Are there aspects of your father in you – as Jim or Iggy?
Yes. Nobody's going to tell me what the fuck to do. And I don't like bullshit. Also, I like quiet – less people around as opposed to more. He was that way.
And your mom?
She was unusually generous and nice to everybody, a person who sought harmony and equality in situations. I have some of that. I don't function well when there's conflict. I'm very nonconfrontational. People use "confrontation" a lot to describe what I do professionally. But that's one thing. Life's another.
When did your parents first see you play with the Stooges?
We did the Michigan state fairgrounds with the MC5. They sat in the grandstand. I had a fairly wild gig – things thrown back and forth between a couple of audience members and the band. I saw my parents later and asked them about the gig. My dad, who had played some minor-league baseball, said, "You remind me of young pitchers I used to coach – lot of speed, no control." But my mom didn't want me to feel bad. She said, "When everybody stood up, your dad climbed up a pillar, so he could get a better view." He was at least interested.
So they were aware of what you got up to onstage.
Oh, yeah. I did a show in the town where my dad taught. I broke a bottle over the mike stand – I thought it looked cool. One girl who was particularly demonstrative in the front got a couple of minor cuts from the glass. She was holding her arms up in the spotlight. Blood was dripping down; she was screaming. There was a little ruffle in the household over that, because it was written up in the paper: POP GOES THE BOTTLES – BRING BACK ELVIS. But nothing worse came of it. It was somewhere in the petty-infraction zone.
I've always been amazed that you ran for class president in high school. In the Sixties, that was the ultimate in straight.
From the moment I set foot in junior high and saw how the other half lived, I wanted nothing more than to be like them. Never could get it right. I saved my money and bought a pair of loafers. But they were red Hush Puppies. My socks were the wrong color. Nothing clicked for me, until I played drums in the talent show. People treated me differently.
Then, three years later, you're going psycho onstage at the Grande Ballroom. How do you account for the turnaround?
The day I got out of high school, no more haircuts. My haircuts had been enforced by my dad. I bought a bottle of Clairol Ultra Blue, dyed my hair platinum and started playing in a rock club full time: five sets a night, six nights a week, fifty-five bucks.
I started going wild – getting drunk once in a while. Borrowed cars, crashing' em. Got my first fingerprints and mug shot. And I was listening to two albums – Bringing It All Back Home, by Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones Now! And maybe Out of Our Heads, by the Stones too.
What was it about Dylan and the Stones that hooked you?
I was learning song construction. How to write, how to play. How to make it feel. Music should never be too good, too tight. It should excite you. The Stooges' music is supposed to make me feel good. And I've always had faith that if I feel good, others will. That faith has been tested [laughs].
What did you learn – and take – from Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison when you started singing with the Stooges?
From Morrison, it was the way to stand at the mike – the stance and the grab. He hung on the stand. Nobody else did that. The other thing was he might do anything – and he doesn't respect you. You don't get respect for ten bucks – sorry! From Mick Jagger, it would be his moving around while he performs the song. Also, the voice as an irritant. When he sang, it was the opposite of nice.
Did you feel that, as performers, they didn't go far enough?
They went as far as they needed to go. If I was going to work in the same direction, then I had to go farther. But it didn't necessarily mean more extreme. The Stooges went farther afield in our influences. We listened to [the acid-folk band] Pearls Before Swine and [avant-garde composer] Harry Partch. The drumbeat on "1969" is not a Bo Diddley beat. It's straight off a belly-dance record. Stone fucking Fertile Crescent.
How important was LSD in the birth of the Stooges?
I took too much. I really did. We were on LSD when we named the group. I was on it sometimes when we worked, particularly in the Fun House period. Also, I think it helped the other guys in the band. I was spending half my time talking everybody into the idea that we could do this. I was asking a lot – to follow this insane guy, to make this creation music. There was no reason to believe it was going to go anyplace. But when we took LSD together, there were creative moments when everybody believed we could do something.
You got the nickname Iggy from your first band, the Iguanas. Where did you get the surname Pop?
Jim Popp was a friend of the Ashetons and Dave Alexander. They were part of a gang that cut school and sniffed glue together. I always thought Pop was a cool name. And it goes good with Iggy. If it had been left up to me, I would have been Jimmy James. But we played one gig and immediately got long column inches in the Michigan Daily. There was a review of Blood, Sweat and Tears. They got a paragraph. The rest of it was about everything we did. And it said, "Ex-drummer Iggy Osterberg." I said, "Fuck, I'm Iggy. But I gotta ditch the Osterberg." Which is a shame. I quite like the name now. It's a good name.
Did people actually applaud at your early shows?
My memory of the original years was a transfixed, frozen attention. Few people wanted to be anywhere near the stage. They would just stare. It was as if the audience was a gigantic cardboard cutout, a diorama. Nobody moved. Nobody went to the bathroom.
Little by little, people started liking it. It was mostly high school kids – tenth graders. What we did didn't bother them. They thought the riffs were cool. The songs said something to them. And then there were the Ramones, sitting in Queens, going, "I can get with that. It's kind of simple." It didn't bother them at all.
You named the second Stooges album Fun House after your infamous band house in Ann Arbor. Describe daily life at the Fun House.
The idea was that it would be a place where we could live and rehearse and create. It was a lovely, three-story Michigan farmhouse with a stately lawn and what remained of a farmer's cornfield behind us. The farmer, Mr. Baylis, rented it to us for about $250 a month. It had nice woodwork and a lot of handcrafted things he had made. We weren't there a month before all the drains stopped working. You couldn't pee. You couldn't take a shower. You couldn't cook anything. Dave Alexander wore taps on his shoes, the kind greasers wore in schools to fight with. He tore up the woodwork on the floors.
But I remember a happy time – some fairly healthy guys smoking weed on a daily basis, growing our hair, having sex with as many young fans as we could get to come over, taking our laundry out to our various mothers. We were just carrying on as an area band.
How much songwriting did you get done? Your early shows were short – twenty, twenty-five minutes tops.
We had a few grooves. We had one that became the end of "Ann." I called that "I'm Sick." We had one not unlike "Little Doll"– that was "Dance of Romance." We had one that came along later – a descending chord passage that sounded like what the Sex Pistols did later in "God Save the Queen." We played that over and over, and I'd sing something.
Whatever came into your head?
Based on a prearranged phrase that would be the name of the song. And I would freestyle. I can rhyme quickly. I also had a series of hand signals – like James Brown – so we could switch from one riff to another, so the music never stopped. The main reason was I didn't want to give anyone a chance not to applaud: "As long as we don't stop, nothing'll go wrong."
We didn't have any songs. When we got a contract, then we had to write songs.
How did heroin change life at the Fun House?
We had a roadie living in the basement – he introduced the band to skag. The first time I took it, I laid on the hood of an abandoned car we kept behind our house, thinking it was the worst thing that ever happened to me. I felt awful. Every time I moved, I would heave – for thirty-six hours. I thought, "I'm never going to touch this again."
Somehow, little by little, it crept in. It became a comfort – a blanket, a refuge. I was a local blues drummer, making the transition to a songwriter and frontman in a competitive business, very quickly. I was trying to forge ahead, and I burned out. People around me, who weren't as intensely motivated as I, didn't get jonesed as bad.
Did heroin break up the original Stooges?
That and economics. And the group did not have a strong work ethic. I would have liked to see a bit more elbow grease. Then, at some point, I went crazy. I proved too fragile to do what I needed to do for the group. Had there been a system of rehab, had the group had savings, we might have been able to stop and regroup sensibly later. Instead, I did that at home with my parents' help. I got kind of halfway stable.
Was it hard to go home in that state?
Yeah. I was in and out. I was good and bad. It must have been a terrible strain on my mother and a big pain in the ass for my dad. I was crashing once in a while – I'd get drunk or druggy for a day or two. But I was basically staying with my parents, taking a very modest and decreasing dose of a form of methadone – Dolophine, the only methadone I've ever seen in the form of cherry syrup.
I looked great, if I do say so myself. There's something about that drug, when you're young and untroubled, that gives you an Indian-summer kind of look.
Was it hard later to see bands like Kiss and Alice Cooper score big with a cartoon version of the Stooges' shocks tactics? Kiss opened for you in New York on New York's Eve, 1973.
Dude, it's etched in my mind. Kiss were third on the bill that night, probably getting fifty bucks, but they had a giant Kiss sign made of lights that must have weighed five hundred pounds. Obviously, someone poured money into this band. It was a business plan. Yeah, I remembered that later. And you have shared blame there. We had a cooler group, but I was too fucked up. I had become unsound, and no group with me in it was going anywhere.
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