Wednesday, September 3, 2008

transformers, five

Transformer and Raw Power. I heard Iggy Pop for the first time during the first week of my freshman year at Syracuse University. I made friends with a punk rock guy at a Circle Jerks gig - they were playing in town at a club called the Lost Horizon. Noah, the punk rock guy, invited me to his dorm room a few days later. We drank a few Old Milwaukees and he popped a tape of Raw Power into his box (remember when a ghetto blaster used to be called a 'box'?)... Iggy knocked me out. He sounded so wound up, and angry, and aggressive, like a guy who just wants to break shit, even if it's his own head... I immediately got me an LP copy of Raw Power, noticing right away that Bowie was involved in making the record (apparently for the worse, but I didn't know that at the time so Bowie's participation made the record even more alluring). ...Over time, though, the newness of Raw Power wore off for me and I eventually got to a point where I would only listen to the first two tracks, "Search and Destroy" and "Gimme Danger." I still think these are the only two songs on the record that are any good, but they're both so great that I pull Raw Power out of the stacks regularly just to hear them...

Backtrack a bit...I was a high school fuck up, ill advisedly sent to a pressure cooker prep school in NYC. But I don't regret it because some of my dearest friends to this day date back to that time and place... When I was 16, my worried parents wanted to fix what was wrong with me. They sent me to a head shrinker who put me on Ritalin. You may wonder what any of this has to do with Raw Power. Well, take a few tablets of Ritalin, play the record, and you'll find out in about 20 minutes time. ...Ritalin is fantastic, but also habit forming. They'll tell you it's not addictive, but don't believe it for one second. Imagine speed with a soft landing. That's Ritalin. Actually, check that: The landing is only soft if you don't mix the shit with Iggy Pop... Ritalin was prescribed to me to improve my academic efficiency, but I took a dosage of the stuff one night in college just for kicks. I thought it would help me get laid. I always felt more virile, charming and confident with the stuff coursing through my veins. I went out to a few of the bars in town that night but didn't get laid - didn't even talk to anyone, let alone any comely college co-eds who might be interested in casually bedding down with me. I walked back to my dorm room when I saw the writing on the wall. Now I had nothing to do, but I was still flying high. So I played Raw Power. Bad idea.

'I'm a streetwalkin' cheetah with a heart full of napalm.'

...Within a few moments, Iggy's frenzied singing and James Williamson's jackhammer guitars practically had me climbing the walls, like Spidey trying to evade the Vulture or Kingpin in Amazing Spiderman #79. I started screaming along with the music and slam dancing with myself. I must've looked like a mental patient. My roomate, who was 'rushing' one of the douche bag frat houses on campus, came back from a party and tried to calm me down. Next thing you know, the two of us were throwing spastic haymakers at each other out in the hallway. He connected with one of his punches and bloodied my nose, but it knocked some sense back into me so it was for the best... I never took Ritalin for kicks again, but to this day Raw Power is an album I associate with reckless aggression.

Even though I don't think much of Raw Power beyond the one-two punch of its first two tracks, it strikes me as an album about drugs and sexual catharsis. 'There's nothing left to life but a pair of glassy eyes', Iggy sings, capturing the tied off aimlessness hanging in the air after the Collapse, 'raze my feelings one more time...' More in concept than execution, Raw Power epitomizes the Aftermath, in all it's delicious moral turpitude.

About a year before the appearance of Raw Power, Bowie produced Lou Reed's seminal Glam album, Transformer, with lots of help from Ronno. Transformer, in my opinion, is far superior to Raw Power. The comparison is admittedly a little unfair since the two records are so different sounding, but the atmosphere created by each is somewhat similar. ...Like Bowie and T. Rex during the same period, Lou Reed refused to wallow in the disappointment of his generation's lost chances and failures. I doubt he ever put much stock in those chances anyway. ...Transformer takes us for a walk on the wild side, through the dark alleys of downtown Gotham, where the casualties of a warped and distorted counterculture lay prone in pools of their own filth. And you can tell Lou loves every fuckin' minute of it - loves the underground misfits and losers, the trannies, the hookers, the junkies... The most poignant moment on the album for me comes at the end of "Perfect Day", a gorgeously crafted ode to heroin. With piano and lush strings slowly fading, Lou repeatedly sings, 'you're gonna reap what you sow.' It's chilling and ominous, but it's beautiful, too, turning the destruction of 60s idealism into both a logical outcome and a cause for celebration.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ritalin definitely increases my sex drive. Sometimes almost uncontrollably so. Good to know it's a normal thing