Iggy Pop: Forty Years as the World's Wildest Punk

'I always felt that in rock & roll, something's gotta happen. If it wasn't going to happen in front of me, I was going to make it happen"

April 19, 2007
Iggy Pop
Iggy Pop performs in Chicago, lllinois.
Dove Shore/Getty Images

After the Stooges' set, Iggy recalls, "I walked out to the middle of the floor, in my shorts with these welts on my body, to talk to the talent agent Frank Barselona about possibly booking the group. He said, 'Iggy, I think in twenty years or so, you're going to be a very important guy. But for now, no thanks.'"

Iggy laughs in a rubbery subterranean growl. Half of the fun of listening to him tell Stooges war stories is his vivid comic delivery. The other half is the survivor's triumph punctuating each tale like a power chord. Iggy Pop – born James Newell Osterberg in Ypsilanti, Michigan, in 1947, the mad lad whose kamikaze drug use and ritualistic physical extremism onstage almost killed him before the mid-Seventies – turns sixty on April 21st.

The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Iggy Pop

He is a Stooge again, too. "I'd been in an impossible band, living an impossible life," he says, referring to the notorious on- and offstage chaos that split the Stooges after 1970's Fun House and again following 1973's Raw Power. "But never, since I met Ron and Scott, has a voice been raised between us, a fist made. There was nothing in our way." The Stooges (with bassist Mike Watt replacing the late Alexander, who died in 1975) have been touring since 2003 and are now playing songs from their first album in more than thirty years, The Weirdness.

For eight hours over two days, at the small house in north Miami where he and the Ashetons wrote The Weirdness, Iggy spoke about his entire life: his Michigan origins; the wild birth and crash of the Stooges; David Bowie's role in resurrecting the band and the records he and Iggy made in Berlin in the mid-Seventies; and, of course, he cracks, "the list of thirty-two important transgressions – my stations of the cross."

Photos: Punk Pioneers

But, he insists, before going deep into the mess, marvel and legacy of rock's first and still greatest punk band, "I don't think there was anything wired or weird about the Stooges when we started. We were just creative."

In "Trollin'," the first song on The Weirdness, you sing, "My dick is turning into a tree." Is that something even a Stooge should sing at sixty?
You write about things of importance to you. And it's gotta be for real. Do I think about my dick? Oh, yeah, all the time. If I think about it all the time, I got a right to sing about it. If I wasn't thinking about it all the time but thought, "It's time to write a rock song, I'd better mention my dick," then I wouldn't even be able to say "dick" right. Besides, it's an ecological line. It's not, "My dick is all bad, motherfucker, wickety wackety woo." It's nature-oriented. [Pauses, looking serious, then laughs] It is!

In another new song, "Claustrophobia," you sing, "My second mind is burying me alive." Is that Jim or Iggy? You've answered to both names for most of your life.
Jim has the second mind. I would call it the executive area. I'm wary of terms like "bipolar." But when I've read about that sort of thing, I've certainly seen my past in it.

Were your parents concerned about your behavior as a kid, to the point of taking you to a doctor?
You're asking, "Were there early warning signs of Iggy Pop?" [Laughs] Not at home. But in the third grade, I had a very stern teacher, Mrs. Bordine. I don't remember what I did, but in front of the class, she tied me to my chair with red twine. She tied it around my trunk, arms and legs – for a significant period. I must have been fidgety that day. But were my parents worried? No.

I always felt that in rock & roll, something's gotta happen. I liked that word – happening. If it wasn't going to happen in front of me, I was going to make it happen. I actually tried not to repeat myself. They say it was Stiv Bators [later of the Dead Boys] who handed me the peanut butter [during the Stooges' famous, nationally televised set at a 1970 festival in Cincinnati]. "He's strange, we'll give him peanut butter." That wasn't in the repertoire. But people started bringing it to the shows. I was like, "No, I'm not gonna fucking play with your peanut butter." I got involved with stuff that had some corny overtones. But I was never a corny thinker.

You have an unusual background by Detroit working-class-rock standards. You grew up in a trailer park, but your father was a college-educated high school English teacher.
My parents had been shocked and impoverished by the Depression. It made them careful and frugal. At first, as a teacher, my father made no money. So he got the idea of living in a trailer park. The rent was a dollar a day for the plot. I slept over the dinette, on a shelf. We were definitely the only college-educated family in the camp.

Once I hit junior high in Ann Arbor, I began going to school with the son of the president of Ford Motor Company, with kids of wealth and distinction. But I had a wealth that beat them all. I had the tremendous investment my parents made in me. I got a lot of care. They helped me explore anything I was interested in. This culminated in their evacuation from the master bedroom in the trailer, because that was the only room big enough for my drum kit. They gave me their bedroom.

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