Thursday, May 5, 2016

IGGY POP: No One’s Dog [1988]

Text by Mary Anne Cassata / FFanzeen, 1988
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Images from the Internet, unless indicated
Additional comments [in brackets] by RBF, 2016

This article was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #15, dated 1988. It was written by author Mary Anne Cassata. Check out her bibliography of biographies on Amazon, or other sites.
I’ve seen Iggy play a few times now. The first was at the Palladium in October 1977, with the Ramones opening. Another time I saw him was in March 1983 at the Brooklyn Zoo, with Helen Wheels starting the show. One memory that stood out from the Zoo concert was when someone threw some ice at him, and he stopped the show. He pointed his finger and said, very seriously, “Don’t you fucking throw ice at me. This is not a request, this is a command!” He started the song over, and yes, no one threw any anything else at him.

My most bizarre Iggy moment though was one day when I was riding the B train [which is now called the D Train, but I digress…] into work from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. There was a guy sitting diagonally across from me who just looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him. As he got off, I realized, “Hey, was that Iggy Pop? Nah, couldn’t be.” Then I learned that he lived in the neighborhood around that time, and yep, indeed, it was him. Now I wish I had realized it to say hello, at least. When I first told this story, Armand, the Montreal-based Teenage News fanzine publisher, gave me heck for not realizing who it was right off the bat (well, he teased me about it, anyway).

In March of 2016, Iggy finally has his first Billboard #1, as well as a new autobiography about the Stooges years, appropriately titled Open Up and Bleed. – RBF,
Iggy in Boston: Photo by Rocco Cippilone
What do you think when you hear the name Iggy Pop? Does it conjure up images of an original rock and roll institution? Or is it some sort of punk prototype? Or an articulate overaged juvenile delinquent? Diehard Iggophiles know this strangely smiling man was James Newell Osterberg. To some he is a hero. To the less informed, a villain.

But whatever one makes of him, Iggy Pop in performance is nothing less than a respected visionary. Andy Warhol [d. 1987] once stated that Pop was the best: “I don’t know why he never really made it big. He is so good.”

It’s not that Iggy never aimed for success, it just seemed to elude him. However, after more than two decades as an artist, it doesn’t seem to be a point of question anymore. His latest album, Blah Blah Blah [1986], ends a four-year hiatus from recording. It was the release of the first Stooges album [1969], though, which lent in developing this notoriously famous reckless image. Since that fateful time when the Stooges burst onto the national music scene, there was no doubt that James Osterberg has not only survived over the years, but in the process made Iggy Pop an unchallenged and intriguing personality.

Looking at him today, he certainly is a man changed for the better from his “monstrous” existence. No longer can he call himself “God’s garbage man.” Iggy concentrates now on a more substantial lifestyle. Keeping his music fluid and his personal life in some sort of fashionable order seems far more essential than living out recklessly dangerous rock fantasies.

Born in 1947, James Osterberg arrived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to meet his future destiny. As the son of school teacher parents, he spent the first 18 years of his life in a mobile home camp. In his 1982 autobiography, I Need More, Iggy wrote about how vastly different James Osterberg was from the other little children he had grown up with: “I’d been a loner. When I entered the first grade I realized how incredibly much brighter I was than the other kids, and how I could pick up things faster than them.” The Osterberg’s moderate trailer home was structured in the middle of a large farm just outside of Ann Arbor. Apparently, his father preferred mobile living as opposed to a more conventional home for his family.

Being an only child was bad enough, but how does a little boy explain his living arrangements to his friends who might think it’s a bit strange? In his book, Jim remarked, “I wasn’t aware of houses until I was in the first grade.” It turned out to be quite a surprise when he learned that other kid lived in houses and not trailers. “They lived in suburban housing about a half mile down the road. I realized my way of life was considered – well, anyone with two eyes can see that a house is at least more secure.”

James Osterberg’s professional music career began when he formed his first band, the Iguanas (where his acquired name originates) in high school. He had always shown an ardent interest in music and hoped one day to be a professional musician. The novice band recorded two songs, “Mona” and “I Don’t Know Why” in 1965. Iggy was the drummer and didn’t sing lead yet. “I was the only one who was really into music in the band. The rest of the Iguanas weren’t so interested about it. There was a division in the band. They all liked Beatle songs and I liked the Stones, Kinks and Them.” From the Iguanas followed another short stint – The Prime Movers. But it wasn’t until his newest ensemble, The Stooges (Ron Ashton, guitar [d. 2009]; Dave Alexander, bass [d. 1975]; Scott Ashton, drums [d. 2014]), make their concert debut on Halloween 1967, in Ann Arbor.

The Stooges were beyond a doubt no ordinary trash rock and roll band just out there to make a buck. They played hard and angry, lashing out at teenage boredom, aiming straight to the heart of frustration. The memorable group pioneered the heavy metal sound which, by the early ‘70s, had dominated the music force. Originally known as The Psychedelic Stooges, they chose their name due to admiration for the famous comic trio of the Three Stooges. “What we loved was the one-for-all and the all-for-one of the Three Stooges and the violence of comedy.”

The group’s self-titled immortal Elektra debut album was recorded in New York at the famed Hit Factory studios. Produced by John Cale, the LP sold 35,000 copies on its first pressing which wasn’t considered bad for a new group. Such Igg-anthems as “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “No Fun” were prime examples of unusual inner combustion. It was also during a televised concert in the Midwest that this undaunted rock hero stole the spotlight away from the likes of Grand Funk Railroad and Alice Cooper by throwing himself, willingly, into the live audience – among other energetic antics.

Recognized perhaps as one of the first performance artist, the legendary tales of Iggy smearing peanut butter on his chest, jamming pencil points into his flesh, rolling around on broken beer bottles, or pouring hot wax all over himself still come to mind today when his name is mentioned.

In 1970, Funhouse equalled the same rawness of the first album, and further proved that The Stooges were destined to be an influential band in making the classic LP. Iggy remembers most of the recording sessions as being “pretty wild” due to his experimental use of some controlled substances. “I was very stoned most of the time. We would go into the studio with an express purpose: we would do a song over and over again until we got what we wanted.”

Being adamant about overdubs, Iggy felt his voice was an instrument and a necessity in the band. During the sessions he even sang through a PA to get that acquired sound. Just when he was comfortable in thinking his self-proclaimed “Dark Ages” period seemed to be heading to a close, life suddenly had turned even bleaker.

One popular artist at the time who especially admired Iggy’s unconventional musical talent was David Bowie [d. 2016]. The rising British artist, at the time, was producing Lou Reed and Mott the Hoople. Iggy was one of Bowie’s three favorite American rock singers and he wanted to work with him in the studio. The two new friends spent extensive time in the studio perfecting Iggy’s musical sound. Further impressed by Pop’s performance and undisciplined personality, Bowie signed him to MainMan, his manager’s [Tony Defries – RBF] production company.

They then proceeded to put out The Stooges’ third album, Raw Power [1973], which became a critical hit. At its release, acclaimed rock journalist Lester Bangs [d. 1982] described the album as “a staggering dose of bone-scrapping rock from straight to the heart of adolescent darkness… Fascinating and authentic. The apotheosis of every parental nightmare.”

Immortal cuts like “Search and Destroy” and “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell” were an impressive return to rock and roll’s most primal roots. Explains Iggy: “Unknown fact: I produced it myself. Most people think David Bowie did, but the credit says, ‘Produced by Iggy Pop’ – which is why it’s a great record.”

In securing a new record deal, Iggy wore a topcoat and tails, crawled onto the president’s desk of a respected major label, and crooned, “The Shadow of Your Smile.” After joining MainMan, his career plans began to hit a decline. “In favor of a reforming The Stooges, I was shelved.” Pop recalled. “Guitarist James Williamson had joined the line-up just after we finished recording for Elektra. We all went to England and rehearsed and rehearsed.” Despite Bowe’s helping hand, fame still eluded the group, more so its charismatic lead singer. It wasn’t long before The Stooges had disintegrated. Their last performance took place where it had first begun – Michigan. The January 1974 concert at the Michigan Palace, in Detroit, was captured on film and documented in all its shuddering glory on the Metallic K.O. album, which included songs such as “Gimme Danger,” “Cock in My Pocket,” and “Louie Louie.”

Lester Bangs describes K.O. as “the only rock album I know where you can actually hear hurled beer bottles breaking against the strings.” Following The Stooges’ fond farewell, Iggy and James Williamson decided to brave the unknown and collaborated together on the Kill City album, recorded in 1975, which was released in 1978 on Bomp Records. However, without solid management and enough gigs to keep them visible, Iggy soon began experimenting with heroin. Before a deep addiction had set in, in 1974 he admitted himself to a Los Angeles psychiatric hospital, and rid himself of his dependency on not only heroin, but barbiturates and alcohol. A decade later he confided to a reporter, “It’s not so much an impossible thing to do. Not if you really want to, and you really know what you have to lose.”

Throughout his private ordeal, Bowie had visited him in the hospital and lent constant support and encouragement. Having resumed their friendship, which began years before when the two met at the club Max’s Kansas City, in New York, Bowie took his newly rehabilitated sidekick to Europe. After Bowie’s 1975 Station to Station Tour ended, they flew off to the Chateau d’Herouville recording studio in France to work on what would be Iggy’s first solo album, The Idiot. In 1984, Pop told Rolling Stone, “The basic idea was to work without anybody. Just the two of us – although we started bringing in a bass player here, a drummer there.” They resettled in Berlin, Germany, where the two eventually finished up the project and lived for the next three years.

Of the brilliant effort’s creative conception, Iggy had stated at the album’s American release, “The funny thing about it is I was out of Los Angeles for a long time before I recorded this, and I just didn’t hear anything. I hadn’t heard what latest super duet was hot in the States, or what was happening in England or anywhere. Suddenly, about two weeks before we were going into the studio, we didn’t have any finished tracks at all. We just strolled in with a lot of themes and feelings we liked. David would work on the music at one time, and I would drift in and out and listen to it. Then I would come in on my own and put on the vocals. Then he would hear what I had done, and of course that would change the nature of the music. So the tracks grew from that kind of back-and-forth.”

Perhaps what he possibly liked better about the album is that the words “Produced by David Bowie” weren’t written anywhere on the back cover, because instead Bowie preferred, “Recorded by…” The remarkable “China Girl” springs from that landmark album, which makes it one of the more powerful moments, as well as “Funtime” and “Dum Dum Boys.” The celebrated LP and its successor, Lust for Life, were hailed favorably [The song “Lust for Life” would be licensed for many advertisements over the follow years – RBF], as were the live shows. With Bowie sometimes positioned on keyboards, one of those memorable concerts took place at the New York Ritz. John Rockwell of The New York Times cited the show as “one of the finest rock concerts in memory… the kind of show that could teach some needed lessons in intensity, drama and range.”

Lust for Life was recorded only 13 days, but wasn’t nearly as successful as the previous The Idiot. Iggy felt that the LP didn’t gain proper exposure due to the radio airwaves. “The U.S. DJs don’t like rock’n’roll messing up the airwaves,” he commented. “They substitute their own Cheerios rock’n’roll or whatever that horrible music is they call rock’n’roll. But they liked the gloomly unpredictability of The Idiot, the midtones and deep voice of the singer. Lust for Life was just too noisy for them.” The always opinionated Pop. The effort outlined his songwriting strengths and slightly dark humor, and teamed with Bowie’s music, turned it into a rock and roll grandeur. Better yet, it started to bring him well deserved and much overdue money.

“The first personal thing I bought on my first big paycheck, not counting drugs, was in Berlin, 1977, after I finished The Idiot album, and I had gotten a rather large advance for the Lust for Life album. David and I had determined that we record the album very quickly. Because we had done it so quickly we had a lot of money left over from the advance, which we split.” Part of the money Iggy earned was spent on buying an apartment in Berlin, and perhaps learning to assume responsibility for the first time in his life. “I renovated my apartment in the same building where David had a fairly large and handsome place. My place rented for $80 a month. I loved the place, and with the rest of the money, I bought nice rugs, wallpaper and an oak table. I had this bare apartment, and I wrote Lust for Life there.”

Having toured extensively for those two albums, its results appeared on T.V. Eye, recorded in 1977 at various Midwest U.S. concert dates. The LP also had concluded his stay with RCA Records and, unfortunately, wasn’t met enthusiastically by music critics. Though Iggy was disappointed by unfavorable reviews, he didn’t seem to take the critics harsh sentiments too seriously. He stated his distain a few years ago by saying, “I don’t know why everyone hated the record so much. It’s a good document. I think at the time it came out people were looking for me to give them the feeling on a live album they got when they saw me live. But you can’t see somebody on a record.”

In 1979, “It was time for me to move on,” and he switched over to Arista Records. Living in Berlin at the time, Iggy hoped his next and first album for the label would be far more special than any of the previous releases. He prepared extensively, and even took some guitar lessons. When the pressure mounted at times, the serious music artist would go for long walks to think things out.

New Values, Pop’s ninth album, was recorded in Los Angeles since all the musicians were American. It made better sense to fly to the States then to have the session musicians and other people involved with the effort come to Berlin.

One top rock critic raved at the LP’s release: “My favorite record of the year.” The owner liked it even better. “I was very happy with the songs. I wrote all of them myself, lyrics and music. There was some disappointment. I was a little unhappy with the sound. It was far too clean, but it was pretty damn good.”

His next album, Soldier, was also quite impressive, even if the critics once again didn’t seem to think so. It’s an aggressive record with a lot of spirit. An unidentified source, however, revealed its recording sessions were short of “pure hell.” Some of the stronger cuts included “Loco Mosquito,” “I Need More,” and “Knocking ‘Em Down (In the City).” James Williamson exited and was replaced by Glen Matlock, former bassist of the Sex Pistols. In a 1983 Trouser Press interview, Iggy said collaboration with Matlock didn’t prove too amicable at first. “We fought like cats and dogs, but we respected each other. Glen goaded me a bit and I goaded him back when we did ‘I Need More’.”

Midway through the sessions, Ivan Kral, who found himself suddenly out of the Patti Smith Group due to her retirement, joined on as guitarist. Iggy viewed Soldier as another “damn good recording,” specifically the opening track on Side Two, “Dog Food.” The song was originally supposed to have been included on Fun House, but was later scrapped. With the Soldier cover, Iggy says, “What I Wanted to show was the point between exhaustion and rapture – How I had been shot of my own music.”

Further proving his credibility, Pop wrote his autobiography, I Need More, a revealing insight into his personal life.

Of the 1981 Party album, which the performer laughingly called “one of my dogs,” critics were kind. Iggy, however, knew it really wasn’t up to par Pop standards. The theme, pure lighthearted fun, was a semi-complete departure from what fans had expected. Doing tasteful cover renditions of “Time Won’t Let Me” [original by The Outsiders in 1966 – RBF], “Sea of Love” [by Phil Phillips in 1959, though most would probably know it by The Honeydrippers in 1984 – RBF], and “Bang Bang” [Cher, 1966 – RBF] are interesting enough, but it still didn’t hold the attention of his distinct following. In England, some of the better reviews were received. “A fine rocky album from Mr. Pop, who consistently lives up to his reputation as one of the last truly crazed singers,” raved one popular music magazine. ”Iggy is driving himself harder than ever in search of thrills,” said the New Musical Express.

Joined again by Kral and co-produced by Tommy Boyce [d. 1994], a popular ‘60s songwriter, served up a true commercial pop-oriented sound. When asked why such an apparent style change, the ever-protective artist replied, “Party was supposed to be a commercial album. I did my best to give the record content. Ivan played the kind of music I’ve always loved. Call it middle-European… Every track is about somewhere in America. One is about a girl I met at the Mardi Gras. We had to go to the financial district to consummate our love. My definition of a rock’n’roll party is not all fun and games.”

Party, being his last effort on Arista, was followed by the next Igg-carnation, Zombie Bird House, on Animal Records (an independent label owned by Chris Stein, former co-founder / guitarist of Blondie). Chrysalis, the parent company, distributed the LP, which had exemplified a new musical direction. Stein acted as producer, and another ex-Blondie member, Clem Burke, contributed on the drums. Just as the music itself proved unusual for Iggy, his songwriting too became different from previous works. Reflecting on is first and only attempt on Stein’s now defunct company, Iggy offered, “The acquisition of a typewriter has made all the difference in my lyrics. When one types, something happens. You start believing what you’ve typed is of great importance. This was my first brush with a typewriter and I felt very cerebral.”

The songs were written purposefully short, and though following an extensive tour, reviews were not very favorable, and the same for the record sales. By 1982, Iggy discovered his popularity was rapidly diminishing, as well as the quality of his mere existence. His concerts, less appealing, were turning into major disappointments. He took a much needed hiatus from recording and touring for three years and moved with his then-girlfriend into Greenwich Village. Difficulty in creating songs had thrown him back a bit. For a year, the vulnerable artist had yet to pen another lyric. Looking for new alternatives to curb his self-destructive form of art, he found a serious companionship with a woman, who had helped matters tremendously.

In 1983, after finishing his autobiography, the singer felt he had reached a dead end in the music world. “I knew that book marked my end,” he recalled. “I couldn’t go on playing with idiots who played their hair dryers more than instruments. The audiences who were coming to my shows were only interested in the size of my dick… I knew something drastically had to change in my life.” David Bowie, at this point, was again the answer. The British rock star recorded his friend’s “China Girl,” which proceeded to zoom up the charts, saving Pop from heading into a life of obscurity, and even worse, poverty. While the proceeds to “China Girl” help pay his back taxes, the money left over allowed Iggy to reassess his place in the rock community.

With a reviewed vigor, Iggy flew off on a concert tour of Australia and Japan. It gets even better – always fascinated with Japanese women, he married Suchi [Asano, which lasted until 1999 – RBF] in New York. He met her in Japan. “There was something I liked in her eyes.”

Following a complete reorganization devoid of any drugs and alcohol, a new and healthy Iggy Pop emerged. He scouted out for a good doctor and business manager, paid his back taxes, and most importantly, learned how to live in a domestic environment. He says now, “I like to pull out the vacuum cleaner and vacuum the house. It was one of the first things Suchi and I bought together when we moved to New York. When I vacuum the house it makes me think and I feel great.” He also resumed contact with his son, Eric [Benson, born in 1970 – RBF], now 16, who lives in California with his father’s parents.

Since the release of his latest album, Blah Blah Blah, Iggy’s presently a more focused and responsible human being. The drugs and alcohol are securely buried in the past, as James Osterberg’s alter-ego proved it has more to offer than a blaring example of degeneracy. In fact, Pop candidly offers, “I always secretly believed my creative juices were reliant on artificial stimulants. I was scared to be completely straight, because I felt I’d dry up and have nothing to say.”

Blah Blah Blah, produced and co-written by David Bowie, had been described by one British record reviewer as “a virtual denial of that very spirit of warped possession… Blah Blah Blah is music to saunter through, evoking a region one can co-exist next to but rarely dwell within.” Pop’s successful album, his maiden effort for A&;M Records, also broke into national radio airplay. However, this doesn’t mean it’s proved stiff competition for Billy Idol, either. Perhaps having recently turned 40, Iggy doesn’t need to be that monstrous persona he was over a decade ago.

Much of the LP’s songs were written in the Caribbean and New York. Bowie collaborated on four cuts, including the title track. By May last year, the album was completed in one month at Mountain Studios in Lake Geneva, Switzerland, where Bowie now lives. Lyrics are essential to Iggy, and these days his writings prove to be on target as he has learned to come to terms with his own life. “I sincerely believe the lyrics on the album to be the best since my work on Raw Power. I worked very hard to make my point clear on each lyric. I’m interested in dealing with one-on-one with situations I was too frightened to deal with before.”

An interest in art also had peaked thanks to Bowie, who showed him how to paint his emotions. Enthralled, Iggy made several trips to the art store and stocked up on stretch canvas and acrylic paints. Some of his artistic endeavors are featured in the “Cry ForLove” video, which is also the LP’s first single. The purpose of expression, he explains, is “an exercise in visualization. David showed me how to stretch a canvas. I really enjoy painting. It’s fulfilling.” It seems that perhaps Iggy pop has truly found himself and doesn’t feel he’s heading towards the danger zone anymore.

A true originator, he is the necessary inspiration for thousands of lesser assumed young imitators who dare pounce the floor boards in the same riveting Pop manner. If a void should be filled in the role of the next “God’s garbage man,” then it better be someone who can intuitively expand on Pop’s insight, and not merely be a carbon copy. This is not to assume that the legendary rocker didn’t have his own musical influences from which to draw. “I borrowed from Jim Morrison. I’ve borrowed from James Bond,” he admits today. “So I’m in no position to cock-a-snoot at these acts for what they choose to use of mine.”

Along the way he contributed songs to the movies Desperately Seeking Susan [1985], The Hunger [1983], and Repo Man [1984]. He also expanded on some of his other hidden talents and spruced up his resume. Iggy took acting lessons and after attending more than 50 auditions landed small roles in The Color of Money [1986] and Sid and Nancy [1986]. His acting attempts have reflected in his music.

Iggy’s new goal: to reach those unbeknown to his work. Though music will always remain a top priority in his life, it doesn’t mean he’d rule out another chance at the big screen. No matter what Iggy hopes to execute in the future, you can be sure as always his prime motive will be to have fun. And maybe if new fans are so lucky, they’ll learn something valuable from this man who is often so underrated by the business.

Sums up Iggy Pop: “My work comes first, and it’s not what I can get out of it. I’m interested in using music to touch people in a variety of lifestyles. There’s a whole new world of communication possibilities out there.”

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