Iggy Pop is nicknamed ‘the godfather of punk’, but, as is often the case with all such labels, it ends up being an unfair and reductive summary. On the one hand, because Iggy has done a lot of things throughout his career that have nothing to do with punk, so we ended up pruning the character to fit a manageable stereotype. On the other, although perhaps it is the same fact approached from the other extreme, because practically all of his supposed godchildren lag far behind, far from the achievements that Iggy reached at the time of his greatest creativity. He doesn’t need that kind of retroactive relevance. The American vocalist, who is now 76 years old and will be one of the headliners at the next Azkena Rock Festival, can boast records from half a century ago that overwhelm and crush the listener with the same force as when they were released.
It is true that punk achieved something that seemed impossible: more or less automatically, Iggy went from being a failure to being a myth, without intermediate scales, without any global hit to justify the sudden metamorphosis. In the late 1970s, somewhat unexpectedly, the trends of the moment caught up with this grown-up madman whose career had stumbled throughout the decade: some of his records garnered critical acclaim but went nowhere in the mainstream. business level, while others didn’t even offer him the consolation of positive reviews. But, in that search for references that refutes the idea of the punk movement as a blank slate, Iggy’s attitude was an exemplary model: a mixture of brutality, self-destruction and blind conviction that was at the antipodes of the pomposity and pompousness of rock. symphonic.
James Newell Osterberg Jr. began making music in 1963 as a drummer for the band The Iguanas: this is where he got his stage name, while the last name, somewhat incongruous with his sonorous inclinations, was borrowed from an acquaintance named Popp. The Iguanas made willful versions of Chuck Berry, the Beatles or the Stones. But, from there, our man described a sudden lurch to lead The Psychedelic Stooges, who were dedicated to conscientiously demolishing rock and roll: their first concert, held on Halloween 1967 in their city, Ann Harbor, is mythical: Iggy , wearing a wig made of tinfoil strips, went about making noise with a vacuum cleaner and mixer, among other unlikely instruments. The band would eventually shorten their name to The Stooges and become one of the most thought-provoking and misunderstood rock groups in history.
The Stooges released three albums like three suns, or rather like three dark clouds in the middle of a storm. The first, the self-titled LP from 1969, is produced by The Velvet Underground’s John Cale, and presents with some restraint what was to be his style: stubborn, stale rock that oozes electricity, frustration and rage. The second, ‘Fun House’, is a portent of savagery that spills over onto the B-side, as The Stooges cease to be bound by the traditional idea of ’song’ and incorporate the yelps of Steve Mackay’s saxophone. And the third, ‘Raw Power’, already in 1973, with a new formation and credited to Iggy & The Stooges, supposes a transfer of their sound to more conventional, more immediate schemes, with David Bowie in charge of the very peculiar mixes. All of them sold very little.
With The Stooges he created a stubborn and stale rock that oozes electricity, frustration and rage.
And there he could have ended his career. The final stretch of the Stooges and the period immediately after have a lot of descent into hell. Iggy Pop’s behavior in concerts, always extreme and prone to practices such as throwing himself into the public or self-harm, became increasingly disturbing and unbalanced: lists of his most disturbing moments, with whipping on stage, cuts with glass, circulating on the internet that spattered the public with blood and fistfights with motorcycle gangs. There was a time when a rumor spread that Iggy was planning to commit suicide in the middle of a concert. Dee Dee, the bassist of the Ramones, recounts in the book ‘Please Kill Me’ his experience of seeing the Stooges in 1971: «They left very late because Iggy couldn’t find veins to shoot, since his arms were so fucked up. He was pissed off and didn’t want to get out of the bathroom, so we had to wait (…). They played the same song over and over again. Then Iggy looked at everyone and said, ‘You make me sick!’ And he vomited ».
With Bowie in Berlin
If we’re talking about Iggy today, it’s thanks to his friend Bowie. It is not a conclusion of outside observers, but something that the artist himself never tires of thanking: “he saved me from professional and perhaps personal annihilation, he brought me back to life”, he declared. The British star and the American ‘outsider’ met at Max’s Kansas City, a legendary New York club, and forged a curious alliance. Bowie brought it to England to record ‘Raw Power’, visited him when he was admitted to a psychiatric institution and, later, took him to Berlin, so that both of them could get rid of their serious addictions. There he collaborated on ‘The Idiot’ and ‘Lust For Life’, two unavoidable references to Iggy’s solo. And, to round off his generous contribution, in 1983 he recorded and published as a single his version of ‘China Girl’, a theme from ‘The Idiot’ that they had half-composed and that surely earned Iggy more ‘royalties’ than any record of his.
His on-air behavior, prone to self-harm, became increasingly disturbing.
Because, really, Iggy Pop has never exactly been a bestseller. His realm is live, where he continues to officiate that ceremony of excess that he conceived with The Stooges, although in a more controlled and, we could say, scripted version. Although his records have always been much more varied than the cliché suggests, venturing into universes such as French song, the concerts tend to focus on his liberating idea of rock: Iggy appears bare-chested as a reptilian, bruised and proud, and he is dedicated to jumping without any consideration for that limp that has been accentuated over the years, in addition to causing massive invasions of the stage that have taken away more than one promoter’s sleep. With the ’80s just around the corner, his monomaniacal frenzy has softened, but he wouldn’t be Iggy without the defiant pose—he learned the paradoxical appeal of confrontation from Jim Morrison—and the wandering look in his blue eyes.
“He revived me, saved me from professional and perhaps personal annihilation,” Iggy thanked
That attitude contrasts with the private Iggy, whom everyone describes as warm and patient. “People think he’s a shirtless savage, a Dionysian man who runs across the stage like a pony on amphetamines, and they miss his incredible depth and his interest in history and art,” he said in ‘The New Yorker’ another of his longtime friends, film director Jim Jarmusch. Of course, one detail distinguishes him from many of his colleagues from his farm: Iggy continues to discover music that he is passionate about, with a curiosity that he has not given up over the years. The guitarist in his current band, for example, is Sarah Lipstate, a Californian artist who records mesmerizing soundscapes under the name Noveller. And, on his radio show ‘Iggy Confidential’, the old star plays a variety of selections that can range from FKA Twigs or Sleaford Mods to Andalusian Guadalupe Plata or Cambodian The Cambodian Space Project.
Beyond the topic
“People overlook the incredible depth of it,” praises his friend Jim Jarmusch.
In 2005, when the Stooges reunited visited the Basque Country to play at the Aste Nagusia in Bilbao, Iggy gave this newspaper an interview by fax, with short and sharp answers. There are three of them, as a final burst.
– Where did his aggressiveness come from?
– Of the bad people who hurt me.
– Were you a punk before punk?
– I am a saint.
Have you thought about retiring?
– I’ve always been retired.
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Iggy Pop, the sacred stamp of the wildest rock