Great Interview w/ Iggy [TimesOnline 2009]
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|Subject: Great Interview w/ Iggy [TimesOnline 2009] Sun May 17, 2009 4:51 am|| |
Iggy Pop on his life's highs and lows
He’s lived the rock’n’roll dream — and the nightmare. Now, at 62, Iggy Pop is facing up to the past he regrets and the family secrets that sent him on the road to self- destruction. By Bryan Appleyard. Photographs: Christopher Morris
From The Sunday Times
May 17, 2009
I ask Iggy Pop, willy-waver, self-mutilator, stage-diver, car-wrecker, ex-dope fiend, ex-thief, punk progenitor and Stooges singer, why Swiftcover, online seller of car insurance, wanted to use him to front their recent UK advertising campaign.
He squirms and grins sheepishly. There’s a distinct blush beneath the coppery leather, newly scarred skin of his face. “This is so embarrassing. I was afraid you’d ask me that. This is so f***ing embarrassing.”
He bangs the table and breaks into a high-pitched giggle. “They said they wanted this series of ads to be performed by somebody…” long pause, “…somebody you can’t help but like!”
We stare at each other in silence, eyebrows raised, jaws dropped.
“You mean,” I — shocked, disbelieving — say, “that almost 45 years of offensive, obnoxious, downright nasty rock’n’roll, of systematic debauchery and subversion — your life’s work — has come to nothing? People can’t help but like you!”
“You did it, Iggy, you failed upwards!”
Now we’re both giggling “That’s a very nervous position to be in,” he gasps, “to be liked!”
And so there he is — on buses, on the radio, on TV, flogging car insurance and being just so damned likable. It could all have been so different…
Long ago, in the buttoned-down, buttoned-up world of mid-1950s America, James Newell Osterberg Sr made a grab for the dial on the radio in his Michigan trailer home. He wasn’t quite quick enough and, as a result little James Newell Osterberg Jr heard something he wasn’t supposed to:
“You ain’t nuthin’ but a houn’ dawg…”
It was Elvis or, in the imagination of Osterberg Sr, Big Trouble. He wanted his son to be somebody respectable, and Elvis, still raw, still insolently boyish, then represented something very unrespectable indeed. Big Jim had high hopes for Little Jim and wanted to keep him straight and clean. He made him have a quarter-inch military haircut every two weeks and he scorned his desire to wear white socks to school.
“He told me it was corny,” says Iggy/Little Jim. “He was always saying, ‘Why do you want to be that when you could be this? He wanted me to be high class, not low class. But he was a Democrat, he would never have said it. And class in America only means money.”
But at the same time, Big Jim was smart enough — or possibly, in light of later events in the boy’s life, stupid enough — not to impose his will on the boy. He criticised what he did, but didn’t actually stop him from doing it. Much later Little Jim brought home Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a’ Changin’ album.
“That picture on the front where Dylan had a particularly obnoxious sneer, like he’s saying, ‘How uncool is your country, everything you’ve done is worth nothing.’ My dad was just furious. But he didn’t take it away from me.”
Then, when Little Jim announced he was leaving college to be a rock star, Big Jim stood in the doorway of the trailer. He’d have to fight his dad to get out. “That guy could kick my ass blindfold. Oh shit! He was testing my fear and my resolve. But I moved towards the door and he relented. He let me go.”
Later, Big Jim even went to a Stooges show.
“You’re like a young pitcher,” he told Iggy afterwards. “Lots of speed but no control.”
Now, at this point you’re probably thinking this is a predictable story of rock-star rebel turning his back on his bourgeois, aspirational family. But it’s not, it’s much more complex and moving than that. Let me give you a hint by telling you the first thing I saw when we got to Iggy’s house.
Spencer, his PA, picked me and the photographer up from my hotel in Miami Beach. He drove us northwards for half an hour, taking us through the hot, heavy poverty of Little Haiti to a shabby bungalow on the banks of the Little River, milky-coffee brown and lethal-looking. The metal shades over the windows are rusting and the bougainvillea, palms and assorted creepers are fighting to swallow the house and winning. But Spence tries to look after things and immediately cleans up some bird shit on the front doorstep. He spends the rest of the time we’re there pottering about, tidying stuff.
The thing we first see is in the tiny hallway. It’s a shrine, a marble-topped baroque gilt table. There are photos of Iggy’s parents. Big Jim is in a leather flying helmet — he was in the air force during the war. He is grinning and looks exactly like Iggy, but not wasted. His mother, Louella, is pretty and smiling happily. Beneath there’s a small crucifix and a box covered by a scarf. The box contains the ashes of Louella and Jim.
“I chose those pictures,” Iggy later tells me, “because they’re so optimistic, so young and full of hope.”
Iggy was an only child.
More than Keith Richards, more than Liam Gallagher, more than John Lennon, more than anybody, Iggy Pop is rock’n’roll. Those other guys were just successful — that’s easy. But Iggy lived the nightmare as much as he did the dream. Trouble found him. David Bowie once considered a film in which Iggy’s character would be called Cat Astrophe. He was seldom up and often down. He made records that barely sold because they were 15 years ahead of their time. In pursuit of what he calls “the idealism of insanity”, he used his own mind and body to take every performance to an ever more dangerous level. Drugs hit him like a truck, turning him, at his lowest point, into a tramp living in a car park. But, on the bright side, he did make two important pharmacological discoveries.
One: it is possible to perform while tripping on LSD as long as you take the drug exactly 45 minutes before you go on stage. Somehow, the concentration of performance temporarily contains the high. “Afterwards,” says Iggy, “It’s just like kerrrpowww!” Two: cocaine burns off alcohol. Driving the wrong way down a one-way street, massively drunk on a quart of tequila and coked up to his eyeballs, he didn’t notice the police cruiser racing alongside him, lights flashing, sirens shrieking. Finally he crashed into a stop sign, totalling the car, but, miraculously, he didn’t test positive for alcohol.
“The coke had just burnt the alcohol out of my system. I wasn’t legally drunk.”
Iggy’s other big discovery was the stage dive that became an essential part of the rock-star repertoire before health and safety and insurance got involved. It was 1968. He was doing a show in Detroit and a couple of big girls had moved right to the front to stare at him. He flung out his arms and just dropped. The girls moved out of the way and he chipped his teeth.
“That was the first dive, and I thought, ‘Wait, there’s something in this.’ So I started to swan-dive into big crowds that couldn’t avoid me.”
All of which madness should be put into perspective. When Iggy is good, he’s damned good. He wrote and performed some great songs — The Passenger, China Girl, famously recorded by Bowie, Lust for Life, Real Wild Child, and quite a few others. Along with the Stooges, he invented punk rock 15 years before the Ramones, the Sex Pistols and the Clash turned it into a movement. And now, at 62, he’s just produced a strangely soft, lovely, autumnal album inspired by The Possibility of an Island, a novel by France’s literary superstar Michel Houellebecq. It’s the reason we’re meeting out here in Miami.
Of course, he’s not there when we arrive at the bungalow. He’s driving over from his place south of Miami where he lives with Nina, a longtime girlfriend whom he recently married. It’s his third marriage. The first lasted two weeks. He brought the girl back to the Fun House, the place in Michigan where the Stooges hung out, and she started cleaning his room and bringing in furniture. Iggy couldn’t take that. Much later he had a Japanese wife for over a decade — “I had observed these were sensible, stable people” — but that petered out. Iggy also has a place in the Cayman Islands. I don’t think he’s rock-star rich, but he’s not poor either.
For an hour and a half, Spence potters while the photographer and I pick through the cave-like darkness of the house. Iggy’s had this place for about five years. It reminds him of the kind of houses where rock bands used to hang out in Michigan. It’s like the inside of his head. There are his own, splashy paintings and others by Haitian artists. Outside, Spence points to a huge iguana in a tree across the river and tells us about the wildlife — manatees, etc. Time crawls by in the damp heat. Then, finally, Iggy drives up in his ’02 Maserati. He’s big on cars, though they do tend to catch fire. He had a ’95 Rolls Corniche that burst into flames and was chopped to bits by the Miami Beach firefighters. And he sold a ’65 Jeep Commander to a roadie for $1. It had flames painted on the side. It caught fire on the roadie’s first trip. Iggy is, of course, naked from the waist up — he almost always is. His hair is silky platinum blond, his face is, well, lived in, and the eyes are grey-blue and very starey. The new scar above his upper lip was caused by a fall. He got out of bed and forgot which house he was in. He shrugs apologetically to the photographer. “I bleed a lot.”
His body is a strange combination of smooth, almost baby-like skin and the sinewiness of the very fit older man. He follows a Chinese exercise regime known as Qigong. It seems to work. He has, however, a limp and one built-up shoe. This, he later explains, is due to cartilage loss caused by life on the road and his own self-destructive tendencies. He shows us round the house, occasionally lapsing into rock’n’roll theology.
“My theory is that Jesus Christ was probably a raving party animal. I think he was stoned a lot of the time and he’s been successively whitewashed by various bureaucracies and translations. That’s the kind of guy who would go into the temple and say, ‘F*** this shit!’ That would be a stoned, pissed-off guy.”
Modern Guy, Modern Guy
Number of posts : 3440
Age : 28
Location : Stoogeland
Registration date : 2007-07-07
|Subject: Re: Great Interview w/ Iggy [TimesOnline 2009] Sun May 17, 2009 4:51 am|| |
When we arrive at the parental shrine in the hallway, the irony falls away to be replaced by a rhapsody about life in Michigan, about the Depression that formed the tough, determined characters of Big Jim and Louella — “I didn’t know a day when she didn’t work, and you can’t say that about many people at that time.”
His dad was a teacher and his mother a secretary. Years later he discovered she had been salting away stock options that he inherited when his father died, aged 87, a couple of years ago: “They were worth a pretty considerable amount until the recent crash, but it’s still six figures.” Big Jim, he says, was “a very independent man, a very male man, much more so than I. He was a very American male.”
The word “American” here is heavily loaded. It goes to the heart of Iggy’s very shrewd understanding of himself, of, indeed, the history that made him. The 1950s were an era of anxiety and containment. With recent memories of the Depression and the war, people were clinging onto what they had. But their children felt they had to move on. Iggy saw the flaw in the tense idealism of his parents’ generation.
“You look at this country and it’s a theatre or battleground for the European idea of the Enlightenment. It filtered down to people like me through civics or social-studies lessons — the idea that you are a free individual and you have rights. None of these things are systematically true, it’s all bullshit. The only way you get rights is to shove your damned rights down everybody else’s throat.”
So you grabbed your rights?
His hand slams down on the table.
“Yes, yes, yes, I grabbed them! I grabbed them! Maybe I was a little blunt about it. But it was the only way I could be an American!”
Equal quantities of triumph and hurt seem to cross his features. Little Jim was, I sense, a lonely boy. Having made it past Big Jim in the trailer doorway, Iggy hit the rock’n’roll road. He had his own summer of love in which he totalled two cars and got flung into jail. He ended up with “a wild taste of freedom” and platinum hair.
He’d been in a band at school called the Iguanas — hence “Iggy”. But his true vehicle, the band that gave him a way to be American, was the Stooges. It consisted primarily of Iggy, two brothers — Ron and Scott Asheton — and Dave Alexander. They lasted in this first phase from 1967 to ’74. Drugs and commercial failure meant they all but fell apart after two albums in 1971 when their label dropped them. But, adopted by Bowie, they made a third album, Raw Power, in 1973, before crashing and, apparently, terminally burning in 1974.
Once they played Dearborn, Michigan, where Big Jim worked. Iggy had met Nico, the singer who fronted the Velvet Underground for a time, and she had weaned him off beer and onto red wine. He went on stage with a couple of bottles.
“Some girl was worshipping me from the front row, calling out ‘Iggy, Iggy, Iggy!’ I felt the show needed a topping gesture: the music hadn’t gone far enough. I just broke the bottle over the mike. There were shards of glass glimmering in the light — I though it was beautiful. But they cut that girl’s hands and what was reaching out to me now was a bloody fist. It was all over the Dearborn press — ‘Pop Goes the Bottle, Bring Back Elvis.’ ”
Did you, I ask, turning all psychotherapist, do that because it was your dad’s town?
There are countless such stories of stage excess. Once Iggy rolled, half-naked as ever, on broken glass. He rose bleeding profusely. He then found if he swung his arms back, he could emit a continuous spurt of blood. Then there was nakedness, willy-waving and God knows what else. What were such things all about? The short answer is he wanted to feel.
“I felt deprived of feeling. I experienced America as a martial camp. In the 1950s it was all, ‘Who the hell are you, boy? My dick is bigger than your dick.’ It was all very intolerant. I didn’t feel relaxed and I just had an explosion.”
In 1967 he’d seen the Doors and watched Jim Morrison lurch theatrically about the stage and thought: “I could do that.” He’d heard Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger sing and thought: “I can sing like that.” But he also thought: “What more can I do?” The more he discovered was his own body, his own feelings. “If I made myself feel something,
I knew I could make the audience feel it.”
But the drugs, first soft, then hard, tore him apart. Iggy remembers moving to the hard stuff. He was given cocaine by a publicist and, a few days later, he broke into the man’s motel bathroom and stole his entire stash. The long crack-up had begun. In 1971 he went back to Michigan, where a pharmacist provided him with methadone to get him off the heroin. It didn’t work. Then, one way or another, he found his way to New York and met Bowie. Everybody now started making plans for Iggy, even the record company. “Nobody wanted me and nobody wanted my music, but people thought I was cute. The record company wanted to hook me up with David Cassidy’s producer! I wouldn’t have done very well — I’m not that great-looking. I wasn’t regarded as real cute meat.”
Bowie, meanwhile, was pushing him towards glam rock and Lou Reed was offering some of his own B-list songs: “They’re better than your stuff, Iggy.” “There’s nothing more depressing than a Lou Reed B-list song,” says Iggy.
Amid all this pressure to be somebody else, Iggy just wanted to find a way to get the Stooges back together. “I had plans. I was going to re-form the f***ing Stooges even more aggressive, faster, louder, more edgy and more repugnant. Those were my plans.”
In the end Bowie capitulated and backed the Stooges’ third album, Raw Power. It bombed and it definitely wasn’t what his new English management company, MainMan, had in mind. They didn’t like his heroin use either, and finally suspended his contract on a morals clause. Iggy and I fall about laughing at this — suspending him on a morals charge is rather like suspending the army for being too violent.
Then it was all downhill again. He ended up living in a basement car park in Los Angeles with a male hustler. He’d stolen a cushion from a garden lounger to soften the concrete and he stole food to stay alive. One day, on Sunset Boulevard, a limo pulled up, the window slid down and Bowie said: “Hello, Iggy.” Again he rescued him, making Iggy part of his entourage and, finally, getting out his solo album The Idiot.
At the same time, Iggy had also used a health-insurance card given to him by his mother to check into a psychiatric institute where a certain Dr Murray Zucker started to get to grips with the mental mess that was Iggy Pop. On top of that, in the early 1980s his financial position improved. Bowie had recorded China Girl, bringing in royalties, and an accountancy firm had pointed out that he was due huge sums of money from publication of his most famous songs.
He also maintained a steady flow of records and film work. Yet he was feeling, as he puts it, “unwell”. As ever, he was pining for the Stooges. He suggested a mad scheme to his record company — an album of duets with Britney Spears, P Diddy, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Green Day and… the Stooges. Oddly enough, he did get Green Day, Peaches and… the Stooges for the album Skull Ring. But he also got a deal for a new Stooges album and, in 2007, out came The Weirdness. It was a personal triumph for Iggy. “The groove was good. I felt vindicated. It was truly great.”
They had a happy five years of touring and then, in January of this year, his bassist/guitarist Ron Asheton died of a heart attack and five international dates were cancelled. The Stooges had, once again, collapsed. But, this time, Iggy was in better shape to survive the blow. I ask him how he got clean and he replies with surprising precision.
“The last time I took heroin, I sniffed it in the East Village in ’81. I tried to score some opium in ’83 in a Mexican bar near Palm Springs. I smoked a lot of dope in the early 1980s and every couple of weeks I’d go on a binge, Finally, by ’85-’86, I was essentially clean. I could smoke half a joint and once a month I’d get a little high on coke and not enjoy it. By the mid-1990s there was no more smoke and no more toot [cocaine] and I was getting stronger from the Chinese exercises. That lasted until ’99 when I had a Colombian girlfriend, and they like to party. But by the start of the century, I’d quit. It’s been nine years now. I still drink red wine but good stuff, Barolo, Bordeaux, and only with dinner. Or maybe after a Stooges gig I’ll have one glass and get really drunk. But I don’t just sit down and drink.”
The new album was a coincidence. He’s read Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island and loved it, and one year later he was asked by some French documentary makers to provide music for a film about the author. It turned out Houellebecq loved Iggy’s music. I see the link — both are marginal men who defiantly assert their own marginality, who make a virtue out of their own awkwardness in the world. They met in Paris, they hung, they did TV together, they did press and Iggy came out with Préliminaires, the album. Buy it. It sounds like the album Houellebecq himself would make.
Iggy now still thinks he can get the Stooges back together yet again. This is remarkable — from the start they looked like a band built for speed rather than longevity. But somehow they, like Iggy, survive.
I suspect he needs it to happen. He admits he’s having problems with domesticity — “I can’t handle the pool man.” He has, he says ominously, days when he just wants to “Iggy out”. The band is the love of his life and his salvation from the pressures of just living. Well, no, in fact that’s not quite right. When he knew he hadn’t got long to live, Big Jim confided in Iggy and said: “I love you, Jim, I never told you that, I should have told you. I never hugged you.”
Since his father’s death, Iggy has been discovering his feelings about his childhood, about Michigan, about his parents. He’s been remembering that something was missing.
At the beginning of our meeting, in front of that shrine in the hallway, Iggy told me that as a child, he would nag his parents to give him a brother. He accused them of being cowards, but it never happened.
Hours later, I ask him my final question — What do you regret? — and that phantom brother returns. “Ah,” he says and hangs his head in thought. There’s a long pause. It seems to be the one question he doesn’t want to answer. But, finally: “I don’t have many professional regrets. Given the amount of talent I had in the first place, I feel I pretty much fulfilled the job reasonably and I’d like to try more stuff now. But personally — that’s where I’m really vulnerable. When I was much younger I never formed friendships and I was never able to make things end well for people I had relationships with.
I wish my parents had been fortunate enough to have another son who was a farmer and lived in the area, and they could have lived in his place when they got old and he would have had a wife who could have taken care of them. Something like that. I’m still a bit of a shit, I really am. But with people I’ve met in the last 20, 10, five years, I’ve let them down more gently and I’ve given them something in return. I think about these things a lot. Maybe when you start doing things for others, you can’t do enough anyway. But I let people down in my personal life and I feel quite a bit of regret about that.”
When Big Jim blocked the door of that trailer to stop Little Jim running off with the band, it could have gone either way. He could have stayed and become the steady, sturdy, crop-headed farmer who never wore white socks and looked after his parents in old age. He could have been the brother he never had, but always wanted. But he didn’t. He walked past Big Jim and became Iggy Pop, the defiantly marginal man. It was, as he said, the only way he could be an American.
Probably it was then. But looking at him sitting there, his scarred copper leather face suddenly mournful, his head full of memories and regrets, full of Michigan, I can’t help feeling he may have found an even better way.
Modern Guy, Modern Guy
Number of posts : 3440
Age : 28
Location : Stoogeland
Registration date : 2007-07-07
|Subject: Re: Great Interview w/ Iggy [TimesOnline 2009] Sun May 17, 2009 4:53 am|| |
great interview, i was sorry to hear of iggys fathers death, i was wondering about that actually, as i remember reading, i think in pauls book, he was still living
|Subject: Re: Great Interview w/ Iggy [TimesOnline 2009] || |