Iggy's inner artist
Raw Power icon Iggy Pop reveals a different side to rock's
favorite bad boy.
The heroin addiction, the public self-flagellation and penis-baring,
the rumors of bisexuality
these are only the more infamous
elements of Iggy Pop's status as a living legend. Unlike
many of the casualties that the rock lifestyle left littered
by the roadside, Pop (b. James Newell Osterberg Jr.), not
only survived the '70s but soldiered on, his ripped
physique an indication of the mettle that allowed him to live
to tell the tale.
But the uncompromising American singer, whose latest album
is last year's Skull Ring, has lately revealed an artistic
side in an exhibition of paintings held recently with (band
member the Stooges guitarist) Ron Asheton in Detroit. "Sometimes
I paint my way into it," Pop explained by phone in
response to a question about the relation between his painting
and his song craft, as he looked out over the Rolls Royces
parked in front of his Miami bungalow. "Once you get
in the music business, you start feeling like an accountant
or a prostitute, and then you wonder, gee, am I still an artist?
Painting is a great way to convince yourself that you're
still capable of creating something intriguing."
Choosing to debut his art away from the glare of the New York
art world, Pop says the exhibition was Asheton's inspiration.
"Ron paints a little bit, and I've been painting
for years. He'd shown some last year and wanted to
do another show, I think actually because he'd sold
a couple to the actress Renee Zellweger
never shown my paintings and I really didn't want to
show 'em in New York. So I thought a Detroit show with
a musical hook to it sounded about right."
Many regard Pop's work with the Stooges as his best,
and whatever your opinion, it certainly will go down as his
defining legacy. At a time when the rest of the pop world
was still coming down from 1967's acid-suffused Summer
of Love, a fire-breathing Pop and the brothers Asheton (Ron
and drummer Scott), offered a look at the world un-enhanced
by rose-tinted lenses.
The creative burst between their 1969 debut The Stooges and
1973's Raw Power proved prescient, hinting at the punk
counterrevolution that was to come later in the decade and
yielding songs like the endlessly covered, "I Wanna
Be Your Dog." But the Stooges broke up reportedly amid
acrimony, making their recent reuniting a surprise for many.
Pop downplays the difficulties between them. "The animosity
among us stayed at the level of things said in print about
the other's personal qualities," he says. "That
sort of thing won't really break you up for long. Later
when it gets to the level of lawyers, and accountants, that's
what really separates bands. Pardon me, but if it's
just some shit you said to a journalist, so what?"
The bludgeon-like directness of Pop's songs has a source,
and it's not simply the unvarnished view of life he
developed growing up in a trailer park in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The son of an English teacher, Pop took his education to heart.
Describing his song craft, he says that some of the archetypical
elements necessary for a good rock song include a memorable
title, and the what, who, when, where and why of journalism.
"I try to follow the things I learned in high school,"
he says, perhaps incredibly. "In creative writing,
be universal. Whatever you write, try and do it in a way that
will mean the same thing in 300 years. It should mean the
same thing to anybody anywhere. And then from debate-I
was on the debate team in high school-tell 'em
what you're gonna tell 'em, then tell 'em,
and then tell 'em you told 'em."
Pop isn't big on metaphor. "Metaphor is great
if you're Bob Dylan, just like theater's great
if you're Shakespeare," he says. "But
each of those people [is] responsible for an enormous amount
of bad art being made by mediocre people who think that if
they do things as if they were great, they'll be great.
Metaphor is beautiful-"Every Grain of Sand"
by Bob Dylan is beautiful-but I'm not Bob Dylan."
Yet in addition to these basic elements of songwriting, emotions
are also needed to make a song resonate. "Something
that gets me sad, wistful, excited, nostalgic," Pop
adds animatedly. "It could be any of emotion-lustful,
aggressive, whatever it is."
He says that the actual creation itself shouldn't take
more than five minutes, but that making a song special could
take much longer. "There might be one element that
might not come together, and that could torture you till it's
right," he says. "You might have to do something
like become a drug addict and wander through cities wasting
your youth until you get the lyric just right."
But the now clean-living, happily married Pop isn't
suggesting that one take heroin, only that it's often
been part of the process. "I'm not prescribing.
You asked me about a lyric, not about health issues,"
he recoils. "And I'm telling you that's
one of the things that keeps cropping up. You look at Baudelaire
and you're looking at laudanum. You look at Rimbaud
and you're looking at alcoholism. Even certain periods
of David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, the Who-you know-good
writers, it comes up. I'm not advocating it, I'm
obviously not using it, and I don't think that's
the way to go today. But you asked me and I said that's
one of the avenues that's taken."
Having survived his demons, Pop approaches his career as exactly
that, although one with unique perks. Asked if at age 56 he
doesn't tire of playing the rock god, Pop confesses,
"Well you know there are certain privileges that go
with doing alright at the job, so I ain't gonna bitch
about it, you know what I'm saying?"
Iggy Pop and The Stooges play Magic
Rock Out at Makuhari Messe on March 20 and Shibuya AX on March
22. See listings for details.
Discuss music with METROPOLIS
readers at http://forum.japantoday.com