Iggy Pop:
"Death... it's a bitch."

jakec / theVine / 2014

Iggy Pop

Gliding through the history of Iggy Pop, you find out not all of it is good. To some folks, Iggy is the Godfather of Punk, a visionary as crude and elegant as, and with the visceral force of, a nuclear a-bomb. To others, he's an expert huckster, a homophobic anti-semitic woman-hater who scammed others as good as he got scammed himself and now sleeps on a bed made of more money than he can comprehend. Both sides unearth their own nuggets of truth; Iggy skirted the problematic and the sexual politics of the person never seemed to live up to those of the persona, but maybe that just reveals the foolishness in trying to find reality in the unreal. As an entity though, some things are undeniable about Iggy Pop: he was, and remains, one of the most explosive performers in history.

And if Iggy has more money than most of his cretin-hop contemporaries, what he's doing with it is probably not much different than what most of you would, either. That's not to say it's good; it's hard to reconcile a limited edition $600 denim vest sponsored by an alcohol brand with calling him any kind of icon of the disenfranchised underground. But shit, if Iggy can do his art and let some other brand handle the biz, as he explains below, then what's the harm?

We talked about fashion and music, death, and America in the years since punk broke.

Hey Iggy, what's been goin' on? What's your day been like? Is it early or late?

Well I get up early in the morning anyway, like I got up really late today which was like 8:30, which was late for me, and I did these Chinese exercises and stuff I do. I was at my place where I live with my family and I had a commute, like other people when they're gonna do some work, I have like a 45 minute commute over here, and I'm in this little art house I keep by a river at the edge of the ghetto in Miami. I'm sittin' here and signin' things and lookin' at my denim patches. That's what I'm doin' so far today.

That sounds ideal. I've heard a little bit about this art studio, could you sorta describe it to me?

It's startin' to rain right now. I just went out the back door so there's a little river here, a little dirty river, it's called The Little River, and it used to be a direct river to the ocean but there were some politics in the 50s, so they built a dam and that made the price of the real estate go down. Let's say in Sydney or Perth, if you have a place to moor a boat, that's some expensive shit right? When the real estate went down, the river got dirty. So it's a really nice mixed neighbourhood here of sweet little old block ladies and Haitian immigrants and young couples that have limited money. It's also a bird sanctuary, so there's tonnes of trees. WHOA! And that was a big lightning strike. When I got the place I built a little tiki hut. Holy shit, did you hear that? Anyway there's a little river here, I'm sittin' in the tiki 'cos I got sick of sittin' in the house. Danger Mouse came over here one day and it said it reminded him of his granny's house. It's kinda like if your granny had a place in Mississippi, it kinda looks like that. I love it here.

Let's talk about this new fashion collection. Don't you think it's funny that a guy most well known for going topless is designing tops?

Well there's no shirts, actually. And vests, all my friends when I started out playin' in the Stooges, and even when I started playin' music, it was mostly bikers and rough trade hippies. If you look at pictures of the crowd around the music scene in Detroit around the 60s and early 70s, you see a lot of guys wearin' vests or a leather jacket with like a tee. This guy Jerry Collins was a pretty rockin' old dude and I just did a belt buckle and a vest, and what I really love are the flash patches. I really liked his sensibility, I thought he was a good artist too.

What do you wanna do with this collection? What sort of impact do you want this to have?

The most important thing to me was not the clothing itself, the initial thrill was the music. They sent me a mock up of a spot they wanted to do and it was a bunch of young people, non-actors, just some freaks all going fucking nuts to what I thought was a really, really, really good edit of the jamming in the middle of 'TV Eye' by the Stooges. And I've never heard anyone choose to portray those moments of our music so faithfully, 'cos me screamin' and yellin' and the guys jammin', you hear the energy rise and rise and rise, and I was really, really pleased with that. We've never been Motley Crue, who have some song that you can't get away from on the radio, so we've always got the music out there through alternative means over the years. That was the big thing.

And then other than that I just thought the guy himself and his art was appropriate. There was arrows, there's death, there's expressions of pride, there's a sense of humour. Those were the four things I liked, I thought those were appropriate to how I feel about myself and the group. That's what it was. Hey, if you wanna wear a vest, there's just a few of them, there might be a few people who wanna do that. Same with the belt buckle. The patches, I would take some of those patches and stick 'em on my ass or whatever, y'know? I really like 'em.

I got some jackets those patches would look real nice on.

Yeah I thought so. So that's about it. I don't think they're gonna fire Chris Bailey at Burberry and pick me up or anything. I'm not lookin' for that.

It sounds like this collaboration has a lot to do with the fact that you and Sailor Jerry share an aesthetic sensibility and a lotta the same values, but why do this with Sailor Jerry? You've got the talent and the money and the access and a big audience, could you not just do this on your own?

No, because at this point it's all I can do to handle the immense complexities of the business organisations behind my own career, the career I've shared with the Stooges, and then my own life. As you get older and you get blessed and burdened with more and more fucking stuff and dough and you're more and more active, you'd be shocked how much comes into it just to keep it all properly managed. It's incredible. You have to hire good people and then watch them. So I'm not set up to go into the clothing business. If I did, within 18 months I'd go bald and have a really big pot belly and probably get some wisecrack accent. It's a whole other world doing hard business. In general, at this point in my life I find myself more and more takin' the posture that I field requests, I'm less and less interested in trying to ram home the success of some venture and lay it all over people. It's more fun to wait until someone talks at me and pay attention to them and talk back. And if what they say is "Hey would you sing on my next record?" or whatever it is, I just listen and I do it or I don't.

You've done some collaborations I really like. The Peaches track, the Sum 41 track.

Exactly! Peaches was a real little whip-ass smartass. I couldn't believe this chick! I'd heard about her and I said "Peaches, baby, do you wanna do something?" and we had so much fun. We did somethin' and I thought that was that and then with 'Kick It', [she said] "Hey, will you be in my video?" and I couldn't say no.

When you think of rock'n'roll in 70s America and the fashion that came out of that, there was one particularly iconic design: the Arturo Vega design for the Ramones. Reckon you could top that?

God I was just thinkin' about ol' Arturo! No I don't think I can fuckin' top that! It was really great what he did for them, it was fucking amazing. A fucking amazing logo. And even, also, the name. A funny twist on that is a lotta people don't know that at the very end of their career, they became a phenomenon in one country, in Argentina. And they were as large in Argentina at a certain point in the mid-90s as the Beatles had been in the Anglo world. They played their last show at River Plate Soccer Stadium. They had 65,000 people and they asked me to open. So I went down there and it was 65,000 screaming little evil kids between 10 and 15 years old, all yelling " RAMONÉS! RAMONÉS!"

Out there, they weren't The Ramones, they were the fuckin' Raaamonés! And a lotta them were with their moms and the moms were rockin' too. Young moms in their little Ramonés t-shirts. I was really, really, really happy for them. They remained consistent all their lives. Like a lot of people who get into somethin' too early and don't get the media boost today, they were so consistent and put out so much stuff that they became taken for granted. It wasn't until they were away from things for a little while that society was able to absorb what was great about them.

What do you think of style these days? You grew up during one of the most stylish periods in recent memory.

Yes, I really did. Not only for the white people and the rock'n'roll but the other day I was lookin' for some tracks for my radio show and I came across a tape of Rufus Thomas doing 'The Funky Chicken' live in Los Angeles, in the Los Angeles Coliseum for something called Wattstax. If you get a chance, look it up, it's on YouTube. It's unbelievable. I think very early 70s. It was a black audience, huge black audience. Isaac Hayes was on the bill.

And they're just such beautifully dressed beautiful people, and the stuff was not expensive. I remember in the Stooges, we would wear some women's clothing, we would wear very, very cheap street clothing, and we'd go to the black part of Detroit and buy these strange Italian shoes that were pretty much only marketed to the ghetto in America. It was a very optimistic time. You saw in the automotive design. The cars were huge and flamboyantly styled.

It was very elegant.

Yeah. In the early 70s when I lived in Los Angeles, I was dirt poor and I was livin' in an abandoned building across the street from what has become a Mondrian Hotel, but at that time it was the center for most of the prostitution in West Hollywood, and you'd see these pimps roll up in an emerald green El Dorado with a leopard skin top and a diamond shaped window in the back. You couldn't help but wanna look like that.

It does seem like as far as the bands we see these days, except for folks like Nicki Minaj, nobody's really doing anything interesting look-wise. Most rock bands look like shit.

I think part of the problem is the fact that the system has become mature enough that the most talented people are aware that if they play their cards just right, they could actually make a whole lotta money really quickly. For that reason I think it makes 'em a little too conservative. They're gonna tend to go to like Barneys or somethin' and dress up in a certain way to get over. Some of the other people, oddly enough, some of the most visually successful looks are guys who go retro. Which is like The Strokes. It kinda worked for them. I understand that, they're very cute.

CBGB is a fashion store now. Do you think when all the musicians are dead fashion will be the only thing left?

Right, right, right, you've got an interesting point. Well, one would hope is that the sensibility of the better musicians who played there would be carried over by some younger musicians. The best thing I ever saw in that room in CBGB's was not the normal fare that people talk about, but in the... gosh it was like the late 80s or in the 90s, they used to have something called All Ages Sunday Afternoon Show. You'd go over there at 3 or 4 in the afternoon on Sunday and there were about 50, 75 vicious little kids slamming into each other, moshing like monkeys on speed, with a pretty fuckin' good thrash, speed metal band. Four of the guys would play while one guy would do a stage dive and start beating up some guy in the audience. I never saw anything [else] like that. It was wonderful. I liked that better than some of the artier stuff I saw there. But it is interesting that that place is being replicated all over. The guy originally didn't wanna start a punk room, he just wanted, what was it, country, bluegrass and other stuff! It was interesting.

You've obviously played a not insignificant role in defining what cool is in both music and fashion. You defined cool by doing one of the most uncool things one can do, which is feeling intensely in public.

You're right about that. I don't know if that defined cool but you're right that that's what I did. It was really, really uncool to do that, and it got a lotta people really mad. When I started, even my name was like a cross between a pornographic insult and farting in public. Grown men would sneer. I would get beat up just over my name. Now there's this Australian girl around named Iggy as well and I'm really grateful. It was loosening up before she came anyway, it got to be okay.

But you're right, and what I tried to do pretty quickly after I got going to counterbalance that was I would wear something really outré, like cheap lamé women's evening gloves, but at the same time I'd try to be very understated and wear like cheap jeans instead of expensive jeans, a very nice Pringle [of Scotland] polo shirt, but it didn't look preppy on me. I'd kind of mix and match but when I started out, the first couple gigs I did for the Stooges, I was wearin' a fright wig and a maternity dress.

A buncha folks self-destructed in the 70s and 80s and 90s and are still self-destructing, and it seems like there was a time where maybe you might've graced the edge of self-destruction as well, but you're still here. That suggests to me that you found something to reaffirm your belief in the goodness of living. What was that?

Well I had two things goin' for me. One was I've always been the sort of person who had other things I enjoyed outside the game. I've always enjoyed listening to birdsong. I enjoy the sea and going swimming. I enjoy reading good literature. That was one thing, there was something I could fall back on, something that could distract me from the fact that my career wasn't going very well and I was ripped off or hated or whatever it was.

The other thing was, I just thought I was hooked up to something that was really valuable and good. I didn't have any way or interest in rating how good it was compared to the Beatles or Brigitte Bardot or whatever, but I thought I had somethin'. I was pretty angry at some points. In fact at one point I actually wrote a poem called "10,000 Iggys." Sorta sayin' 'You're all laughin' at me now, blah blah blah, I can't get arrested, but you just wait, what if some day there were 10,000 Iggys running around free?' And you know, it kinda happened! That was the other thing. Other people who were more grounded and more intelligent in some ways and also more generous than I really helped me. From other artists to certain members of what you'd call the public who were willing to be interested. That kinda helped.

Having been around for a while now, what do you think of death?

Death... it's a bitch. I'm at the point where I realise 'Oh shit! Okay!' I've gotta like, time it, [do] the actuarial tables. I still have enemies and people who don't like me who hope that I die really quickly, which is a real drag. Somebody that I don't like emailed me the other day and said "Enjoy your last few remaining years, asshole!" So there's that, but it does bother me. I'm trying to figure out whether to go for the comfortable slow death or to try to blaze out and try to do everything that would make me euphoric before I'm done. I kinda think I'll go for option A, because option B isn't very realistic in life.