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