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‘American Valhalla’: The Iggy Pop Interview

‘American Valhalla’: The Iggy Pop Interview

Iggy Pop, the undisputed godfather of punk, opens up about drugs (and why rehab never worked for him), his latest album "Post Pop Depression," Donald Trump's "boffo" appeal, and his giant cockatoo Biggy Pop.

BY KRISSI MURISON
THE INTERVIEW PEOPLE

He can’t wait to get it out. For appearance’s sake, he came on wearing a tuxedo jacket, with nothing underneath. But a couple of songs in and Iggy Pop can contain himself no longer. He pulls the jacket off, setting free the most famous torso in rock.

Iggy – 69 and now more leather handbag than human – pounds his chest like a gorilla, humps a speaker stack, pauses to tell a story about meeting Chuck Berry on LSD and throws himself off the stage at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music. A 130-pound blur of crocodile skin, sinew and Miami Beach hair.

Two hours and untold stage dives later, he finally waves goodbye to his audience and heads straight into a backstage photoshoot with The Sunday Times Magazine.

It is only here, with the adrenaline subsiding, that the toll on his body begins to tell. He is limping – the result of more than half a century’s lunacy. He has scoliosis, cartilage loss, damaged ligaments and bones that no longer connect as nature originally intended.

Iggy is the undisputed godfather of punk – the one Johnny Rotten, Alice Cooper and The Clash aspired to be – if only they’d had his stomach for self-destruction. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, with his band The Stooges, Iggy would deliberately cut himself with glass, break bones, expose his genitals or throw himself into the crowd to be beaten by biker gangs.

“I think we’ve got enough now,” he tells the photographer after 10 minutes. He hobbles through a side door into his dressing room (the heel on one of his Dr. Martens boots is stacked higher than the other, to balance out his dodgy hips). Waiting for him is his third wife, Nina Alu, an Irish-Nigerian bombshell and former air hostess, 25 years his junior. The effect is curative and instant.

Iggy settles on the sofa while Nina offers me champagne. “Or I have a nice Bordeaux,” he growls in my ear. “If you’d like that.” Nina pours from a bottle of Château Pichon-Longueville ($220 a pop), while his manager brings in a plate of cheese. Iggy finds his glasses so he can see me better. The tuxedo, by the way, is back on – though there is still no sign of a shirt.

How do you recover after a performance like that, I ask, as the rest of the room clears.

“Sorry?”

I repeat the question, louder, in his other ear.

“Oh no, this ear’s worse. It has a bone spur in it,” he says in his languid baritone. “I’m an addictive kind of person; for many years I was addicted to swimming, no matter how cold the water. The doctor told me this ear started to grow a spur to protect itself. So my hearing, which is not that brilliant in the right ear, is worse on the left.”

I try again: How do you feel after a performance like that? “Awful!” he convulses with laughter. It is an amazing laugh. The kind that is always funnier than the joke itself. A hilarious, haywire, Scooby Doo seizure of a laugh.

This tour is to promote his latest album, “Post Pop Depression,” a hard-rock meditation on mortality that is quietly being billed as his last great hurrah. He has too much manic energy not to make music in some form again, but perhaps not quite enough to perform and promote another big, commercial Iggy Pop record like this one.

Raised in a trailer park in Michigan, he spent much of his early career destitute and homeless. At his roughest patch, he was a heroin addict, sleeping in a garage on a stolen mattress, supported by a gay hustler called Bruce. He was rescued by David Bowie, his great fan, friend and benefactor, who took him off to Berlin.

It was in Berlin that he created his seminal 1977 albums “The Idiot” and “Lust for Life” – both written and co-produced by Bowie. The younger Bowie, by the way, had been so in thrall to Iggy that he wrote “The Jean Genie” about him (“he’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls”) and almost certainly based parts of his Ziggy Stardust character on him.

Even after Bowie’s intervention, though, mainstream success was a long time coming. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s, when the title track off “Lust for Life” was used in the opening sequence of the film “Trainspotting,” that he began to learn how to cash in on “Brand Iggy.” A Stooges reunion tour, clothing line and ad campaign for car insurance duly followed.

From then on, his legacy and influence snowballed. He, Bowie and their fellow artistic conspirator and friend Lou Reed were heralded as rock ’n’ roll’s sacred triangle. Reed, the visionary; Bowie, the hit-maker; Iggy, the great performer. For now, though, he must contend with a more dubious honour: Last Man Standing. Reed died in 2013. Bowie, of course, went in January. He doesn’t want to talk about losing Bowie. “I don’t feel like being the guy who dines out on that subject. That’s all,” he shrugs.

Iggy’s current band is a supergroup of contemporary rockers: Josh Homme and Dean Fertita from California’s Queens of the Stone Age on guitar and bass and Matt Helders from Sheffield’s Arctic Monkeys on drums. They all collaborated on the album. Homme is also a founding member of Eagles of Death Metal, the band that was playing at the Bataclan in Paris during November’s terrorist attacks. Although he was not performing with them that night, Homme suffers survivor’s guilt.

Bandmate Josh Homme previously told me that Iggy was at his home in Miami when he got the news about Bowie’s death at 4.30 a.m. Later that morning, he flew to LA to rehearse for this tour. “I was, like, you don’t even need a reason, just whatever you want to do,” Homme says. “But he said, ‘I’m coming.’ I admire that. He’s very old-school that way.” Tour rehearsals, then, became a welcome distraction for both men. “After Paris and Bowie died, we both had something we really cared about to work on, and I needed that,” Homme says.

It’s nice to see Iggy sipping his posh wine. Most former alcoholics have two settings – all or nothing – but in his old age, Iggy has discovered moderation. Not that he was exaggerating about having an addictive personality. He has surmised his chemical odyssey thus: “I went from grass to hashish to LSD to heroin. Then coke and heroin. Then down the steps from there to meth to Quaaludes. Then finally all the way down to outside the liquor store at 6 a.m., waiting for them to open.”

Rehab never worked for him – “In rehab, I was a hero,” he said. “I went into one and it was all ‘Hey, Iggy, I’ve got some Valium, wanna have a Jacuzzi?’” One shrink had some success committing him to an actual mental-health ward. He has since perfected his formula for beating addictions. “You go three days without any poison in your body. You’ll go back and do a little, and then your body will say to you, ‘Er, dude, we were kind of having a good time when you didn’t put shit in there.’”

He tries to eat healthily. “I was an extreme foodie before that was ‘in.’ I know a lot about what food does to you, but I’m not really going to subscribe to Goop [Gwyneth Paltrow’s batshit lifestyle website] any time soon. God, all those girls just need to be thrown in a fiery pit. ‘But I’m upper class, you can’t do this to me! I’m nouveau riche! I’m an actress! I’m on the Internet!’” he squeals.

The only thing to put him off his stride these days is a giant cockatoo named Biggy Pop, which his wife recently emancipated from a tiny cage “down at the end of Florida where they don’t think of animals in the same way,” and who now enjoys his own Instagram account, @BiggyPop, with 16,000 followers.

We talk about politics. He says he voted Obama in the last two US elections “because if I didn’t, my wife would have killed me. No, I always liked him. I gave him some dough.” He is less enthused by his options this time around. “Ahhh,” he sighs, then laughs, then sighs again. “There’s more under heaven and earth than is dreamt of under Bernie [Sanders]’s philosophy. And I mean, Hillary? What can I say? I’m not going to go there.”

I ask him to help me make sense of Donald Trump’s appeal among America’s white working class – the kind of people Iggy grew up around before he became a hotshot with a Mediterranean-revival beach house. “In America, we are a cruder race, and people place a lot of value on sincerity, it’s a huge deal in the US. And the problem is that the only sincerity on which a large group of people can agree is ‘boffo’ sincerity – a boffo is like a clown, a vulgarity. That’s what appeals to people.”

Krissi Murison writes for the Times of London.


Featured photo credit: Ullstein/The Interview People

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.