This article originally appeared in the November 1986 issue of SPIN.
Iggy Pop is the archetypal cult hero, the primeval punk, the quintessential rock star who preceded rock ‘n’ roll by a few million years. His first albums, classically raw and primitive, were recorded in some remote studio in prehistory.
He transformed his first band, the Stooges, from a one-note samba band called the Dirty Shames, into probably the first heavy metal hardcore band. Iggy was definitely the first performance artist. He wore a ballerina outfit and golf shoes, or pink hot pants with high top black boots, abused his audience with insults and spit, chipped his teeth with his microphone, cut himself on broken beer bottles, rolled around on lit cigarette butts, and dove into the crowd belly first. But beneath this wild, self destructive madman is a sweet, intelligent, lovable boy-man, incapable of confronting people in everyday situations lest he offend them.
“You can call me Jimmy, or you can call me Iggy. My parents called me James Osterberg, Jr. Iggy was a nickname hung on me that I didn’t particularly like. When I was in high school, I was in a band called the Iguanas. When I got out of high school, I quit college after one semester and got a job as a stock boy at Discount Records in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My various employers at Discount Records, when they wanted to get a rise out of me, rile me, make my face turn red, or refer to my teenage hyperkinetic behavior, they would call me Iggy or Iguana.”
“At the same time, for five sets a night, six nights a week, I was playing in a band called the Prime Movers, which was an effete, Bohemian, intellectual blues band of 25- and 26-year-olds. I was 18, which was a big age difference at that time. About a year and a half after the Prime Movers, I formed the Stooges and thought I had heard the last of that nickname.”
“However, with the very first Stooges gig we played in 1968, which was second bill to Blood, Sweat and Tears at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit, a reviewer from the student paper at the University of Michigan, instead of reviewing Blood, Sweat and Tears, devoted almost the entire review to the Stooges, saying Blood, Sweat and Tears are a packaged act who have passed their prime, and the real story tonight came from a local band, the Stooges, fronted by vocalist Iggy Osterberg. The article mentioned our use of innovative instruments that I built in a junkyard, our stage set and costumes, the thrust of our music and particularly ‘Iggy’s’ dancing.”
“I took great note of that piece at the time, because in the Ann Arbor area alone there were at least 20 full-time, more-than-competent bands, all busting their balls for the same few gigs in the area, all working their asses off to make it in the record business. There were MC5, SRC, the Bob Seger System, Ted Nugent’s Amboy Dukes, Dick Wagoner’s the Frost, Terry Knight and the Pack, later to become Grand Funk Railroad. The list goes on and on.”
“I saw an opportunity there and never looked back. This name’s catchy. People now knew me by this name, so I stuck with it. Then I thought I’d tag a good last name onto it, and because this sounded like show business, I came up with Pop. I was never Iggy Stooge. That was an invention of Elektra Records for what is called product identification. They put Iggy Stooge on our first album—gave everybody the same last name, like what Danny Fields later did with the Ramones—and I flipped out.”
“When I begin a professional relationship with somebody, often I’m called Iggy. When I met Jerry Moss, chairman of A&M Records, he called me Iggy. The president, however, always calls me Jim. The credit card company calls me James. When my father’s in a good mood, he calls me Iggy, just to hassle me. Occasionally my father calls me Jimbo, and sometimes my wife does, too. My audience calls me Iggy, but groupies always called me Jim, because Iggy’s not a romantic name. It’s a dangerous name. It’s the kind of name that, when shouted across a room, makes nice people wince. It’s a dangerous game bing called Iggy, no question about it. I’m really proud to be Iggy Pop, but if anyone’s more comfortable calling me Jim, that’s fine, too.”
Iggy had a normal childhood, except that he had bronchial asthma, which prevented him from being without adult supervision for more than 20 minutes at a time, and he lived in a trailer camp near US 23, between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. From ages 8 to 13 he lived in a 45′ x 8′ New Moon, the model used in the movie The Long, Long Trailer, starring Lucy and Desi. His parents later traded if for a 50′ x 10′ Vagabond, which they still live in.
Iggy’s pop is an English lit teacher, who, before World War II, played first base in the Brooklyn Dodger organization. When Iggy grew up, he was a Yankee fan. When he was really young, he wanted to be like Frank Sinatra, and later, when he was a teenager and wanted to go into politics, John F. Kennedy. After that, there’s been a lot of people he admired in the movies, such as Klaus Kinski and Clint Eastwood.
“I play a bit of golf, something I do on a yearly basis with my father. We’re both kind of athletic, outdoor people. If I was handicapped now, it would be high, around fifteen or sixteen. I shoot in the nineties, which isn’t bad for someone who plays a couple of weeks a year, but I still got a decent stroke. When I was about seventeen, I used to shoot in the low eighties, and I can still, on a very good day. I only took up golf when I was sixteen.”
“My particular weakness in golf would probably be strategic. More than anything, I tend to go for the big shot when I should play it safe. I just can’t resist the thrill of going for the very difficult shot.”
“Like, let’s say I’m two hundred yards from the green. It’s a par four, four hundred yards. I duffed my drive and half duffed my second shot. I now lie 2,200 yards from the pin. Now, there’s water in front of the green, sand on the left, and woods on the right.”
“If I take out a three-iron and hit it really, really well, one shot in fifteen, I can hit that three-iron just far enough so it’s going to go down at one hundred ninety yards, which is about the edge of the green, roll the extra yards, and then I can drop the putt and still save the par four.”
“But, if I don’t, I’m gonna end up in the trap, in the water, or in the woods, and I’m gonna be penalized, whereas if I would just take out the five-iron and lay it up one hundred fifty yards anywhere, basically, in front of the green and have a simple pitch over, I get down with my bogie. That’s the kind of situation that would prove my weakness. The other thing I do wrong is that I swing from the heels. You don’t swing hard in golf to hit the ball very far. You have to swing easy and have a good sense of timing.”
“How this relates to the rest of my life, well, I guess at times my work has tended to be spotty. Often, in the past, I would expect to go out and give an almost miraculous performance every night, and I really didn’t care if the business was straight or I didn’t make sure the set was gong to be long enough. All I cared about was that when Iggy Pop got on that stage, something explosive had to happen.”
Everything Iggy did in the past was extreme, from eating to drinking to drugging to womanizing to music. When Iggy took a shower, he’d put one hand on the cold-water faucet, one on the hot, and depending upon which one he turned, take a scalding hot or an ice-cold shower. Instead of using a washcloth, Iggy used a scouring pad.
“Onstage I’ve been hit by a grapefruit, beer cans, eggs, spit, money, cigarette butts, Mandies, Quaaludes, joints, bras, panties, and a fist. We were playing a gig at a place called the Rock ‘n’ Roll Farm in Wayne, Michigan, in the late 1970s, and some guy kept egging me—throwing eggs at me and all over the stage—and finally I got sick of it and called this bastard out.”
“He was much bigger than me, a 6’5″ mountain man wearing a large plaid lumberjack shirt, a knuckle glove, and a big grin, and he stood there waiting for me to confront him, so I came up to him and, kind of like a bandy cock, put my fists in a fighting position. He decked me with one punch. I knew he would, but I couldn’t back down. At the time I was a little different than I am now.”
For Iggy, the years from 1968 to 1973, during which the Stooges recorded “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “1969,” “Real Cool Time” (The Stooges), “TV Eye,” “Down On the Street,” “Funhouse” (Funhouse), “Search and Destroy,” “Gimme Danger,” and “Raw Power” (Raw Power), were the Dark Ages; 1973 to 1976 were even darker. That’s when Iggy, under suspension by his management, lived in Hollywood under the influence of drugs, groupies, and delusions of grandeur. In late 1976 and ’77, things turned around when David Bowie, whom Iggy had first met in the back room of Max’s Kansas City in 1970, toured with Iggy as his keyboard player and bandleader and worked with him on The Idiot and Lust for Life.
“The first expensive personal thing I bought with my first big paycheck, not counting drugs, was in Berlin, Germany, in 1977, after I had finished The Idiot album, and I had got a rather large advance for the Lust for Life album. David and I had determined that we would record the album very quickly, which we wrote, recorded, and mixed in eight days, and because we had done it so quickly, we had a lot of money left over from the advance, which we split.”
“With my share, I renovated my apartment, which was on the fourth floor in the back part of the building in which David had a fairly large, handsome place. My place rented for $80 a month—three rooms, a kitchen, bedroom, and something like a living room, all tiny, with a single hallway running down the side. A man who was too old to walk up the steps anymore had lived there before me, and there were maybe six or seven layers of linoleum in the kitchen, which I peeled off one at a time.”
“I decided I loved the place, and with the money I bought nice rugs, wallpaper, and an oak table with the German eagle motif for the four legs and huge oaken chairs with leather backs that had an arcane symbol of some secret German clan. Those were actually the first things I bought, before the wallpaper and the rugs. I had this bare apartment, cold water, coal stove, the arcane chairs, and the eagle-motif oaken table, and I wrote Lust for Life there.”
In late 1982 Iggy saw the quality of his life, onstage and off, going down. He saw the quality of the shows going down, too; even when he took something, he still saw it. It wasn’t giving him the boost that he thought he had needed. The groupies were getting uglier, the hotels were getting seedier, the record companies were getting smaller, his popularity was diminishing, and his shows were disasters.
He’d wake up in the morning, or in the afternoon, after a few too many drinks and drugs. His skin was bad, he looked tired, felt awful, and this little voice inside him (it called him Jim), who saw him as something like a farmer, someone who worked outdoors, who wasn’t stuffed into an office eight hours a day, said, “Gee, your job is no longer you, you’re knocking yourself out of shape every time you wanna work.”
Every time he wanted to write a song, Iggy would get smashed to get creative. He hadn’t used junk for ten years, but he didn’t need junk to ruin himself. He could destroy himself chasing girls or letting anyone in who knocked on his door. There are a lot of ways to wipe oneself out, and hatred them all. At the same time he had an Australian and Japanese tour coming up, and his “China Girl” was going up the charts. That meant royalties, so he thought he’d finish the tour, maybe even meet a nice Japanese girl along the way who’d help him pull himself together. He always admired the Japanese.
“I met Suchi on my last tour. She was sitting in the front row at one of my gigs in Tokyo, at the Sun Plaza. There was something I liked in her eyes, so I sent a roadie to persuade her to come backstage and meet me. At first he said he didn’t track her down, so I pleaded with him to try again. As it happened, it was a rainy night, and she had left her umbrella at the coat-check stand. When she came back in the hall, he spotted her from my description. She was waring a long pigtail down to her waist, and she had on an unusual hat.”
Iggy loves Suchi and his mom and dad very much. He loves his work. He loves the feeling of making a little better song. He loves the feeling when he gets a much more favorable record deal than he ever dreamed he’d get. He loves the feeling of waking up not worrying about running out of money next week. He loves being in a Martin Scorsese film (The Color of Money).
Otherwise, love is an imperfect and rarely reached ideal. It takes a lot of work. There are disappointments and uncomfortable demands. Articles of faith pop up from time to time. It takes Iggy a long time to love someone and give a damn about them. He’d rather they fade out. He’s got better things to do than making love to everyone he meets that he likes. He’d rather make music. He doesn’t have time to dick around. Just being Iggy is a full-time job.
“When some problem has peaked, and my thinking isn’t getting me anywhere, I like to pull out this vacuum cleaner and vacuum the house. We’ve got a Singer, which we bought at the Singer Sewing Center at the central Singer Sewing Center of the United States, up at Rockefeller Center, in New York. We got a warranty. A nice, sweet little old lady sold it to us. We took pains to try each model. It was one of the first things Suchi and I bought together when we first moved to New York. It was hard to get a cab, so we dragged it home. I like stroking the floor with it. In fact, I especially like it because I’m really into rugs. I like buying little rugs. I don’t buy really expensive ones, but, like, I got one with a motif of an Indian, (as from India) hunting deer and tigers.”
“That’s my favorite rug, and I vacuum that almost religiously. Besides helping me think, it also feels great at night. I got one chair in my home. Basically, all my seating is within eighteen inches of the floor, so I use the rug a lot. It’s almost as if it’s my flying carpet. It’s my thinking rug, it’s my play rug, and a lot of times it’s my kitchen table.”
“One of the first things I like to do when I wake up in the morning is clean something. I don’t really care what it is. That feels real good. The hardest part for me is cleaning myself. I still haven’t gotten to that stage. Suchi will wake up in the morning and take a shower, but me, I’d rather be dirty for a while, so I’ll do a little cleaning around the house instead.”
“Suchi’s the bed maker. I throw out the garbage. Suchi does the dishes, but I’m on general trash patrol. As you know, as one works in one’s home, there’s a constant threat of disarray, and if I’m trying to think of a lyric or think about what things I have to do that day and the ones that are half done and who I have to call next week, and I look about me and see disarray, I can go no further. Everything comes to a halt. Consequently, I have to keep everything in order. It’s almost like being a minesweeper.”
Iggy’s office in his house is a clipboard that he bought at Pearl Paint on Canal Street. It’s a big brown clipboard, about two-and-a-half feet square, and when he gets up in the morning, after he straightened up and cleaned something, he gets his things-to-do-today list from yesterday and sees which ones were checked off and which ones weren’t, then he throws it away and puts the ones that weren’t done ahead of new ones for today, and after that he can do some writing, and the day can begin.
“Records that have influenced me are: the use of Jim Morrison’s voice on the first Doors album, which was a unique way to use a voice at that time. He was the first person I’m aware of to sing rock ‘n’ roll with a full baritone. Up until that time, if you didn’t have a high voice, you would sing in a monotone, the way Mick Jagger did on 12×5 or Bo Diddley did—you’d kinda shout the song.”
“Morrison sounded almost as if he was crooning, yet the background was not sedate. It had a beat, and I found out very quickly I could do that too; Bo Diddley was helpful for the call-and-response, the irresistibility of ‘Hey Bo Diddley, have you heard?…1-2-3-4 and second line, la-de-da. I used to use that format with great affect, without having any words planned, in the original Stooges shows.”
“Again, I used that call-and-response improv pattern on “Winners and Losers” on my new album. Chuck Berry was real helpful in the way he’d look around the culture, find a catchphrase, like ‘Sweet Little Sixteen,’ which is what everybody used to say referencing a girl’s sixteenth birthday party, or ‘No Particular Place to Go,’ where he talks about seat belts. Finding neat little things in the culture on which to hang a song. The girl in ‘Little Queen’ hangs out by the record machine, ‘looking like she’s on the cover of a magazine.'”
“Bob Dylan (Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited) and Lou Reed (the banana album) both influenced me by the way they’d use breathy vocals and very effortlessly ride a strong beat beneath it. To me that music sounded like a bunch of little Tartar tribesmen sweeping along the desert on their ponies, ready to bring savage visitation to all in their path, yet the vocal is almost floating over that. I used that technique on ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog,’ and ‘Real Cool Time.'”
“12×5 by the Rolling Stones, for its understatement of any emotional content. There are emotions in the music, but they’re kept in their place, so it isn’t weeping all over the place. It sounds hard and tough, yet the beat is steady and nothing’s overplayed. Frank Sinatra (“September of My Years”) above all others, for the ability to carry the emotions in a song and to get a rise out of me, as a listener, on an emotional level. I felt something strong when that man sang.”
“Van Morrison (Them’s first album) was a very powerful influence for the wedding of poetry and music and for the way he’d recycle blues clichés like on ‘One-Two Brown Eyes’—’Last night I went walkin’/I heard someone talkin/Better stop stayin’ out late at night and fly right’ is an old shuffle blues phrase, but with Jimmy Page, who did those sessions, playing that strange guitar behind him, and with that hyper beat, it was a new way to use those clichés; that was poetry.”
“Sun Ra, for his ability to use music to take you voyaging; also, Coltrane, for that matter—those records opened me up. And Tina Turner, not musically, because I’m not a blues shouter, and I don’t have a falsetto or a hot scream, but for her stage presentation, the way she never breaks form, almost like a Balinese dancer, the hands are up, palms are outwards, the feet are always going, and the tension and posture are always maintained.”
Iggy had been hanging around his Bleecker Street apartment for a while, looking for a new sound to present itself to him. Then he realized what he needed was a strong, basic rock ‘n’ roll collaborator to work with, so he picked Steve Jones, former guitarist with the Sex Pistols. At the time, Steve wasn’t living in a flashy pad or on top of the rock ‘n’ roll world either, but Iggy felt he had the most soul of any guitarist he knew who was available. So a year ago July, Iggy packed up and moved out to LA, too a house with a pool for three months, and they worked together in a slow, recreational atmosphere.
Three of the songs on the new Blah-Blah-Blah album, “Cry for Love,” “Fire Girls,” and “Winners and Losers,” were from those sessions. Iggy knew “Winners and Losers” was good, but he didn’t want to play it for the record companies, because at the time he was looking for a deal and because there’s the question in the lyric, “Winners and losers, which one am I?” And the kind of people Iggy was meeting out in LA were so madly success-oriented, he thought they might listen to it and think, “If he doesn’t know, we sure don’t.”
The LA sessions were done in an eight-track studio in the bedroom of Olivier Ferrand. The place was very clean; Ferrand is Swiss and very enthusiastic. The three of them initiated the project together. Iggy used his own money to pay Steve for his time and to rent the studio. Ferrand charged about $15 an hour. Iggy had been saving money for two years, waiting for this chance. he would have been broke if he didn’t get a contract.
After three months Iggy went back to New York and in November, David Bowie came to town. Iggy went up to see him at his hotel suite, and they played each other their new demos. Apparently, Bowie really like what Iggy was doing, which he hadn’t always in the past, and asked if he could produce his stuff over in Switzerland, before a record company got involved. Iggy had been looking around for the sort of producer who could add a third dimension to his music, who would provide the opposing thumb in his hand, and David was perfect.
Four of the next six months, between November and May, were spent traveling in the Caribbean and in Switzerland, swimming and skiing, meeting some strange and interesting people, and writing his new album. David had learned to use a four-track machine, and Iggy was good practice for him. Together they came up with “Shades,” “Isolation,” “Blah Blah blah,” and “Hideaway.” Later, Bowie wrote the music for “Baby It Can’t Fall.”
The album was recorded at Mountain Studios, in Montreaux. Every morning, around ten o’clock, Iggy and David drove around the lake, listening to a bit of tape that was laid down the night before or maybe just listened to the radio, then got to work, went all day, occasionally takin in some sun or walking around town, getting back to David’s home around 9:30 at night, whereupon they’d eat dinner, watch a movie, and go to bed. There was a kind of rhythm to the session from doing this routine day after day that was tedious, perhaps, but not unhealthy.”
“The record, however, sounds urbane, like it could have been made in New York or London or LA, because it wasn’t written in Switzerland; it was written all over the place. Most of the lyrics were written by Iggy at his window in New York, overlooking Mercer Street.
“What I learned from the past five years since Party, my previous last record on a major label: One—to do my work without being intoxicated. I used to think unless I’ve screwed five girls this week, I won’t be sexy anymore, and maybe, if I don’t get high right now, I won’t be able to write a song. Two—to work hard; I used to depend much more on my abilities to perform, but I didn’t work that many hours a week or that hard, compared to what other people used to do in this world and, consequently, my work would suffer.”
“Three—to take some time off, focus my mind, and clean up my body. Four—to control my temper, which used to get in my way all the time. Five—to not feel filthy after doing business; I always prided myself on being outside the world of organization and though of myself as someone who was never going to stand on a line, never going to fill in a blank. Now I can do all these things without losing passion.”
In the last three years since Zombie Birdhouse on Animal and his last tour in 1982, Iggy went to LA for six months, where, with a good doctor, he got himself together physically; met a good business manager, who helped him get himself together financially; joined a swimming club and spent a lot of time in the water; moved to New York; took acting classes; joined SAG; auditioned for movies, just like any other starving actor, except he wasn’t starving; found his own apartment for the first time in his life; signed a lease for the first time in his life; took out the garbage for the first time in his life; stopped flirting; read some good books; spent two to four hours a day writing—one thing he wrote about one morning was packing up old clothes (he had too many old clothes and had to get rid of some, and he started remembering how he felt when he got each garment and what he did while waring it and why he wants to get rid of it); and worked on his music until he was ready and able.
Iggy supported himself on the many he earned from publishing (he had three songs on Bowie’s Tonight album and a song on Bowie’s Let’s Dance, plus a catalog of about 90 of his songs that sell steadily); BMI checks from airplay; and movies using his songs (Desperately Seeking Susan, The Hunger, Repo Man).
“To be a member of the middle class, there’s a certain mercantile definition of safety and favorable position to which one aspires, and once you’re there at the goal line you’re happy to go around that spiral again, and I know a lot of people like that, but they ain’t artists, they don’t live with my compulsion. I’m compelled to face myself in the morning. you can call it living in the stream of living things. My work comes first, not what I can get out if it. I’m not trying to run down to the river with a bucket and see how much water I can get out of it to put in my little tub. I’m kinda jumping in.”
“From time to time I’ve been sucked in, like everybody else, by this terrible pressure in our society to have fun and be ecstatic. If you buy a Ford, you’re going to turn into a cougar and jump on top of a billboard and screw the girl in the black velvet dress. You’re going to do zero to sixty in five seconds and everybody’s going to look after you. Who was that four-wheeled man? And if you eat a candy bar you’re going to get this big smile and win an Olympic event, and eventually, in our daydreams, we all think we’re Superman. Rock singers are nothing but low-grade forms of Superman. We’re nothing but a bunch of trash Supermen. You know, Iggy Pop can’t cry. I want to get more down to earth. I like earth. It’s a fun place.”