Musically speaking, the years 1969 and 1970 were not good years for me. Raised on the Yardbirds, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Big Brother and Blue Cheer, I watched in mute horror as my friends and fellow enthusiasts melted away into the more melodic, thoughtful, easy listening arms of Poco, Gram Parsons, and Steely Dan, as well as various monsters of prog rock. Friends who, at age 16, could play “Purple Haze,” note for note — and well — were suddenly putting down their Telecasters and picking up pedal steel and dobro. It was a plague of tasteful arrangements and excessive musicianship. You could barely attend a musical event without enduring an extended bluegrass solo, or 35 minutes of some jerk in a cape noodling away on a Mellotron.
So, THE STOOGES’ first album, an anti-social masterpiece of do-it-yourself aggression and raw, nasty, dirty rock and roll, came as a welcome emetic. A friend played it for me at his house, with the volume down, careful — as we both sensed this stuff was dangerous. And in fact, in those dying days of the 60’s , when you showed up at school actually carrying a vinyl album under your arm — to advertise the fact that you thought the Allman Brothers were awesome (they weren’t), or that you knew every note of Flying Burrito Brothers, or that you had the good taste and discerning nature to appreciate the works of Fairport Convention, carrying a STOOGES album under your arm set you apart. And not in good way.
Only speed freaks (not a high-prestige set in 1969) and guys who worked on their cars too much liked the STOOGES. “Problem” kids. Tormented loners. Guys about whom there were terrible rumors. (“He went mental and beat up his Mom.” “He shot somebody with a zip gun.”) That’s the kind of guy who appreciated songs like the sado-masochistic “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” the bleak “No Fun” (which pretty much summed up high school for me), and the psychotic “TV Eye.”
Those were the days when you held a new album in your hands and gaped at it for hours. You read the liner notes again and again, peered hard and then harder at the cover art, the photos on the back, trying to discern more — to glean some kind of information about the strange and terrible people who made these sounds that spoke, somehow, to the darkest regions of your teenage heart.
And what to make of the STOOGES’ lead singer, “Iggy,” whose apparent willingness to self-destruct in front of your eyes was both exciting and genuinely frightening? To side with the STOOGES at that time, to announce to your high school friends that you liked — no, LOVED — THE STOOGES pretty much put one publicly on the road to The Velvet Underground, The New York Dolls, early New York punk rock … and heroin.
Of all the people I’ve met, I’ve never been more intimidated, more anxious, more star-struck than when I met Iggy Pop. It was not in the sort of place you’d expect to meet a rock and roll icon: a beach in the Caribbean, oddly enough. I was attending a food and wine festival with my family and looked out my window to see Iggy laying out on a blanket, surrounded by nothing more toxic than mineral waters and fresh fruit. For the next three days, I’d see him in the same place, soaking up the rays and apparently rehabbing from a stage diving injury.
Though my family’s blanket was but a few yards away, and my then-5 year-old daughter would splash around in the water right next to him, it took me three days to summon the nerve to say hello.
So, it was a dream come true to actually hang out with my hero and (for better or worse) early role model for the filming of this Sunday’s Miami episode of PARTS UNKNOWN.
Now, some grumpy **** is going to point out, “Wait a minute, Iggy’s not fromMiami! He wasn’t born here! What the ****?”
True enough, but who in Miami WAS born in Miami? Believe me, we explore that exact issue in this episode, with people who proudly WERE born here.
But Iggy, like so many Miamians, came here to live after having lived a previous life — or in Iggy’s case, many previous lives. Miami has always been both refuge — and reward — for people from somewhere else, lured by a long standing dream, the promise of some kind of peace of mind on a beach.
So, this week, on PARTS UNKNOWN, we look at both the origins of Miami, the old school — and the dream of Miami, the Miami that millions of Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans and Americans see as the place — if things go right, or things go wrong — to go. The place that will always, hopefully, be waiting for them.
Stylistically, we were thinking of the great Italian film, La Grande Belezza (The Great Beauty). Our intention was to portray the unique architecture of Miami and Coral Gables in the same symmetrical, classical way as that film’s director portrayed Rome. Also, we lifted the film’s glorious early party sequence, which took some doing.
To Uncle Luke (aka “Luke Skywalker”), “Mac” of Mac’s Club Deuce, the amazing Questlove, Miami’s own chef Michelle Bernstein, and all the people who helped us make pretty pictures in this incredible town — and, of course, to James Osterberg of Ann Arbor, Michigan, aka Iggy Pop — thank you.
As a final note, I encourage anyone reading this to buy, first, the STOOGES’ classic, FUN HOUSE, which functions as a reminder of what rock and roll should be about — has always been about: sex, aggression, rage, self-hatred, frustration, heartbreak, love, and the occasional burst of pleasure. Then listen to the song PENETRATION, on their album RAW POWER, and feel your face melt right off your skull.
Pure Imagination: The World According to @questlove
To see more of Questlove’s music adventures, follow @questlove on Instagram. For more stories from around the music community, follow @music on Instagram.
“It was literally like a Willy Wonka dream.”
Roots drummer and Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon bandleader Questlove (@questlove) is once again geeking out about food –– specifically the trip he took to The Cooking Lab near Seattle a day earlier, where he learned about
the intricacies of science-based gastronomy.
“I never thought of myself as a science nerd,” he admits. “I am now more into science than I am into actual music.”
Questlove, born Ahmir Khalib Thompson, is most definitely a food lover (see: @questlovesfood, where he documents the otherworldly meals he eats). He’s also a guest professor, a world traveler, a producer and an actor. But science over music? If that’s the truth then it hasn’t affected his output. He currently performs with his band five nights a week alongside Fallon, has a DJ residency at a venue in Brooklyn, plays in concerts around the world and still finds time to record albums, both for the Roots and for his friends.
His musical origin story begins in 1974. It’s Christmas, the smooth crooning of Donny Hathaway is on the stereo and a three-year-old Ahmir can’t sleep. So he makes his way downstairs to find a treasure trove of unwrapped instruments –– there’s a Mickey Mouse guitar, a xylophone and a Ringo Starr replica toy drum set sitting in the living room. Guess which one he runs to first.
If that moment was about discovering his superpowers, then receiving his first adult set, four years later, was about harnessing them. Questlove’s family grew up middle class. His dad, Lee Andrews, was a singer in a doo-wop band, along with the soul group Congress Alley, which his mother Jacqueline Thompson was also apart of. But because his parents sent him to a private performing arts school, sacrifices had to be made. Things got serious during Christmas of 1978, when there wasn’t enough dough to buy a tree. Quest went to sleep figuring there’d be no gifts the following day.
“10 o’clock, I woke up,” he recalls, more than 30 years later. “I opened my eyes and I walked downst…,‘Oh my god, what the hell?!’ It was a frickin’ John Bonham blue-and-silver Vistalite [starts counting quietly] 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… 7… Seven-piece drum set!”
The set initially belonged to his father’s drummer, Herman. But Herman had gone AWOL and never came back for it, thus leaving it in the hands of the burgeoning musical prodigy. Getting those drums was one of the greatest days of Questlove’s life.
“I won’t ever be surprised like that again,” he says. “I guess the second best thing for me to do is to create that moment for a lot of people. I once made my mom think that she was watering DJ Jazzy Jeff’s plants at his house. ‘You’re in there mom? You’re good? Well, that’s your new house. Congratul… Hello? You there?’”
Questlove’s new form of giving back is by taking his friends’ kids record shopping. He’ll spend $1,000 to $3,000 a trip, picking up full catalogs –– the Beatles and Led Zeppelin –– snagging the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.. The only artist he avoids is one of his favorites: Prince. “I just feel weird giving an eight-year-old Dirty Mind.”
But most of Questlove’s time is spent at his 9-5 gig, on The Tonight Show set. The Roots have been with host Jimmy Fallon since 2009, when he was still on Late Night. While the band continues to produce great work both on and off television, the last year has been a difficult one. They recently lost their long-time manager, Rich Nichols, to leukemia, and are now faced with a frightening uncertainty: a crew without a key leader.
“The strange thing is, Tariq [aka Black Thought, the group’s emcee and co-founder] is in the backseat, I am in the passenger seat, and there’s no one in the driver’s seat,” says Questlove. “And we’re collectively looking at each other like, well, OK, I will move over, you come up here and we’ll figure this out.”
The loss of Rich hasn’t stopped the Roots from working, though. They are currently churning away on their 13th album. Though the record won’t be the band’s last, it may be the final one that’s in line with a “typical” record release. The industry has been shifting for years–– something new is on the horizon and Questlove is prepared to embrace it.
“This album will get us to song 200, and I am fine with possibly entertaining the idea of closing the chapter. Although I know we’re going to make more and more music, I just don’t know if we will make physical albums.”
Whatever the non-physical album they make is, producing it won’t be easy. Having spent the last 14 years working on Black Messiah, the critically acclaimed magnum opus of his friend, the singer D’Angelo, Questlove is ready to put himself through hell.
“A lot of the people making [Black Messiah,] were driven to the edge of their lives and never thinking that they were going to get out of it,” he says. “It was observing that, I realized that I might have to do that to myself as well.”
Does driving to the edge mean a digital-only release? A RZA-inspired, only-one-listener-will-hear-this type record? If it takes the decade-and-a-half that Black Messiah did, perhaps it will just be made out of food.