STONE-AGE ROMEO

Iggy Pop talks lust, life and his faith in Josh Homme with Iain Shed­den

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Cover Story -

Josh Homme de­scribes it as “the great­est thing I’ve ever re­ceived in the mail”. The Queens of the Stone Age front­man, 42, is a big fan of Iggy Pop, 68, one of rock ’n’ roll’s great­est agent provo­ca­teurs, but the two singers know each other only in pass­ing. Then one day there’s a par­cel with a Florida post­mark in Homme’s Palm Springs mail­box, with a note in­side from one James Oster­berg, or Iggy, as he is known. The par­cel con­tains ex­ten­sive notes on Pop’s sex life.

“It was quite a vol­ume of stuff,” says Homme, “in­clud­ing Walt Whit­man po­ems and his own po­etry, and some notes on Ger­many.”

That was in Jan­uary last year. Pop, a long­time ad­mirer of Homme, was look­ing for a con­duit to the next phase of his ca­reer and texted Homme ask­ing if he’d be in­ter­ested in pro­duc­ing his new al­bum. Then he sent the par­cel.

The 21st cen­tury has been a var­ied one for Pop. The band that made his name in the late 1960s and early 70s, the Stooges, en­joyed a re­nais­sance propped up by two al­bums. Pop also made a hand­ful of solo al­bums, the two most re­cent ones sung mainly in French. He acted in movies and lent his dis­tinc­tive voice to char­ac­ters on tele­vi­sion rang­ing from a cater­pil­lar to a rock drum­mer. He be­came a ra­dio DJ at the BBC. The next step, he de­cided, would be to make an al­bum that, at least in part, drew in­spi­ra­tion from the clas­sic first two solo al­bums, The Id­iot and Lust for Life, he made in Ber­lin with his friend David Bowie in 1977.

“I felt the time had come for me to throw down my very best ef­fort in terms of an English­s­peak­ing, cap­i­tal-A al­bum and all that it en­tails,” says Pop in that fa­mil­iar rich bari­tone. In con­ver­sa­tion the singer, who for many years has lived on the coast just south of Mi­ami, is a far cry from the con­fronting “street­walk­ing chee­tah with a heart full of na­palm” who emerged from Detroit’s un­der­ground and who for close on 50 years has been fling­ing his naked torso across the world stage. He’s funny, smart, self-dep­re­cat­ing and pas­sion­ate about his craft, or crafts, as they are now.

He won’t talk about Bowie’s death be­cause he finds it dif­fi­cult so soon af­ter the event, but he ad­mits that there are el­e­ments of his new al­bum, Post Pop De­pres­sion, that hark back to those Ber­lin records. Also in­cluded in the par­cel to Homme were ex­ten­sive notes on the songs from that land­mark pe­riod, such as Lust for Life, The Pas­sen­ger and China Girl, to name a few.

“It was a man try­ing to ex­plain him­self,” says Homme, “but also cast­ing a wide net, see­ing if I could read be­tween the lines.”

There were a lot of lines to get through. Homme spent three months go­ing over the ma­te­rial Pop sent him, which, ac­cord­ing to Pop, cov­ered a lot of ground. All the while, Pop was fret­ting that maybe he had scared off his po­ten­tial col­lab­o­ra­tor.

“I re­alised I had a whole trea­sure trove of writ­ing saved up,” he says. “So I sent him a dossier on me. It was like an Iggy sam­pler, with about a dozen vi­gnettes about my love life, or, to be blunt, about my sex life; love too, my ro­man­tic life that I had writ­ten about in the 90s. I sent him a cou­ple of those. I gave him some po­etry that I wrote, pur­pose-built for him, and I also sent him a few pages of de­tailed, mostly tech­ni­cal de­tails of how The Id­iot and Lust for Life were made — who played what, which melody in which or­der, what sort of mu­si­cians, what sort of at­mos­phere.

“I sent him an­other es­say on why I moved to Mi­ami and what [it was like] when I got here. One was called Ger­man Trivia (re­named Ger­man Days on the al­bum). It was meant to en­ter­tain him. It started it with, “Hey, do you know what they call a dick in Ger­man?” Badda bing, badda boom … all the way over to the se­ri­ously mo­rose po­etry that you write when you’re 68. It was con­fronting and nerve-rack­ing. Af­ter I sent it to him he sent me one line say­ing, “This is won­der­ful stuff”, and then I didn’t hear from him. I thought I must have grossed him out.”

On the plus side, Pop was aware that Homme was a fan of those Ber­lin al­bums. That, says Homme, is an un­der­state­ment.

“Those records were hugely in­stru­men­tal in my life,” he says. “When I was in first band Kyuss, I re­ally didn’t lis­ten to much mu­sic then, apart from Black Flag and some English stuff. Then our sound guy played those records when we were tour­ing in Ger­many. It wasn’t the rea­son I quit my band, but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Th­ese are records that say what I want to say but say it bet­ter than I could say it.”

Even­tu­ally a di­a­logue be­gan be­tween the two men, ideas float­ing back and forth, Homme sug­gest­ing lyrics based on Pop’s writ­ing, a few mu­si­cal ideas, un­til it was agreed that they would make a record to­gether. So it came to pass that Homme and Pop, ac­com­pa­nied by QOTSA gui­tarist and key­boards player Dean Fer­tita and Arc­tic Mon­keys drum­mer Matt Helders, set off for Homme’s stu­dio in Joshua Tree, Cal­i­for­nia, to make Post Pop De­pres­sion.

Pop likes be­ing part of the Mi­ami com­mu­nity. Just re­cently he gave a lecture (“I was ter­ri­fied”) to a bunch of un­der­grad­u­ates in Mi­ami on the topic of what it’s like to be Iggy Pop, what it was like back in the day, what it’s like now, what it meant when he was a teenage drum­mer in the Igua­nas in Ann Ar­bor, Michi­gan, try­ing to turn his ado­les­cence into some­thing real, some­thing with prospects.

“I talked about my life and times from my point of view,” he says, “what my strug­gles were to gain the priv­i­lege to live some kind of a life, or have some kind of a role re­lated to my in­ner self. That’s a big strug­gle for ev­ery­body.”

It’s a long and com­pli­cated story, with plenty of strug­gle along the way. Pop’s band the Stooges, punk rock pro­gen­i­tors that they were, set the singer on a path of rock re­bel­lion, but wealth and fame would have to wait. The group’s al­bums, such as their self-ti­tled de­but (1969), Fun House (1970) and Raw Power (1973) were com­mer­cial flops and gained cred­i­bil­ity and sales only dur­ing and af­ter the punk era, which took those al­bums’ an­thems, such as Search and De­stroy, Your Pretty Face is Go­ing to Hell and 1970, to its an­ar­chic bo­som. In his solo ca­reer too, al­bums such as In­stinct, Brick by Brick, Beat Em Up and Naughty Lit­tle Dog­gie have been mere blips on the roy­al­ties radar. Among all that, how­ever, two pieces of work stand out. Since they emerged in the late 70s they have stood the test of time, in­deed tran­scended it, have been highly in­flu­en­tial to a wealth of artists and, through the tragedy of Bowie’s death, in the past few months have en­joyed re­newed scru­tiny and praise.

The Id­iot and Lust for Life saved Pop’s ca­reer and so did Bowie. The English star took him un­der his wing when his Stooges ten­ure de­gen­er­ated into a heroin-fu­elled sham­bles. Bowie took him on the road with him, which opened the Amer­i­can’s eyes to rock star­dom on a grand scale. He liked what he saw. Then the pair headed to Ber­lin. Those al­bums, recorded and cowrit­ten in quick suc­ces­sion with Bowie, re­launched Pop’s floun­der­ing ca­reer. Pop is proud of those records, if not the per­son he was just be­fore he made them. He’s a dif­fer­ent man th­ese days, he says; more con­tent.

“My big prob­lem in life has al­ways been ma­tur­ing,” Pop says, mak­ing him­self laugh at the re­al­i­sa­tion. “I’ve started to ma­ture. I did so grudg­ingly for many years. I hated it. Then you grit your teeth and say, ‘This is what I gotta do.’ The big thing is that I’ve be­come more com­fort­able in my own skin than I was. I’ve be­come more ma­ture, se­cure … but not en­tirely se­cure or com­fort­able.”

Pop’s world is not one of pri­vate jets and lim­ou­sines. In the middle of last year he ar­rived on Homme’s doorstep with a backpack, ready to set to work on the songs for the new pro­ject, most of which had yet to take shape.

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