No one is more surprised Iggy Pop is still alive than the leather-clad man himself.
As he stares down the barrel of 70 years on the planet, the improbable rock 'n' roll survivor still marvels at his own resilience. But more importantly, he feels the guilt for close friends he outlasted: Lou Reed, David Bowie, and, to much more fervent degree, the members of his seminal Detroit proto-punk band the Stooges.
In Gimme Danger, the upcoming Jim Jarmusch-helmed documentary about the group’s mercurial career, Pop goes to great lengths to point out that, despite often being billed as Iggy and the Stooges, the group was a “communist” effort, pillared by the motionless thunder of the musicians while the flailing frontman dove head first (often literally) towards the spotlight.
But as Pop tells CBC Music in an emotional and candid interview, the tension born of that inevitable “dichotomy” would lead to a splintering of the original band, an act which would haunt the singer right through to its much-publicised 2003 reunion and the deaths of three of its original members.
As the outlandish frontman for the Stooges, it’s not surprising to hear that labels and managers tried to separate you from the group — to make you the star. But with the release of Gimme Danger and an upcoming authorized biography, coupled with your possibile retirement, it’s clear you’re trying to set a public record straight before it’s too late. How great was the pressure from outside and inside to extrapolate yourself from the group?
Pop: Here's the deal, right from the get go you had people who liked the whole group. And then you had a whole lot of other people who would say or write or still give interviews to the effect of, 'well, really the whole thing was this guy Iggy doing this thing and the group was just a bunch of these ...' Which wasn't true. Then that would start to translate to reviews and then, of course, the fellas in the group would see a review or comments about our show and then, in the early group, I would wake up the next morning and there would be writing literally on the wall:
See him puke
See him shit green
See him jump
Jump Iggy jump
So these things started coming up and the next thing that happened was, little by little, the people would make a poster — I mean, we're talking about a dance where 200 people were going to come — it's like, the Stooges WITH IGGY, a show you won't forget — and we'd try to bonk that down but it kept coming out.
Then when our first album came out they called me first and asked if I'd mind being [billed as] Iggy Stooge and I said, 'yeah, I fucking mind. This is not Alice Cooper.'
"When they passed away they had houses, money and bad habits. These are the three things a rock star is supposed to have.
I wasn't coming from like, 'okay, I've got a manager, I've got a plan.' I was just a kid from the Midwest. I would walk to the record store, two miles into town every Tuesday for three months, waiting for our record to come out. Finally, one day, it was late August, there it was in the window: (whispers) that's our record. There it is in the record store I used to work in. And I was so excited and I ran in there and I got it and I turned it over and I was Iggy Stooge. They were doing the product identification with me. And I was humiliated and furious and I couldn't do anything about it. Well later, little by little, we'd go far from Detroit and they'd just bill it: Iggy and the Stooges.
Finally, when the second coming of the Stooges came around, they billed our gigs Iggy Pop (ex-Stooges). So they kept trying to whack us down. The billing on Raw Power, same thing. Nobody told me the album was going to come out, nobody told me.
To me, it was just simple. It's like when you go into the Hall of Fame and say, 'Ok, great so all ten of the guys that were ...' Oh, no, no, no, we'll decide who you are. So you make that compromise with them but they didn't dare do that with me so they'd do it behind my back. So eventually it was Iggy and the Stooges, so you have a little dichotomy set up there.
On the other hand, was I the guy who bothered to actually go out of Detroit with no pennies in my pocket and tried to get a gig? Yeah. Was I the guy who went and chatted up the local promoters? Yeah. Was I the guy who would bother to answer the phone? Yeah. So, y'know.
"On the one hand there's this guy unwilling to be Caesar. On the other, he's jumping up and down with a pair of underpants on and strangling himself with a mic cord."
But finally, as far as the final break up, the group at the end, about '74, I was a mess, the internal feelings within the group was a mess, I didn't want to be in the group anymore as that existed. It wasn't going to be the same. At that point, the guitarist in the group wanted to formalize the group's positions. He drew up a contract. It would have prohibited me from ever working with anybody else again. It would have given a half-share to the Ashtons, who refused. So I ended up doing solo work. And when David Bowie, who I've known for quite a while, came up with some music that I thought suited me and offered to make a record on me, I said let's do it. So that was a clean break.
So I was always in the group but let's face it: on the one hand there's this guy unwilling to be Caesar. On the other, he's jumping up and down with a pair of underpants on and strangling himself with a mic cord. I never thought of them as attention-getting gestures (laughs). But there you go. How's that for an answer?!
The movie glosses over the creation of Iggy as a character. Was that on purpose?
Jarmusch: I guess because our focus really was Stooges and so the chemical reaction of these people together. [Doing that] would seem like a shifting towards the Iggy Pop story. I think that's why, but it's a valid question.
Pop: I'm a little embarrassed to be here because of all that part of things. On the other hand, I was in the group. I wrote a lot of the music for them. I wrote other stuff together with the other guy. I did vocals. Ok, the melodies only have two or three notes but they're my melodies.
Jarmusch: But that's the reason we made this film, because the other guys aren't here.
Pop: Exactly. One of them's around but it was to try to get everything together for everybody.
In a terrible way, I was happy that during the group... I put almost eight years into the original group and I put about 12 into the comeback — a reunion is [a group] getting back together to do some gigs but we won't record an album because it might sully our preciousness — no, it was a f--king comeback and that was another 12 years. And during that 12 years the whole repertoire was covered. All three albums. And James [Williamson] was able to come in and do his bit. Only because Ron [Ashton] passed away, but still.
Every member of the group during the 12-year period, and our side men, graduated with honours. Meaning when they passed away they had houses, money and bad habits [laughs]. These are the three things a rock star is supposed to have. So they got their rock recognition, alright?
That's how I feel about it.