The Importance of Being Iggy

Thirty years in, Iggy Pop is still beating 'em up

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James Newell Osterberg, a.k.a. Iggy Pop, once billed himself as the "world's forgotten boy," but that is no longer the case. From fronting the proto-punk Stooges -- the most despised band of the peace and love Sixties -- Pop has gradually attained a position of veneration, and permanence, in the rock pantheon. But the fifty-four-year-old wild child is hardly content to rest on his historic haunches -- his blistering new CD, Beat 'Em Up, is his finest work since 1978's New Values.

And while Pop is one of rock's greatest survivors, he has not endured by mellowing out. In fact, he is still the anger-driven man of his youth - he's just angry about different things (see "Weasels," "Go for the Throat," "Ugliness" and "It's All S---").

The last album was more confessional and personal. Beat 'Em Up is like your old stuff, a trip in the way-back machine. Where did the light bulb go off when you thought it was time to rock again?
Sometimes my intellect will take over and say, "Well, really, before the end of your time you must add orchestral music and do this and that," but I just felt like I've got to make a rock record. It's the thing I enjoy to do, and it's easiest to do emotionally. I thought, "I can't make a f---ing record with studio guys, and I don't want to have some producer make me a star, and I don't want to go through f---ing therapy." I just said to myself, "You know, I'm already f---ed up. I've been f---ed up for thirty f---in' years, so let me just make the g--damn records the way I want to make them. And then if they want to f---ing get rid of me, whatever." So I'm just doing it like I want to do it. It's sort of like my last stand.

Having just seen you live, it's occurred to me that your relationship with your audience is almost religious. Early in your career you seemed like a force of nature, but now they seem to come worship at your altar. Exactly how did this happen?
I worked at it.

I'm sure of that, but were you ever uncomfortable in front of crowds?
Well, absolutely I was. There's all sorts of s--- that can go wrong doing this stuff, and when I started out I was coming from an extremely anti-professional place; not a lot of professional spin behind it basically, not a lot of savoir faire or know-how or anything, so everything would go wrong. One night the bass player would set his shirt on fire, and another night I'd fall off the stage. You never knew what was up. But the music was pretty far ahead of a lot of people. Just the whole thing was different. Now there's a more steady confidence level now. I've got a little more gravity going. I've worked a long time at it, and eventually you learn something.

You've had almost thirty years in the spotlight. What do you do to stay fit and sane?
Half of it's just the simple s---, like, I try not to work too hard, too often, and try to avoid people. You know how I lurk. I avoid human beings, and I try to like sleep at night and get up in the morning. I eat what people say you shouldn't eat, but really good quality. So I devour gigantic steaks, cooked, fried, in butter and s---. Only really good ones. I don't eat much crud. And then I'll have fried eggs and bread dipped in olive oil. I don't snack a lot -- when I eat it's so f---ing good. I have chocolate ice cream for dessert, you know. I get all satisfied, and that's it. And I do this exercise -- that's the one thing that really kind of helps my motor run. I do this sort of Chinese exercise called Qi-gong. It's very similar to Tai Chi, which I also do a little of. And I do that s--- for about a half-hour a day.

You're probably thinner now than when you were young.
Maybe.

What size pants do you wear?
Same, it hasn't changed: twenty-eight. I remember we did the Coachella Festival in April and this guy wrote the next day, "Yes, he did this and that, and he then he took off his shirt, and his body looked good considering he's a fifty-three-year-old with his shirt off." I thought, "Oh f---, maybe I outta hide it, cover it up," you know. If the slippage continues drastically, then maybe I'll start wearing a vest or something.

So what's the greatest misconception about you?
Probably that I'm wild. I think that's probably the biggest one. I'm over that now.

What's your idea of paradise?
Ha, ha, ha! That's right, just sit on my a-- in Miami and fart, and not have to do any of this s--- anymore. And have every cruise line in America use every one of my songs in its catalogs, and I'm so rich that I have to buy a small country.

At least that beats the question everybody always wants to know about you, about how you feel about your records being used in commercials . . .
I feel great. I love it. I f---in' love it on about ninety-nine levels.

I'm glad you're getting the payday.
Well, and that's how people are getting to know me and the songs.

You're not the world's most forgotten boy anymore. You're that poster boy for the cruises.
I am a poster boy, for fun cruises, and what do they call it? Rock climbing, or something? Extreme sports.

I understand you've become quite autodidactic. Would you ever go back to college?
If I ever end up in a situation where I'm comfortable financially and I don't have a really good reason for going out and making music and performing. I like languages. Maybe rub a little literature off on the way, but I would be pretty happy just learning how to speak Latin, French, Italian. I know a little Spanish already.

What do you do on your time off? Do you still golf?
Only with my Dad when I see him. Basically, I like to go to the beach; I like to stare at the clouds; I like to ride around. I got an old used car, a convertible Caddy. I like to ride around and listen to music, or just have a quiet dinner. I like to go to the supermarket. I like to shop for food. I've got a library, but I don't read a lot; I like to play with the books. I'm not doing much else but steadily working, and a little bit of loafing.

What about your acting career?
Well, I'm not really running around with a glossy photo, you know. Every once in a while, they call, and if there's a little film involvement that I can do, I do it. But I'm not looking for it. The last thing I did was [last year's] Snow Day.

Do you feel at this age that you're more religious?
Probably slightly so, in the sense that music and love and morality and family and all those things are going around and around in my head, and I'm trying to figure out what the hell is the right way to go. I have deeply held feelings and beliefs, but I don't believe in, like, God, or anything like that. Sometimes, living in America, you're going to run into conflicts. It's a career-oriented, modern, post-industrial, Western world, and sometimes you make choices based on furthering your career or your abilities thereof, and other stuff gets put to the side. That's happened with me sometimes, and I have trouble reconciling that. But on the other hand, I know if I didn't feel like I was any good at doing anything, I'd feel so awful I wouldn't be worth a s---, you know?

I hate to always think I am my job, but, without it, I don't know who I'd be.
Exactly. So that kind of thing comes up, you know. It's questions, so I'm not sure where my religion is, or if it's my job, my bank account, or what I see that I don't have - because, for a lot of people, that becomes a very strong thing, too. Whatever you don't have, you want. If you're a big rock star, and you go to the beach and see some hard-working guy with his six kids, there's a part of you, there's a little twinge that's going to go on, and you're going to say, "Gee, you know, I bet that's really beautiful when he comes home, and there's his beer every night, and the kids, 'Oh, Daddy, Daddy.'" On the other hand, you don't see the part where he's like, "Aaaarrr, I wish these kids would shut up," you know? So I don't know. I'm not religious, but I'd like to be!

OK, let's get the Stooges reunion question over -- any hope of one?
Some vague, vague hope, but no immediate plans.

Do you have a personal motto? Something you say to yourself before you go onstage?
Well, I used to have one that I kept saying. I would say to myself, "You're a champion," when I was down -- er, not totally down -- but wanted to get going. And the one I do a lot now is "Just sing the song, man." I say that because there's so much s--- . . . you start getting wound up, and then people ask, "What are you going to do in the show? Are you going to kill yourself? Are you going to roll in glass? Are you going to get covered in poop?" And all this stuff is swarming around you, and the record company's happy, and the record company's unhappy, and you're s---, and you're a star, and all that. So I just keep telling myself, "Just sing the song, man."

Looking back, do you sometimes feel like it was a different person who rolled around in the glass and covered himself in peanut butter?
Yeah, I suppose so. Or the part I make available for mass mollification is different.