Wednesday 16 October 2019

Iggy at 72 and how a lust for life endures...

Iggy says: 'Rock 'n' roll took a beating and is now basically irrelevant - because it got mined to death'
Iggy says: 'Rock 'n' roll took a beating and is now basically irrelevant - because it got mined to death'
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

A druggy night in Georgia. In 1973, before going onstage with his band The Stooges in Atlanta, Iggy Pop was passed out cold in the bushes beside the Days Inn. When he awoke, Iggy (who had some personal experience of psychiatric wards) thought he had gone insane. He was confronted by a gorilla in the bushes.

More accurately, by Elton John in a gorilla suit. Doubtless Elton was as drugged out of his gourd as Iggy was and may well have thought he was hallucinating.

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"I was like, 'Oh my God! What can I do?'" Iggy told Legs McNeill in his 1996 book Please Kill Me. "I couldn't fight him."

Some of us can't fight how good Iggy's music has been over the years. Down On The Street from The Stooges' 1970 tour de force Funhouse is a track I put on whenever I need a lift. It never fails. His two David Bowie-assisted solo releases, The Idiot and Lust For Life are two of the greatest albums of the 1970s. So, it is reasonable to wonder how music would have evolved differently were it not for the influence of James Newell Osterberg Jr, the self-lacerating prototype for Johnny Rotten et al.

In March, he was asked by The New York Times how he felt being called the Godfather of Punk. "Once it gets into reverence, does that bother me?" Iggy said. "I was, initially - but now I don't mind being called Godfather of Punk.

"There are occasional personal feelings that come from one-on-one interactions, when someone lets me know something genuine about the role that my work played in their life. When any type of music is still enjoying its vitality - that's a social influence.

"And then, as people carry on that style and figure out how to further produce it, the style becomes academic, by really imperceptible steps. Even in country music. There is a hell of a big stretch going from Hank Williams to Garth Brooks, buddy! That process of change happens in all genres.

"Rock 'n' roll sort of took a beating and is now basically irrelevant, because it got mined to death."

Now 72, Iggy has just released his 18th studio album, Free. If anyone in rock has earned the right to release a slightly impressionistic, slightly new-agey and slightly jazzy album with some poetry on there - Dylan Thomas's Do not go gentle into that good night and Lou Reed's We Are the People - at his age, it is maybe Iggy.

It can't be career-ending because Iggy and career were always strange bedfellows. Iggy seemed to sum up where he was at with Free when he said onstage at the Mad Cool Festival in Madrid in July.

"Every now and then this voice in me says, 'You're getting too straight, you're getting normal - you need some weird shit'."

Free is his most free-form, his most Bowie-like, in a sense, album. On the title track, he sings in his beguiling baritone over the din of a trumpet: "I want to be free." And then on the track The Dawn that closes the album, Iggy sings: "The darkness is like a challenger/To all my schemes and orders/And forced good nature /To just lay down is to give up."

Perhaps Iggy would be frightened to lay down now in case he was confronted by the ghost of Elton John in a gorilla suit.

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