Iggy Pop and the Stooges are releasing an album tomorrow – the first by the band since their swansong in 1973 – and I’m frightened. After all, the reunion route is a fraught one. There’s the possibility of disappointment. But more than that, there’s the question of the band’s meaning in the first place. Sure, they helped birth punk. But is that entirely good? Especially for the Jews?
Mr. Pop, as the New York Times might have it, is today remembered as the mad id of rock. Along with core members, the brothers Ron (guitar) and Scott (drums) Asheton, he helped create a kind of Three Stooges of punk, full of raw power and heroin-induced funhouse antics.
People forget how these punk progenitors also helped create a fascination with Nazi imagery, which inspired David Bowie's even more forgotten Nietzsche-quoting, Sieg Hail-ing post-Ziggy Stardust act. The Hitler Youth uniforms of Joy Division – a band named for the squad of sex slaves used to pleasure SS officers in concentration camps – were practically stitched together by the Stooges, who wore swastikas during some of their performances.
Just listen to the Stooges' live bootleg, “Metallic K.O.” in which the Igster kicks-off his rendition of “Rich Bitch” by dedicating it to all the “Hebrew women” in the audience. Or check out the testimony of Asheton in the reissue of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk where he says, “[Iggy] had this whole thing of hooking up with rich Jewish girls … He was using [them] … so I ended up using them and their limousines.” He can't really have been post-PC before there was political correctness, so what to make of this smirking aside besides the obvious?
Of course, if it weren’t for the Stooges, there wouldn’t have been a Jeffry Hyman [sic] or Tamas Erdelyi, better known as Joey and Tommy Ramone. Tamas, the mastermind behind the lanky, caterwauling quartet from Forest Hills, nearly didn’t exist: his parents survived the Holocaust in Budapest through the help of some non-Jewish friends. Did that stop "Blitzkrieg Bop" from happening? Of course not.
From Iggy to Tommy n’ Joey to Chris Stein and his Nazi memorabilia collection, to the five Jews in The Dictators and their Springtime for Hitler-like “Master Race Rock,” the nihilism that leads one into the true belly of punk is littered with Hitler iconography co-opted and warped beyond ideological recognition by punks. So perhaps there was always more going on with the Stooges than mere Sturm und Drang hooliganism.
For one thing, their acting-out was too inchoate and primal to be taken seriously. Cast-offs in the rusting fields of Henry Ford’s Detroit, the Stooges were driven by the belching factory smoke and even sootier excuses for massive industrial lay-offs. The Motor City titan who peddled “Protocols” blood libels in the Dearborn Independent left a legacy of antisemitism that couldn’t help but seep its way into roots of local tradition. It was only a matter of time before daring young ruffians ripped them out and made everyone uncomfortable.
Tear it up and start again. Like the Jewish punks who followed them, the Stooges wanted to exorcize their demons by mocking their parents’ oppressors, even if, on some level, they identified with the kitsch of absolutism. It was never supposed to be pretty.