Brett Callwood - The Stooges: Head On, A Journey Through the Michigan Underground [book] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Brett Callwood

The Stooges: Head On, A Journey Through the Michigan Underground 📕 (2011)

Wayne State University Press

The problem with penning a band biography is that sometimes the band's story isn't over yet, therefore robbing writers of a true ending. Such was the case for Brett Callwood's The Stooges: A Journey Through the Michigan Underground. Originally released in the U.K. in 2008, the book covered the seminal proto-punk group the Stooges up through their new millennium reunion and their comeback record The Weirdness. That's a solid end point, but while Callwood prepped the book for an American release, big news shook the band: Founding guitarist Ron Asheton died at the age of 60. Hence, Callwood's U.S. adaptation has been rewritten, as well as retitled The Stooges: Head On, A Journey Through the Michigan Underground. While this second edition comes from good intentions, the actual read is, while informative, at times plodding and uneventful.

Considering the book comes in at just 151 pages, boosted by a discography listing and a poem about the band by Glenn Danzig to close it out (I'll say this one more time: The book ends with Glenn Danzig's poetry. Mother!), "plodding" shouldn't occur. Yet Head On suffers from a quote-heavy writing style, often laying out a series of interviews without really capturing the Stooges' essence. The group's original run was brief, but the way the book jumps from the group's beginnings to Fun House (the best Stooges album, by the way) seems like a flash. It's not too heavy on flavor when it comes to storytelling, but it's not exactly fact-heavy either. This is supposed to a book about a band renowned for its crazy, dangerous live energy, but that hardly comes across.

At the same time, though, Callwood's goal for Head On was to give the Asheton brothers their due, and in that he succeeds. Ron and Scott get equal billing with legendary frontman Iggy Pop. In fact, Callwood's writing led me to explore Ron Asheton's post-Stooges output, and I gotta say, more people should listen to Destroy All Monsters. A more goth-tinged but still very punk version of the Stooges, Destroy All Monsters are quite good. Callwood's section on the group is also one of the stronger passages. In fact, while the Stooges come and go, the chapters covering the years between Raw Power and The Weirdness are the best, whether it's dealing with other musical pursuits or B movies (although I could have used more love for Pop's The Idiot. That record rules).

Like the band it chronicles, Head On is a direct, quick shot. Callwood doesn't dive into flowery hyperbole and never oversells the group. While it would have been nice to see a wider interview pool or more facts about the band's early days, Head On is still a concise, cohesive read. If you're a fan, the middle chapters about lesser-known pursuits will hook you. If you want to explore punk rock beyond the Ramones and the Sex Pistols (and you really should, poser), Head On makes the case for the Stooges' relevance, then and now.