The iconic Iggy Pop turns 74 today
Iggy Pop: The 9 Lives Of The Iguana*
Iggy Pop is a survivor, a warrior of Rock music that we must be grateful for still being able to witness on his ongoing legendary career. Andy Warhol wrote once about Iggy Pop after meeting him in 1966 as Jim Osterberg at Ann Arbor Film Festival . “I don’t know why he hasn’t made it really big,” Warhol wrote. “He is so good.”
Born James Newell Osterberg, Jr on April 21st 1947 in Musekon, Michigan and raised in a trailer park, “The Iguana” rose to fame during the 1970’s, but his career started in the 60’s as a drummer for several garage rock bands, including The Iguanas, from which he created his stage name Iggy. After attending a The Doors show in Detroit 1967, Iggy was mesmerized and intrigued by Jim Morrison on stage persona and in 1968 formed The Stooges heavily inspired by what he had witnessed at The Doors concert.
Detroit Rock City
The Detroit scene back then was blooming with bands such as MC5, all playing a rougher, heavier and edgier rock music than the Californian or New York bands, it was what later would be called Proto-Punk. The Stooges were signed by Elektra, the same label that housed The Doors, one of the few major labels back then that wasn’t afraid to take chances in new bands and sounds thanks to visionary founder Jac Holtzman. In 1969 The Stooges self titled debut album, produced by The Velvet Underground’s John Cale, is released but sells poorly and with little to none projection. The album includes the classics “1969”, “No Fun” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog” that became not only The Stooges signature song but also Iggy’s, during his solo career and to this day a staple on his live sets.
Birth Of Punk And A Premature Fall
He became acquainted with people such as Jim Morrison or Nico, and the deeper he dives into fame, the deeper he dives into heavy drug addiction, his stage antics such as spreading peanut butter all over his body, makes more headlines than the music. By the 1970’s The Stooges became one of the most unique rock acts around, they released “Fun House” in 1970 which regardless of containing songs like “TV Eye” and “1970” again sold poorly and soon were dropped by Elektra. In 1971 Iggy meets David Bowie in New York, that event triggers what would become one of Rock’s strongest bonds, friendship and partnership. Bowie agrees to produce the now Iggy and The Stooges third album “Raw Power”, together with their first two albums considered a predecessor of Punk and featuring memorable cuts such as “Search And Destroy”, “Gimme Danger” or the title track “Raw Power” .Recorded in England in 1972 and released in 1973, it becomes their best selling album, but feud among the members of the band, and battles with substance abuse, leads them to disband in 1974. With an increasing heroin addiction and erratic behavior, (legend has that Pamela Courson, Jim Morrison’s girlfriend also by then an heroin addict herself, offered Iggy a trunk filled with the belongings of the then deceased Morrison, which Iggy sold for heroin money) Iggy descends into a deeper hole. He keeps though a pair of Morrison’s leather pants (most memorably worn during The Doors 1968 Hollywood Bowl show) that he often wears onstage (now on display in the Hard Rock Cafe). Unsuccessful attempts to launch a serious solo career due to his lifestyle, leads Iggy to check himself into a mental institution where one of his few visitors is his faithful friend and collaborator David Bowie. In 1976 Bowie that had himself a strong heroin addiction by then, takes Iggy back to stage during the Station To Station tour.
Bowie and The Berlin Períod
Things shifted on to the right path when both decide to move to West Berlin, Germany where they escaped to clean themselves of drug addiction. These events triggers the most creative period in both artists careers, by sharing an apartment together, working together on new albums and co-writing songs, Bowie goes on to produce the Berlin Trilogy that includes “Low” (where Iggy contributes with back vocals) , “Heroes” and later “Lodger”, Iggy releases with Bowie’s support and songwriting help “The Idiot” and “Lust For Life” that are to this date considered his finest works, among the songs are “China Girl”, “Lust For Life”, “Tonight”, “Sister Midnight” and “The Passenger”, all became classics. Bowie goes further in helping Iggy by being featured as a musician in his band during Iggy’s promotional concerts for the album.
By the early 1980’s and having switched labels twice, Iggy makes on purpose,the worst album of his career so he could be dropped by his then label Arista, the album was “Party” and does not makes justice indeed to “The Iguana” legend. The early 1980’s aren’t great to Iggy, and with both “Party” and “Zombie Birdhouse” selling poorly and being smashed by the critics, Pop finds himself in dire straits again. To the rescue comes his old friend Bowie, also finding a hard time to creativily set himself in the 1980’s mainstream after the successful “Scary Monsters And Supercreeps” and the successful purposely commercial “Let’s Dance”. Knowing Pop is broke and still battling heroin addiction, not able to put on new albums, Bowie goes on to make the album “Tonight” in 1984 that features songs co-written by both of them in order to provide Pop some royalty money to allow his friend to take a break and get clean. The album was not a best seller but still featured some of their best Berlin period songs such as “China Girl” or “Tonight” among a total of 5 songs co-written with Iggy.
A new boost in Iggy’s career takes place towards the end of the 1980’s after getting clean, he releases “Blah Blah Blah” featuring the hit “Real Wild Child”,a cover of “The Wild One”, originally written and recorded by Australian rock ‘n’ roll musician Johnny O’Keefe in 1958. Iggy surfaces again as a new generation opens up to be introduced to his music. In 1990, after a decade of misleading artistic directions where he swung between music and acting, Pop releases “Brick By Brick”, an album featuring members of the Guns N’ Roses and The B52’s as guests which featured his first Top 40 U.S. hit, “Candy”, a duet with B-52’s singer Kate Pierson. “The Iguana” was once again back and for good.
90’s Rock Influence and Impact
The 90’s were good to Iggy, for the first time he was able to feel the impact of his music and attitude on current Rock bands as the Grunge rock movement hailed him as one of the most important influences, even Kurt Cobain, that named “Raw Power” his favorite album, wrote a song for Iggy Pop, “Talk To Me”, played only live by Nirvana on a few occasions, due to Cobain’s early death there was never a collaboration between both artists, though he left messages on Pop’s answering machine telling him about the song. In 1996 Iggy’s popularity was stronger than ever when his 1977 song “Lust For Life” was included in the movie “Trainspotting” and this time receiving massive airplay.
Iggy continued to dib into acting, writing and movie music scores, by the 2000’s he fearlsly collaborated with new artists such as Sum 41, Green Day and Peaches. In 2004 Iggy surprisingly opened for Madonna’s Reinvention World Tour in Dublin and among other collaborations with Madonna he was present at her induction in Rock N’ Roll Hall Of Fame 2008 where together with The Stooges performed Madonna songs,.The Stooges returned in 2003 with some of the original members and successfully toured as Iggy and The Stooges. The new incarnation of the band lasted until all original members passed away (except Iggy) and by 2016 The Stooges were no more.
Iggy’s stronger than ever, and it’s the very definition of a Renaissance Man, having built a career that crosses the rock music boundaries, either being as an actor or as a radio host or doing beautiful soft Jazz/Blues based albums like he did on the 2009 “Préliminaires” and 2012 “Après” where among his own compositions he covers French “chanson”, Bossa Nova, Jazz and Blues songs. In a time where we seem to be witnessing the loss of many of our golden artists, Iggy remains here as a gift to all of us, and so we expect it to remain that way for a long, long time. “The Iguana” 9 lives aren’t over yet.
Iggy Pop’s life in images
Listen to a retrospective of Iggy Pop’s career made by Pop Expresso on Spotify:
Watch Iggy Pop performing “Passenger” Live at The Royal Albert Hall, London, 2016
*This article was originally published by Pop Expresso in 2017
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