Iggy Pop. The man of a thousand lives
Iggy Pop by Roger Woolman
By Carlos Pérez de Ziriza*. His scars are like battle wounds. The furrows of his skin, stripes. His sinewy, bruised torso is an icon of rock culture. Like his skinny jeans. His limping, a sign of survival. He’ s been presumed dead more than once. Big mistake. At times it seems that James Newell Osterberg (Muskegon, Michigan, 1947) is not human. He is an iguana, yes, but not just any iguana: one that has made a deal with the devil, because iguanas do not usually live longer than two decades.
Iggy Pop is a kamikaze soul who has always been regarded as the godfather of punk. Without him and his Stooges, surely the ’77 generation wouldn’t have been quite the same. Nor would the grunge generation one decade later. The sound of gritty Detroit, the Motor City, had them and the MC5 as pioneers of the fierce, blunt and irreverent sound that would change the course of popular music a decade after they emerged. Reduced to the status of a cult band, with little commercial viability, it would take decades for them to be given the recognition they deserved.
The trilogy comprising The Stooges (Elektra, 1969), Fun House (Elektra, 1970) and Raw Power (Elektra, 1973) is a throbbing history of rock. Three albums carved on the razor’s edge. Dark, menacing. Dangerous, even for the physical integrity of their author, who mutilated himself during concerts that became true covens. Ceremonies like there was no tomorrow. Abrasive, hurtful, utterly shattering the trends and styles of the time in which they were released.
The third of them was produced by a certain David Bowie, a key figure in Iggy Pop’s history since without him many of the changes that influenced his career wouldn’t have taken place. For beyond any stereotype, Iggy Pop was always synonymous with change. Despite the fact that in his live performances has always prevailed his fiercest version. British journalist Paul Morley once said about him that James Osterberg was the thinker and Iggy Pop the doer. And he wasn’t far off the mark. There is a reason why many of his thoughts, those farthest from the canon of rock, have not been reflected on stage. His wildest side was always the most popular.
The trilogy comprising “The Stooges” (Elektra, 1969), “Fun House” (Elektra, 1970) and “Raw Power” (Elektra, 1973) is a throbbing history of rock.
His rock is mostly unadulterated, sure, but it’s also jazz, icy electronica, touches of metal and blues. Sounds that are far from the canon for which he is mostly known, since his masterpieces have overshadowed many of those intriguing creative sidesteps. One of his latest albums, in fact, is the striking “Free” (Loma Vista, 2019), which lives up to its name by venturing into languid and scenic territories, close to free-flight jazz, somehow unwinding from the electric guitars and life on the road.
Iggy Pop Live in Spain
Music legend Iggy Pop will perform at Diversity València Festival next Thursday, July 21st.
Buy your ticket HERE
Although he might not always be in the mood to face the crowd on stage to the rhythm of his best-known classics, he will surely do it again at Diversity Festival, as he did in his past visits to Valencia, at the Jardines de Viveros in 2011 or at the Arena Auditorium in 1994. He remains true to his story, but he also always leaves room for introspection and experimentation.
From the Berlin sky to eternity
His first major career turning point comes, as we said, with David Bowie and his so-called Berlin stage. The two musicians become best of friends in the German capital in 1976. Both are trying to break away from their addictions. Two albums result from this alliance, Lust For Life (RCA, 1977) and The Idiot (RCA, 1977), two works heavily influenced by Kraftwerk’s electronic and synth pop.
The first big turn in his career comes thanks to David Bowie. Two albums result from this alliance, “Lust For Life” (RCA, 1977) and “The Idiot” (RCA, 1977), two works heavily influenced by Kraftwerk’s electronic and synth pop.
Like all great creators, Iggy steps out of his own shadow at the very moment his disciples try to follow in his footsteps. So when the guitars of the Sex Pistols, Ramones or The Clash start to thunder, he’s already on to something else. Bowie’s help, Hansa Studios’ atmosphere in Berlin (in the first of those two albums), an existentialism drawn from Dostoevsky’s literature and a formula that attempted to connect James Brown with Kraftwerk (some years before the latter became a keystone of New York’s first electro) were the foundations of this first great creative resurrection. It certainly would not be the last.
The resurrection of the 90s
The second resurrection comes more than a decade later. And seals his entry into the mainstream. His return to the charts. The gateway to a second youth in which his influence on the grunge generation is no longer questioned. Well into his forties, he is an absolute icon.
The album is called Brick By Brick (Virgin, 1990) and comes after the eighties, a rather dull period for him -and for most of the sacred cows of classic rock-. It has all it takes to seduce the audience: a sound that walks the line between the radio-ready hard rock so hot at that time (Gun, Living Colour, even Guns N’ Roses and the Californian sleaze rock bands) and a certain AOR touch, the production of the experienced and shrewd Don Was, the collaborations of Slash and Duff McKagan (from the very same Guns N’ Roses) and Kate Pierson (from the reborn The B-52’s, whose amazing Cosmic Thing had been produced a year before by Don Was himself), and a superb cover illustrated by comic artist Charles Burns. With such ingredients in form and substance, the songs had to be really bad to be noticed.
And they most certainly were not: Home, Candy or Living In The Edge Of The Night became major wild cards for any radio station of the time and the album was the best-selling of his whole career, paving the way to the nineties, with successful tours and not so inspired but equally rocking works, such as American Caesar (Virgin, 1993) or Naughty Little Doggie (Virgin, 1996). One could say that Brick By Brick (1990) was the last great rock album of his career. But not his last great album.
Maturity at twilight
The twentieth century could have certified its creative demise. The inevitable sclerosis. He brought the Stooges back together during the 2000s inspired by the principles of nostalgia and recycling, on nourishing tours and with a more than expendable album in his back pocket (The Weirdness, 2007), but his bandmates, brothers Ron and Scott Asheton, died within a span of five years, between 2009 and 2014.
Lou Reed (in 2013) and David Bowie (in 2016), who had rescued him in the 1970s from the bottomless pit that threatened his career, also passed away, leaving us a vibrant farewell.
Of the three stars featured in that iconic snapshot taken by Mick Rock in 1972, with the rock and roll animal, the white duke and the iguana posing in front of the camera, he was the only one left. It smelled like the end of a cycle. Like irremediable decline. Like twilight.
But his seventeenth album was a major surprise. Showing again his knack for surrounding himself with hot producers, he surreptitiously recruited Josh Homme (Queens Of The Stone Age, remodeler of Arctic Monkeys’ third album sound) as supervisor and two musicians as versatile as Dean Fertita (Homme’s partner in QOTSA) on keyboards and guitars and Matt Helders (Arctic Monkeys) on drums.
Of the three stars featured in that iconic snapshot taken by Mick Rock in 1972, Iggy Pop was the only one left. It smelled like the end of a cycle. Like irremediable decline. Like twilight. But his seventeenth album was a major surprise, showing again his knack for surrounding himself with hot producers. Post Pop Depression (Loma Vista, 2016) is one of the greatest albums of his career.
The operation proved to be absolutely rejuvenating: “Post Pop Depression” (Loma Vista, 2016) is one of the greatest albums of his entire career. It harks back to the old Lust For Life or The Idiot (both from 1977) but from a new perspective, more organic and dry, in line with the times. A new way of modulating his rockier vein without needing to stick to the crooner canon of albums like the also very praiseworthy Préliminaires (Astralwerks, 2009), Après (Thousand Mile, 2012) and Free (Loma Vista, 2019), dominated by his baritone voice. It’s hard to catch Iggy Pop wrong footed when it comes to changing with the times. Not many would have thought so fifty years ago.
When he lands in Valencia on July 21, he will be 75 years old. And as the born survivor that he is, he will try to continue honoring that visceral, wild, sexual and dangerous concept of rock, dodging the parody of himself that he could have become many years ago.
Get your full ticket and feel part of the History of Music.
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