STOOGES & NEW YORK DOLLS BLITZ SAN FRANCISCO 1973-74

Just before the punk era dawned, two punk
godfathers invaded the west coast and took no prisoners.

 

BY JUD COST

 

The appearance this
week of the hairdryer-in-the-bath-tub remastered/expanded edition of Raw Power by Iggy & the Stooges
(Columbia/Legacy; reviewed at Blurt here)
releases a flood of memories from what seemed at the time like a rock ‘n’ roll
nuclear winter. The post-Altamont collapse of a fertile late-’60s scene
spearheaded by the Beatles, Stones, Doors and Airplane made it clear that if
you were going to find thrilling music in the new decade it was up to you to do
the legwork.

 

By the time the
Ramones, Sex Pistols, Blondie, the Clash, Talking Heads, the Jam and the Damned
crashed the party in 1976-77, the choices were, pardon the expression,
no-brainers. But finding new rock ‘n’ roll saviors between 1970 and 1975, while
the musical landscape was being carpet-bombed by earnest young troubadours,
felt something like looking for a good picnic spot nowadays in downtown Baghdad. Fortunately,
epic U.K.
acts Mott the Hoople and Slade helped fill this vast void until the
phoenix-like arrival of a pair of heroic American combos: Iggy and the Stooges
and the New York Dolls. In a short four-month window spanning
late-’73/early-’74, both played San
Francisco. And I was there.

 

The New York
Dolls seemed truly dangerous when they blitzed the national scene in 1973.
Decked out in trashy women’s outfits with plenty of lipstick, rouge and
mascara, they were the poster boys for what every fundamentalist preacher had
predicted for “Satan’s music” 15 years earlier. They were the band
that made parents of teenagers think that maybe those Rolling Stones weren’t so
bad, after all.

 

In September of
1973, Dolls frontman David Johansen, guitarists Johnny Thunders and Sylvain
Sylvain, drummer Jerry Nolan and a temporary replacement bassist for Arthur
“Killer” Kane, ripped through the tunes from their self-titled debut album at a
short-lived North
Beach club called the New
Matrix. The cozy nitery was located on Broadway, directly across the street
from what was once the Jazz Workshop, former San Fran venue for improvisational
titans such as John Coltrane and Charles Mingus. (Regular bassist Kane wore a
plaster cast over one arm that night that reduced him to being an onstage
spectator.)

 

No one could
have topped the New Yorkers for sheer audacity in those days, but opening act
the Tubes came close. Fresh out of Phoenix,
Ariz., the band formerly known as
the Beans began their set with a long, spacey jam while flanking a card table
set in the center of the stage and draped with a table cloth. Perched on the
table was a platter covered with a rounded silver turkey warmer. At just the
right moment, guitarist Bill “Sputnik” Spooner, lifted the roaster
top straight up, revealing the head of singer Fee Waybill, poked through the
platter and already in full vocal flight.

 

***

 

In January of
1974, Iggy and the Stooges, featuring concrete-melting guitarist James
Williamson, Scott Thurston on piano and Ron and Scott Asheton on bass and
drums, respectively, hit town to rearrange the DNA of patrons at another North
Beach hot spot, Bimbo’s 365 Club. The joint had been long dark, maybe since the
days in the early ’60s when my mom and dad went there to see groundbreaking
comedian Lenny Bruce, back in the day when he was still doing “bits”
instead of lecturing on jurisprudence. 

 

The original
rubber-legged boy, Iggy Pop was part genial host/part shit-disturbing
antagonist in front of about half a house full of devotees and the curious. I
don’t recall any San Franciscans, a fairly peaceful lot, throwing bottles (or
eggs) at the Ig like they did elsewhere. The band blitzed through the entire Raw Power album at a volume that had the
vintage 1940s-era oil painting of a nude girl in a fish bowl all but bouncing
off the wall, then added incendiary versions of non-LP songs “I’ve Got My
Cock In My Pocket” and “Rich Bitch.”

 

By the end of
the set, a girl climbed onstage, unzipped the pants of the “world’s
forgotten boy” and began polishing his knob. The next day, one of the
local newspapers ran a piece which revealed that last night’s lewd act had
really been performed by a guy in drag. That wouldn’t even have caused a
flutter on TMZ these days, even on a
slow news day.

 

 

Additional reading: the BLURT interview
with guitarist James Williamson
, by John B. Moore.

 

[Stooges Photo Credit: Robert Matheu]

 

 

 

 

 

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