Stooges “I Wanna Be Your Dog” (The Stooges, 1969)

The Stooges “TV Eye” (Fun House, 1970)

Iggy & The Stooges “Search and Destroy” (Raw Power, 1973)

The Stooges “My Idea of Fun” (The Weirdness, 2007)






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