The soul of Pop

Michi­gan mad­man Iggy Pop is prob­a­bly best known for his un­pre­dictable, hu­man jack-drill on­stage per­for­mances. Away from the stage, how­ever, an­other side of the man emerges; he is in­tel­li­gent, gen­teel and un­pre­ten­tious – even if he did once spit at An­drea

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HAT A GUY; you ask Iggy Pop a ques­tion about the main turn­ing points in his life and he takes pretty much the en­tire length of the in­ter­view time an­swer­ing it.

In nor­mal cir­cum­stances, this would be – in the words of Beavis and Butthead, two badly drawn Iggy boys down with the Pop­man – “a bum­mer”. In the circs of we don’t mind at all, be­cause Mr Pop is cool. So cool, in fact, that a minute into the re­ply to the first ques­tion I leave him talk­ing to the tape recorder to put on leg warm­ers, a woolly vest and a pair of gloves.

God­dam it, Iggy Pop (one of the few rock stars to have been pub­lished in a jour­nal of classical schol­ar­ship, for his es­say

in the sec­ond vol­ume of, be­lieve it or not, wherein he as­tutely pon­ders on the ap­pli­ca­bil­ity of Ed­ward Gibbon’s to ev­ery­day con­tem­po­rary liv­ing) is cooler than Alaska in win­ter, than a Frida Kahlo paint­ing, than an Elec­tric Pic­nic line-up.

And yet for all his smarts and his cog­ni­tive prow­ess, Pop – who will be 61 in a few days – ex­udes a gen­teel, sin­cere and un­pre­ten­tious de­meanor. On stage, the man is a hu­man jack drill, ugly, sinewy, and quite pos­si­bly the fi­nal fron­tier in au­then­tic phys­i­cal stage dy­nam­ics. You see other rock acts, clearly in­flu­enced by him, go­ing through the mo­tions of con­fronta­tion and provo­ca­tion, but you know they’re spine­less pussy­cats in con­trast to Pop’s lis­som, leo­nine mus­cu­lar­ity.

“The main turn­ing points in my life? There are sev­eral, and for the sake of clar­ity and record – your news­pa­per is the news­pa­per of record in Ire­land, right? – I’ll tell you them all1. There was an af­ter­noon in Al­ge­bra 4; I was in 10th grade, I felt shitty, and I didn’t feel like grasp­ing what I knew I was sup­posed to grasp that day. I felt a lit­tle ill, my stom­ach was queasy from the school food, and it was a beau­ti­ful day out­side. I’d al­ready be­gun to play mu­sic, and I thought that day in Al­ge­bra class was a preview to real life – I just couldn’t do it. I was about 15 back then.

“An­other was about two years later, when I grad­u­ated. My high-school band man­aged to se­cure a sum­mer gig as a house band in a teen club called The Pony Tale, in a re­sort area of Michi­gan. And sud­denly there I was – a full time mu­si­cian; it hap­pened re­ally quick, re­ally young, and I liked it a lot.

“In those days, be­ing a mu­si­cian was a more ob­vi­ous road to ruin than it is now. Th­ese days, it’s of­ten a vi­able ca­reer choice for in­tel­li­gent young peo­ple – or seems to be – but it wasn’t back then. Be­ing a full-time mu­si­cian, I started to turn what in­tel­lect I had to­wards study­ing and ex­am­in­ing the whole thing of rock mu­sic – what was qual­ity, what was ex­cit­ing. That led me to drop out of univer­sity very quickly and join a cou­ple of bands, which cul­mi­nated in the band that most peo­ple know of, which is The Stooges.”

A pause. The start of my sec­ond ques­tion is po­litely in­ter­rupted. Pop apol­o­gises. Yes, the man who threw a mi­cro­phone and spat at An­drea Corr in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre sev­eral years back apol­o­gises.

“An­other turn­ing point? Meet­ing David Bowie and his en­tourage, but that was more of an in­evitabil­ity; it would have been them or some­one else, other en­tourages at the time. I think I was just for­tu­nate that I picked the best one. Then, post-Stooges – which by this time had gone down in flames – a re-en­counter with Bowie and his songs, the cir­cum­stanc-

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es of which meant that we were able to write some songs to­gether.”

Yet not even Bowie could work his magic on long-time friend Pop. Fol­low­ing his sem­i­nal solo al­bums and (both re­leased in 1977), Pop went on to record and re­lease sev­eral medi­ocre al­bums (in­clud­ing 1979’s 1980’s 1981’s and 1982’s In 1982, aged 35, Pop couldn’t af­ford to live in Man­hat­tan any more.

“I was sleep­ing on the floor in Ben­son­hurst, which was a like a Mafia neigh­bour­hood in Brook­lyn. Ba­si­cally, I was liv­ing hand to mouth, my health was go­ing, and I re­alised I couldn’t take on the world any­more – I was go­ing to lose. So I de­cided to try to go straight; it was a good de­ci­sion, al­though it took three or four years of adjustment, and prob­a­bly led to a fairly long pe­riod of medi­ocrity in my mu­sic. But it also led to my sur­vival as a per­son.”

Body in check, fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity ar­rived in 1983, when Bowie’s album, which fea­tured Pop’s co-write of went global. Pop’s star was in the as­cen­dant again. With one or two ex­cep­tions, it’s been up there ever since; yes, he still de­liv­ers the oc­ca­sional clunker (2003’s Stooges-as­sisted

be­ing one), but the likes of 1999’s still shows his cre­ativ­ity in a pos­i­tive light. Yet for all that, he re­mains some­thing of a tal­is­manic touch­stone for the bur­geon­ing rock’n’roll star. Does mu­sic still carry the same level of in­ten­sity for him?

“When it’s good stuff. When I was less ma­ture, my rad­i­cal­ism would al­low me only to be ex­posed to that mu­sic which I re­ally, re­ally liked. When I was in my early teens, I’d lis­ten to the Top 40 and I would wait for the one Bea­tles song that the ra­dio sta­tion would play; this en­gen­dered an in­cred­i­bly emo­tional re­ac­tion, al­most like a drug com­pul­sion – wait­ing for that Bea­tles song was some­thing I had to have, it was ir­re­sistible.

“And I’d get very an­gry when the likes of Les­ley Gore would get played in­stead – very up­set. Whereas now I’ve got­ten to the point where I say to my­self: al­right, let’s face it, if there wasn’t some­thing good about Sting, then he wouldn’t be worth all those oys­ters, you know. My in­ner feel­ings are still ex­actly the same, mind.

“When you lis­ten to mu­sic th­ese days the no­tion of con­cen­trat­ing on it is to­tally dif­fer­ent. I’m guess­ing, but I have a feel­ing that smok­ing a joint as an ac­tiv­ity was some­thing I did while I was lis­ten­ing to mu­sic back in the day. That type of ac­tiv­ity made me in­ert, but it al­lowed me to con­cen­trate, whereas now I’m more like other peo­ple in that mostly th­ese days they lis­ten to mu­sic as they ride a bi­cy­cle, go to the gym, or vac­uum the house, cook din­ner or clean nap­pies. I find that as I get busier with the ad­min­is­tra­tion of my sur­vival, it gets harder. Ei­ther that, or per­haps my con­cen­tra­tion isn’t as good.”

Pop knows too well that he’s some­thing of an aber­ra­tion in rock’n’roll terms. There is only so long his body will al­low him to con­tinue with the rigours of his per­for­mances – per­for­mances for which the word “vis­ceral” is all too ap­pro­pri­ate; and there is only so long that he can will­fully fuse his cre­den­tials as a con­fronta­tional rock star with his ob­vi­ous wis­dom.

“There are days,” he says, “when I want to be im­pos­si­ble to oth­ers and my­self – and I’m still very ca­pa­ble of do­ing that. I have to think about things like that. I don’t know how it is for ev­ery­one, but I cer­tainly reckon ex­pe­ri­ence helps. If ex­pe­ri­ences are at all quan­tifi­able, and if they vary in qual­ity, then some peo­ple at age 60 are go­ing to have more than other peo­ple at an­other age.

“I’m not above ap­ply­ing other peo­ple’s ex­pe­ri­ences, ei­ther – I’ve been a fly on the wall around a lot of tal­ented and ca­pa­ble peo­ple in my life, so I try to make use of that.”

In re­la­tion to The Stooges, he talks elo­quently of try­ing to bal­ance the mu­sic’s white-hot rage with a sense of re­flec­tion, hark­ing back to more am­bi­ent, con­sid­ered mo­ments.

“Ron and Scott [Asheton] are go­ing hell for leather for the loud stuff. They re­cently sent me a bunch of stuff that is so fierce, my first thought was the way I’m kinda type­cast in some movie parts I get of­fered; ev­ery six months, I’m asked to play ei­ther a mon­ster or a crim­i­nal. Some­times I re­ally want to in­dulge the Proust side of me and be some­what more mo­rose.”

But not just yet; there is the not so small mat­ter of his forth­com­ing per­for­mance in Dublin. Af­ter all the years of twist­ing his body this way and that, of throw­ing more shapes than the Aurora Bo­re­alis, do the gigs still do it for him?

“I feel dif­fer­ent on stage,” he ad­mits in a noshit-Sher­lock man­ner. “It’s quite cathar­tic for me, yet it wasn’t al­ways be­cause it didn’t al­ways go as well. For the last few years, I’ve hung around long enough to know what kind of prepa­ra­tion you need to do in or­der to do the shows prop­erly and con­sis­tently. A lot goes into it – nerves, ef­fort, con­cen­tra­tion. But the mu­si­cians are unique, too; per­son­ally, I’m glad it’s be­com­ing pos­si­ble for peo­ple to value what it is that Ron and Scott do.

“So it’s good on­stage, yes. And it’s good for a cou­ple of hours af­ter. And then it’s five in the morn­ing and I can’t sleep.”

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