From the violent shambolic rise of punk prototypes The Stooges to his calculating dalliances with Hollywood, Iggy's constant attempts to justify his actions range from eating humble pie to sucking corporate dick. Probably most fascinating of all, however, is Ambrose's unflinching dissection of the symbiotic relationship betwen Iggy and his self-appointed mentor, David Bowie. Did they or didn't they? You decide." Record Collector
In a career that began in the late Sixties Iggy Pop always set out to shock. But his attention-grabbing tactics, including self-mutilation, always disguised a musician and artist more complex than the image suggested.
For this biography I spoke with, amongst others, Gerard Malanga, Victor Bockris, Danny Fields, Mick Rock, Bob Gruen, Billy Name, Roberta Bayley, and Lee Black Childers.
Patti Smith came up with the equation "art + electricity = rock'n'roll." When I was a student in Dublin in the late Seventies it was generally perceived, in student circles, that Iggy Pop fitted into that equation perfectly. In the damp impoverished provincial city of those times he seemed an outstanding presence, right up there with the Lou Reeds and Bob Dylans of this world. Only that, while art made them rich and famous, Iggy was one of our own. We imagined that his bank account didn't run into four figures, that his stance was somehow more extreme or brave than others. We guzzled the bottomless pit of pro-Iggy propaganda that the NME, then the most important style bible in rock, spewed out. We imagined ourselves to be playing some part in a heroic anti-adventure. Or else Iggy seemed to be playing that part for us.
This was just so much wishful thinking, a wishful thinking that helped Pop survive, and which eventually facilitated his emergence as punk's Tina Turner. The spin is much the same. A sexy past. Great achievements back in the days. Tough times and tragedy. The world's forgotten boy. Never got a fair shake. And isn't it great that he's still around to show us how things once were? So what if he's past his sell-by date? So what if he appeared in Crocodile Dundee 2 and endorses Reebok? He deserves everything he gets, good luck to him, says a compliant media which is happy to go along with the notion that he was done out of his crown back in the Seventies.
There is something to this argument. Except that Iggy has been getting a fair shake all his life. Some of the most powerful (and richest) people in music and art bent over backwards to help him. Some of the most beautiful and intelligent women (many of them rich too) put themselves entirely at his disposal. He was an abuser of other people, a dedicated user as he once described himself. His fans would be horrified by his political views. And the sort of people who checked out junk rock and fag rock, the territories where once he ruled supreme, never had anything to do with the sexual politics which informed both his private life and his music.
An important critique of misogyny in rock music, The Sex Revolts by Simon Reynolds and Joy Press, (which looks at rock clicheLs like the born-to-run syndrome, the rock singer as soldier or warrior, and "self-aggrandizing fantasies of man machine omnipotence") attributes a sexual fascism to Pop, claiming that his work portrays a kind of rapist without victim, burning for total connection with reality.
"Iggy's whole aesthetic," say Reynolds and Press, "was based around the quest for black-out and bloody miasma. Though he often hurled himself into combat with the audience, the main target of his aggression was his own body."
Pop is an old school sexist and misogynist. Leee Black Childers, who shared a house with him, can quite distinctly remember Pop saying that he hated women. Pop told Nick Kent, "Well, I hate women. I mean, why do I even have to have a reason for that? It's like, why are people repelled by insects? I use 'em because they are lying, dirty, treacherous and their ambitions all too often involve using me!" This anti-women stance is not merely confined to long-ago doped-out interviews and extravagant rock lyrics. His treatment of women in real life has been lamentable too. He still encourages girls to get naked on his stage for the delight of the crowd.
No rapper would get away with the kind of bitch-hating which characterizes Pop's life and work. The white middle class liberal media never misses an opportunity to point the racist finger at smart alec black kids who are often being entirely ironic. But when Pop shows up in town, telling journalists what books he's reading and how much he likes fine wines, he is rarely challenged on his past right-wing politics or attitudes towards women . In code, he is one of us. White, bookish, and comfortably off.
When I was a student advocate of Pop my knowledge of his music was just about as sketchy as the next guy's. I knew him from hearing the Bowie/Berlin stuff and the Raw Power albums at parties and in other people's bedsitters. I didn't own any of his records. I first heard Metallic KO while walking through a flea market in Dublin in 1993. His image on the cover of Raw Power was the bulk of what I knew about him. This image tied in with my taste for sleazy drug-addled outsider rock'n'roll.
Later his Arista albums showed up in Dublin remainder bins for next to nothing so I picked them up and brought them home. Two of these - Soldier and New Values - were accurate insights into the real Iggy. He was the Ugly American, standing up for blue collar values while not believing in fairies anymore. I liked those records very much despite, and because of, their stance.
Ten years ago I met Iggy. I was involved in writing a book about Brion Gysin, the important William Burroughs collaborator. I was told that Gysin had had a relationship of some sort with Pop so I went hunting for that story. Pop's manager was contacted, and he persuaded Iggy to fax through a freshly written text on Gysin which made it's way into the book.
When the book came out Iggy was doing his Instinct World Tour and I met up with him after one of those shows. He gamely sang the tune Gysin had written for him back in lost time, Blue Baboon. He looked old at the aftershow party where every lowlife on the local music scene was vying for his attention. He was extraordinarily courteous, like most Americans are, but he was obviously a burnt out shell of a man. Uptight, sick of this showbiz shit, working his music biz crowd. Working.
I last saw him live in Brixton a while back. The crowd was mainly thirtysomething shaved-head suburban fat boys and frat boys who, clearly, were not familiar with his back catalogue. There was nothing romantic or glamorous about it. The fat boys were there to see the freak show. The guy who did the tune from Trainspotting and had a hit with Real Wild Child. Success has stranded him in the middle of a Frankenstein of his own creation.
But he has a great story to tell. One of the greatest in rock history. Bob Dylan and Lou Reed may have passed their years making better albums and being more consistent. But Iggy went out and lived the life. Read here about degradation, cruelty, sex beyond one's wildest imaginings, Scarface-style quantities of drugs, life lived beyond the edge and beyond the law. Why is Iggy Pop important? Because he is rock'n'roll made flesh.