Elektra Comes to Detroit: An Excerpt from ‘TOTAL CHAOS: The Story of The Stooges’

Elektra Comes to Detroit: An Excerpt from ‘TOTAL CHAOS: The Story of The Stooges’

Third Man Books is excited to be publishing one of the most anticipated music books of the year about one of the most influential bands of all time… The Stooges. TOTAL CHAOS: The Story of The Stooges / As Told by Iggy Pop is the first time the story of this seminal band has been told entirely in Iggy Pop’s own words.

Author Jeff Gold and contributor Johan Kugelberg, noted music historians and collectors, spent two days with Pop at his Miami home, sharing with him their extensive Stooges collection and interviewing the legendary singer. Additional contributors include Ben Blackwell, Dave Grohl, Josh Homme, Joan Jett, Johnny Marr and Jack White.

Pop’s candid, bare-all responses left them with the almost unbelievable tale of the band he founded-the alternately tragic and triumphant story of a group who rose from youth, fell prey to drugs, alcohol, and music biz realities, collapsed and nearly 30 years later reformed, recording and touring to great acclaim. In 2010 The Stooges, credited with having invented punk rock, were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Their continuing influence can be felt today in the shape and sound of rock-n-roll music.

Below, enjoy this exclusive excerpt from Chapter 3 of the book, titled “Elektra Comes to Detroit.” Released in hardcover on November 29, you can pre-order TOTAL CHAOS here.

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The first Stooges album, signed by Iggy, Ron and Scott Asheton. (Jeff Gold collection)

Jeff Gold: So Danny Fields comes to this University of Michigan gig on the 23rd of September and sees you and the MC5 and evidently, the account I read said you shooed the band off, the amps are feeding back, you’re wandering around in a maternity dress and white face, spitting on people, and Danny says, “You’re a star!”

Iggy Pop: That’s what I remember. I don’t know if I was still wearing the white face and the dress at the time. I might have been just a little more raucous, but I definitely was working the crowd. You’re talking about a beautiful old ballroom, lovely old wooden ballroom of moderate size, a few hundred kids sitting cross-legged enjoying, I hope, a concert by a band on a stage about ye high—about twenty four inches, thirty inches high—and playing so loud in this oaken room that’s made to amplify the sound of a solo violin because it’s Belle Époque mentality.

J: It’s a ballroom.

I: Yeah, and I do remember it as, “You’re a star and I work for Elektra Records.” I’m like, “Yeah right, he looks like a hustler to me.” But I guess he really did, and Ron tells that he said, “You guys are stars.” That could be too. I don’t really know, but I think I remember him saying to me, “You are a star.”

J: So at what point do you start to say to yourself, hey could this be real? 

I: Later that afternoon he got to our address. I think I said somehow, “Look, talk to my manager” [laughs].

Johan Kugelberg: Was the reason that you guys didn’t go into a studio before February ’69 that you guys were broke or was it never discussed? 

I: No, you just didn’t do that at the time. The corporate group was god. Acceptance by a record company made you a demigod in that the working person intuited at that time that the power was with the corporate group and most people are going to be worked into death and boredom by the corporate group, but that others apparently could be anointed and touched by the hand of the gods as artistes. So at the time, the first question anyone would ask you in the area—man, woman, boy, girl, didn’t matter—as soon as you let it slip or it came up that you were going to make a record or you’re making a record, “What label you with?” Now who gives a fuckin’ fine fuck, right? And the new corporate tie and the new patronage is of course with film and commercials and TV.

J: So you guys hadn’t been at it that long when you consider that many dues paying groups were around. How did you feel that this was a guy from Elektra who apparently wanted to sign you and…

I: I immediately went into terror. He said, “I’m going to bring the heads of the company out in a month to see you.” So we arranged a gig in Ann Arbor in a converted bowling alley called the Fifth Dimension and I went into a panic of illness. I wanted to make sure I was so—just all the things you’re supposed to be at that time—skinny, androgynous, provocative, etc. I just laid on the floor in that room that you’ve got the wonderful pictures of. I wouldn’t eat. I shit on the floor. I wanted to violate all conventions. I had already started this sort of thing in the Forest Court house when I used to hear James Brown say, “Get down.”

Get down, that’s a good point. Let’s get rid of the furniture. So I took all the furniture then in my room and set it on end. The bed was on end. The chairs were on end. The dresser was on end. Just screw everything up. Let’s juggle. Let’s have a new deal here. So I got very, very ill and crazy. And I was like 112 pounds by the time we did that gig. I remember that.

J: Do you remember anything about…

I: The Fifth Dimension was next to the bus station, very near, within two hundred yards of the bridge where a couple years later Scott tried to drive a ten or twelve foot truck under the nine foot bridge. I saw Hendrix in that room!

J: What do you remember about the gig?

I: Just that I was very, very, very nervous because we didn’t have a done deal yet. We did a three-song set for (Elektra founder and president) Jac Holzman and (Elektra vice president) Bill Harvey. [Laughs] Came out and we did “I’m Sick,” “Asthma Attack,” and it was “Goodbye Bozos” or “Dance and Romance.” Then “I’m Sick” was a bolero, which later became the ending to “Ann.” I wrote that on a Wurlitzer piano and the guys played it, so that was that. It started with this bolero and I flopped around on the stage going, “I’m sick! I’m siiiick! I’m sick! Blah!” And “Asthma Attack” was a descending chord change that I’d wrote—not the “Asthma Attack” as a freak out that’s on bootleg, but it was a structured piece of repetitive descending chording that sounded a lot like “Interstellar Overdrive.”

I’d written two of the three, and it was B, A, G, E. Like a Who thing, and then I would wheeze and say, “asthma attack.” And then the third, “Dance and Romance” sometimes called “Goodbye Bozos,” was like “Little Doll.” It was a Diddley jam and then you’d get the whole thing that would peak the energy. And they signed us. (Elektra signed both the MC5 and the Stooges on the same day, October 8, 1968, the MC5 got an advance of $15,000 and the Stooges $5,000).

Left: This East Village Other column announced Elektra Records’ signing of the MC5 and Stooges. Right: Elektra head Jac Holzman and vice president Bill Harvey first saw the MC5 and Stooges at this show.

J: And do you remember anything about the Elektra guys—what was your impression of Jac and Bill Harvey? Were these guys straight guys or kind of hip in Jac’s case? 

I: We liked them a lot, I was very interested in them. I remember that Holzman always had kind of a cute West Village, swinging, Austin Powers-art guy costume on. He would wear these little corduroy Levi-type jackets, and pants with the discreet flaring, wear these little newsboy caps you know. And they were just like, “Ok, great guys! Uh yeah, nice to meet ya!” I knew right off that it was obvious that Jac was intelligent and I could sense that he might probably be informed about a whole lot of things. From working the record store, I knew a lot about the records he’d put out, which included (Elektra’s classical imprint) Nonesuch. Fuckin’ Nonesuch.

So here’s the guy who has the label when I first heard Balinese gamelan for instance, so I knew that Jac was no goombah bimbo. My point is I usually think they’re bimbos first. When I see the suit, I’m like, “Beep beep.” Not Holzman. You know he’d go to like Paul Sergeant’s on West 4th Street in the Village where they had Carnaby type clothes, right? So he’d wear a little corduroy cap and a little two-fer and I thought, “Oh, I could swing with this guy.” He was cool. He was smart.

J: And Bill Harvey, who I never met, seemed like a hard guy, but boy, did he design great album covers. 

I: Yes, he did a good job for them. Absolutely. He was just a real gruff, no nonsense businessman. Of course he’s gonna be grumpy dealing with fuckin’ weird people. He was more the kinda guy who people hired to be a general manager of a business, you know. But he would wear a red and green tie because I think he was an art minor in school, in college. So he was like that. A tough guy with an art minor, ya know. Like he could get a job at CNN, know what I mean?

J: It was around this time, at the end of 1968, that you moved from Forest Court to a new band house on Packard Road on the outskirts of town; I’ve seen it called either the “Fun House” or “Stooge Manor.” 

I: Well, I think Fun House is appropriate. We didn’t know it was when we moved in, but we knew it by the time we moved out. It was a very generously sized old farmhouse with a fairly—it wasn’t stately—but a long driveway with a large green lawn and very mature trees like a humble Midwest version of a plantation, and it had been the center of a huge plantation, a very large farm that belonged to a man named Baylis. And then Mr. Baylis as he got older and had more relatives who wanted more money, they sold off bits of his farm to different subdivisions and finally to a parkway that was put through there. And it was wonderful and I have to give credit again, in key times, I couldn’t have found us that house because I didn’t know anybody culturally appropriate to help this group.

I knew some rich kids I went to school with, poor kids from the trailer camp, and a bunch of odd art people, but it was the Ashetons’ mother who found it through some people at school. So if it wasn’t for the Ashetons, we never would have had the chance to rent that place. We rented for, I want to say it was a little under three-hundred bucks a month, and it had a downstairs, it had a living room, a family room, a kitchen, and a parlor, all of moderate size, and then also downstairs, two full bedrooms.

So that’s like six rooms. Upstairs there were two complete apartments, separate apartments with a landing and separate doors. One of them was kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom, and the other one was kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom with an extra living area. A very nice apartment, and then there was an attic. That was where I was, “I wanna be in the attic,” but really it was because I always tried to serve the group. I think I have a little personal manager in me. So I wanted them to be happy and comfortable, and I deferred. But also, up there it was the treetops, and the trailer, my parents did the right thing to live in that trailer. It was all synthetic materials. It was wood paneling up there. I loved it. I felt so good, and the sleigh bed I liked the best.

Iggy’s bedroom in the Fun House. (Jeff Gold and Johan Kugelberg collections)

J: What kind of shape was it in when you guys moved in? 

I: Well it was just this, exactly like [the photo] but without all that stuff laying around. That’s the only difference.

J: And the owner, Farmer Baylis, was he ok with you guys? 

I: No, he would come over. He was such a nice guy and it was so sad, and Ron would call him the Bear because he still felt proprietorial about the property. He built it with his hands, and when he wanted to see what was going on, we weren’t very forthcoming. And the big thing with us, it was a conundrum because we didn’t want to be mean to him. Ron had a kind, sensitive side particularly for folk. They’re half Ukrainian, the family, which explains a lot: suspicious of outsiders, clannish, like their booze, y’know. The mother’s Ukrainian, the father was not. The Asheton was the other side. So the conundrum was we didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but we were smoking dope, and at that time, as you know…

J: It was really illegal. Two joints for John Sinclair and goodbye, he’s in prison for two years! (17) 

I: Exactly. We didn’t want him to find out about that, y’know, so that was the thing. We put up the egg crates in the larger room, and the smaller room…You’ve got a picture. I don’t know if it’s from that room or not. It includes me and the Iguanas on a wall.

J: Supposedly that was the kitchen in Stooge Manor.

I: Maybe it was the kitchen. I don’t know.

J: And these “disaster area” photos of your room… are they representative of… 

I: Yeah! That’s how it always was because that’s how I wanted it to be. The main point was that…

J: I mean it’s kind of like your stage act.

I: Between The Stooges and Fun House, I did get married briefly, and a girl came up there, very nice girl from a good family, and tried to clean it up. She tried to clean it up and put furniture in there, and she even brought a car with her. It was a hell of a dowry. I had a Firebird convertible, baby, but I just hated it. I couldn’t take it because to me the idea was, for the person I was gonna be, I saw the order of life as a threat to the order of my music. That’s what I thought ’cause I’m a fucking lunatic maybe or something, but that was what I thought.

J: So you signed a deal with Elektra, at the same time as the MC5 did. Were you on cloud nine? 

I: I can’t remember. We never really talked much to each other, but I felt that we needed some real songs. What happened was the pressure was to come up with real articulated songs, and the guy who really stepped up at that point was Ron Asheton, who came up with two riffs that you could start staking a career on. I knew that at the time when I heard “Dog” and “Fun,” and I think what he did was he mixed a little Velvets, a little Ravi Shankar, a little Who, and just a dab of Hendrix to get those.

I know which Hendrix song he was fooling around with before he hit the riff on “Dog,” but I am not gonna go there. No, it’s okay. “Highway Chile.” It’s the same chords [hums the chords]. But then he started playing it like the Who, but with the opens, he had like a Velvets or a Raga record. I had been playing him a lot of raga. We both loved the Velvets, and he let the amp talk.

So he came up with those two. For a long time as we were getting ready to record, we’d go out and play and develop the material live and we’d just play the riff over and over. And I thought they needed to be articulated, so I bought a cheap wooden guitar in a plastic bag for thirty-two dollars with nylon strings. You know the type. In a clear plastic bag. They still sell them. And I learned cheater chords, just anything you could do with one finger. I started putting wrinkles in them. So when you hear the little rhythmic change for the chorus, that’s me. And then you hear the changes [hums the riff]. That’s me, and the idea was…I’d heard in R&B different devices they use to depart from a motif, from a funk riff, and then bring it back and make it sound twice as heavy.

JK: The J.B.’s or Funkadelic.

I: Exactly, so in the beginning, the false start to “’69,” that was my idea and that was from the J.B.’s. That was from where it goes to the bridge and it floats and then when it ends it’s like, “Wow.” The change on “Dog” is Eddie Floyd. To me, it’s “Knock On Wood” [hums “Knock On Wood”]. So we had [hums “Dog”] to go to the D and just lay on the E and it does come back in a much more powerful way I thought, and also gave it more articulation to make it more like a song. But the main contribution was the riff and the
words and the same in “No Fun.”

“1969” we ripped off from an interlude on a Byrds album. They were more folky, but one song (“Tribal Gathering”)—we’d heard it back in Freeland Road in the professor’s house—had a wicked solo: all of the sudden, they’d break for eight, twelve bars on that riff and they didn’t do anything with it. And we thought, “Whoa, we…” And I don’t know, Ron says it was his idea. I thought it was mine. It doesn’t matter.

J: How about “We Will Fall?” Is that a Butterfield “East-West” kinda thing?

I: “We Will Fall”…the idea was to give Dave a song. Dave didn’t write, so Ron said, “Listen, we should have a song that he writes.” He brokered it to me. Dave would always be the one that would be into the Eastern religion or he was the one like with the Timothy Leary “tune in, drop out.” He was a dreamy type of a guy. Dave had liked this chant, “Om shri ram jai ram jai jai ram.” I think it might have been me that put the actual melody as such as it was, but that’s not so important. Everything I ever did in the group as far as melodic ideas or changes, it’s very simple songwriting, pedestrian 101, but not everybody can do it and none of them ever learned to do it ever. Tension release, that sorta thing.

J: And so it sounds like at this time you’re kind of the shot-caller who’s taking everybody’s ideas, integrating them, figuring out what is actually going to happen…

I: Yes, but I’m not any more important as a talent as anyone else in the group. Somebody had to put it all together and herd everybody. And everybody played wonderfully. Dave liked to practice less than anybody else. If you listen closely to the longer versions of “No Fun,” there will be times where you can hear his fingers get tired toward the end [laughs]. But on the other hand he makes up for it: he’ll do these improvisations where he’s just looking at the strings and going, “I think I’ll just go over here and see what happens.” A real musician will never do that. They’ll always play something more obvious. And so you can hear him having fun and amusing himself and it makes the music special.

JK: Was there a Johnny Cash connection to “No Fun?” 

I: Yeah, well the change from “I Walk the Line.” Yeah, that was my idea, but Ron had the riff. I mean honestly—other songs not withstanding—the riff to “I Wanna Be Your Dog” is the one instantly recognizable and memorable message in the entire history of this group, and ever since then whatever incarnation of the band it was, once people did start to get to know us…boy, start that riff
and everybody knows and everybody feels like they’re gonna have a good time [laughs].

Jac Hozlman’s secretary writes to Jimmy Silver with initial recording dates for the Stooges debut. Sessions were eventually pushed back a month, and the recording studio changed. (Jeff Gold collection.)

J: So in April you guys recorded at the Hit Factory even though this memo says Record Plant? 

I: Yes. It was a little tiny room over a peep show run by Jerry Ragovoy, and Pretty Purdie’s drums were set up there. Said “Pretty Purdie” on the kit. And then when we wanted to play loud, they said, “ARRRRGGGHHH…Jerry Ragovoy…and ‘Cry For Me’ was made here.” And I said, “I don’t give fuck about fucking Jerry fucking all this fucking…” because I didn’t have any respect and I was being threatened by people who didn’t get it, y’know.

JK: Did you have a relationship with (Velvet Underground bassist/violinist) John Cale prior to you guys starting to work together?

I: Yes, I liked him. When he was gonna produce us, he came out, and he and I talked. And when we went to New York, we came before the sessions, and I went and visited. He had an apartment with Betsey (Johnson, his fashion designer wife) just north of Houston around, say between Mercer and Bleecker where the student housing is, somewhere around there. At that time, I had never been anywhere like that, and I went down there and I was like, “You live here? Oh my God!” Because it was like this really nice modern building in the middle of a war zone, y’know. Just heavy, heavy area and he had a beautiful, beautiful pink Rickenbacker bass set up with a nice bass rig as art right in the middle of their room and I was already wearing her clothes. They had a Paraphernalia (Johnson’s boutique) in Ann Arbor, and I didn’t know who she was. I used to just go over there and buy the clothes.

J: How did you get on with him in the studio? 

I: For a certain kind of artist when you want to make a good record, you’re gonna make it a better record when the producer is a personality, not just some sort of technician. So we had John and then shortly thereafter it was John and Nico sitting there. And John wore to the sessions a Dracula cape that he owned and Nico would sit there in some weird European peasant shawl, knitting, and the
two of them, it was really like the Munsters.

J: It’s been said that you came to New York with well-rehearsed versions of “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “No Fun” and “1969.” 

I: One more maybe, and “Ann.”

J: And did long, freak-out-y versions and Jac heard it and said they didn’t work. 

I: He was right. I was really worried. As soon as I heard them back, I realized, “Oh my God.” It would get to the outro solo, and Ron would play something fantastic for about up to thirty, forty seconds and then it wasn’t. A little longer on, “No Fun.” But eventually, I would be sitting there and I’d think, “Okay, this is not interesting to listen to. Maybe if I smoke another joint.” So I’d try that. I’ve done this all my life. “Maybe if I go to Miami,” or whatever. And it wasn’t working, and it really took a good record guy…John would have let that pass because he would have an avant attitude, “Well, it just shows the way these delinquents run out of ideas, and that would be, for instance, very interesting in a music theatre.” Y’know, blah blah blah, right? According to LaMonte Young or whatever, right? But Jac just came right in and said, “No. No, this is not…”

J: Did you push back against it?

I: Not at all. We just immediately said, “We’ve got more.”

J: You knew that Holzman was right when he said that you needed to write some more songs and go back into the studio? That he knew you hadn’t made a great album yet? 

I: Yeah, I know when people are right often. I still make lots of mistakes and I’ve fucked up so many different times in my career, but sometimes I know. Sometimes I know. So we wrote the other songs. I think we had three days until they were gonna put us in another studio. They put us in a different studio. It was ABC. It was a wonderful, modern studio. And I think the way it went was Ron had the riff for “Real Cool Time,” which is so beautiful, and I did words, and I think Ron had the entire progression. Well, y’know there is no progression on “Real Cool Time.” “Not Right,” he wrote the whole thing and I did the words very quickly.

We also had “We Will Fall,” so three new ones. And “Little Doll” I believe I came up with just sitting in the lobby of the Chelsea [hotel] saying, “Well wait, we can use like the riff from ‘Upper and Lower Egypt’ cause we all liked Pharoah Sanders, and just sing this and that.” And I saw one of these New York girls with a big cigarette, and I thought, “Yeah, I could sing like a Jerry Lee Lewis type of ‘paean to a cheap chick.’” And the lyric, from Jerry Lee Lewis, at various times he would credit, “The soul of rock and roll is in the young girl.” I think I just told those guys play it like that and then go to the change and out. Ron might have thought he wrote it and that’s possible, but the main thing was again how he and Scott played it.

There’s an interesting technical point that I want to bring up. Ron Asheton having been a bass player, never at this time played with a normal white guy blues asshole set of guitar strings. Most guys play with the lightest possible strings to make it easier to do all this shit, but Ron was used to big bass strings so when he started, he played with a set of super heavy strings.

JK: Like the guy in Black Sabbath.

I: That makes sense because that makes a whole different sound, and it’s easier to record somebody like that. So the initial album pressings were done by people who didn’t get the band, a folk rock label, and didn’t care and were very careful about the needles [and the potential for records to skip]. I noticed that when the CD revolution came in, of the three albums, this was the one that suddenly
burst from the CD, seemed much more natural, musical, and louder. And that is a lot to do with because he played with the heavier strings, the compression, he had a more believable sound.

J: You know the other interesting thing is I was listening to Metallic K.O. a lot lately, and on that Ron Played lead guitar on bass. A lot of that bass playing is not conventional bass playing. It’s fantastic. 

I: I know, I know, I know. Part of that, he always had that wonderful jumpy style as a bass player. Big influence was the guy from the Pretty Things and also Bill Wyman. But then after he played guitar for quite a while he became really fluent, so when he went back to bass…he would call me up late at night here, and he would say, “Okay, I’ve been listening to Raw Power and it’s true. I am my own favorite bass player.” [Laughs] And he’d hang up the phone.

J: I  love that line you had about “there may have only been one hundred words on the first Stooges album, so you made each one count.” 

I: Yeah, try to keep it short. [Kid's TV host] Soupy Sales had that when I was a kid. “Now kids, write in your card to Soupy when it’s your birthday, but keep the letters to twenty-five words or less.” I never wanted to succumb to wannabe Dylanism. All these people writing these great huge piles of shit because Bob could, but they couldn’t, so I tried to make it all decent. Jimmy Silver said in that interview that I wrote some things down, so I guess I did do some writing too. Basically yeah, throw it out, throw it out, repeat it, repeat it, get it down, and just don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right.

I was only aware of Soupy Sales and the idea, just the idea. It was also the way I dressed. Like what I liked to do, I liked to get a very good quality knitwear, a good English like a Pringle shirt, but I’d wear it with all the buttons unbuttoned, and I’d wear it for two months. So things like that, it was try to make a simple, beautiful style. I think I got that maybe from some of the richer prep kids, I watched how Ricky DuPont dressed, and my girlfriend at one time was, I can’t remember her name now, but she was a Reynolds heiress from the aluminum company. I met her father. I was a house guest for a while with them.

I learned about the finer things and also a certain taste for just really clean simplicity. It was there in, if you listen to like “Farmer John.” She’s the one with champagne eyes, y’know? And you wanna get that across nicely.

JK: And great R&B and soul lyrics are the same thing. 

I: Yeah, and a lot of it was advertising too. I was listening to a lot of advertising jingles

A record industry trade ad for the Stooges debut album. (Jeff Gold collection)

J: So how about the album cover? You jumped in the air and… 

I: Again, it was me being an idiot like I have been so many times. They were gonna pose us, and I saw right away. “Oh God, they got [photographer] Joel Brodsky. They’re gonna pose us just like the Doors.” I was like, “This is bullshit! You don’t understand! What this band is about is action! Now let me show YOU some action! Okay guys, line up here.” And they’re looking like, “Oh, ho ho.” And then I took a run…there’s a bare concrete floor. You know those mid-level cheap lofts in the ’30s somewhere. And I took a running leap over the band and I hit chin first and there’s blood everywhere and I was already pretty stoned on marijuana. So they actually, as I remember, what happened is they actually took me out, sewed me up, and sent me back the same day to finish the session.

J: It looks like it.

I: I believe so. And what they had to do was the original photo, the eyes looked like this because that’s how stoned I was, so Harvey took this eye and just recreated it right? Then they just airbrushed out the stitches and put a little shadow on the chin.

J: Y’know it’s a record cover that I’ve stared at a thousand times and I never noticed that. That’s unbelievable. 

I: Yes, you can see the work there?

J: Was there any truth to the story that either you or Ron called (Three Stooges leader) Moe Howard to get permission to call the band The Stooges? 

I: Ron. And in fact, Ron for quite a while visited (Stooge) Larry Fine, and he would bring Larry cigars and whiskey and stuff like that. Yeah.

J: And Moe said, “Fine, don’t bother me?” 

I: Well, of course. I believe that that’s a CBS matter by the way, but he said, “Yeah, as long as you don’t have a comedy group or something.”

J: So you guys are the Psychedelic Stooges and then the Elektra contract says The Stooges. 

I: Well I was thinking, “How do we tighten things up here?”

J: So that was your decision, not theirs? 

I: I believe so. I was trying to clean things up…y’know, communicate.

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