Dressed, seated and in a bookstore is not how you'd expect Iggy Pop to begin his vacation. But there he was Friday night at Manhattan’s upscale Rizzoli Books, with his pin-straight ombre hair parted just enough to reveal a sliver of face and biceps cooked golden by the Miami sun where he lives. The rocker discussed growing up on “hillbilly highway” in Ann Arbor, Michigan, touring with the MC5, recording with David Bowie and John Cale and finding his edgy punk look in the aisles of Kmart.
Pop is promoting the last of a string of big endeavors this year after a new record Post Pop Depression and documentary Gimme Danger. An oral history of the Stooges called Total Chaos is due out November 15th. The coffee table tome is peppered with essays by Stooges acolytes Josh Homme, Joan Jett, Dave Grohl, Johnny Marr and more, and takes the form of a long interview between former Warner Brothers executive Jeff Gold and Pop that's been five years in the making, according to Third Man Books' Chet Weise.
The rocker and businessman – who worked together briefly at A&M Records in 1986 – got talking about the project after pooling their respective Stooges memories and memorabilia. "I told him in 1973 I had paid $2.50 to see him sing about buttfuckers for half an hour until he finally fell down," Gold wrote in the introduction about how he gained Pop's trust, and eventually, his friendship. Here are five things we learned from their discussion.
1. Kmart is the original house of glam rock fashion
The first show the Stooges played in New York City, opening for the MC5 at the World's Fair Pavilion in Queens, is better remembered as the first time Pop cut himself onstage with the edge of a drumstick. "I was definitely upping the ante," he said, "It was New York! … I remember wearing a little pair of Levis short-shorts and Minnetonka moccasins and I was doing these long, dangerous stage dives. And the audience was just … [makes a wide-eyed face] … it was uncomfortable, so there was some self-mutilation," he laughed.
While defining his rock star look, Pop found it all in one place: Kmart. "I was walking around [Kmart] and saw this silver glove on one of the female mannequins and thought 'this would make me look cool' … so I'd send people to get boxes and boxes of these Kmart silver gloves I'd wear every night." The rest of his look was in a different aisle. "I would take a little glass bottle of Johnson & Johnson baby oil, pour it all over my body and face, then cover myself in gold and silver glitter. There was a product called Nestle's Streaks 'n Tips that came in black, gold or silver … I don't see it around anymore." He laughed.
2. Bob Dylan wannabees are "fuckin' awful"
In Total Chaos, Pop discusses how Stooges songs don't have many words, but the few words sung were intentional and robust. "There are so many Bob Dylans out there who are just awful," Pop said, talking about contrived singer-songwriters. "They wore they flouncy Edwardian folk shirts and played this fuckin' awful music – I'm sorry dude wherever you are – but it was awful."
"He's wonderful, Bob Dylan. But the rest of them should be locked away," Pop laughed. "Of course, I'm calmer about it now. But life is a struggle, and when you're struggling and you see someone getting away with real murder, real shit, you get angry."
3. Iggy Pop ruined Joe Perry's acid trip in 1969
When the Stooges started touring the U.S., their mission was not to be ignored, Pop said. "We were a bastion of reactionary rock & roll." A positive reaction was besides the point. "We weren't going to let them sleep at night," Pop said. One such sleepless individual was a young Joe Perry, checking out the Stooges opening set for the Grateful Dead in a ramshackle venue near Fenway Park in Boston in 1969. "Joe from Aerosmith tells me years later, 'I can't remember their set, but I remember yours – you ruined everybody's acid trip.'"
4. He originally looked to the Beach Boys for Raw Power inspiration
"I cared so much about it that I became unsound," Pop said of recording the Stooges' third LP Raw Power in September 1971. "The treble, the bass never found enough bottom, I even tried some Beach Boys harmonies to make it more musical, which was ridiculous. The sound of the keyboard on there – that's me playing a few notes just to widen the attack – but I just couldn't get it," Pop said, shaking his head. The person who ultimately took Pop's frustration and completed the album was Pop's mentor/champion, David Bowie.
"It was fun being in the studio with [Bowie]," said Pop. "He was fond of gadgets." Pop remembered Bowie's fascination at the time was with an odd instrument called the Prime Cube. "It looked like a bong," Pop laughed. "You would rung a sound you wanted to alter through the speaker and make it would journey though this tube. It was used in "Gimme Danger." He also put it on the drums in "Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell."
5. The quieter side of MC5's Fred "Sonic" Smith
When asked to describe the essence of Detroit music, Pop said one name: Fred Smith. They were kin; coming from hardworking southerners, factory laborers – "guys who'd come home, pop a can of Schlitz and let their kids play guitar," Pop said. Smith was Pop's friend and musical co-conspirator. When Pop was informed that it was the 22nd anniversary of Smith's passing, he paused to say: "This might not mean much to anybody else," he began with his eyes drawn down. “There was an afternoon when I visited [Fred] at his home – a little frame house in Detroit proper after the MC5 had ended. He played to me with a small amp – sometimes guys just sit around, you know, like, 'Let me show you what I can do' – and he played a perfect country blues composition on his guitar. It was outside the rock & roll forced aggression thing. I witnessed that only once before in a room with Keith Richards. Fred could play at that level."
In those days, Smith was playing in a small group called the Sonics' Rendezvous Band with [the Stooges'] Scott Asheton. Pop said he used to sit in on occasion and sing with the band in little Detroit dive bars. "It was a blast."