Of all the musicians of the '60's who influenced the Punk Revolution, two artists stand first and foremost above and beyond all whose sounds helped create the ultimate mutation of the musical genre known as rock and roll. Lou Reed and Iggy Pop were underground legends of their time whose radical approaches to hard rock laid the foundation for this historical evolution of '70's rock and roll. Though their stage presenta-tions, lyrics and music styles were quite dissimilar, the dynamics of their work became the epitome of everything punk rock stood for it its heyday during the mid-70's to the early '80's and beyond.
Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground played their first gig in November of '65. Reed, guitarist Sterling Morrison and bassist John Cale were classically-trained musicians who were strongly influenced by avant-garde composer John Cage and other electronic musicians. They incor-porated these theories into their unique style which was decades ahead of its time. Andy Warhol, the '60's pop icon, took the Velvets under his wing and made them part of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, his surrealistic sight-and-sound experience which became a legend among the Soho underground. Reed's lyrics focused on the lifestyle of the Warhol cultists, which was rife with porno stars, transvestites, junkies and other eccentrics who gravitated towards the Warholian phantom zone. "Heroin" was considered the Velvets' anthem by many followers:
I don't know just where I'm going
but I'm gonna try for the kingdom if I can
because it makes me feel like I'm a man
when I put a spike into my vein
then I tell you, things aren't quite the same
when I'm rushing on my run
and I feel just like Jesus' son
and I guess that I just don't know
and I guess that I just don't know
About the same time, Iggy and the Stooges were making headway along the beer halls and rock clubs in Detroit along with other `garage bands' such as the MC 5 and the Godz. Iggy Pop (née Iggy Stooge) was the lead singer of the band, which gained notoriety for Iggy's outrageous antics onstage during their sets. The lithe and lissome Iggy was like a mannequin being manipulated by a fiendish speedfreak, bounding, tumbling, twisting and sprawling across the stage, all the while shrieking out the lyrics of the songs with a feral vengeance without ever missing a beat. He quickly became an underground legend, meeting Jim Morrison in LA, the two `lizard kings' becoming regular drinking buddies. He was also friends with the up-and-coming Alice Cooper, who he would tour with years later. Unlike the Velvets' psychedelic light show accompanied by Warhol's surrealistic slides and films superimposed on the stage show, a single spotlight on Iggy and the Stooges was more than enough. Iggy's lyrics were more introspective than Lou's, focusing on his own pain and anguish rather than the chaos around him of which he and Reed had become major influences. "Search and Destroy" has since become, arguably, THE punk anthem:
I'm a street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm
I'm the runaway son of a nuclear A-bomb
I am the world's forgotten boy
the one who's searching to destroy
Somebody gotta help me please
somebody gotta save my soul
Baby, detonate for me...
There was also a difference between the Velvets and the Stooges' styles. Reed had a penchant for writing lovely ballads which emphasized the singing style of their chanteuse, Nico. Yet he delighted in making radical shifts into overdrive in mid-set, often in mid-song as it suited his fancy. A duple-meter love ballad could easily soar into double-time, Lou thrashing at his guitar as feedback screeched deafeningly from overloaded amplifiers, the band hammering frenetically in pursuit. Just as abruptly, Lou could bring it back to its original beat, or merely cut the sonic torrent to an sudden end. Many rock artists were already comparing Reed's work to that of Jimi Hendrix, only the music industry was never going to let such radical concepts surface on the American cultural scene until the advent of punk in the '70's.
Iggy's work was equally considered anathematic to the AM/FM music moguls of the airwaves. The Stooges' attack was spearheaded by James Williamson, one of the most unheralded guitar prodigies of our time. Williamson's work on "Raw Power" remains a monumental work of lead guitar prowess, rivalled only by Hunter and Wagner on Reed's "Rock and Roll Animal" years later. His lead riffs on "Death Trip" and "Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell" are unparallelled; his virtuosity as a rhythm guitarist made "Search and Destroy" and "Raw Power" the punk anthems they would soon become. Williamson worked alone, in contrast to the Velvets' powerhouse lineup of Reed, Cale, & Morrison. Yet it was Iggy's excesses, rather than Williamson's deficiencies, which were cited as the reason why the Stooges never reached the heights their abilities seemed to have promised them.
The Velvet Underground was the sound of the twilight zone, a surrealistic dimension which mainstream America wanted to know nothing about. The Stooges were the sounds of its gutters and alleyways, its strung-out youth looking for a place from which to run away. Together, the Velvets and the Stooges conspired to pry open a Pandora's Box which a beleaguered middle-class America wanted to remain sealed forever after the turbulence of the mid-'60's. These legendary groups eventually disbanded, but Lou Reed and Iggy Pop survived to pursue solo careers which coincided with the development of the Punk Revolution which they had done so much to inspire and create.
If anyone could be accredited for the punk phenomena, history would point to Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. These `Godfathers of Punk' paved the way for every Punk/New Wave band that made its mark in the late '70's and early '80's, setting a standard which would forever be emulated but never duplicated.