With his outrageous and sometimes dangerous stage antics and the relentless rock & roll that accompanied them, Iggy Pop prefigured both Seventies punk and Nineties grunge. Acting as an eternal misfit and a saboteur of all convention, Iggy has parlayed twisted social commentary, raw-power vocal style, and survival smarts into a long career characterized by some commercial success, sizable critical notice, and huge amounts from of respect all over the pop landscape.
Born James Newell Osterberg in Muskegon, Michigan, on April 21, 1947, he played drums as a teen in a local garage band, the Iguanas. He dropped out of the University of Michigan in 1966 and went to Chicago, where he listened to urban blues on the South Side. He returned to Detroit as Iggy Stooge and, inspired by a Doors concert, formed the Stooges.
They debuted on Halloween 1967 in Ann Arbor and were appropriately frightening onstage: Iggy contorted his shirtless torso, let out primal screams, rubbed peanut butter and raw steaks over his body, gouged his skin with broken glass, and dove into the crowd (a full two decades before stage diving became the norm) while the Stooges played raw, basic, hard rock & roll. Some thought the band was the embodiment and the future of rock; others were appalled.
In 1968, the Doors' label Elektra signed the band, which also included Ron Asheton on guitar, his brother Scott Asheton on drums, and Dave Alexander on bass. Though their first two albums, The Stooges (1969) and Fun House (1970), would be hailed as seminal punk a decade later, the records sold only moderately upon release.
The band went through various personnel changes following Fun House, eventually breaking up, with Iggy retiring for more than a year to kick a heroin addiction. Around this time, he ran into David Bowie, who resolved to resurrect Iggy's career. Bowie regrouped some of the Stooges and produced Raw Power (1973), a critical success.
A dispute with Bowie's manager Tony DeFries forced Iggy and the re-formed Stooges onto the road without a manager. Through 1973 there was a return to drug addiction and by the next year the band nearly imploded.
Iggy spent 1974 and 1975 in L.A., trying to solve assorted legal problems. He committed himself to an L.A. mental hospital and was visited by Bowie (whose "Jean Genie" on the 1973 Aladdin Sane is said to be about Iggy). In 1976 Bowie took Iggy with him on his European tour, after which they settled in Berlin for three years. Concurrently, Bowie produced Pop's 1977 albums The Idiot and Lust for Life, meditations on modern malaise that benefited from Bowie's professionalism; other albums of this period, like Metallic K.O. and Kill City, were semi-bootleg issues of older Stooges-era material.
In 1977 Iggy toured the U.S., with Bowie (unannounced) playing keyboards; Blondie was the opening act. Signing to Arista in the late Seventies, Iggy released New Values (1979), an album of trenchant rock. His other Arista work, however, suggested the beginnings of self-parody and sold dismally. Publishing his autobiography, I Need More, and signing with Blondie guitarist Chris Stein's Animal label in 1982, he put out another strong collection, Zombie Birdhouse. Yet only when "China Girl," cowritten by Pop and David Bowie, appeared on the latter's 1983 Let's Dance and became a hit for Bowie did Iggy achieve a measure of financial stability and mainstream interest.
With Bowie producing and ex–Sex Pistol Steve Jones on guitar, Blah Blah Blah showed Iggy attempting his most accessible music; peaking at #75 in 1986, it fared nearly as well as The Idiot (#72, 1977), but alienated some of his hard-core following. Beginning in the mid-Eighties, Pop began accepting character roles in movies (Sid and Nancy, The Color of Money, Cry-Baby, the kids movie Snow Day, and Dead Man); he was sought after as punk's elder statesman, even though Iggy's outrageousness by then was less a daily reality than a determined role. Married in 1984 and a proponent of at least his version of domestic bliss, Iggy reserved his animal spirits for recording. Instinct (1988) was Pop at his most metallic; Brick by Brick (1990) had him trying again for accessibility and duetting with Kate Pierson of the B-52's on "Candy." Lauded by critics, American Caesar (1993) was his return to raw form, helped out with guest vocals on two tracks by one of his chief successors, Henry Rollins.
If anything, Naughty Little Doggie (1996) rocked harder. By that time Pop enjoyed genuine cult-legend status. He was invoked as muse/hero in Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting and Danny Boyle's film of that novel (which used "Lust for Life" on its soundtrack); filmmaker Todd Haynes patterned Velvet Goldmine on the Pop-Bowie relationship; and in 1997 Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were featured on We Will Fall: The Iggy Pop Tribute. Pop ended the century with Avenue B, a dark, string-laden work, influenced by his fondness for Frank Sinatra. Musings on turning 50 and the fallout from his recent divorce, the album was intensely introspective.
In 2003 the Stooges reunited, collaborating on Iggy's Skull Ring and performing live across Europe and the U.S. Channeling their momentum as a working band, Iggy and the Asheton brothers finally found their way back into the studio to record their first album since 1973's Raw Power. The Weirdness, produced by Steve Albini, was released on March 7th, 2007. The following year Madonna, in protest of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's failure at the time to have yet inducted the Stooges, asked the Stooges to perform some of her songs in her place; Pop sang hard-rock versions of "Burning Up" and "Ray of Light."
Pop's longtime friend and Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton died at 60 of a heart attack on January 6, 2009. Five months later Pop released another solo album, the quieter, electronic- and jazz-informed Pr éliminaires, inspired by a French novel and including music that sounds more like Leonard Cohen and French singer Serge Gainsbourg than it does punk or hard rock. Iggy and the Stooges were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.
Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001). Mark Kemp contributed to this article.