April 21, 1947– Iggy Pop:
“Nihilism is best done by professionals.”
Would it surprise my friends or the wonderful readers of The Wow Report to know that I am a fan of James Newell Osterberg, Jr., the music and the man? As contemplated a #BornThisDay feature about Broadway Diva, Patti LuPone, who shares a birthday with Iggy Pop, I metaphorically patted myself on my diverse taste in music (metaphorically, because I am not even limber enough to touch my toes).
Pop is a poster boy for the physical extremes and self-abuse in Rock Music. He was one of the pilgrims of the late 1960s emergence of the Punk movement that would come in the 1970s.
As the songwriter and singer for The Stooges, Pop used his energy against the audience rather than attempting to encourage their support. He snarled lyrics that celebrated the baser aspects of the human condition, a contradiction and contrast to the songs about peace, love and understanding from the hit-makers of the era.
Unfortunately, Pop and his peers, Lou Reed and David Bowie romanticized the use of heroin, a drug that continues to ravage the music biz four decades later.
Pop was raised in a trailer park in Michigan and started his life as a musician as the drummer for his first band The Iguanas, from which got the charming nickname, Iggy. He briefly attended the University Of Michigan, but moved to Chicago, where he learned to play The Blues from performers like Howlin’ Wolf. Inspired by a concert by The Doors, Pop changed in his musical direction, and formed a new band that he named The Psychedelic Stooges.
The new band did their first gig at U of M in 1968, and they toured for the next year. Pop generated a lot of buzz, an especially energetic performer, if not always in a way appreciated by the audience members. He began leaping into the audience, a move later popularized at punk shows as “stage diving”. He smearing himself with food and cut himself with broken glass.
Except for of a small, dedicated group of fans, public reaction to the Stooges’ live shows was mostly negative, and the response to their first album was indifferent. But a second album, Fun House (1970), with the single Down On The Street somehow ended up on the charts. Yet, the internal dynamics of The Stooges had started to unravel because of the unabashed drug and alcohol use of its members, and Pop struggling with his heroin addiction. The problems had a noticeable impact on the Stooges’ live act, and they lost their recording contract in 1971.
In 1972, a chance meeting with Bowie was impetuous for Pop to continue with his career, and a deal with Columbia Records was arranged with Bowie’s help. Pop and Bowie went to London to begin work on a new album. With a new band, now called Iggy And The Stooges, the new album disappointed the execs at Columbia, who had expected a Pop solo album. Despite Bowie’s involvement, Raw Power (1973) kept with the tradition of poor sales and the band broke-up the next year.
But, Pop went back to Bowie for help with his stalled career. Bowie took Pop on his world tour for the Station To Station album, and then the pair settled in Berlin, bringing a period that would be exceptionally productive for both of them. The first two Iggy Pop solo albums: The Idiot and Lust For Life were both released in 1977. Both albums placed in the UK Top 30 and gave Pop his first taste of commercial success. A world tour followed, with Bowie on keyboards.
But, the success was short lived. Pop’s next three albums failed to generate sales, and his label dropped him.
The renewed interest in Pop’s music in the mid-1980s was, yet again, instigated by Bowie: this time though a new recording of Pop’s song China Girl on Bowie’s massively successful album Let’s Dance (1983). Royalties from the song, along with another Pop song, the title tune on Bowie’s follow-up album Tonight (1984) gave Pop another crack (so to speak) at dealing with his heroin addiction. Bowie produced Pop’s next solo album Blah Blah Blah (1986), with tracks credited to Bowie/Pop, plus a cover version of Johnny O’Keefe‘s Real Wild Child, Pop’s his first Top 10 Hit.
Pop made another Stooges style album, Instinct (1988), which was a commercial flop, and Pop was dropped from his label again. He signed with Virgin Records and released Brick by Brick (1990) which found the perfect compromise between the hard rock and commercial pop extremes of Pop’s music. The terrific single Candy, a bright duet with The B-52s’ Kate Pierson made it to the Top 20. Also in 1990, Pop played Vincent Bugliosi in the Manson Family opera composed by John Moran.
In the 1990s, Pop put out Pop Music: American Caesar (1993), Naughty Little Doggie (1995), and a dip into Jazz with Avenue B (1999). Pop was finally a Rock and Pop Music Icon. This was significantly aided by the use of his song Lust For Life in the heroin romp film Trainspotting (1996 directed by Danny Boyle, and cover version of Pop’s songs by performers as different as Slayer and Tom Jones.
Pop has also dabbled in acting, taking small roles in films like Sid And Nancy (1986) and The Color Of Money (1986), Cry-Baby (1990), Snow Day (2000), Coffee And Cigarettes (2003) and inexplicitly, The Rugrats Movie (1998).
In the aughts, Pop returned to Stooge’s style rock with Skull Ring (2003) with collaborators Green Day, Peaches, and The Trolls, reuniting the three surviving original members of The Stooges for the first time since 1974. In 2004, Pop opened for Madonna‘s Reinvention World Tour. In 2008, Pop helped induct Madonna into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, performing raucous versions of Madonna hits, Burning Up and Ray Of Light. The Stooges were inducted in 2015.
My favorite Pop album is Préliminaires (2009), a lush, romantic work with jazz touches. Pop said that the album was his response to being “sick of listening to idiot thugs with guitars banging out crappy music”.
Last month Pop released a more rockin’ album, Post Pop Depression, & he is touring this summer.
Pop lives in Miami. Like me, he is a vegetarian, and has done ads and promotions for PETA. In the terrific Todd Haynes’ film Velvet Goldmine (1998), Ewan McGregor portrays a character loosely based on Pop. McGregor performs the Stooges songs TV Eye and Gimme Danger in the film.
My little Rat Terrier, Junior, claims that Pop’s I Wanna Be Your Dog is his favorite song ever.
Despite their very close friendship, including living together for most of a decade, Bowie and Pop insisted that they were never lovers. Still, Pop identifies as bisexual and he has said that he does get around and admits that he’s known for having had lots and lots of sex. He says of that reputation: “I wish I could have had more.”
“I would characterize my penis as sort of like a powerful interest group within a political party at this point. It used to be the entire political party.”