Iggy Pop 2


“I used to lead a quiet life / In fact it was a bare existence /
I passed out on many floors / I don’t do that anymore”
(Iggy Pop, ‘I’m a Conservative’,1979)

Living In Manhattan’s Alphabet City, Iggy Pop (obviously) gets street hassle. Drug hassle.
The drug scum come up to him all the time. Not offering him drugs but trying to buy them off him.
“They think I’m a drug dealer,” he moans before grinning. “That’s cool. I can live with that.”
Black leather jacket, Evil Dead T-shirt — dressed basically like a drug dealer — Iggy James Osterberg Pop leaves his apartment and walks over to the Life Cafe, a small, intense man shuffling in the city rain.
Iggy is charm personified, so blessed with humility that he apologises for not doing the interview at home in case I might find it difficult to slag the shit out of his new record.
He has an enormous, excited face, jagged teeth, a rich, deep Detroit voice, old man’s fingers and the crazy good humour of a manic extrovert/introvert. His body, his neck, is made of stallion’s muscle.
Black wraparound shades and a leather cap pulled down tight disguise eyes that comprise equal parts unease and excitement, wild warmth and that greedy old lust for life.
Iggy Pop still defines as: intensity, insecurity and sudden self-identity plus paranoia, physique, personality: isolation and panic.
“I have a terrible tendency to panic, yeah. Like, I hate travelling by car at night on an American highway. Terrifies me. I spent most of the Eighties – most of my life – riding around in somebody else’s car, in possession of, or ingested of, something illegal, on my way from something illegal, to something illegal with many illegal things happening all around me: robberies, assaults, drug deals… Somehow, some-how, I didn’t get killed. I don’t know how the fuck that happened. That frightens me now… Did it frighten me then ?”
He pauses. “No.”

In the twenty-six lives of Iggy Pop, the letter ‘a’ stands for abstinence.
This is his new life.
“The biggest problem I have is promiscuity, that’s a bitch. It’s usually stupid — with drugginess or drink. I don’t have a problem because I’m not AA. I don’t have a rule. I ain’t against all that. I’m for it, heh-heh. You’ve gotta get down. Fuck it… It’s just, I know exactly what horrible side effect is going to come up and put its arm around me, ha-ha-heh-heh…
“My attitude is, we know a lot more about drugs now and besides… In the Sixties there were a lot more places to crash, you know what I mean ? Hahahahaha.”
Iggy’s laugh is like a rocket taking off.
“If I had just one puff of pot right now, I could not talk to you, I’d be that paranoid. A little bit will go a long way hahahahaha. In the wrong direction, too, know what I mean ? Hahahahaha… I was in a psychiatric institute where the people there had got there without drugs. Why take drugs to get there quicker ? It’s not even glamorous… I mean I’ll have a beer, or a glass of wine at the end of the day. I’ve been known to smoke pot on occasion.”
For a moment – it’s a moment – Iggy sounds like a totally reasonable liberal citizen, the Iggy we’ve heard about – whose new regime of abstinence includes acting, golf, sobriety, painting, a settled marriage with Japanese wife, Suchi.
A wild burst of laughter breaks the bubble.
“Hell, I’ll do a line of coke maybe three, four times a year. For me now, that’s like a biiigggggg treat hah-hah-hah. It’s like wwwwooooooo ! The Wild One. Heh-heh-heh. The last time I scored some coke, I didn’t even get through half a gramme hahahahaha. I’m a shadow of my former self hahahahahahahaha.”
Iggy’s raucous, rather unstable laugh circles wildly round the room with all the excitable energy of its master, like an echo of a drug-crazed crackle. Iggy can afford to laugh. For one thing, he’s still alive.
“I’ve earned my fucking medal ya know ? I was lucky I got through all that bad shit. Now leave me alone. I never want that again… I still kinda enjoy watching other people doing it though hahahahaha.”

In Iggy’s lifetime lexicon ‘c’is for cocaine and the cocaine consequences.
“I’d always do the biggest line possible. Ten minutes later I’d have this weird, frozen, contorted face, drooling and babbling… Miserable. You have to pay a price, yes. Shooting coke lost me my eye muscles. I never shot into my eye, I just know empirically: my vision would always blur shooting coke. I’d be so blind, I’d be jabbing blindly in my fucking arm. I have to wear glasses to read now and that’s a drag.”
He pauses.
“But hey a lot of people have to wear glasses ! And they ain’t even seen anything of life hahahahahaha. It makes it harder for you to face the shit you’re gonna have to face in yourself in the end.”
Iggy has faced himself after twenty years of incidents and adventures; symptoms of, and Iggy’s treatment for, his intense isolation.
“I was always a really isolated person – hardly hung out with anybody, even the guys in my group. I’d spend my time in my room or walking around the streets on my own, thinking, ‘What should these words be ? What is this band about ?’ Most people haven’t scared themselves since high school. I’m still scared, most of the time. I felt that filming Cry-Baby, and Hardware, recording Brick by Brick, getting back to the acoustic guitar, doing these college lectures. They wanted music. What they got was my Theory of Existence haha. [Grouchy] ‘You’re all isolated, all narrow-minded, don’t listen to rock music, stop watching television, yawn yawn…’ I still feel like a guy making some pretty good stuff but always in danger of having the rug pulled away from under me.”
Asked what his motto would be, Iggy says: “Don’t tread on me.”

Iggy is weird not only because of the chemical residues, the psychotic stain, but also the huge heart, the terrible tenderness. Remembering his wild youth Iggy recalls, “I was wild, yeah, mentally. I was never violent. When I used to pick fights with the audience, I’d always pick people much bigger than me, so that I’d lose. Even if I hurt somebody’s feelings, I get very upset.”
An only child (“too much attention”), Iggy is wonderful and weird. It’s the parents.
“I never felt like the other kids. I felt weird. I was smarter than most of them, quicker verbally. My life as a child was very sheltered. My father was a disciplinarian, kept his army haircut, made me get these military haircuts — quarter-inch all round, bought my clothes. A nice man inside, very highly strung, a very shy man, yet he’s an English teacher at high school where you have to stand up in front of people all day. I wanted to be like the bad guys at school — like Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask, a lot of that in me.
“The day I was out of school — platinum hair, shoulder-length as soon as possible, wrecking cars, breaking into houses, drugs, the wildest thing. I put my parents through a lot of shit. I always kept in touch, yeah. That’s my family you know ? My mother said she used to pray for me a lot. I rang ’em up from Germany in the middle of the night once, rambling incoherently. I was practically an alcoholic. Awful. My dad just went, ‘You’re boring !’ and slammed the phone down. Hahahahahahahaha. He’s a good dude my dad, I like him a lot.”

The rage of Iggy’s manias comes from his dad. Even on Brick by Brick he sings of “standing in the shadows, hating the world.”
“Yeah, I do. I hate the whole fucking thing. My dad’s cantankerous too — that’s why we lived in the trailer park [in Ann Arbor, Michigan]. He couldn’t stand the buddy-buddy suburbs shit, watering the lawn, talking to the guy next door. I’m born on the cusp of Aries and Taurus — grouchy, stubborn, miserable, never satisfied.”
Iggy describes the first gig by The Stooges (his first mania) with typically tender, terrible clarity.
“Everybody left. They were embarrassed. Afterwards my friends came up and put their arms around me and asked me if I had mental problems. A lot of my anger and isolation came from comments like that, not being accepted. I didn’t have mental problems, although in a way I was a certifiably insane person — no job prospects, no education, couldn’t play music. Yet my whole orientation for years was entirely uncompromising. I felt that I had a chance to do work which would justify the fact that I was alive, make me feel great to be alive instead of feeling shitty about it.”
Christened during his days with The Iguanas, the word Osterberg disappeared from his career, if not his life.
“One night I hooked myself up to this transformer. I put the two wires to my temples heh-heh-hahaha and nothing happened except all these blue flashes were shooting off my head”
“I authored a character to sing some songs… I used Jim for my sexual name for a long time. It sounded so strange when I fucked some girl and she shouted, ‘Iggggyyy !!'”
Everything about Stoogedom was raw – dirty drugs (acid, heroin, bikers’ speed), dirty sex, raw power. In life’s rock’n’roll circus, Iggy is the strong man – utterly dedicated to his futile, magnificent art, tirelessly committed to stimulation, rebellion and spectacle, zombie behaviour and some weird sins.
“We were not what you might call five well-adjusted young guys hah-hah. We used to play for the lowest common denominator, all the fucking boneheads: the most sexually aggressive girls in the town right behind them. Behind them, anyone who was just interested in mental aberration… There’s a tape with a guy screaming, ‘Iggy ! Iggy ! Lobotomy ! Lobotomy !’”

One mania leads to another. In the lexicon of Iggy’s life ‘k’ stands for kicks. Not because of curiosity. He wasn’t even having a good time.
“I was having a bad time. Things weren’t going well.”
His maniacally thorough experimentation with everything from pencils to peanut butter on stage (smeared all over his body) included a liaison with Nico “who taught me to eat pussy, and all about the best French wines and German champagnes” and became myth.
“The peanut butter was once. I only cut myself twice. Once on impulse [with a tequila glass], once planned, out of desperation [with a straight razor]. Even now, if I didn’t clip my nails, I’d raise little welts on my chest… I don’t know where that’s coming from [startled]. Maybe discomfort, boredom…”
Iggy is shocked by stories about his taking hormones (“Goddam, no !”) or piercing his eye.
“‘Out, thoust damned spot ? No way. I did do pencils once or twice, jabbing it in. I cared intensely whether I lived or died.”
‘S’ is for steroids ?
“Nahhhh. Steroids are another whole thing. Around 1980, this house doctor for the Munich Hilton gave me these pills that were a form of steroid. ‘We give these to people who are on their last legs, to make them feel good, take them through the way out.’ Hahahahahahahahahaha. I said, ‘Oh, gimme a handful.'”
These pills carry the dying into death peacefully, making Iggy one of the few people walking this earth to have lived to tell the tale.
What else ?
“Oh, PCP, DMT, MDA, MDMA, LSD, methamphetamine, ‘ludes, cocaine, heroin, injected, smoked, snorted, eaten… Valium, haldo-lithium – they give those to schizophrenics.”
Iggy’s grin gives him away.
“He said, ‘Don’t take more than the dose. You’ll get muscular stiffness’, and I didn’t believe him hahahahahaha. One made me feel good, two, and my neck seized up for twelve hours hahahahahahahaha. It was horrible. It hurt too !” he stops, indignant.
“Everyone says ‘suicide appeal’ and all that. PCP just made me feel like shrinking and growing at the same time. Nine feet tall to three feet tall. It didn’t feel good or anything. I was miserable.”

In the alphabet of adventure, ‘g’ is for guns and ‘t’ for tequila.
“Once I had a gun in my stomach on a bad debt. I’ve had a gun at my head – somebody else’s apartment, jacking coke all night. In the morning, these guys burst in that owned it [chuckles]. I woke up in hospital once – apparently I drove down a one-way street the wrong way, knocked over three traffic signs – with the cops running right after me. Hahahahahaha… I’d drunk two bottles of tequila but I’d actually taken so much cocaine that it didn’t register hahahahahaha. They didn’t have drug tests then. I still had half a bottle with me, I remember that…”
It’s ten years since he took junk.
“There’s a record of the penultimate time – the Paris Hippodrome. I’m screaming ‘Heroin hates you’ heh-heh-heh. I don’t tell them I’m on it… Heroin gets me emotionally overwrought. I just couldn’t care less anymore, you know ?”
Is heroin worth taking once ?
“I’d never considered that before but I’d say no. I really, really regret that. I never found myself getting incredible insight or anything. My career suffered because of it. I was painstakingly slow at the time: it would take me months to get a title. My songwriting partner was fond of it too. I have a feeling heroin destroyed our band.”
Anger, boredom, resentment, even led Iggy to try electro-shock.
“One night I hooked myself up to this transformer. I put the two wires to my temples heh-heh-hahaha and nothing happened except all these blue flashes were shooting off my head. My friends were standing around going, ‘Are you high, Iggy ? Should we try it ?’ I’m going, [blinking, startled] ‘Well I see colours and shit, fuck.'”
Oh Iggy.
“They’ve had to revive me in bath tubs, shoot salt into me. Inject it, yeah, that’ll help you. Hahahahahahahahaha. [Iggy and I find this violently funny.] Don’t try this at home, hahahahaha ! I never had the heart thumper, no, the jump-start. That must be weird, huh ? [Iggy looks impressed. He looks interested.] Mind you, I don’t know if they had one of those back in my day hahahahahahaha.”

Extraordinary Iggy, always looking for the extraordinary, the x-factor.
“I was so desperate to get a buzz… I’d heard you could smoke spiders’ webs, so we went down to the basement, collected them up and stuffed them into this hash pipe. Hahahaha.”
” You mean raw spiders’ webs ?
“Yeah ! Hahahaha. ‘Oh didn’t you know you’re meant to cut them ?’ hahaha !”
What did smoking spiders’ webs feel like ?
“Aw, it just burned your throat really bad.”
Even now you can hear the disappointment in his voice.
“Apparently, there are other things I don’t remember. I used to reach blackout point really easily and still be walking around… I’d wake up with bumps on the head, blood on my shirt and something green coming out of my penis.”
Oh lggy.
“It’s terrible, really… Scary.”
Iggy’s face still looks a little scared.
“I was lucky to get through all that shit.”
Fear hangs in his eyes. They know there’s some damage.
“I’m not in the clear, no.”
It’s a maudlin moment. A mere moment.
“But on the other hand [grinning], I don’t know anybody who hasn’t got some damage. Hahahaha. Between 25 and 40, I felt like a lamp with a wire loose – you had to jiggle it to make it work. Physically and mentally, I have definite limitations. A lot of things go wrong with me. (A great, big goofy grin.) Hahahaha. I have behaviour problems. [The laugh could be considered one of them by some — not by me.) You pay a price. You betcha. I treat myself as if I’m fragile. I think I am.”
He looks fragile, his leather jacket over his shoulders against the draught. Fragile but undaunted.

One important word in Iggy Pop’s life was Bowie, who took him under his wing in 1975, just as Iggy had lost every shred of self-respect.
“Bowie was kooky — that’s the kind of person I tend to hang around with. Bowie had wanted to produce Raw Power but Williamson and he did not get along at all. I learned a lot from Bowie — about hard work and applied strategy. He totally outflanked me in musical war, hahaha. I thought, ‘Hey, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’, hahaha.”
Bowie’s cover of ‘China Girl’ made a colossal difference to Iggy’s life, paying back some $75,000 to the IRS. “It gave me the rent.”
Galling ?
“Galling would be a fair description of one of the emotions. But, hey, it’s better that he did than not doing it, hahahahaha. A lot of people have. Where would I be without them ? What if I was the only one ? Ahahahahaha.”
So Iggy Pop is a new man, with new values.
“I don’t feel very close to the person I was ten years ago certainly. My fears are in different places. I gauge myself by the level of work I’m doing. Soldier was OK, but in 1980 I was incapable – in my work, my life. I feel pretty interested, that’s the main thing, trying to learn new things, like acting. You don’t sing with your butt, or your fucking drug. I’m damn well proud of Brick by Brick. Most of all, I like what I’m saying on this record. Something’s changing my insides. The music I like and am capable of has changed. We were offered a Stooges number in the Doors’ movie, but, you know, what’s the fucking point ?”
(A mid-Eighties Iggy was quoted as describing the other Stooges as “fat incontinent drunks or fuck-ups. I don’t miss them – that old gang-of-mine trip I can live without. Sorry guys, old times are dead times.”)
“So I dropped my guard and let the emotions come out. I wanna rip my sternum open and express some shit. Say stuff I shouldn’t say if I’m gonna be this cool rock ‘n’ roll guy”
On Brick By Brick, you sing, “People should get along.”
“Yeah, they should. People should express themselves and not feel depressed.”
Iggy shows me his apartment, the last painting he did (four years ago). I think it’s better than the Stephen Sprouse on the wall.
Iggy exclaims, “I think so too.”

Vindication is the key word of Iggy’s Nineties. He’s owed something. He was “kicked off” Elektra for Funhouse, which along with the deft depths of New Values (as good as Low but amazingly, depressingly, deleted), Lust for Life, The Idiot, ‘I’m a Conservative’ (on Soldier) and prime Stooges constitute Greatness. Iggy’s own three favourite songs are ‘Tiny Girls’, ‘Down on the Street’, and ‘Cock in my Pocket’.
“Why not ?”
“I thought New Values had content up to its fucking butthole. I wish to God that Williamson was still writing. I knew I needed some new values. I was completely emptied and distraught. I’ve never been fashionable. The Stooges got their first goddamn royalty cheque two years ago. I still don’t sell enough to satisfy the Engulf and Devour Corporations. I don’t have ‘clout’. But you know the one good thing about being alive ? [He gushes with the eager excitement of a child.] I listen to my stuff and to my heroes’ stuff and think, ‘My God. That’s practically as good as Bo Diddley. Goddamn !’ I getta charge outta that.”
Iggy has to get back, apologizing profusely for only giving me over two hours because he’s expected home.
“God I’m sorry. I’m leaving for Europe early tomorrow and I won’t see my wife for three weeks and she’s made dinner and everything.”
He signs my copy of New Values (“Hey Jim, thanx, fucking hell, Iggy”). He’s headed for Avenue B, me back to Hotel 17 on 17th & 2nd.
After a lifetime of questions, I ask him, “When was the happiest time of your life ?”
“Now, probably. The summers of ’69 and ‘70 were pretty good… If my music career was taken away tomorrow, I could live another life, go into education. I got a son, 21. I’d like to monitor him, generally be of some use… I feel good.”
Iggy becomes somewhat serious.
“I don’t feel stable but I feel tougher than I did. I felt like I could die next week and hold my head up about it.”
He pauses pensively.
“On the other hand, I really don’t wanna die here, you know what I mean ? On the Lower East Side, heh-heh-heh. Maybe somewhere warm, Mexico. Lie down, let the birds peck at me. Hahahahahah.”
The laughter of Iggy Pop — mad and eager — is something to hear.
Iggy laughs like a child, like an idiot, a magnificent idiot.