That's what James Jewel Osterberg better known as IGGY POP
From page 33 of Classic Rock Magazine November 1999
has been notorious for since the late '60s. A curious amalgam of punk attitude and hard rock intensity, this seemingly indestructible pioneer has taken all the knocks that life could throw at him and just keeps on coming back for more. GARTH CARTWRIGHT compares battlescars with the man who has been written off more times than Wimbledon FC...
eeting Iggy Pop for the first time is a disarming experience. First of all, he's tiny. Secondly, he's even wilder looking in the flesh than photos suggest.This is a man who can still tear up a stage for two hours while making some of the most furious rock music you'll ever hear. At 52 he's enjoying a rich renaissance.
In 1996, Trainspotting elevated him to the status of cultural icon and his latest album,'Avenue B; is superb. Mixing tough rockers including a crisp cover of Johnny Kidd's 'Shakin' All Over' with spoken word passages, acoustic reflections and a spot of serious crooning, 'Avenue B' finds Iggy dealing with ageing, desire and emotional blockage. It is that rare thing a mature rock album. Sober, healthy, involved with a beautiful Colombian woman, Pop's music is used on both Nike and Grolsch adverts and he has regular acting work. Ewan McGregor even waggled his dick in homage in Velvet Goldmine. Iggy Pop has finally made it to the top and he's enjoying every minute of it.
Yet to get there he took just about the hardest road any musician could travel.
Iggy has always been an iconoclast and, for the first decade or so, he was too left field for the masses to make sense of.
Born James Jewel Osterberg in Ypsilanti, Michigan, he was raised in nearby Ann Arbor during the mid-'60s. The teenaged Osterberg's musical ambitions began when he played drums in a series of Detroit garage bands, one of whom was The Iguanas.The band folded but the nickname stuck.
"The Iguanas were like a local British Invasion-type group. Not very good, y'know?" he recalls."And when I quit them and joined The Prime Movers who were more of a tough blues outfit. I was serious about being a professional musician, so I took. off to Chicago to learn from Sam Lay who had drummed with Howling Wolf and was in Paul Butterfield's Blues Band. I'd made the decision that I wanted to be a good musician it's still what I'm on about, essentially and I wanted to pick the best brains."
Returning from Chicago in 1967, Iggy was inspired to form his own band. Grabbing buddies Ron and Scott Asheton and Dave Alexander he formed The Psychedelic Stooges. No other rock vocalist had moved liked Iggy before. He performed with such possession, scrambled his psyche so totally in thrall of taking the music out there, that he was soon a major star in Detroit.
"There was one point when The Stooges were rehearsing and I was on a psychedelic [drug] called DMT.We were mad at our manager for turning off the heat in our practise room and it was so cold I started to move that day and the band played completely differently. And I was like 'whoa!: After that, realising the energy that it created, I kept moving," Pop says of his stage act. "I was flamboyant, I liked it. I watched a lot of James Brown and I was conscious of Native American dance and music and Balinese and Indonesian dance as well. 1 keyed into a lot of things. Coming from a college town that's a key stop on the information trail between Haight Ashbury and NYU, there was a lot coming through to pick up on."
Starting out as little brothers to the MC5, The Psychedelic Stooges were soon playing Detroit's Grande Ballroom alongside the likes of Sun Ra, Ted Nugent's Amboy Dukes, Alice Cooper, Bob Seger and George Clinton.
The Stooges' live prowess attracted the attention of Elektra Records. In 1969, they were sent to New York to record their selftitled debut with John Cale producing.The resulting album was a minimalist classic, the brilliant wah-wah guitar work of Ron Asheton underpinning Iggy's monotone vocal. As a portrait of numb youth it has been often imitated, but never bettered. The Stooges didn't make much of an impact on the US charts, but around Michigan it was a major hit and soon The Stooges (manager Danny Fields convinced them to drop 'Psychedelic') were the biggest band in the State.
Having moved into a decrepit old farm house renamed Stooge Hall, the band began experimenting with every kind of drug going. Local groupies were shagged at an alarming rate and Iggy began bringing in his blues, funk and jazz influences to the band's potent hard rock brew.This fusion of drugs and musical styles would come to its head on 'Funhouse; one of the most wired albums ever. girlfriends e me..." This follow-up was recorded in Los Angeles in 1970 with saxophonist Steve McKay joining the band. The sound barely resembles their debut, instead it fuses abstract sheets of sound with wild, tribal grooves to make some of the funkiest hard rock ever recorded. Again, Detroit appreciated it but the rest of America merely shrugged its shoulders.
Nevertheless, The Stooges remained a phenomenonal live outfit, and when they headlined the televised Cincinnati Pop Festival (over Grand Funk and Alice Cooper) it was apparent to all who witnessed it that they were the wildest band in the world and Iggy Pop, this crazed twist of a man who threw himself into the crowd and walked on their hands, was a Midwestern shaman.
"The band were getting into some pretty heavy decadence," recalls Cam Branson, an Ann Arbor associate of the band."' remember this girl, she was the local smackhead, coming up to me one time and saying, 'I just opened up Jim's virgin veins'. Initially, it didn't effect them too much as a live band. Iggy would throw up on stage, but he'd do it between verses.Very professional." "We were shooting up every day and passing out every night," laughs Iggy as he recalls The Stooges lifestyle."' was drinking and drugging and screwing and defying."
Inevitably, disaster loomed, and Elektra dropped The Stooges after the label's Vice President Don Galluci visited Ann Arbor and found Ron Asheton in full Nazi regalia and Iggy out of his skull. When Scott Asheton attempted to drive the band's 16 foot bus under a bridge with a 12 foot elevation, leaving equipment and bodies scattered across the road, The Stooges literally fell apart.
David Bowie, who had admired Iggy from afar and would base his characters Ziggy Stardust and The Jean Genie on him, met Pop in legendary New York nightclub Max's Kansas City. Signing him to Tony DeFries' Mainman management, Bowie shipped Pop to London and when no British musician was deemed a suitable sparring partner (Edgar Broughton was initially touted) the Ashetons and new guitar whizz James Williamson heroin and alcohol abuse would claim Dave Alexander and his replacement Zeke Zettner flew in for further extreme music and behaviour. "The first time I came over here, in '72, it was my first time out of the States," remembers Iggy,"and I took a big leap as a person as the standards are high. It's a tough minded place and you get challenged a lot and the behaviour is more controlled, and that's lead to growth."
The Stooges only performed one gig during their London stay, at the Scala in Kings Cross.
"That show changed the history of English music because of who was there," insists Iggy. "They checked up and realised we'd changed the playing field as far as cutting edge went." Eventually, though, Mainman rejected the initial mix of 'Raw Power; packing The Stooges off to Los Angeles with Bowie to doctor the tapes. Bowie's echo-drenched mix was weird, yet 'Raw Power' (originally released in 1973) remains one of the essential releases of the '705. However, Columbia Records freaked at dealing with such a extreme album and buried it, and Mainman in turn dumped the band.
So the Stooges went out on the road with the intent of rattling skulls and causing as much chaos as possible. And they found plenty. The tour and band finally wound up in Detroit on 9th February, 1974, at the Michigan Palace with Iggy baiting an audience that responded by throwing bottles, ice cubes, eggs, coins, cameras (!) and whatever else came to hand.
"You're paying five bucks and I'm making a hundred thousand baby, so screw ya," he goaded the crowd. "Your girlfriends still love me, you jealous cocksuckers."
A tape of the infamous performance was released in 1976 as'Metallic K.O.' and the sound of beer bottles smashing against amplifiers, it has to be heard to be believed.
Afterwards, Iggy and Williamson returned to Los Angeles. Pop was in immense pain from a back injury so he spent most of the time comatose and surrounded by an army of teenage groupies. In his own words, "Iggy
went nuts from the life, got screwed in the business and went underground for hard times in LA."
Drifting into homelessness, he ended up getting arrested when his total drugged-out weirdness scared waitresses in a Sunset Strip coffee shop. Realising that he desperately needed help, Iggy applied for treatment at UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Unit. His slow recovery involved working out and constantly playing James Brown's'Sex Machine' album over and over again. A regular visitor was David Bowie (accompanied by his then girlfriend's son, 12 year old Saul Hudson later to play on Iggy's 1990 album 'Brick By Brick' as Guns N' Roses' Slash) and at weekends Iggy would meet with Williamson to record a set of Stones-flavoured demos that were released as '77's 'Kill City' album.
0 owie had lost none of his fascination with Iggy, convincing him to join his 1976 Station To Station world tour. Cocooned inside Bowie's luxury globetrot the pair began to write songs, yet both artists remained mired in substance abuse. Decamping to Berlin with the intention of cleaning up and setting Iggy's solo career in motion, they only managed to achieve half the equation.
"Berlin was the heroin capital of Europe,"guffaws Iggy "Wasn't that gorgeous, boy, wasn't that good?! They should make more of those walls! It created an interesting free zone because you had, basically, the four powers all facing each other like pitbys over a piece of meat and that was the one little patch of ground nobody really owned. Nobody was in charge it wasn't exactly Germany but it wasn't exactly anywhere else."
Fed on the highest quality heroin and cocaine available, Pop and Bowie produced both 'The Idiot' and 'Lust For Life' an amazing double by anyone's standards, especially when you consider that Bowie also recorded his own 'Low' and 'Heroes' albums in '771 'The Idiot' is a dark masterpiece, meshing wild fuzz guitar with an array of synthesised effects, while Iggy sings some of his most potent songs ever. 'Nightclubbing7Funtime'/China Girl' and 'Dum Dum Boys' (a eulogy for The Stooges) are all included, and Iggy's voice displays an incredible range and dark force. Just as The Stooges had laid the foundations for glam, punk, thrash metal and grunge,'The Idiot' showed how powerful rock could be when combined with new technology.
'Lust For Life' was a return to loud, simple rock 'n' roll and easily the most commercial record Iggy had made. Bowie worked out the pumping rhythm of the title track while playing a ukulele and listening to morse code or" US Armed Forces TV. Touring the States with Bowie in the band they even ended up on Dinah Shore's talk show, but the death of Elvis Presley meant RCA devoted all their record pressing plants to pressing up Presley platters and 'Lust For Life' was unintentionally deleted before it got a chance.
His relationship with Bowie had run its course, so Iggy reteamed with James Williamson (as producer) for 1979's 'New Values', an album that displayed an ability to make subtle, uncompromising rock music. Critics cheered but the public paid little attention, so Pop was forced to earn his living on the road. Not a good idea for someone who feared his extrovert qualities were fuelled by artificial substances.
The albums that followed 1980's 'Soldier', '81's 'Party' and '82's 'Zombie Birdhouse' found him trying to get closer to mainstream rock while running out of ideas. It wasn't until 1986 that he returned to the studio, with Bowie as producer, for the ultra-slick 'Blah, Blah, Blah: This gave him his only ever Top Ten single with 'Real Wild Child: Even though the album contained several fine songs, Bowie's lush production made Iggy sound like a guest on his own record.
"I ran outta gas," says Iggy of the '80s. "I don't know if it was touring too hard or all the things that I used to take caught up on me, or whether it was taking lesser drugs or more hard liquor, more pills, crank... whatever. But I definitely lost my way. Maybe the planets were lined up the wrong way. I don't know. Saturn had it in for me! Ha ha! But something along those lines meant I didn't have the presence of mind and the skills necessary to come up with timely work. There wasn't as much of me in them.'Blah...' didn't work, probably because it had two heads on it."
He hasn't worked with Bowie since, although the two remain friends. "I don't see a lot of he, or he of I. We may see one another a lot in one year then go three years without seeing one another. But there's certainly a dialogue and when we eventually come across one another it's always engaged. In showbiz there's a certain etiquette towards what the more and less famous person does and I've always deferred to him in those senses, to his position, always, which is absolutely correct. And I respect the very high quality, rounded, London product, crafty, worldly individual that he is."
Iggy next made 'Instinct' with producer Bill Laswell and former Sex Pistol Steve Jones in '88. As a conventional hard rock album,'Instinct' has swagger but it rarely sizzles. Reflecting on the fact that his imitators are far richer than he, Iggy remains philosophical.
"Perhaps my antennae are too up there, but that doesn't bother me," he considers. "As long as I can make records, that's OK by me. Maybe one person can change the climate a little bit and I probably did that; set a few people to thinking. I became part of the lexicon, the thesaurus, for these people. I normally don't think of this shit, but in 1968 when I started playing live I was basically the only person moshing in America!" As America learned to rnosh, Iggy finally got the balance right by teaming up with Don Was for 1990's commercially and critically acclaimed album 'Brick By Brick: The song 'Candy' sung with The B-52's Kate Pierson proved a major North American hit and 'I Won't Crap Out' and 'Main Street Eyes' showed him working in an acoustic format while retaining all the power and rage that fuels Pop's best music.
T he next album, '93's back-to-basics 'American Caesar', was among the best hard rock albums of the '90s. Backed by a tough garage band, Pop ripped through 16 originals and a surreal cover of 'Louie Louie; venting his spleen at the blandness and corporatisation eating away at the soul of the US. "All the simple joys of life are disappearing," he states of contemporary America. "There's no room to be eccentric, no room for personality, and one of my great treasures in life is that music's got me the fuck out of there often enough. Maybe I should buy a beret and a chateau in the south of France."
'...Caesa r' a nd '90's'Brick By Brick' proved that Iggy was refining his songwriting and driving his music forward. Always a gifted composer, his songs have covered by dozens of acts and with these albums he created a reservoir of material as strong as his best Stooges and Bowie work. "I'm very critical about each and every word," says Pop."It should stand up.That's why when I first started I used very few words, they were more abstract, word association.There's a lot of repetition and very few words. My aura was to be verbose and the worst for me was art rock, stuff like 'Spinning Wheel' by Blood Sweat & Tears 'did you find a reflecting sign on the straight and narrow highway. And ARRGGHH!... the best British one [by Jethro Tull] was so bad I almost liked it: 'Aqualung, born bom born... snot is dripping down his nose:Yuk!Yukr Apart from the dip induced by 1996's 'Naughty Little Doggy' and let's put that one down to a divorce from Suchi, his Japanese wife since 1984 Pop has continued to release high quality product. Iggy now appears just about everywhere as Jack Lord, The Prosecutor, on John Moran's The Manson Family: An Opera. On The Rugrats soundtrack, and also appears on Shaken & Stirred, the James Bond soundtrack tribute.
Now 52 years old, Pop purports to being in control of his excesses, limiting himself to the occasional beer or glass of wine. Cable channel VH-1 have even devoted a special to his life. Last year, Iggy finally obtained control of his own master recordings and reissued 'Raw Power' as he intended it to sound. In America, a label called Bomp have The Iguana Archives which attempts to issue every Stooges studio recording ever made, while Jungle Records here in the UK have reissued 'Metallic K.O.' with cleaned-up sound and an extra CD (of a '73 concert), as well as issuing the recent double CD 'Nuggets', containing live and studio performances. Not bad for a guy whose career has been written off more than a few times. But, one wonders, after all the years of abuse and wild stage antics, how does the planet's hardest rocker feel in the morning? "Depends on which morning! YuklYukr he guffaws."After doing a show I've go to sleep and sleep well, but not for long because I've absorbed too much nervous energy from so many people. But otherwise, yeah, I generally feel pretty good."