If you haven't already figured it out, I can be a bit of a sucker of the "one born every minute" variety, especially when it comes to the proliferation of compact discs (see a needlessly lengthy description of my plight here ). I'm a fool for re-packaged, re-issued, re-mastered re-releases, especially when they come lovingly appended with extra tracks, expanded artwork, special goodies and otherwise needlessly exclusive crap. While record companies are all too happy to accommodate me in this respect, I am occasionally able to draw the line (I patently refuse to spend one thin dime on the new Ramones box set, Weird Tales of the Ramones, given that all the material has been released a bajillion times before....I don't care if it comes in a luxuriously designed comic book....really, I don't). In the last couple of years alone, completist-aimed re-releases by some of my favorite bands -- including New Model Army, David Bowie, the Virgin Prunes, Devo, the Cure, ...er....Gene Loves Jezebel and most recently my beloved Killing Joke -- have been dangled in front of me like bright, juicy carrots in front of a drooling mule. While I shudder at both the crass marketing manipulation and the nefarious whiff of impending age that comes with buying "anniversary" editions (when you find more items of interest in the "reissues" reviews than in the "new releases”, it's a safe bet that you've been forcibly evicted from your cozy spot on the cutting edge), I still find myself taking the bait.
The most egregious example of this came via my unwavering adoration for Funhouse. Expressing my love for the second album by the Stooges doesn't exactly put me out on any precarious limbs; its status as a genre-defining, legitimately seminal benchmark has been laboriously extolled by every credible rock journalist, elitist music snob and dubious hack to ever submit an opinion. It's simply a bona fide classic. Henry Rollins once cited it in a column for SPIN Magazine as one of his top two favorite albums of all time (the other was White Light White Heat by the Velvet Underground). Mark E. Smith of the Fall told Mojo Magazine that it was an album that "changed his life." It sold poorly upon its 1970 release. It doesn't contain any singles you're likely to hear on a commercial radio station. You'd be hard pressed to find it in your local sports bar's jukebox. While it managed to log in at #191 on Rolling Stone Magazine's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" (its more user-friendly predecessor, The Stooges, ranked at #185), your average passive rock fan probably has no idea of its brilliance, let alone its existence. But ask your typical vinyl-hording, unshaven and bleary-eyed music geek to part with his or her copy of it, and you can expect tears and pugilism.
I first layed undeserving ears on the album during my freshman year of college in 1985, as it came blasting out of my scowly friend Jay's dorm room in unintentionally girl-scaring, hourly rotations. I'd heard Iggy Pop before, but I knew precious little about his pre-70's incarnation. Quickly indoctrinated into the faith via Jay's relentless airings, I immersed myself in this savage artifact. Despite rearing their heads towards the tail end of the hippy dippy 60's, the Stooges were the very antithesis of peace-espousing love mongers (unless the love being mongered was of a purely physical kind). They were rude, filthy, scary, sleazy, sexy, druggy and loud (in other words, they were perfect). Stripping rock music down to its raw rudiments years before the Ramones and the `Pistols, the Stooges were the definition of proto-Punk. Had their notorious predilections for hedonism overtaken them prior to recording Funhouse, I'd suggest that rock music would sound very different today.
I was going to launch into the predictable track-by-track description, painstakingly detailing every barbed nuance of this album's seven tracks, but whole battalions of learned rock scribes have done that more eloquently than I can probably muster (though somewhat surprisingly, Continuum books' 33 1/3 Book series has yet to attempt to tackle Funhouse). Suffice it to say, if you can listen to the first three tracks ("Down on the Street", "Loose" and "T.V. Eye") without adopting a pronounced swagger to your stride or if you can hear "1970" without wanting to leap around like a tight-trousered hellion, then you should probably go buy yourself a Judy Collins record and start collecting ornamental doilies. If you don't appreciate Funhouse by the Stooges, then you simply don't enjoy hearing rock'n'roll played properly, dammit.
Given my zealous fervor, I of course bought my own copy of the LP (though sadly not with the original gatefold cover). Upon the advent of the compact disc, Funhouse was one of the first five albums I re-bought. It was nigh on essential to have a copy of the album at the ready at all times should a jolt of primal rock fury be needed. Like precious few albums before or since, Funhouse possesses a sound that belies its advancing age. Though it was released when your humble narrarator was all of three years old, Funhouse sounds as fresh and as raw and as palpably dangerous in 2005 as it did the day it was recorded. Current attempts at rock sound flaccid and incontinent by comparison. If ever I'm put off by the current state of "rock" as typified by whatever schlock is lifelessly pooping out of MTV's backside, all it takes is one bracing spin of Funhouse to get me back on track. You can keep your precious Zeppelin IV's and your Exile on Main Street's. Put on Funhouse or go the hell home.
So, given my penchant for flowery hyperbole when it comes to this record, you can imagine my reaction in 2000 when Rhino Handmade decided to unleash 1970: The Complete Funhouse Sessions, a SEVEN (count'em: 7) cd box set containing every single recorded take that went into the making of the album in question. Adding costly insult to injury, those cruel folks at Rhino were selling them in individually numbered limited editions of only 3000 copies. Salivating like the afore-mentioned mule, I dutifully punched my keyboard to order my own copy.
A couple of weeks later, a package containing what felt like a shot-put arrived in my mailbox. There it was. Lovingly sheathed in a hearty cardboard box (festooned with the same fiery depiction of Iggy, the late Dave Alexander and the hirsute brothers Asheton as on the original album's cover) came seven imposing compact discs, packed to the gills with what I'd imagined was more raw power (pardon the pun) than could be quantified. I practically had to clear my schedule and take off a few days from work in order to make time to soak it all in, but I was determined to hear it. To know it. To live it. I'd paid handsomely for this privilege, and now I was going to wallow in it like it was my last meal.
And let me tell you. It was horrible.
The original Funhouse is only seven songs long, clocking in with measured brevity at 36 minutes. These are quality minutes without an ounce of fat; just lean rock'n'roll purity, seemingly in its rawest form. 1970: The Complete Funhouse Sessions, meanwhile, contains 142 tracks and goes on for 7 hours and 52 minutes. And these aren't 142 different tracks, mind you, these are tracks that are played, re-played, tweaked, fine-tuned and then played again ad nauseum. In certain stretches, you get literally TWELVE CONSECUTIVE TAKES OF THE SAME SONG It's maddening. Listening to it in its entirety is akin to one of Hell's torments wherein you are force-fed for the rest of eternity exclusively what had once been your own favorite food. One of my most cherished songs of all time, "Loose," the original album's second track featuring Riff-Nazi Ron Asheton's most incendiary guitar work, literally gets played, in one form or another, THIRTY times. After being subjected to this, I virtually never wanted to hear the song again.
It's a damn good thing that 1970: The Complete Funhouse Sessions was only released in a limited run, because it's a heart breaker. Despite its staggering length, it managed to obliterate my dreamy rose-tinted associations with Funhouse in one fell swoop. I felt like Dorothy after discovering that the purportedly Great and Powerful Oz was nothing more than an old man pulling levers behind a curtain. All that time I'd nurtured the illusion that the Stooges were a gaggle of louche cut-throats who'd swaggered into the studio one afternoon, fleetingly sober enough to lay down a couple of tracks before traipsing back out into the night to go drink their collective weight in Jack Daniels, beat up cops and snort a Maltese cross of cocaine off of Edie Sedgwick's waifish décolletage. The truth wasn't so glorious. Turns out they were painstakingly fastidious. Yawnsomely so. I expected barely coherent rock brigands and I got depressingly clear-headed perfectionists.
Despite managing to sit through 1970: The Complete Funhouse Sessions in its sprawling entirety at least once (with loooooong intervals between discs), the box set sat on my shelf unplayed thereafter, silently mocking my fetishism from its dusty perch. Fellow dorky rock slaves would come over, spy it on my shelf and gasp as if catching a glimpse of the Loch Ness monster. I leant it out a few times, neglecting to opine on it until they'd endured it themselves. It was always returned to me accompanied by wistful sighs. We'd commiserate at its unwieldiness and the ultimately incongruous choice of albums for this sort've treatment. The Stooges were about disdainful insouciance and hedonism, not meticulousness. Surely this exhaustive format would be better suited to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds; albums that wore their devotion to envelope-pushing studio craft on their sleeves.
"If only they'd edited it down to a more manageable size," I whined to fellow Iggyphiles, "They should've simply culled the best bits and released those instead of the whole nine goddamn yards." Well, fast-forward five years and guess what? Rhino/Elektra have just re-released Funhouse yet again, remastered this time and appended with a second disc containing -- WAIT FOR IT -- select takes from the recording sessions. GOTCHA!
Guess which sucker bought it again.
Incidentally, if anyone feels like buying me a copy of Weird Tales of the Ramones, they can handily order it here.