Iggy Pop's Trail of Destruction - Rolling Stone
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Iggy Pop’s Trail of Destruction

With a heart full of napalm, he terrorized and revolutionized the world of rock & roll

Iggy PopIggy Pop

Iggy Pop


Nothing makes sense unless you know who Iggy pop was. Back then, right around 1969, while the rest of the world was going psychedelic, he presided over quite some reign of perverted rock & roll terror. He would slather his body in peanut butter; barf on his audience; cut himself up with broken glass; wear silver-lamé evening gloves onstage; shoot heroin; make frequent use of his big, beautiful penis; crash his car into trees; beg horrified record-label executives for drug money; pass out in bathrooms with the spike still in his arm; check himself in to a mental institution and score coke off David Bowie while there. Just in general, he lived the totally messed-up life and wrote the totally messed-up songs without which there could have been no angry punk-music explosion of the 1970s, much less anything that has evolved since, angry-punk-music-related.

He is fifty-six years old now, has recently released a new CD (Skull Ring, featuring songs recorded with Sum 41, Green Day, the Trolls – his latest backup band – and the reunited Stooges) and lives quietly among doddering blue-hairs and faggy hipsters in Miami Beach. Today, he’s cruising along coolly in his 1981 Rolls-Royce Corniche, with the top down, long hair fluttering. He looks grizzled and cheerful, his long face gaunt and weathered, wearing jeans and a tattered pullover shirt (by Versace, costing maybe $500, a massive extravagance that started to shred within days. It really pissed him off, so he has vowed to “wear the thing to death, because that’s the way I am”). Oddly enough, he’s also wearing a thin-soled loafer on his left foot and a thick-soled boot on his right foot. “Yeah, I know, I look like a fucking freak,” he says, in that gravel-pit-deep voice of his. “But one of my legs is shorter than the other and I was recently told to start evening things out or I’m going to be fucked up later in life.”

By implication, of course, this suggests that he is not fucked up now, and he says that this is in fact true. It’s been twenty years since he last did heroin, four since he smoked dope or snorted coke, five since he enjoyed a cigarette. Except for a nightly glass of red wine and too much strong Cuban coffee, he’s clean and leading a very regular kind of life. For love, he’s got his statuesque, extra-buxom, super-sweet girlfriend, Nina Alu, who is half Nigerian, half Irish and twenty-five years his junior; for extra warmth at night, he’s got their fluffy little dog Lucky. He eats bacon and two eggs sunny side up for breakfast almost every day, eats a steak or two for dinner, is fascinated by what appears nightly on the History Channel, the Discovery Channel and C-Span (“I just love C-Span!”). He goes to the beach often, which has left him with a tan the color of a baseball mitt. Among those past and present who have been influenced by him: the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Ramones, Boy George, Nirvana, R.E.M., Sonic Youth, Snoop Dogg, Mudhoney, Good Charlotte, the White Stripes, the Hives, the Vines and David Bowie. But he lives almost in isolation. He doesn’t have friends here, he says, only acquaintances, like Lamar, his gardener, Harry at the gas station and the guy at the car wash. He’s removed. And that’s how he likes it.

But then, all of a sudden, it’s promote-a-record time and he’s back in our midst once again, reunited with the Stooges – brothers Ron (guitar) and Scott (drums) Asheton; a miracle in itself, given that he has often publicly said they’re a couple of pretty dim bulbs – playing dates around the country and presenting an award at the recent MTV Video Music Awards, and opening up his Miami bungalow to Nosy Parker lowbrows intent on learning what age has done to the original punk monster, what knowledge he’s gained, what it means that he’s survived as long as he has and how often he and Nina have sex.

Unlike Ozzy Osbourne, his contemporary and another fabled, drug-addled terrorizer, Iggy has never been huge or even had a hit record or a chart-topping single. A few of his songs have entered the vernacular – Bowie’s recording of “China Girl,” which Iggy and Bowie co-wrote, was a big hit in 1983 (and gave Iggy his first taste of financial stability); and the 1996 Scottish heroin movie Trainspotting made a fetish of the tune “Lust for Life,” which Royal Caribbean cruise lines then picked up to hawk its fun-filled cruises (minus seedy drug references, etc.), with snippets of other songs worming their way into such movies as Laurel Canyon, Bedazzled, Almost Famous and School of Rock. But unless you’re already an Iggy fan – and know, for instance, that he was probably the first performer to leap from the stage and walk on the upstretched hands of his audience, as well as the first to take that same leap, as he did in New York in 1971, and have the audience scatter, him hitting the ground like a total loser fool – you might not know that any of those songs are his.

His last two albums, 1999’s Avenue B and 2001’s Beat ‘Em Up, sold only 20,000 copies apiece, which is all his first couple of albums (1969’s The Stooges and 1970’s Fun House) sold, too, though eventually they became classics, featuring some of the best punk-before-punk-even-existed songs ever recorded, including “1969,” “No Fun,” “Loose,” “T.V. Eye,” “Dirt” and, most famously, “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” Actually, all the songs on both albums are great, and that goes for 1973’s Raw Power, his third album, as well. It’s simply the most hard-charging, garage-sounding, two-or three-chord rock ever made, with not a heartfelt, sentimental love song in sight. Back then, critics loved Iggy and the Stooges (the notable exception being this magazine, which called the Stooges “stoned sloths making boring, repressed music”). Despite the acclaim, however, Iggy has most often labored in semi-obscurity. And such public as he did have was not exactly the cream of the crop, especially at the beginning. “It was like early Christianity,” he once said. “The ugliest chicks and the most illiterate guys – people with skin problems, people with sexual problems, weight problems, employment problems, mental problems, you name it; they were a mess.”

Much of this is a matter of circumstance and personality. When he first started out, in 1967, in his hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Summer of Love had just passed, and Iggy Pop, né James Newell Osterberg Jr., age twenty, raised in a dusty trailer park, was about anything but that. He despised the whole hippie thing, believing it was some kind of ruse or sham, with its leaders just as money-grubbing and power-hungry as “the old-guard leadership, with all their wockety-wickety-wackety-woo. Plus, it didn’t even rock. I mean, ‘Marrakesh Express? It may be the worst song ever written.” And so it’s been for Iggy ever since: He has almost always operated either slightly out of touch with the mainstream, in the manner of visionaries, geniuses and cretins everywhere; or, as when he was drugged up and junked out, in touch only with the gutter – all of which has resulted in those many strange, wondrous and queer stories about him.

There’s the Max’s Kansas City episode of 1973. Iggy was playing a gig at the famous New York club, in his customary loincloth, to an audience that included Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, Todd Rundgren, scenester Bebe Buell and other heavies of the time. Broken glass littered the stage, and Iggy was crawling over it, cutting himself up maybe worse than he’d intended. Blood gushed from his face and body, and from under his loincloth. Twenty minutes into the set, his soundman asked him if he wanted to stop. He didn’t. He soldiered on, a bloody mess. After the show, he allowed Alice Cooper to take him to the emergency room. On the way out, the only thing Iggy said was, “Is there a professional photographer in the house?” Later on, Buell said, “Everybody thought the stitches were really sexy.”

There’s the time he played in ripped-up jeans, balls hanging out; the time he took out his penis and rested it on top of an amplifier, letting it vibrate around for all to see; the time a girl from the audience gave him a blow job onstage. In 1978, during some London gigs, he performed in only a black leotard and fishnet stockings, afterward saying, “I wore that because it makes me look beautiful. I stare at myself in the mirror and I think, ‘Wow, I’m really great-looking.’… I think I’m the greatest, anyway.”

“But the best of all of them is what happened when he played the Whisky in Los Angeles,” says his early manager and friend Danny Fields, already chuckling. “It was a very star-studded, Jack-and-Anjelica-and-Warren night. He was waiting for his dealer, to cop, intent on getting his shot of heroin before he went on. But he had no money. So he went to the VIP booths one at a time and explained the situation. He said, ‘Look, you’re here to see me, and I can’t go on until my dealer is here, and he’s waiting to be paid, so give me some money so I can fix up, and then you’ll get your show.’ He got more than enough money. He stood off to the side and shot up. The lights went down, the music went up, he stood onstage and collapsed. Without a note being sung. He’d OD’d in front of everyone. And had to be carried off.

“I think that was one of his greatest shows ever,” says Fields. “It was so minimally perfect. It just says a very great deal.”

When he gets a hold of a newcomer to Miami Beach, the Iggy of today loves nothing better than to avoid talking about himself and, instead, take that person on a tour of the town, whizzing past big ships and tall buildings, slowing down frequently to illuminate and monologue in the attitude of a history professor with tenure.

“This is one of the largest maritime ports in the country, with serious shit coming and going,” he says. “And right there, next to it, is the fucking Carnival Cruise Line, a fucking total wedding-cake dream ship. And there’s Fisher Island, where Bebe Rebozo lived. And in this condo, [London-Sire Records chairman] Seymour Stein has a place. I was up there once: expensive and very tacky. And there’s the Cameo, an old theater I played in ’89. You could smell the pee. And now it’s a hip-hop bar. And that – that’s the stinkiest, nastiest strip bar in Southern Florida. They put a big red throne out front and girls sit in it – scantily clad, repulsive girls. This town is diverse as shit. I like it here a lot.”

It’s fun listening to Iggy ramble on like this; he’s warm, enthusiastic, friendly, open and apparently very well-balanced, when you’d think he might be anything but. It’s an experience that most people have meeting him for the first time. “I was kind of nervous at the beginning,” says Deryck Whibley of Sum 41, who collaborated with Iggy on “Little Know It All,” the first single from Iggy’s new album. “I didn’t know what to expect from him. But he was one of the nicest guys ever. It was like talking to an old friend.”

And he’s not above treating you like an old friend, either, taking you to his house, on North Bay Road, for a little show and tell. It’s an old Mediterranean Revival-style home, unassuming but funky-cool, and for a while he sits out on his front patio, hidden from the street and the hot Florida sun by a forest of ficus trees and the remains of a once-grand palm. This is where he often drinks his coffee in the morning, sometimes conversing with Lamar. He says he couldn’t get along without Lamar. He calls Lamar when hurricanes are coming (“Lamar! What do I do?”), when the kitchen is flooded, when there is sewage in the bathtub.

A few cats come wandering around. “Hello, Butchie; hello, Betty,” Iggy says, tenderly. “They were homeless, but now Nina spoils the shit out of them.”

How he met the stupendous Nina is roundabout. He divorced Suchi, his wife of fifteen years, in 1998, moved from New York to Miami, went through a couple of relationships, was single again and one day was riding around South Beach with the top down on his humongous 1968 cherry-red Cadillac convertible. He passed two striking women on the street, watched them go into a pizza parlor and himself went into the pizza parlor next door, where he sat sneaking peeks at them.

“Yeah, I was checking them out, thinking, What the hell am I gonna do?'” he says. “I’m really not good with the pickups. I’m a klutz and don’t have a line of gab. I’m only good if they know who I am. So I’ll just sit and wait for somebody to say, ‘Aren’t you…?’ and then go from there. But that wasn’t happening. So, anyway, I got back in my car, pulled up to where they were and said, ‘You girls want to go for a ride?’ And they did! So then I started dating Nina.”

That was four years ago, when Nina was still a US Airways flight attendant, having decided not to go into broadcast journalism, her major at Howard University, where (as Iggy likes to say) she graduated “summa fuckin’ cum laude, pardon my French.” Today, she travels everywhere with him and essentially takes up where Lamar leaves off. She makes his meals, pays his many parking tickets, packs the bags for trips, does, he says, “all the shit where I just can’t deal.” He says that he “absolutely, absolutely” loves her and never looks at other women.

In certain ways, this is a stunning thing to hear him say, especially given his long and squalid sexual history. He didn’t lose his virginity until he was twenty, but once he did, he went on a decade-long sex bender. He had a penchant for girls in their early teens: At the age of twenty-one, he was briefly married to a fourteen-year-old; at the age of twenty-two, he had a child (his only, Eric, now thirty-three) by another teenager; and at one early point, he had a thing for a thirteen-year-old named Betsy, of whom he has said, “She looked at me penetratingly. So I suppose you can figure out what happened next.” After shows, he’d return home with some fan or other, have sex with her and tell her to get lost. “As for sexism, well, I hate women,” he once said. “I mean, why do I even have to have a reason for that?… My terms are simply phoning them up, telling them to be at such and such a place at such and such a time, in good physical condition, to be fucked. And then leave, goddamnit.”

“It used to blow my mind how Iggy could get the girls to flock around him,” Scott Asheton has said. “Once I saw him pick up the usual five girls, [and] he’s got all them just grouped around him: ‘Oh, Iggy; oh, Iggy…’All of a sudden, he blew his nose into his hand and then guided it right down into his mouth. And they were still gazing at him like they didn’t even notice.”

But it wasn’t just the girls who liked to gaze at Iggy. It was also the guys, especially when he first arrived in Manhattan, in 1969, and became a fixture at Max’s Kansas City, hanging around with the whole hip-deviant Velvet Underground/Andy Warhol crowd. “When Iggy showed up, he had a big sexual vibe,” said photographer Mick Rock, who was there. “Everybody knew he had a big chopper on him, an incredible body, everybody wanted to fuck him, boys and girls.” Said one of those boys, “I think I offered to give Iggy head once, and he said, ‘Oh, just lick my stomach, OK?’ So I did that, and it was pretty satisfying.”

This is all long in the past, though, and all stuff Nina apparently knows.

“Yeah, she’s heard the war stories,” Iggy says today, smiling gently. “I tell it all to her. I think one has to, because one wants to know somebody, and one wants to feel that somebody knows one. I mean, the embarrassment quotient has been going down for a long time, and the fond amusement has been rising. And, as society has changed, what had formerly been unacceptable has become colorful, even the broken-glass thing. Although, you know, there’s an archetypal element to that anyway.”

He shifts in his chair, deftly moving his booted foot around, leaving the loafered foot still. “It’s about the blood,” he goes on. “The Christians used that riff with Christ. What did Christ really do? He hung out with hard-drinking fishermen. And when they asked him, ‘Why are you hanging out with prostitutes and fishermen?’ he said, ‘Because they need me.’ What a line, you know? But what your martial society really wants is blood. We need some blood. We need some suffering. Like, the individual must suffer for the good of the whole. I toy around with that. Early on, I wasn’t looking at Jesus Christ, saying to myself, ‘What an angle.’ I wasn’t trying to be Christ-y. But, after all, on one level, this is showbiz.”

He grins, takes a stroke of his luxuriantly stubbled chin, then stands up and without further reflection limps slowly into his house. It’s a curious thing, though. Iggy seems totally at ease with himself and his past, and yet when one starts referring to oneself as “one,” you have to suspect the opposite might be true as well, that maybe he’s not as comfortable in his own leathery skin as he would like you to believe.

You’ve got America in the Fifties, with a lot of open spaces,” he says one evening. “It’s the Midwest, an alluvial plain. I’m on the outskirts of the outskirts, between two towns: Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. I’m in a trailer camp Iggy Pop called Coachville Gardens Mobile Park, and I live in Lot Ninety-six. The first trailer was a Spirit, then my dad got a better job and we got a New Moon, all kind of Jetson-y inside. There’s 113 trailers in the trailer camp. The only people in the trailer camp with a college education are my mother and father. I slept on a shelf above the kitchenette.”

They lived in the trailer park because Iggy’s father, Newell, thought trailers made sense. He used to say, “This is the way to live.” He taught English at Ypsilanti High, had once been a pretty good semipro baseball player, had also once been an ace-number-one bill collector. As regards his son, he believed in the belt and the hickory stick. Iggy’s housewife mom, Louella, who died in 1996, did not stand in Newell’s way. But that never mattered to Iggy, and he loved his father with all his heart: “My dad’s a cool dude, he really is.” He is eighty-two now and nicely situated in an assisted-living facility in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where Iggy visits him as often as he can.

While still Jim Osterberg (he remains Jim to his close friends and Nina), Iggy played drums in a number of high school bands, among them the Iguanas, whence comes his first name. Graduating in 1965, he studied anthropology at the University of Michigan for a semester, dropped out, decided to become a full-time musician, dug up a couple of slack-jawed local yokels (i.e., the Asheton brothers) whom he could mold to his liking, formed the Stooges and one evening in 1967 went to see the Doors perform.

“Jim Morrison had on Cuban pointy boots, a big, ruffled shirt and a black Leatherette suit – Leatherette, not leather,” he recalls. “His eyes were complete saucers, the hair every bit as stylized, cut and oiled as Hedy Lamarr’s in Samson and Delilah. And then he lurched onstage, and every time his band started a song, he’d refuse to sing it. He’d go up to the mike and then walk away. And then when he finally did sing, he sang it like Betty Boop. I swear. I witnessed this. I do not lie. It was so hilarious, at which point I thought, ‘Well, jeez, cool!'”

In the aftermath, Iggy decided to out-Morrison Morrison, the basic idea being to get up onstage and let loose his angriest, nuttiest inner impulses. “You say I look goofy? OK, great. You say it’s comedy? Great. Whatever anyone thought, I didn’t care. Could be goony, could be sexy, could be stupid, could be cool. I didn’t know, but as long as it was something, you know?”

That something came out of Iggy almost fully formed, no big evolution required, at the Stooges’ very first show, on Halloween night, 1967, complete with Iggy playing both a food blender and a vacuum cleaner into his mike while the Asheton brothers basically droned on. “It didn’t rock, it didn’t roll, but it was powerful,” said one witness. He was soon signed by Morrison’s label, Elektra; released those first two great but little-selling albums; found heroin in 1970; found himself dropped by Elektra because of heroin; cleaned up; hung out in New York with the Warhol crowd; snagged German-born Warhol superstar Nico, who instructed him in the virtues of German wines, French champagnes and cunnilingus; met David Bowie in New York, in 1971; got along great with Bowie, who saw in Iggy the genuine loon he wasn’t but, with his smarts, could appropriate for his own developing persona; did more drugs; was crapped on by Lou Reed (“Iggy is stupid. Very sweet but very stupid. He’s not even a good imitation of a bad Jim Morrison”); in 1975, woke up one morning in an abandoned building, puking “weird, green bile”; immediately committed himself to a Los Angeles psychiatric hospital; copped some coke from Bowie while there; got out; hung out with Bowie in Berlin for three years; said, “Bowie’s a real man, and I’m a real woman – just like Catherine Deneuve”; released two great Bowie-produced albums in 1977, The Idiot and Lust for Life; was embraced by the punk movement; was a lost soul during the stupid disco years; once again fell into the embrace of heroin; began billing himself as “the world’s forgotten boy”; detoxed; was signed by A&M in 1986; released Blah Blah Blah, which peaked at Number Seventy-five; was called the Godfather of Punk; is not pleased by the tag (“How tacky!”); patched up his relationship with his son, Eric; released some so-so albums in the 1990s; left Avenue B in New York for Miami; and is looking pretty damned fine today, his torso as lean and muscled as it was thirty years ago, with only his face, creased with lines and starting to sag, showing his true age and history.

“His body hasn’t changed. It’s perfect,” says one of his pals. “If you look at him from behind, he looks like he’s fifteen. But he turns around and he looks like the iceman they dug up in the Alps.”

Like the Iggy Body, the Iggy penis is also quite remarkable, as anyone who has been close to it can tell you. Not too long ago, the uncategorizable artist known as Peaches showed up at Iggy’s pad in Miami Beach to shoot a video of him singing, so she could sing along to it during her performances, duetting with Iggy in absentia.

She remembers her impression the first time she met him at his Miami home. He opened the door to greet her. “He showed up, no shirt, the tightest pants you’ve every seen, and his package was peeking out,” she says. “And then, in the video we shot, you see it. Whenever anybody first sees the video, they’re like, ‘What! Is! In! His! Pants!'”

For most of us, the only way we’re ever going to see exactly what’s in those pants is to buy a copy of Iggy’s excellent 1982 autobiography, I Need More, flip to Page 83 and stare in wonder at the black-and-white photograph Gerard Malanga took of Iggy in the nude, in 1971. Half in shadow, half in light, he’s standing against a white wall, his stringy hair wet, his lower lip jutting forward, one arm at rest by his side, the other hiding his hand behind his back, and then there’s his penis. It’s a chopper, all right, but the effect of seeing him naked from head to midthigh like that is to apprehend several things about Iggy all at once, because the impact is sudden and deep, not really sexual and almost entirely aesthetic, which is an expected pleasure.

In 1999, following the release of a VH1documentary about his life, Iggy said, “This is the key thing that has always been misunderstood about me. All this fucking crap they said I did … I only did it because I believed I was playing the actual music that was appropriate and good to reflect that time and place…. Frankly, I’ve always felt I was completely innocent.”

The words are hard to believe. But looking at the photograph, you believe them; he does look like a genuine innocent, and, oddly enough, the innocence is only compounded by the size of his penis. Then again, that picture was taken in the morning and is only a captured moment; by nightfall, Lord knows what the former Jim Osterberg of the alluvial plains was up to.

Actually, Iggy has always had a deeply conflicted love-hate affair with the thing.

“I will admit that, every once in a while, at some point, maybe early on, I’d enjoy it,” he says one afternoon. “I would think, ‘Whoa, yeah, wow – check it out!’ And every once in a while, I still have some of that. But I have had times in my life when I was on the zero. Many times, and recently, too, throughout the Eighties and Nineties, when I couldn’t do it at all. I was really worried. I had girlfriends during that period, but they were short-lived. It’s rough when you can’t do it at all.”

He takes another sip of coffee, puts down the cup, listens, shakes his head, shakes it again, then resigns himself to the lowbrow matter at hand. “Sometimes you’re not lucky with women, and you’re just not cracking, but other times …” he says finally. “Well, with Nina, it’s as often as ten times a week, though not when I’m working as much as I am now. This is so embarrassing. But at least once a week. So, one to ten. When we’re touring, it’ll tend to go up, because of the nervous energy and, when you’re not out in front of the diddly-do, you tend to be in bed a lot.”

He giggles, rolls his eyes and makes some rough-sounding guttural noises, all of which makes for a great moment, because, with all he’s seen and done, you’d think it’d be impossible to embarrass the man, but here he is, flushing, geegawing and shy. And yet that’s always been one of Iggy’s redeeming qualities – his vulnerability. Even at his most egomaniacal, there’s been something soft about him, and though it’s never shown up in his music, those closest to him have long recognized it. A friend of his once said, “He’s wounded, brilliant, fragile but made of steel, insane, demented,” and, of himself, Iggy once said, “Nobody understands me, I’m really sensitive. Everyone thinks I should be so happy, fucking all these chicks, and all the drugs and being a star. But I hurt. And I’m lonely.”

Iggy and the Stooges kill ’em in Coachella, kill ’em in New York (the New York Times: “Mr. Pop … made his countless latter-day imitators look like poseurs”) and are all set to kill ’em in Detroit, when the power goes out all over the Northeast. So, instead of flinging himself across the stage and into the crowd that night, all shirtless and sweating, top-of-his-lungs shrieking and barking, flicking his tongue at the audience, hips gyrating à la Elvis, only with more squalor, with his Nina watching from the wings, lucky dog Lucky cradled in her arms, he eats a couple of cold roast-beef sandwiches in the hotel dining room and frets over the decision to cancel the show, especially if the power should suddenly come back on. If that happened, then how would the mighty Stooges look? “We’re gonna look like fuckin’ pussies,” he says, miserably. “I’m going to be sitting here feeling like, ‘What a regular chumpington!'”

Soon enough, however, his restless brain shifts gears. He says a few words about modern music. “Today’s rock is just embarrassing. The stuffs just fucking horrible. It’s white men on MSG, you know, and “We will crush the opposition with our rain of product.’ If you boil it down enough, the base metal is vulgarity and stupefaction. I think about these things…” He says a few words about Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. “I’ve always thought they are interesting. They have those serious Mouseketeer skills, good entertainment skills, and I like to watch them work. Especially Justin. He’s a very poised young man.” Then he finds himself saying more than a few words about his long, sometimes difficult and painful relationship with David Bowie and the fact that lots of know-nothings seem to think that he was not only Bowie’s lap dog but also Bowie’s creation, when the truth is that each gained from knowing the other, Bowie probably more than Iggy. First came Iggy wearing silver-lamé evening gloves, his hair cut short and dyed red. Then came Bowie as (Z)iggy Stardust, his hair cut short and dyed, too, wearing silver-lamé everything. Iggy’s genius lay in creation, Bowie’s in canny assimilation and commercialization.

“I’m bright enough to bury most of my feelings about all that, so it doesn’t come up directly,” Iggy says. “But I used to catch myself – maybe we’d be having dinner with the future king of Spain, and I’d be grumpy, like, ‘What are we doing here, hanging out with these swells?’ And then, right away, I’d realize, ‘Dude, you’re jealous.’ It got very hard on a certain level. He was a person of affairs, in the worldly sense, with a lot of choices laid out on his smorgasbord. I had no choices whatsoever. I was a pariah. But a very fortunate one, in that he saw something worthwhile in me, and he made me two terrific records. He gave me the break I needed to continue living life. He is my benefactor.”

Were he and Bowie ever lovers, as is often assumed? “Well, I’ve never had any sort of macho revulsion of fags, but Bowie and I – never, never, never, never. Everybody would think that, but I never saw him be that way anyway. I’ll tell you this. That guy got more p-u-s-s-y. I couldn’t believe it. Talk about a bitch magnet. Damn! Actresses, heiresses, waitresses, skateresses. And me? I was just left holding my dick most of the time. I had this short haircut, and I looked like a duck. But I got lucky sometimes. I got a good song out of a girl I was knocking off at the time, and it became ‘China Girl.'”

Just then, a fan angles up and says, “Hi, I’m Dan, and I watched you eat a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich at Coachella,” to which Iggy kindly replies, “Well, it went down good, that PB&J!” After that, it’s time for him to return to Nina in their room; only, on the way, he gets stopped by this tipsy, frumpy woman in an unattractively pleated, low-cut denim dress.

“Could you sign this napkin for me?”

“Yeah, sure,” says Iggy.

“I love you.” the woman says. “I mean, you know, in a very platonic way. You know what I’m saying, baby?”

“Indeed,” says Iggy. Then, suddenly, the woman starts bowing and scraping and humiliating herself by saying, “I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy.”

“All right,” Iggy says. “You take care.”

He’s moving toward the elevator; she’s moving toward him, desperately trying to make eye contact. She reaches out for him, but he’s already turned, and her hand just hangs there, in midair. Twenty-five years ago, Iggy might have left Nina alone a little longer, slipped off to this frumpy woman’s room, done the thing (or attempted the thing, depending on the year) and left. But tonight, he is already out of sight.

A few weeks later, in New York, he and Nina step out of a limo and onto the red carpet at the MTV Video Music Awards show. His name is announced over the PA system, but the huge crowd of kids gathered on Sixth Avenue don’t recognize him. So there’s no burst of applause nor any loud shouting of “Iggy! Iggy! Iggy!” It’s all reserved for names like Justin, Christina and Kelly. But Iggy, ever gracious, is all smiles as he limps his way toward the auditorium.

“DMC greeted me warmly,” he reports afterward. “And Dre and Big Boi were very nice. And I met James Hetfield, who I respect. He asked about maybe getting together with the Stooges. It just astounded me how many people were aware of that little band. I just didn’t have any idea. I tend to get a little isolated.”

Later on, he and Nina return to Miami, and one night go out to dinner at a Smith & Wollensky’s steakhouse. Iggy says he never goes on the road without Nina, because he couldn’t bear “the physical and emotional loneliness of it.” Nina says, “It works that way.” She also confirms the details of how she and Iggy met at the pizza parlor but adds a few of her own. “We spotted him right away. He was wearing slippers and was all alone, looking pensive. We felt kind of sorry for him.” Nina says her mom was nervous about her daughter dating Iggy Pop but that “after she met him, she was reassured.”

Nina says, “He never lifts the toilet seat.”

Iggy stares at her, incredulous.

“Do you?” she says to him, pointedly. “Do you ever lift the toilet seat?”

“Well, I don’t use the toilet much to pee in,” he says. “I almost always pee in the yard or the garden, because I like to pee on my estate. But, inside, I would just never go, ‘Oh, before I pee, I must lift the seat.’ I wouldn’t think of that. Why would I lift the seat?”

“Exactly!” says Nina. “But you never leave any residue. You’re good that way.”

Iggy smiles, maybe because that’s the Iggy he always believes he is, a misunderstood innocent whose aim is good, even when his behavior is bad.

The question then becomes, though, why is he so misunderstood? When Ozzy Osbourne discusses his messed-up, drug-saturated, once hyperviolent life, he can trace the root cause back to his childhood, to his severe dyslexia, to his anger at being called a futureless dolt in school. He hated himself and used booze, drugs and violence to try to annihilate himself. He’s open about those things and knows that he is not an innocent.

But Iggy has no similar explanations and no similar understanding to offer one who wants to know one such as him. He’s charming and colorful, dates decidedly non-Sharon Osbourne-type women and uses amusing phrases such as “wockety-wickety-wackety-woo.” But sometimes it all seems like so much deflection, if not deception, like he’s got some things to hide or is hiding some things from himself.

“You know,” Nina says after a while, “I love Iggy Pop, and I respect him, but I don’t think I could live with him. But Jim, Jim, is sweet and peaceful and romantic; when we’re having dinner or making love, that’s Jim, and sometimes I’ll catch him just looking at the trees and birds. It’s endearing and almost childlike, just the way he looks at the world with those big eyes.”

It’s not that Jim and Iggy are two separate people; more that Iggy is the place Jim goes to create, to perform and to act out his darkest impulses. It’s all he knows how to do. “If I don’t terrorize, I’m not Pop,” he once said. But in being so committed to terrorizing – even in the relatively muted form such terrorizing takes today – he also commits himself to always being misunderstood. Then again, maybe he has no real choice in the matter.

The inside of his house is dim, with high ceilings and lots of open space and lots of spooky Haitian voodoo art placed thoughtfully throughout. He likes old things, has some nice Early American furniture and a nice Louis XVI couch, and feels that it’s better to be spending his money on those things than “going and buying dime bags.” The truth is, Iggy’s reputation and predilections have always tended to overshadow his finer, more civilized qualities. He has an abiding affection for Frank Sinatra and the subtleties of the diminished-fifth chord. He likes to read books, especially those that tell him about the past, including Hugo and Dickens, and Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He paints. He has painted portraits of Nina, as well as portraits of himself.

One of those self-portraits hangs on the wall in his bedroom, which has black-velvet curtains in front of the windows, a cashmere blanket and four white pillows on the bed, and his silver-lamé evening gloves of old stuffed away in the closet. In the painting, two little pointy creatures hover in midair next to his face. Looking at it one afternoon, Iggy says, “The face is me in my torment, and the pointy object to the left of the face – I call it the Flaming Tit of Temptation – is talking in my ear. He’s like, ‘Just go do it. Take that fuckin’ coke. Get rid of that girl. You don’t need her.’ Have you ever noticed that a small creature, like a mouse or a mole, when faced with danger, they just stop? I’ve had big, long periods in my life when I was a lot like that. I just froze. It was not fun, but it was what I thought I had to do. And that’s how I lived, pretty much, at one time. I have a hot memory, but I know I’ve forgotten many things, too, just squashed things in favor of survival. The only thing missing from my life right now is what I’ve got, and it’s peace. I have more than I ever had… and not as much as I would like.”

In This Article: Coverwall, Iggy Pop


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