IGGY POP Interviews 2001

Iggy Pop: Still Loose
The Big Takeover, Issue 49

to be sitting with Iggy Pop, microphone in hand, in the lobby of New York's Mercer Hotel. Even without affixing exalted titles on him that he probably deserves, like "The Godfather of Punk," there's no question he's that increasing rarity: an American original. He's a talented free spirit admired precisely because he's so free. Who among us has been half as "loose," as his old Stooges' Fun House song from 1970 claimed? It's not just that he's released 17 studio albums in 32 years (plus a pile of eye-opening Stooges archive releases), including his brand new Beat 'Em Up. It's the unconstrained attitude he's exuded on all of them, whether the music has been astonishing or mediocre or in between. And it's the myriad stories about his outrageous, unfettered, even ribald behavior, all of them actually true, that makes the rest of us all seem tight-assed in comparison. (OK, perhaps the self-abuse aspects of the Ig's distant past were perhaps too free, but he corrected that before it killed him. He's 54 now, in fact.)

     Just as one example, to get the ball rolling, I tell him about his wild, wonderfully outrageous, full-of-excitement behavior on the dance floor the first time I met him, unexpectedly, in close quarters (read all about it below), at another band's show. Even at someone else's gig, he could get swept up in the wild excite­ment and go crazy like no one else. If I had had a jar of peanut butter on me, like it was Cincinnati Riverfront Stadium 1970, whenThe Stooges appeared on national television, I'm sure he would have smeared it all over me, him, and everyone else, just like that!

     Thus, he and his elemental work have been deified by musicians, fans, and writers for thirty years. Born James Jewell Osterberg in a greater Ann Arbor, Michigan trailer camp (as he's noted in his songs), April 21, 1947, the man could hardly have accomplished more in his formative years—trailblazing a ferocious path so commonplace now it's almost shocking to think how unprecedented, how subversive it once was and still sounds. His 1969-1979 songs have been covered a hundred times and he's been raved about in a thousand interviews and books. (Even a few of the hallowed class of 1977 to do Iggy or Stooges covers: Sex Pistols' "No Fun," Damned's "1970," Siouxsie & the Banshees' "The Passenger," Dead Boys' "Search and Destroy," and the Nuns' "Cock in My Pocket. The list could stretch on for pages of all the ones since. Hell, I've heard at least six versions of "I Got a Right" alone, from the stimulators to leatherface, and the Ig probably made a pretty penny from Guns 'N Roses absolutely horrid 1993 version of the great "Raw Power.") A recent VH1 Behind the Music segment couldn't touch a tenth of his legacy. (I've always maintained that the Stooges' third LP, 1973's David Bowie-mixed Raw Power, is the hottest, most dangerous rock 'n' roll LP ever released—just ahead of Bad Brains' ROIR Sessions and Jerry Lee Lewis's Live at the Star Club—though Iggy's more recent mix I don't care for one-fifth as much.) Yet for all that, outside of his so-so 1990 Top 40 hit "Candy," it's only been recently that your average Joe or Jim has heard a single scrap of his older, better, more incendiary pied-piper work!

     In the last few years, his old songs have suddenly, shockingly become ubiquitous in movies and TV. In particular, the second of his inspired "Kraftwerk meets James Brown" 1977 Berlin collaborations with Bowie, Lust For Life, has netted two songs on countless commercials and films: the ultimate Iggy post-rehab manifesto "Lust For Life" and "The Passenger." (We share a laugh below at how many ads use the chorus of "Lust For Life," blissfully unaware it's a song about kicking heroin: "I'm through with sleeping on the sidewalk/No more beatin' my brains with the liquor and drugs/This song was far more of a solid fit as the closing track in the noted druggy film, Trainspotting. And if that ain't all, who'd have predicted that Nike would appropriate Raw Power's incendiary, subversive classic "Search and Destroy" to peddle sneakers? Egads! I'm not sure I like that at all, but then again, unlike millionaires like Sting, Iggy's never really made much money or had his music promoted, so fair enough.

     Of course, some folks do snipe at him for this marketing machine co-option, no question about it. But to Iggy, it's the only way anyone outside of the underground has ever encountered a lick of his work! In fact, he's totally elated at the inadvertent yet pervasive airplay, after all those years of being told he "wasn't commercial," sorry charley. And frankly, Iggy has never much cared for what others have thought, as long as he was into it and it wasn't jerking around other people, now has he? If he did, he wouldn't have made the music he did, or done the wild things he did, in the first place.

      Besides, we can use the reminders of his old songs now, badly, when the underground and commercial scene lacks that very personality and honest, feral expression he emits as a matter of course. As we share regret over the death of Joey Ramone, one of the ultimate Iggy fans, he admits that, for all his so-called influence, he doesn't really recognize much original inspiration in the scene he birthed. Whereas right through Beat 'Em Up, he's always tried to do something different each time for three decades, now he sees too much rote formula in bands that think "attitude" is mere stance—especially that primary embarrassment, modern commercial punk.

The rest of this artlcle is available in The Big Takeover, Issue 49, on sale now at Barnes and Noble, and at their online home http://www.bigtakeover.com

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2001 concert reviews here, some of which are available, TRADE ONLY, at  Dirt's Iggy Pop Tradelist