Iggy Fuck­ing Pop

The ​Godfather of Punk, American Caesar and so much more. All hail Ig.

Iggy Pop is not only the God­fa­ther of Punk. He’s a singer, song­writer, actor and BBC 6 Music radio show host who’s as much of an icon at 72 as he was at 25. Today, he teas­es us with his new sin­gle Free: the title track of an album that, with its jazz-trum­peter tunes and recita­tion of a Dylan Thomas poem, bears lit­tle resem­blance to any­thing he’s done before. 

James Oster­berg has been there, done that, and delib­er­ate­ly scarred his chest with bro­ken glass – and glee­ful­ly repeat­ed­ly exposed him­self – in the process. He start­ed out in Michi­gan with the heavy-rock-meets-psy­che­del­ic sounds of Iggy and the Stooges, whose clas­sic self-titled debut album was released 50 years ago next month.

After acci­den­tal­ly invent­ing punk with death­less, defi­ant tracks like Search and Destroy and I Wan­na Be Your Dog, he moved into anoth­er phase when he moved to Berlin in the mid-Sev­en­ties and part­nered with David Bowie. He pro­duced Iggy’s first two solo albums, The Idiot and Lust For Life, the lat­ter fea­tur­ing the still-vital title track and The Pas­sen­ger. He was still hard at it in the Nineties, with 1993 bring­ing anoth­er rebirth in the mighty Amer­i­can Cae­sar album (1993).

Four decades on, nei­ther age nor rehab have with­ered Ig. Nor have they slowed his rest­less, punk­ish cre­ativ­i­ty. His last album was 2016’s Post Pop Depres­sion, pro­duced by Josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age and fea­tur­ing Arc­tic Mon­keys’ Matt Helders on drums.

And now comes Free. As Iggy says: This is an album in which oth­er artists speak for me, but I lend my voice.” Those artists are Tex­an jazz trum­peter Leron Thomas and gui­tar instru­men­tal­ist Nov­el­ler. Even in a back cat­a­logue as rich and diverse as his, Free stands tall as the som­bre, con­tem­pla­tive sound of an artist at the peak of his pow­ers. Frankly, Iggy has nev­er sound­ed more free.

By the end of the tours fol­low­ing Post Pop Depres­sion, I felt sure that I had rid myself of the prob­lem of chron­ic inse­cu­ri­ty that had dogged my life and career for too long,” he tells us. But I also felt drained. And I felt like I want­ed to put on shades, turn my back, and walk away. I want­ed to be free. I know that’s an illu­sion, and that free­dom is only some­thing you feel, but I have lived my life thus far in the belief that that feel­ing is all that is worth pur­su­ing; all that you need – not hap­pi­ness or love nec­es­sar­i­ly, but the feel­ing of being free. So this album just kind of hap­pened to me, and I let it happen.” 

Iggy cred­its Ben Ratliff, the for­mer jazz crit­ic at The New York Times, with intro­duc­ing him to the work of Leron Thomas. He now counts the Hous­ton native – who also records under the name Pan Ams­ter­dam – as a close friend. As he says: We have a laugh togeth­er and we can talk about anything.”

Listen now: “The last time I made a best friend? Leron Thomas.” Iggy on his collaborators Leron (Pan Amsterdam) and Noveller.

We meet Iggy with a rail full of Mar­tine Rose clothes on a scorch­ing hot after­noon in north east Mia­mi. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, the wild man is most com­fort­able wear­ing a pair of jeans sans shirt, with his leath­ery tor­so proud­ly on show. He requests to go bare­foot, too. This is a south east­ern breeze, the nicest you can get here,” he says. 

Iggy has lived in Flori­da since 1991 – after 20 years in New York he was tired of the city’s mon­u­men­tal shit­ty build­ings and shit­ty people”. 

I love to be by the ocean. I walked about 50 blocks up the beach the first day I got to Mia­mi. Back then it was real­ly down­mar­ket. In 1997, I bought a con­do­mini­um for $40,000 from a shady char­ac­ter on the beach. In 1998, I moved and bought a house.

At that time, there was nev­er a prob­lem park­ing. I bought an old Cadil­lac. A cher­ry red Cadil­lac de Ville con­vert­ible from some old geezer. It was a 1968 car and he hand­ed me the keys and said: She’s ready to dri­ve to Cal­i­for­nia right now.’

It was real. There were lots of shady char­ac­ters here. Left over old peo­ple in South Beach. You know, peo­ple tak­ing advan­tage of cheap rent for these large spaces you could throw a club. There was a lot of that. 2 Live Crew had their own store front in Mia­mi Beach. It was real loose. Oh my God, there were still thrift stores here. Real, real loose.”

These days Iggy lives in Coconut Grove, an upscale, leafy green neigh­bour­hood. He has a place on the riv­er near­by where he focus­es on his art, and he takes reg­u­lar trips to the islands”: the Bahamas, the Cay­man Islands and Cuba, each just an hour away. He start­ed dri­ving a Rolls Royce a cou­ple of years ago, because the clas­sic British mar­que makes him feel like every­thing is okay” – he describes the process of obtain­ing a new Rolls as both com­fort­ing” and like being married”. 

Not to be con­fused with the idea of mar­riage, itself, being com­fort­ing for Iggy. Well no, I didn’t say that,” he laughs when asked to elab­o­rate. All I said was that sign­ing the papers and get­ting a war­rant, was like being mar­ried! I don’t do inter­views about marriage!”

Listen now: “You want to get in my car? You can get in my car baby!” Iggy on his Rolls Royce.

When he’s not hang­ing out in Mia­mi lis­ten­ing to Eric B. & Rakim with his bird – of the feath­ered vari­ety – Big­gie Pop, or on a trip to the islands, you can catch Iggy on 6 Music. With Iggy Con­fi­den­tial, his free-roam­ing week­ly radio show, he has a clear mis­sion in mind, one that’s per­me­at­ed his career: to intro­duce a rav­en­ous pool of lis­ten­ers to new music on which to feast. That, and avoid­ing repetition. 

I try to do every­thing that I can [to avoid it]. Maybe over a whole three years I might repeat one per cent of the tracks. And it’s a two-hour show. I have to have 30 tracks, 40 weeks a year. That’s 1200 tracks! I find shit, and then I have sources: two or three peo­ple in France, a pro­duc­er, a jazz boy in New York who some­times sends me stuff, and a girl from a record store here. Most­ly I just jig it up and then about 15 per cent of it is stuff I’ve known about, and loved, all my life. 

But when you do that many, and you’re going fast, and you’re also tour­ing, and doing record­ing, and try­ing to live… I do lis­ten to the shows, two thirds, or all of it… But you know, the first cou­ple tracks I’ll go: Oh, that’s great, I real­ly like that one’, and some­times the third one [is], aaargh!’ you know? Some­times, even if it’s not my favourite thing, I’ll play some­thing if the artist is real­ly good because I know that some­body else might appre­ci­ate that style. I do a lit­tle compromise.” 

You might have seen Iggy pop up on a screen near you this sum­mer, too, in Jim Jarmusch’s self-aware zom­bie com­e­dy The Dead Don’t Die. Iggy and Jar­musch have been pals since the ear­ly Nineties, with Iggy first pop­ping up in 1995’s dark com­e­dy Dead Man (as a cross-dress­ing fur trad­er) and lat­er in 2003’s Cof­fee and Cig­a­rettes as him­self. They got togeth­er again in 2016 to work on Gim­mie Dan­ger, Jarmusch’s doc­u­men­tary that’s an unapolo­getic love let­ter to the The Stooges. Now, in his best role yet, Iggy plays a shirt­less zom­bie along­side an all-star cast that includes Bill Mur­ray, Adam Dri­ver, Chloë Sevi­gny and Til­da Swinton.

Listen now: "He said: 'I want you to play a zombie in my next movie'." Iggy on Jim Jarmusch.

There are, then, count­less sides to Iggy the chameleon. He may have mel­lowed since his days of dare­dev­il­ish div­ing, crowd surf­ing and onstage self-lac­er­a­tion (pour­ing wax on his chest or goug­ing at his skin with a bro­ken drum­stick). But he’s still as dar­ing, and still as fear­less, albeit less self-destruc­tive and more reflec­tive, the poles of his per­son­al­i­ty embod­ied in a speak­ing voice that piv­ots between girl­ish gig­gle and Mid­west­ern drawl.

He’s got a book on the way, too. Til Wrong Feels Right, pub­lished this Sep­tem­ber, brings togeth­er lyrics, old pho­tos and reflec­tions on his career, from those pro­to-punk begin­nings to his induc­tion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, right through to this sum­mer and run of select shows he’s been play­ing in Europe.

Iggy’s mot­to for liv­ing? Get out of bed and con­front life.” That, and: Always cov­er your ass.”

Listen now: The one thing you should remember, as told by Iggy.

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