Like E M Forster said: “A novel needs and plot; oh God, a novel needs a plot.”
In that spirit it’s time I tried to lay some facts and background out here. Who is Iggy Pop, where does he come from, as Tricky wrote in some sleeve notes once about Kate Bush: “Is (s)he from this planet?”
I’ll do my best, with the help of some interviews, books and documentaries that are out there to tell the story of a life.
My sources are these-
1- A book called “I Need More.” Written by someone whose name I can’t recall. This is a strange book. There are ‘celebrity’ biographies that are serious and in-depth; there are ones that are short on text and long on pictures. This book is something of both. It seems to be out of print now but it was really quite good. There was a lot of information about Iggy and about the Stooges- well written, adult and informative stuff. Also, since the element of performance is so important in the Iggy story it was really great to have a lot of candid, publicity and concert photos collected in there also.
I have admitted that I have a very poor memory in many ways but I have a excellent memory in one particular way. This is best illustrated by my fascination with motorbikes when I was a child. There was a motorbike dealership in Phibsboro, quite near to my school and not too far from my house. When I was around ten years old I was obsessed with motorbikes. There was a programme on TV about motorbike scrambling, the one where they race against time on a cross country course, crossing logs and mud fields and ploughing up ridiculously steep hills. It was great. I was fascinated and dreamed all the time about riding a motorbike. Strangely, in my fantasies I always rode a medium sized bike in a very sensible manner. I never dreamt of speed or of being the next Barry Sheen, my desires were far tamer, but no less ardent for it.
The dealership used to allow me to wander around their shop looking at bikes and asking questions as if I was in the market, they were really very kind and would give me brochures to take home to further ponder.
At some point I got a book, illustrated with photos , teaching the reader how to ride a motorbike. I read it from cover to cover, over and over again. In truth I have probably read that book far more times than any other piece of literature in my life, and for me then it was a great work of imagination, even though it has been lost I know not where for at least thirty years now.
Years later, in another country, in what can sometimes feel like a different life, I bought my first small motorbike. I had ridden mopeds previously, having never learned to drive (there wasn’t really any need in the inner city and I never thought I’d life any where else I suppose) but this was an actual, real motorbike with gears and a clutch.
I bought and paid for it on a Saturday and then had a week to go get insurance and organize such practical things until I could pick it up and drive it away.
I had never had a lesson and never ridden a geared bike before. I had sense enough to understand that might present a small problem.
I sat in a quiet room, closed my eyes and in my mind picked up and opened that illustrated how-to manual from all those years ago.
It was all still there.
The clutch is the lever on the left hand, the back brake is the operated with your right foot. I recalled it perfectly page by page, picture by picture. I worked through it’s virtual pages slowly and carefully, practising everything over and over in my mind.
A week later I got the bike. Wheeled it to a side street. Put it in gear, drove up and down the street a few times to make sure I had this stuff right and then rode about fifteen mile home with not too many problems.
My long overdue point is this, I have a similar sort of recall when it comes to that book about Iggy. A great deal of that information is still very clear in my mind. I just have to be quiet and close my eyes for a while.
Still I cannot remember the names of either author 9the motorbike book or the Iggy book)- some kind of author envy I suspect and I apologize. These two books have been at least as influential for me as “Moby Dick”, “The Story of Mr. Sommer” or the Moonin novels, and I remember who wrote all of them.
One other literary input has to be mentioned. He went by the name of Lester Bangs. Still does in a way.
He was a writer who famously, now, really only ever produced record reviews and still managed to be one of the best writers of the last century. In truth that is a little bit of a case of printing the legend. He wrote a lot more than record reviews: novels, short stories, manifestos- they just didn’t get published that much. They should have been but they weren’t.
He’s the sort of fella we like to lionize in order to paper over the sad facts of a life cut short and seriously frustrated. But he was a fine writer and he wrote some serious words on Iggy and the Stooges. He also did this close to the time this was all happening whereas most Iggy appreciation has come a long time after the fact (guilty as charged).
The two pieces I have read and reread over time, and which are risky reading for me on this subject because they are so good they tend to colonize the landscape surrounding the subject, are entitled “Of Pop and Pies and Fun (A Program for Mass Liberation in the Form of a Stooges Review, or, Who’s the Fool) and Iggy Pop: Blowtorch in Bondage- both contained in the excellent collection “Psychotic reactions & carburettor dung” edited by Greil Marcus.
“ Of Pop and Pies and Fun…” is presented as a review of “Funhouse” the second Stooges album but is very much an anatomy of the band and of the times. Bangs perfectly understands the importance of the Stooges as being rooted in a great willingness to make fools of themselves in a sincere way in the age of the dominant and obsessive ‘supergroups’ but he gets it wrong with- “The Stooges are not for the ages- nothing created now is, but that are implicitly for today…”
In fact the Stooges more than lasted the test of time (as has Lester Bang’s own writing). Perhaps because they were not of their own time but so purely their own weird shelves their music has not been temporary but has remained with the permanence, if not the pretence, of, dare I say it ‘art’.
There will probably; moreover, never be a time when it will not be the case that we need liberating ‘from basically uncreative lifestyles in which people often lacking half the talent or personality or charisma of you or I are elevated to godlike positions’.
We’ll always need the Stooges to combat that disease.
Bangs also correctly identifies that Iggy himself was at heart a nice sensitive young guy reacting to an environment where everything from the music scene to social movements were beginning to look a little (or a lot) too damn sure of themselves and just plain corporate.
Things were getting somewhat self-satisfied in certain hip quarters and the antidote required someone willing to be dismissed and disrespected as ridiculous but for honest reasons.
Who might be the Stooges to the Apple and Google corps I wonder?
The Stooges helped to break down the wall that was building up between audiences and ‘superstar’ musicians and without them or something like them- no Sex Pistols mixing fluids with the crowd, no Nick Cave in The Birthday Party days kicking and punching folks at the front.
Iggy was always more inclined to take punishment than to dish it out but that’s just taste and personality, I suspect Nick ain’t quite as sweet as Iggy when it comes right down to bruises, but the action and the atmosphere and the environment is the same. I’ve seen both live in concert and it’s a similar energy.
It is extremely difficult to describe music, in that sense it is like anything which is its own best and final explanation such as sex and the pleasures of eating but Bangs pulls off a near perfect clause about the Stooges and the few other groups that have managed the same trick of sculpting beauty from noise- “Because properly conceived and handled noise is not noise at all, but music whose textures just happen to be a little thicker and more involved than usual,…” Boom, drop the mic.
Iggy Pop: blowtorch in Bondage comes from a later period- 1977 and the tour Iggy did with David Bowie after the album “The Idiot” was released. It’s a much, much shorter piece- no less insightful for it.
It’s disappointment with “The Idiot” (just past its 40th anniversary) is not one I share (I don’t believe that Iggy sounds like a dead man on that album, just a tired one, which may have been part of the point and, more basically- true) but it’s central theme, concern really, that being Iggy might turn out to be an impossible burden for Jim Osterberg is clear and urgent. I’ll refer to it again perhaps in an upcoming discussion of Iggy and Primatology.
2 (Secondary)Audio material.
I have a large type podcast habit. Really, it’s a problem. I’m waiting for the syndrome to be named. Heck, they may end up naming it for me. At present I have too real addictions, by which I mean obsessions that I sometimes worry about, and they are coffee and podcasts.
It doesn’t help that they go so well together too.
I have, at present, at least five different devices for brewing coffee and none of them are those crappy Nespresso machines or whatever. I have, at present, about 3,000 podcasts downloaded or waiting to be downloaded. There are just so many of them and they are so perfect. I can listen to them when I am out for a walk, when I’m riding my moped, when I am travelling back and forth to Dublin. They always seem to be just about the right length and they cover pretty much any subject and interest. They are also largely uncensored. They do not have to pander too much (usually) to corporate sponsors and they allow people who genuinely have put in the work to understand a subject to explain it at the appropriate length without being made to fit into a fixed half hour or hour slot or chopped into sections of a specific duration to accommodate advertisements with every section beginning with a reprís of all prior sections to comfort anyone who has turned the TV on with three quarters of the programme already over.
In short, podcasts allow for a level of rigour I very much appreciate.
I subscribe to lots of podcasts and download individual episodes of still more. One of the van guards of the podcast movement was WTF. An podcast produced by the American comedian Marc Maron. Mr. Maron is a big fan of musician’s so he has had a lot of fascinating cats on there. He has interviewed John Cale and Nick Cave and back in 2013 he had one Iggy Pop.
I think he interviewed Barrack Obama too which apparently was some sort of big deal but anyway. ..
The Iggy podcast, of course, has been useful to me in getting some of the biographical details of Iggy’s life a little straighter and the podcast with Cale also shed some useful light on my subject as he produced the first Stooges album He played the viola on at least one song on that album and I think was at least partly responsible for the inspired, what I have always taken to be, single note piano pounding on ‘I wanna be your dog”.
Another extremely important audio source of information, and a gift straight from the gods for the likes of me, is the fact that for a couple of years now Iggy has had a semi-regular radio show on BBC 6 Music for two hours on Friday evenings.
This show proves two things- the first, that Iggy has a record collection that puts even Alan’s to shame. The second is that there is a great need for an Iggy Autobiography. I suspect, but don’t know, that he would be resistant to a straight forward, chronologically bond autobiography but it could work brilliantly in the same sort of form as Nick Ray’s fragmentary “I was interrupted”.
I am convinced of this because Iggy, now in his seventies, is a wonderful storyteller.
Sure it helps that his voice has the deep, considered, friendly, sincere. mid-western tones of your very best fantasy American uncle but more importantly it is clear that Iggy never took himself so seriously that it got in the way of him noticing and really paying attention to, the people around him.
He has a clear and intense interest in other people. He has a respect for knowledge and experience and basically, he’s been watching and listening for a long time. It’s no surprise that in the Marc Maron interview he mentions that one of his two favourite courses during the short time he attended college was Social Anthropology, (the other being Asian studies.)
He tells a lot of these stories in a relaxed, unaffected manner on the radio show “Iggy Confidential” and it will put you in mind of the likes of James Agee and Walker Evans and any other fine and sincere collector of the stories of real American lives in recent history. I’m a big Iggy Pop fan, you get that by now, but try it, it’s that good.
Another important secondary audio source is the John Peel Lecture given by Iggy in 2014 with the title “Free Music in a Capitalist Society”. I’ll write about that at more length later in this series but for now I want to acknowledge the fact that it has helped provide me with material for these posts.
3 The primary sources. The most important of all. It’s a cliché but no less true for that (which in itself is another cliché; thus helping to prove that it is impossible to write without cliché because language implies a certain level of cliché. It may be the skilled use of cliché that counts. That…,or cut-up techniques) that the best explanation of a poem or a song is the damn poem or song itself.
What’s the meaning of that poem? Read the poem, maybe out loud- that’s the meaning. What’s that song about? Listen to the song, maybe quite loud- that’s what the song is about.
It’s ok, if it doesn’t mean that much to you. It’s also ok if a repetitive, droning, strange, sort of hard rock but not really song with equally simple, repetitive lyrics cracks your heart open like an egg and changes the course of your life.
We all like different things, we all react in our own ways. Or rather we all play out small but significant variations on basically similar themes in response to our slightly unique but often routine reactions to the soup of primate hormones, social interactions, experiences and ideas that make our lives and personalities special, but not that much; or the same, but not quite.
It’s like the cliché thing. Most of our lives are a series of clichés; bond by restrictions of biology, history, environment and economics, but not so that you can actually pin down the formula, not so much that the mystery doesn’t leak in and leave people like Iggy watching the world and trying to make sense of it all through words and noise, and people like me trying to make sense of it my writing about him.
…and one live concert….
After all that I think we are going to have to start the biographical content next week. I promise I’m not going to get Tristam Shandy on you. I’m not that clever.