Sean O'Hagan: Thanks for the memory - just don't come back and spoil it

Sean O'Hagan: The Stooges release a new album in March. There is something about that sentence that fills me with a mixture of awe and dread.

The Stooges release a new album in March. There is something about that sentence that fills me with a mixture of awe and dread. Right now, the dread is winning out. It's the same feeling I had a few years back when I heard that the Velvet Underground had reformed. There's just too much at stake here.

Apart from the Velvets, the Stooges are probably the most mythologised rock group of all time. Their career, if you could call it that, was short and messy, and though they were hailed by a select few in their time, they didn't even come closing to denting the mainstream. Nevertheless, in their three albums, The Stooges (1969), Fun House (1970) and Raw Power (1973), you can hear rock music at its most primal and gloriously messed up - what the eminent rock critic Dave Marsh once called 'the noise-raunch power tremble of complete ecstasy'.

Put simply, the Stooges were losers from the wrong side of the tracks who, through some sublime convergence of dumbness and instinct, created a sound that remains one of the most potent in the history of rock. They triumphed over all the odds, careering through line-up changes, aborted gigs, bounced cheques, riots, drug busts, drug habits and several Iggy ODs.

Musically, too, they were a group that turned their limitations to strengths. One listen to a song like 'Loose', with all its pent-up anger, its delineation of pure, uncut adolescent frustration, and you sense that no one else - not the Sex Pistols, Nirvana or the White Stripes, all self-confessed devotees of the Stooges - has ever come close to capturing the dark, visceral energy emitted by Iggy Pop and his proto-punk cohorts.

And no one has ever articulated the essence of - there's no other word for it - 'fucked-upness' the way Iggy once did. He wrote the book on rock'n'roll self-destruction, and somehow lived to tell the tale. That he told it most fully to the ever-earnest Melvyn Bragg on the South Bank Show a few years ago remains one of the great ironies of our strange pop-cultural times. But tell it he did, and in the process talked more sense about the strange and elusive mystery of great rock'n'roll than anyone I have ever heard.

When the Stooges reformed a few years ago for a handful of live shows, the response was overwhelming. Their Hammersmith Odeon show began the way only the greatest rock gigs end: in chaos and pandemonium. Iggy, one of the great live performers, responded in kind, and the Ashton Brothers, augmented by a few younger musicians, recreated that trademark Stooges sound, messy and harsh and somehow fluid. So I am told, anyway. I never went to the gig. I wavered, but in the end, the myth held out over the reality.

Likewise, the reformed Velvet Underground shows in the Nineties. I could have gone, but didn't. Same with the Sex Pistols comeback show at Finsbury Park a few years back. Call me a purist, but it just didn't seem right. I never saw the Velvet Underground or the Stooges the first time around, when they were blazing with the white heat of the cultural moment that created them. I was around for the Sex Pistols in 1977, but never managed to catch the group live. I doubt they could have measured up to the myth 20-odd years later. And there's the rub. I'm a sucker for the mythology of rock'n'roll, but that's exactly why I stayed away from these 'legendary comeback' gigs. I didn't want to risk having that mythology dented.

Perhaps I'm too much of a romantic, but there's only one thing I hate more than tired old rock groups who never had the good grace to call it a day, dragging their sorry arses round the globe for the umpteenth time, and that's legendary groups reforming decades after they broke up to do the same. Has it never struck them that a big part of the reason they are legendary is because they broke up when they did?

To be fair to Iggy, whose instinct is unerring, he seemed to sense the pitfalls of the 'legendary comeback' trail and held out longest before agreeing to the do the Stooges' comeback gigs. 'I think everyone saw "a legendary celebrity" moment,' he told an American reporter. 'They saw a reality show, and that scared me off, because I'm not that sort of dude.'

Me, I'm content with those glimpses of the young Iggy in excelsis, whether on grainy film from the time or in those iconic photographs of him walking on the audience's hands or writhing on the broken glass-strewn floor of the stage. You can hear the very essence of undiluted rock'n'roll in those three great albums. Now, though, there's a fourth. It's called The Weirdness. Am I the only one for whom that title increases the sense of dread?

Art and soul

Hastings, as you may have heard, is the new Brighton. Or so the estate agents would have you believe. It is actually a town that has its own peculiar and often vibrant energy. I know this because I moved there last year. One of the first things I noticed is that it seems to have more artists per square mile than anywhere outside of 'Hockney' - that trendier-than-thou hinterland between Hoxton and Hackney.

One of the best places to see and buy local art was at the SoCo Gallery, housed on the ground floor of St Mary In the Castle, on the seafront. SoCo is a local art group that runs well-attended regular shows where the art on the walls often tends to be of the cutting-edge variety. Upstairs, there were occasional concerts in an extraordinary beautiful and criminally underused circular concert hall. If you wanted a taste of the spirit of happening Hastings, it was as good a place as any to visit.

Last month, though, the local Tory council suddenly evicted SoCo and leased the building to an obscure evangelical Christian church called SonRise. Thus one of the few venues in Hastings suited to art events has been turned over to a minority Christian group that plans to turn it into a coffee bar, conference centre and, rumour has it, a Christian-oriented arts centre.

I can't wait. Notwithstanding the fact that most of us prefer our art - and our coffee - dogma free, it seems extraordinary that a venue that was inclusive to all has suddenly been rendered exclusive on the grounds of religious belief. It hardly bodes well that the church's motto is 'The Word of God is the Law'.

· What do you think?


Sean O'Hagan

The GuardianTramp

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