- 20 Sep 02
He's still wild at heart, but somewhat less weird on top now that he's found his very own version of domestic bliss. James Jewel Osterberg, alias Iggy Pop, talks to Liam Fay, who predicts that the Igster's performance will be the highpoint of Feile '93.
I HAVE before me a rare copy of Iggy Pop's auto-biography. It was handwritten by the man himself and, amazingly, he manages to compress his real wild life into three and a bit pages of record company notepaper.
The text is light on grammar and punctuation and is littered with unprovoked capital letters. The actual handwriting is flamboyant, careless, vehement and very erratic. In other words, it's just as you would expect it to be.
"OK, I'm Iggy Pop and this is my life," he begins. "I got born in Michigan, 1947. Mum and Dad, hard-working and arrow-straight. School teacher and executive secretary. Lived at Coachville Yonder Mobile Home court, Lot 96, 3423 Carpenter Road, Ypsilanti, Michigan, USA."
Like the old joke goes, trailer parks are the reason God invented tornadoes, and the young Iggy (real name James Jewel Osterberg) hated life in Coachville Yonder. Pretty early on, however, he started to find release from his grim environment by both listening to and making music.
"Age 5, played drums with my Lincoln Logs and Jinkertoys," he recalls. "Age 8, heard Sinatra, wanted to sing. Smart in school, but no homework. Most Likely To Succeed, 9th Grade. 10th Grade, 1962, formed Iguanas, High School rock band. We cut a single in our senior year, and the summer of 1965 we got a gig in Northern Michigan at a joint called The Ponytail Club. WOW! Professional employment, far away from home.
"Five 45-minute sets a night, 15-minute breaks, six nights a week, a bare cabin with cold running water, five mattresses and one electric socket. Pay - 50 bucks a week. I plugged a phonograph into that socket and listened to OUT OF OUR HEADS and BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME all summer.
"Started getting WILD, grew my hair to my shoulders and dyed it platinum. Got arrested and took my first mug shot. Got fired from Ponytail!
"U. of Michigan, dropped out '66. Blues band called Prime Movers, playing bars, Detroit and Chicago sometimes. Loved Butterfield Band/Junior Wells/Buddy Guy/Little Walter/Otis Rush. WOW! Found two High School dropouts on Michigan Street corner, '67, to start Stooges. Totally did our own thing, like nobody else. Three great albums, '69, '70, '73. Went nuts from the life, got screwed in the business.
"Went L.A., went underground, more arrests, hard times. Resurfaced '76 with first solo album, recorded by Bowie. Lived Europe with Bowie two years. Two albums, both great. One live recording, so-so.
"Loved Berlin, hated L.A. Still do. Both. Lots more albums (total 15), half great, half so-so. Ups, downs, N.Y.C., London. N.Y.C. again, my permanent headquarters now. Got a place in Mexico to go when I can't stand it anymore. Love my garden, my wife, my dog and cat a lot, but also love noise, aggravation, girls, regular guys, music, as much. Drink beer and wine sometimes. Hate publicity whores, hokey music, people who wanna use me and conceited dicks.
"Ambition is to make better music, live life in peace and then die."
The foregoing is, of course, merely the gist of the Iggy Pop story but it's a damn fine gist. That glancing reference to ups and downs, however, is one of those noises-off-stage directions that covers a multitude of sins, and I do mean sins.
From his early teens onwards, Iggy decided to burn maximum rubber on the fast lane of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. He is, by his own definition, "a certifiable maniac" with an addiction to activities that "have a better than evens chance of killing me within a week".
There has been violence, both towards himself and towards others, suicide attempts and years of vein-popping drug abuse. His cocaine binges with collaborator, David Bowie, in Berlin during the seventies are the stuff of legend and very nearly killed them both.
Onstage, his mania for self-destruction was clearly evident. Iggy would often punctuate his concerts by repeatedly pummelling himself in the mouth with his microphone until he started to bleed. Other times, he opted for the more direct approach of slicing his bare chest with a blade.
All that is in the past though. These days, Iggy Pop is all cleaned up and, as you can gather from the closing lines of his autobiography, a man of much simpler pleasures. When I met him backstage at a Hamburg rock festival a couple of weeks ago, I was struck by how energetic, healthy and even athletic he looks. A slight but noticeable quiver of the head and hand and considerable deafness in one ear appear to be the only ravages bequeathed by his years of debauchery.
While we posed for a snapshot, I put my arms around his shoulders and could literally feel his muscles rippling. I sucked in my stomach and cheeks but I still felt like a twenty-five stone behemoth beside this little panther.
"Common sense," he replies when I ask the secret of his super fitness. "My wife's a good cook and I go to sleep at night and all that shit like you're supposed to. I've got a Korean guy who comes in, a Tai Chi master, and I do these funny Chinese exercises. I look like a fool when I do 'em. I look like a frog 'cause I have to puff up my stomach full of air. But it seems to work. I do it every day. You gotta do something at my age."
Nevertheless, Iggy is quick to stress that his latterday conversion to a domestic regime has in no way diminished his lust for life and loud, iron-clad rock riffs.
"My wife's a maniac anyway," he says. "She used to be a Japanese punk and that's a very rare thing. It's not like we get up in the morning and go (adopts high-pitched, lovey-dovey voice) 'Hi dear, I love you so much!'. We each have our own space. And most of that shit is over-rated anyway, all that leave-me-alone-I-need-to-shoot-up-and-create bullshit."
Right now, Iggy Pop is on a roll. He feels that his time is about to come and that he's really only starting to achieve what he wants to achieve.
Certainly, he was on peak form during his Hamburg show. The concert was breathtaking, a 45-minute best-of sandblaster that would put most - no, make that all - of his younger competitors to shame. and, what's more, I'll bet dollars to dough-nuts tht his Friday night headlining stint at Féile will be the outstanding highlight of the weekend.
There was a time when Iggy used to feel more than a little bitter about how he had been under-rated and even ignored for so long in his native country. He's a lot more laid-back about things like that these days but he still prefers Europe to the U.S.
"There's something about the States that makes it hard to see certain values," he insists. "If you have a little distance you can get outside of 'This is cool, this is good, it's just like another group and if you like that we've got seven more groups just like that and if you don't like 'em, nobody's gonna hire you and your dog is gonna be ugly!'. I got some really good fans in the States, the ones I got. But sometimes I just like to say (shouts) 'Fuck America!' "
There is a sense now, however, that Iggy Pop feels pretty comfortable with his current position in the great rock'n'roll pantheon. "A music generation is about five years," he says. "Every five years there's like a new crop and I reckon I've seen about five of 'em now."
And what does he make of his contemporaries in this particular era? "Criticism of what they do is not my job," he says, waving his fingers in the air and pulling an even more distorted than usual face. "I don't have to say."
Iggy Pop has recently recorded a new album which is due for release in September. In the meantime, I strongly urge you to catch his appearance at Féile '93. We'll leave the final word to the Ig himself.
"Check out my fucking record 'cause it's really good," he says. "When I play around your town, check that out too because that'll be the same, only more so!"