The death on April 8 of Malcolm McLaren, the British provocateur who managed the Sex Pistols and therefore changed the face of pop culture if only by sticking a safety pin through its cheek, resuscitated the argument about who started punk rock in the first place.
Obituaries proclaimed McLaren punk's "godfather," perhaps to avoid contradicting McLaren's former business partner Bernard Rhodes, who managed the Clash and claims to have "invented" punk. Americans, meanwhile, have long defended the turf containing punk's roots as their own, citing the New York Dolls (whom McLaren managed for a time), and the Ramones.
But perhaps the real starter of the punk avalanche was James Osterberg, a Michigan native who, after rechristening himself Iggy Pop, achieved unprecedented notoriety as the outré lead singer of an aggressively troglodytic garage band called the Stooges. If the group's eponymous 1969 debut album sounds dated, its 1970 follow-up, a towering inferno of ferocity with the ironic title Fun House, remains ahead of its time.
The case for the seminal nature of Pop's role in punk's origins has just received its latest boost in the form of Sony's latest reissuing of the band's third album, Raw Power, in a deluxe two-disc edition with a limited-edition, even more deluxe four-disc edition soon to follow.
Both contain the 1973 album's original eight songs in their original David Bowie mix (i.e., the notoriously "thin" one-a somewhat bass-boosted remix overseen by Pop himself was released in 1997) and a (mostly) live CD of an Atlanta date on the band's scabrous 1973 tour.
Together, the discs reveal why punk as embodied by Malcolm McLaren and the Sex Pistols probably wouldn't have happened if Iggy and the Stooges hadn't happened first. At the very least, the heat-seeking missile that was Raw Power proved that baby boomers, confused and angered by the failure of their inherited material abundance to satisfy their deeper longings, could generate first-rate "shake appeal" (track seven's title).
The live-in-Georgia disc, meanwhile, suggests that Pop, besides inventing punk, may have invented "performance art" as well, combining as he did drug-fueled self-mutilation, audience baiting, and profanity like some morbidly fascinating combination of Jim Morrison and Lenny Bruce.
One doesn't use the term morbidly lightly; the Raw Power song "Death Trip" felt scary for a reason. But there was also an irrepressible survival instinct. In retrospect, it's not surprising that Pop eventually kicked heroin and developed into a productive rock 'n' roll éminence grise. He released his 15th solo album last year and is currently on tour with the Stooges in Europe. On April 21, six days before the four-disc Raw Power was scheduled to go on sale, he turned 63.
Prohibitively priced though it is ($69.99), the four-disc set is the Raw Power that students of punk will want-less for its bonus 10-track audio CD of Raw Power-era studio outtakes and alternate mixes than for Search and Destroy: Iggy & the Stooges' Raw Power, a 45-minute documentary DVD that revisits the circumstances surrounding the album's creation.
The lineup of talking heads is both authoritative and diverse. Besides the three surviving Stooges (Pop, guitarist James Williamson, drummer Scott Asheton), there are testimonials from the Smiths' Johnny Maar, the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde, Blondie's Clem Burke, and Black Flag's Henry Rollins about how Raw Power influenced their music and their lives.
But it's Pop himself who puts the finger on why it did (and does). Listening to James Williamson's acoustic-guitar demo for the song "I Need Somebody," he observes that, stripped to its essence, the music bears a startling resemblance to that most enduringly popular and life-affirming of musical genres: the blues.