Photos by Ebet Roberts
Iggy Pop’s leather jacket and biker boot clad, fuck-the-world nonchalance belies the obsessive, meticulous genius that bolstered the punk rocker to international acclaim as one of the first- and best- to spit squarely in the eye of the mainstream and live to tell the tale.
It’s been a busy year for the 69 year-old artist. In March, he released his 17th studio album, Post Pop Depression, in collaboration with Josh Homme; on October 28th, Gimme Danger, Jim Jarmusch’s documentary on the Stooges, hit theaters; in between, Pop has toured internationally, played benefit shows and even done some modeling.
On a Friday evening in early November, he somehow found time to drop by Rizzoli Bookstore, in New York City’s NoMad neighborhood, for a Q&A with label executive turned music historian, Jeff Gold, to celebrate the launch of Gold’s latest work, TOTAL CHAOS: The Story of The Stooges / As Told by Iggy Pop.
Pop arrived half an hour late to a packed, eager audience (“we’re past firecode regulations!” a harried employee kept explaining to the long line of fans who couldn’t fit into the small back room), and after making himself comfortable—he swung one leg over the arm of the chair, much to the amusement of the crowd—he didn’t take long to address this prolific period in his life; “I’m pretty wiped out right now,” he said matter-of-factly, and when asked about upcoming projects, added, “I don’t have any axe to grind or message to humanity.”
Exhausted though Pop might be, he was charming and engaged, talkative and more than willing to share entertaining anecdotes from his colorful past. Questions from Gold prompted revelations about his recording sessions with John Cale (who “came to work most nights wearing a cape with an opera collar”) in a “shitty little shit hole” in Times Square above a peep show, to his early live shows (‘”a lot of people were checking it out, but they didn’t want to get involved”), to the Raw Power recording sessions, during which he and his band acted “like four puppies fighting for attention.”
Though his age has brought on a sense of introspective calm, he still commands a room with an electric, boyish, I-do-what-I-want energy. He didn’t hesitate to speak his mind, at one point commenting, “there are so many awful Bob Dylans out there,” to laughs and claps from the crowd, adding, “in the arts it’s a struggle, and when you’re struggling and you see someone getting away with real shit, it makes you angry.”
Iggy brought out a devoted group of fans and freaks and combinations thereof for the event, including several devotees who waited all day for a chance to hear their idol speak, and a snaking line of folks who couldn’t get in for the Q&A but stayed in the hopes of having Pop sign their book. Leather jacket wearing punks mingled with foppish, Chelsea boot clad guys and girls. Pink hair, purple hair, green hair, patches and pins and Iggy Pop shirts from all eras abounded, yet there was a sophisticated air to the gathering, a distinct feel that the old avant garde was present to revel (and rebel) in the company of their peer.
After a 30 minute talk with Gold, Pop gracefully fielded audience questions, offering a surprisingly specific answer to the question, “what were your dancing influences early on?”; “Balinese and Javanese court dancing, American Indian, James Brown,” he answered without hesitation, adding, “Now I like to do kind of the things you’d see on the side of a Greek Vase.”
The night’s most magical (and somewhat surreal) moment came when Iggy, asked about writing the theme for the ‘80s cult, Sci-Fi classic, Repo Man, set the scene: living in LA, “I had a futon, a Stratocaster, a suitcase and a girlfriend,” and explained that the director commissioned the song and paid him “life saving money at the time.” Then, out of the blue, Pop recited the entire theme song- written some thirty years ago- from memory, turning it into a moving spoken word piece, a reinvention of the raucous rock ‘n’ roll that defined his youth. “Life roars by you in a blur/Leaves you murmuring a dirty word.”
The night wound down with that perfect exemplar that Iggy Pop’s work has always been a few thrusts ahead of its moment. But it also stands up over time, as if to prove the staying power- regardless of age, sex or creed- of a little rebellion.