"Wylde In The Streets
Director Todd Haynes needed a band that sounded like vintage Stooges for Velvet Goldmine, his new film centered around the birth of glam rock in the early '70s. Former Stooge Ron Asheton seemed like a good place to start. Here, Haynes, Asheton, and half of the resulting tribute-supergroup The Wylde Rattz bring past and present together.
Moderated by Eric Demby
from Ray Gun Magazine, No. 62, December 1998
The Wylde Rattz, the pseudo-Stooges backing band for the Velvet Goldmine character Kurt Wylde (a sort of Iggy Pop-Lou Reed amalgam, played by Ewan McGregor), boast a lineup that rivals this year's Yankees. With Mudhoney singer Mark Arm doing his best Iggy, original Stooge Ron Asheton, Thurston Moore, and Don Fleming on guitars, and a rhythm section of Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley on drums and Mike Watt on bass, the Rattz are tough to beat. Assembled by director Haynes (Safe, Poison) and veteran producer Jim Dunbar, the Rattz got along so well doing the song "Gimme Danger" for the film's soundtrack that they decided to record an album of Stooges covers (plus a few tracks) together.
Ray Gun: How did this project come about?
Jim Dunbar: The film's music supervisor, Randy Poster, gave me Todd's screenplay and said, "We want something that's like the Stooges." I said, "Like the Stooges? I can get you something that's exactly the Stooges." [laughter]. And Don Fleming had just done a record with Ron, Dark Carnival. So I called up Thurston and Watt - it was like three phone calls, one night, and the band was together. Everybody knew each other, but I think everybody was lookin' for a really good excuse to play together.
Ron Asheton: You guys knew each other, and I knew of you guys and knew you a little bit, but it was like we were old friends and just completely fell in together. I was a little worried that I'd be able to play with people I didn't know, but it was perfect. One of the best playing situations I've ever had.
Jim: The first weekend we went in we were gonna do a couple songs and we did like 12 or 14.
Thurston Moore: We had a little bit of direction from I guess Todd or [Goldmine executive producer] Michael Stipe, just like, here's a couple Stooges songs we'd like to hear in the movie...
Mike Watt: "Gimme Danger..."
Thurston: ...And we were just like, yeah we'll do 'em, but why don't we just loosen up and sort of play a little bit, as we ended up just runnin' through 'em [Stooges songs]. Ron showed us the basic arrangements, but we kind knew 'em anyway 'cause we kinda know that stuff, it's part of our DNA almost. Mark Arm was there, and he totally was nailin' it.
Ron: There were moments when we were doin' those songs where for a second I was like, "Wow, is that Iggy or Mark's voice?"
Jim: My uncle, Russ Gibb who ran the Grande Ballroom-
Ron: -Helped the Stooges.
Jim: He always said to me, "Iggy was the show, but Ron was the sound."
Todd Haynes: How did you guys write?
Ron: Well, usually I would come up with the riff and pieces and Iggy and I would piece it together.
Todd: He'd have lyrics written?
Ron: Sometimes he had stuff, but mostly on the riffs. I'd always come up with the riffs, the foundation and then we'd arrange it. A lot of the early lyrics, like "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and the first album, especially, were just things we said in life at the band house. Like, "Oh, she's not right. Man, she's so cool, I wanna be your dog." He'd take that and run with it. Those albums really are our life. We were primitive. I mean, I did take guitar lessons briefly. I don't think I ever changed the strings all those years and used the same pick, it was just round, used the corners that were already rounded. That's how all that stuff came about, just being ignorant and finding your own way. Really being totally primitive, and discovering marijuana and acid and that stuff.
Mike: What part of LA was the Fun House in?
Ron: We didn't live in LA when that was recorded. The Fun House was the band house in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Mike: When you open up the record [Fun House], where's that picture at?
Ron: The old Elektra records studio on La Cienega [Boulevard]. I don't know if it's still there. One good story about that session is when we were doing the Fun House record, there was what I thought was a mirror and I'm goin' over and scratchin' whiteheads off my face and everyone's primping, and we didn't know Jim Morrison was sitting in there in a room with a two-way mirror. He was worried that the Stooges might usurp any kind of Doors thing so he was watching us for a couple of days.
Todd: I read that Iggy listened to the Doors and was inspired by the low singing, because most people didn't sing really deep except for Jim Morrison.
Mike: I always thought that they were related because of that too. "We Will Fall..."
Ron: I think he got more of his crooning stuff after the Stooges from David Bowie. Because he [Iggy] really wasn't a singer, he pulled everything that was humanly possible out of what he had. He was so different, that's what's really funny. He was an honor roll student, he was in debating class. He wore penny loafers with cashmere sweaters, chinos, pinstripes. He wasn't anything like he became. I think my brother and Dave Alexander - they were kinda like the hoodlums - had a lot of influence in changing him, along with a lot of drug abuse probably. We got him smoking cigarettes. We'd wanna drink and he'd be like, "Let's have a hamburger."
Todd: Of course, everyone's fixating on the suggested Iggy/Bowie things in Velvet Goldmine, and really more of it comes from Lou Reed and Bowie, which was certainly a real collaboration and sort of infatuation. But Iggy was such a more compelling image and style to contrast with the British, 'cause he really epitomized the American influence...You saw that Lou outfit in the glam book? That's pretty insane.
Mike: No! But I saw the tour with the yellow hair, when he stopped playing guitar, "Sally Can't Dance." Pretty wild. But the Iggster was always kind of...I guess clothes are a big part of the thing.
Todd: [to Ron] Where did the glitter idea come from when he covered himself with glitter?
Ron: I don't know. And that was the worst mess ever, because I think it lasted for a year. It was in all of our clothes, I found some in my pubic hair like 10 years later. [laughter]. Imagine going on an airplane with Iggy when he spray painted his hair and face silver. [laughter]. It never came off. He actually didn't get on this plane, because of the way he looked.
Jim: At one point, the Stooges would tour on planes, right?
Ron: At the beginning, we always flew, every day. And then we got into stickin' our stuff on the planes, amps and everything, skip the truck. Slip the old porter a hundred bucks, instead of paying a thousand dollars to take the equipment on the plane.
Mike: You didn't tour in vans.
Ron: Yeah, I also had an SS uniform, or at least the jacket, and I got a lot of flack. I thought it looked cool, but it wasn't to make any kind of statement about pro-Nazi or anything. One time I wore an SS tunic getting on an airplane, and I'm walking down the ramp and I see the pilot go [makes look of horror] and he wanted me off the plane, but the stewardess said "He seems like a really nice guy," and she goes "I think the uniform is cute." To wear that stuff in public - I can't believe I did it - you have to be kind of young and crazy, Iggy hated flying , though.
Jim: So what did Iggy do to get on the plane? Did he need help, i.e. "silver spraypaint" or "medicine"?
Todd: Did he use drugs? [laughter].
Ron: There used to be blood dripping from the "TV room" ceiling when the guys would clear their syringes. Ya know, there were those crummy '50s soundproofing panels with dots in them. Guys would sit at the table and draw the blood and then just [makes squirting movement] - all over the place. [laughter]. Cotton all over the floor, millions of flies in this room.
Mike: Yeah, feedin' on it.
Ron: Oh, it stunk. Some St. Bernard's petrified shit in the corner.
Todd: Those were the days.
Jim: Wish they would never end.
Ron: Used to wake up every day and find that another piece of equipment had been taken and traded for spoon. A thousand dollar piano for a $40 spoon.
Todd: Please Kill Me [Legs McNeil's punk memoir] really distinguishes the first Stooges record as being much more hallucinogenics and pot and a really different scene, and then hard drugs more on Fun House.
Ron: The heroin really didn't come in until a little bit after that. It was still pot. It was actually Nico that got me into drinking, 'cause when she came to stay at the house she would buy all these great bottles of wine. And at first we'd be like, "Ew, a girl's sitting in our practice room. She can't - I'm not playing." So we kind shunned her and she really worked her way into our hearts . She'd make these fabulous dinners and we'd be like, "I'm not eatin' her stuff." Then later she'd be upstairs with Iggy, and we'd creep out and be like, "This stuff is dynamite! Wow, this bottle of wine costs 25 bucks!"
Todd: Were there actually threats if an Angela Bowie [David Bowie's first wife, on whom a pivotal VG character is based] visit [during the recording sessions]? Is this true?
Ron: Well, I talk to her on the phone occasionally, and I mentioned this project to her and she was really excited. And I was like, "You're not gonna be in the movie", and she goes, "I wanna do some of the music and be in the movie." I said, "I don't know anything about that." Next thing I know her manager is on the phone to my house five times a day.
Todd: I wanted Toni Collette [who plays the character inspired by Angela] to talk to her. From all the research I read, she really was key to that whole period.
Ron: Oh, super important.
Todd: I mean, people now dismiss her, and that's not true.
Ron: Oh, she groomed him [Iggy], taught him a lot of manners and things.
Mike: I heard this about Marc Bolan and June Bolan, too. His wife kind of made him. And she was managing Syd Barrett. A lot of these guys weren't really that together on a personal level.
Ron: You're right, that is true. She was a really big part of that at that time. We got to go to England - [to Todd] during a period of your movie, actually - in the early '70s and live there and see the MainMan function when Bowie was really just getting launched and the stuff was takin' off, and it was pretty exciting. And she was right in there, a very important person: fashion, dictating how they cut up their costumes, stage ideas.
Todd: And the whole Warhol group loved her more than Bowie, I think, at the time. I actually saw her play, like three songs with a full band at Squeezebox [a popular glam club in New York], like two years ago. It was sort of like Marianne Faithfull meets Bette Midler. Her biography, Backstage Pass, is smart. It's really articulate and good.
Ron: The only thing she got wrong is that I did not do heroin - I did have sex with her, but I was not stoned on heroin...She deserves a little bit more. I mean, David should give her some more money. Everyone that knows her knows she got dicked. I hope [this] brings some interest to what she's doing now. 'Cause I don't know about you guys, but I could certainly use the help myself.
Todd: I hope that happens, I really want that to happen.
Ray Gun: So there's a Wylde Rattz album?
Jim: We recorded it, we just had to wait for the movie to give it the context. So the soundtrack's coming out, and then the full-on Wylde Rattz assault on the world happens shortly thereafter.
Ray Gun: How were the songs chosen?
Jim: Well, the first night was just jamming, and that night the first two Stooges records got played. Todd had said that he wanted some original music.
Ron: I had written two songs.
Jim: We had done a little bit of pre-work with Steve Shelley and Ron during demos in the Sonic Youth studio. Eventually it got to Ron and Mark Arm gettin' down, sittin' in a room for like an hour.
Ron: He had written some and I had written some and what he had was so close to the ideas of what I wanted for those tunes, I said just do yours.
Jim: One of those songs, "Why I'm Clean," is in the movie.
Todd: Ewan changes some words around in "Why I'm Clean."
Ron: Hey, I'm used to it, man. In the Stooges documentary, there's like one second of the back of my head and that's it. It's all Iggy.
Thurston: It's such a perfect example of the Stooges being such a big part of our vocabulary that Mark Arm does the lyrics he writes. It's totally informed by the fact that that's the kind of person he is.
Mike: He was tellin' me that he was really scared, too. 'Cause he's very worried about the legacy of the Stooges and didn't want to fuck it up. And me too, you don't wanna cheapen it.
Ron: But he launched right into it and it was just like, holy shit, wow. I think the Wylde Rattz is probably as close as you'll get to a Stooges reunion. Everybody keeps wanting some reunion - I don't think it's ever going to happen, I think this is as close as you're gonna get.
Jim: If somebody had booked a gig, like, that Monday, forget it, we'd still be on tour.
Thurston: The main problem is that we have these other bands. [laughter]."