I saw Iggy Pop (pictured above at a Stooges show in 2010) in concert a ton of times — and even got to dance on stage during his traditional audience participation segments. We spoke on the phone only twice, though, first for his 1993 album American Caesar and then for 2001’s Beat ‘Em Up when I was still hot for his previous album Avenue B, a grim rumination on death — my favorite subject.
Iggy Pop is probably the most erudite, bookish rock star out there. I wish we’d had more encounters.
NOT TO BLOW SMOKE UP YOUR ASS, BUT I REALLY DUG AVENUE B. HOW DOES IT HOLD UP FOR YOU?
Avenue B? I like it! I’m glad I made it and it’s held up well as I listen to it. The way I tend to hear my albums once they’re made is by accident. In terms of Avenue B, I was listening to a Slipknot album played in the other corner of my house, and I was sitting in the far corner listening to it, at a distance kinda doing something else, and it was half there. And I was sorta like, “OK.” I thought it was really interesting for the first five minutes and about an hour into it I was like, “Damn!” And then the CD changer put on Avenue B, accidentally if you will, unbeknownst to me, and I sorta heard “Nazi Girlfriend” drifting through the garden and I went “What is that? Now that’s got some soul.” But I really didn’t know what it was, and I liked it. So there you go.
THE ONLY THING THAT PREVENTS ME FROM BUYING INTO IT COMPLETELY IS THAT YOU WERE DISTANCING YOURSELF FROM THE LYRICS IN THE INTERVIEWS — IT WAS IGGY THE CHARACTER AS OPPOSED TO THE REAL IGGY.
It’s a shame, Dean, that one does interviews at all. My great solace in that is that the nature of the medium, the CD medium, renders it more lasting than the other media! I.E. in a year the CD will still be there, albeit low on somebody’s pile or dust-covered in the corner, whereas hopefully the newspaper or magazine, the publication will be shredded or decomposing somewhere, and the stuff has a chance to live. You’re damn right. The interviews get in the way and I wasn’t ready or willing or able to relive what went into that record in the interviews. No, way, dude! No fuckin’ way!
I’M SURPRISED YOU DO INTERVIEWS AT ALL. IF I WAS A ROCK STAR OF YOUR STATURE, I WOULDN’T BOTHER.
Having said that, it must occur to you that the ones who do have an active production on any major label at any stature, all do them. And that is because it is part and parcel of that marriage. It’s something one does. What one does is I do less of them every time, so that’s about the way to handle them!
IF WE CAN SAFELY ASSUME THAT THE INSPIRATION FOR AVENUE B WAS THE CHAOS GOING ON IN YOUR PERSONAL LIFE, WHAT WAS YOUR FRAME OF MIND WHEN YOU SAT DOWN WITH YOUR PENCIL AND PAPER AND WROTE THE LYRICS FOR BEAT ‘EM UP?
There’s a 1968 cherry red Cadillac convertible Deville with a white top sitting disabled in my driveway. I’m looking at it right now. I’m really pissed off at it. That’s my car. I bought it for fifty-six hundred bucks and it’s an absolute smash hit here in Miami where I live. People of all ages, races, genders and nationalities smile and cheer when they see that car. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore. It represents luxury, weight and power, all at once. And that was probably the main inspiration for the record. Other than that, everything attendant with that. I’m livin’ somewhere now that it’s like having one foot in the capital “A” America in that one drives around and has occasion to turn on the radio. One’s neighbor is not necessarily in the media, although mine turned out to be — two of ‘em actually!
I’ve got all my guitars in a room over the garage, which is very much like the situation I was in when I started playing music in the Midwestern suburbs. So you’ve got all that here. And then at the same time you’re in an exciting, unreasonably optimistic city, which is basically the capital. It’s the acupuncture pressure point of the browning of America , happening here. Los Angeles and Miami is where basically the dark energy is entering this country! And it’s interesting. You’ve got a very optimistic architecture. If you’re from Salvador and you’ve got any money it’s in a bank here. If you’re from Salvador and you don’t have any money, you’re here trying to make a better life. It’s the capital of central and South America and the Caribbean , really. So all that loosened me up. Particularly, I tried to make this album accessible to common people. You do not necessarily have to have read Please Kill Me (by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain) or heard a Lou Reed album in the last 10 years to like this. But if you have, hopefully you can like it, y’know?
IT’S NOT REALLY THAT COMPLICATED IN TERMS OF LYRICAL CONTENT
No, no. I tried very hard not to make it complicated. Another thing —— if I want to be honest about it —— another thing behind it was my relationship with the guitar player (Whitey Kirst) who co—writes on all the songs. This fella is a fairly simple soul in worldly terms from Canada , who’s been the backbone — he’s been the stiffy — in my touring band for about 11 years now. And he’s been doing a better job than any of my hired demi-stars were at handling the more hands—on material that I do, the rougher stuff. And the justice of the situation was that it was time that he had a chance to co-write, and that had a lot to do with it, dude. Just simple justice. If it hadn’t turned out well I wouldn’t have put it out. I’ve got a little band of 3 guys which are probably not the guys that somebody would pick for me if they sat down like a kid with baseball cards and tried to put together an all-star team. But that’s not the way really good music is made, in my opinion. They’re 3 guys who all really want to play, and they’ve done a good job. The bass player. It was not lost on me that there’s a lot of racial mixing and blending, and racial style blending is a trend in American rock. As was predicted in my (1993) song in “Mixin’ the Colors” which was reviewed by Rolling Stone as being something like a dumbass but well meaning mistake. But it wasn’t. I wanted to do something along those lines in a different way than it’s been done. I didn’t really want to turn a baseball cap backwards and pose like a black guy. So I got one. I found Moose, Mooseman (Lloyd Roberts) from Body Count.
THAT WAS A GREAT BAND
Yeah. They were a great band, and to me he had the ultimate name for a bass player. I can’t imagine a better name for somebody that does that instrument than Mooseman. That’s what you want, y’know? I’d always noticed, especially on their first record, he’s mixed down. But he’s playing pure rock. He never plays a note that’s not necessary — it’s not like some funk doobie guy trying to play rock — and he’s got this big, wide tone. So I was lucky enough to find him and he was kind enough to — he played with me and graced this album tremendously. The opening and closing numbers on the album are built on his basslines. He got shot (in a drive-by last year) and that was a big loss.
I THINK THE DRUMMER IN BODY COUNT (BEATMASTER V) DIED TOO
Yes. I’d met him once and he was an awfully reasonable nice guy, and I was interested in the section. When I got a hold of Moose I asked about the two of them, and he said, ‘Well, my buddy’s passed away.’ So there you have it. As far as what I actually thought about in the lyrics, there are different things going on. Beat ‘Em Up, when I heard the music itself, it just sounded like somebody beating up somebody! That’s what it sounded like, and I went from there. It’s sorta like that old Monty Python skit about the craze where he says, ‘Well, y’know, it’s a fair cop. I did it, but society’s to blame.’ It’s sorta like that where I’m basically saying, Y’know what? In the end, to get things done or to protect yourself in our society or whatever this thing is, you’re gonna have to do something kinda pigheaded and brutal, as in putting your foot to the pedal and saying, ‘I’m coming through.’ And that if you don’t, look at all the nice people who get fucked up and run over. The verse on it that always gets me the most is the last verse, it’s about my parents — the best sort of people — and they had a very rough end.
THEY’RE BOTH DEAD NOW?
No, my Dad’s still alive and he’s recovered. But when my Mom had a long illness that led to a death and he practically killed himself trying to care for her, and then went into a tailspin and a depression after. In fact there’s an article in my local news yesterday to the effect that Florida now leads the nation in murder—suicides because of old people. It’s a classic set—up now: old sick lady, depressed husband, lovers all their life, and he decides the best thing to do is to kill us both.
I’VE GOT GREAT THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO IN MY LIFE, I SEE!
I’m sorry! This is terrible!
WITH REGARD TO THE SONG “DEATH IS CERTAIN,” DO YOU HAVE A DEATH FANTASY? DO YOU WONDER WHAT YOUR FUNERAL WOULD BE LIKE?
I never think about the funeral but I think a lot about my life in terms of my death. I always have since I was a kid, and it helped me to do chancier things. I thought, ‘Fuck, y’know. This is my life. This is a one—shot deal here. I don’t wanna do what I don’t wanna do.’ It was a great escapist tool! ‘I don’t wanna stay in school and I feel good playing music.’ And everybody said, ‘If you play music you’re throwing your life away.’ And I was like, ‘Well, OK, but I’ll throw it away and I’ll be a scumbag but at least I’ll feel good.’ I think in those terms, and I think about things that you wanna do before you die and also how you feel about yourself. Yeah, it helps. So that was that. The first song, ‘Mask’ — gee whizz, here we go, it has the morgue in it! I guess I must have a fascination. Not a fascination, but I guess I’m aware of it.
THERE’S NOTHING IN THIS RECORD LIKE “PUSSY WALK” (FROM NAUGHTY LITTLE DOGGIE) — SNATCH, UNDERAGED GIRLS
No. The nearest it gets to it is that it’s got a female on the cover, y’know, a cartoon. I didn’t really need to talk much about that! I’m OK. I have a really beautiful girlfriend, y’know and–
–HOW OLD IS SHE?
28. Her name’s Nina, Nina Alu, A—L—U (pictured above in 2004), and she is a former flight attendant for USAir, and I get a lot of love from her, and give a lot. So I’m not in the other mode.
ARE THERE ANY SONGS BASED ON WILD ESCAPADES, LIKE “WILD AMERICA” (FROM AMERICAN CAESAR)?
Yeah, the first one, “Mask,” I was backstage at a Slipknot show and I was hanging out — they’re real nice guys, I liked the show, I was very impressed with them, they’re seriously motivated professionals. And by the way, the drummer (Joey) is a motherfucker. He is a killer drummer, which people often overlook. He’s musically extremely fine. Anyway they were demasked and in a change of clothes, and the sorta girl that probably ‘knew’ her way to that backstage from other experiences approached one of them with a drink in her hand — he was taller — and she looked up at him and she said,’ Which mask are you?’ And I just thought, ‘Whoaaaaa!’ And I wasn’t sure what I thought. It just got me. That was like a tripwire to startin’ that song. That song owes some of the feel and the vocal to Last Poets, if you know “Wake Up, Nigger” or “Slashman” or any of that stuff.
“V.I.P.” was about using the toilet in Donatella Versace’s apartment! I worked for them once in Milan and there was a dinner party after work, and because I was a VIP, that night anyway, I asked to use the bathroom and they had a minder for me. And he said, ‘You will not go to that bathroom.’ I had asked somebody where it was. And he said, ‘No, no. You do not go there. You must use the private bathroom.’ So I used the private bathroom which I can only describe as palatial in a kind of a Venetian or near — Eastern style! A harem style! And I was sorta joking about it with the guys one day, and I started riffin’. Moose started playing that riff and I started talking about all the VIP things I do. I thought it was a little funny, and the part that I think is most funny is occasionally I’ll go to one of these VIP affairs or parties and I always sorta look around thinking ‘My god, how shallow and crass these people are! Not like me!’ That is honestly how I feel. At the same time, I recognize the holes in that theory, because I’m there, aren’t I?
ARE YOU CONCERNED THAT BECAUSE YOU’VE BECOME A LEGEND IN YOUR OWN TIME PEOPLE ARE LESS CRITICAL OF YOU AND ALLOW YOU TO COAST ALONG BECAUSE YOU’RE IGGY AND THEY LOVE WHAT YOU REPRESENT?
Like the waves and the currents on the sea, my friend, or like the traffic patterns in Trafalgar Square , it’s much more complicated than that, and more complicated than anybody imagines from looking at the surface. There are all sorts of ins and outs. I’d say (as far as) 60 to 70 percent of the critical establishment, the Mandarin court that has ossified itself around this form of expression, is concerned, I can’t really pee or go to the bathroom, I can’t open my mouth without being compared to what I did 28 years ago or what I did 15 years ago. . . And then yes, what you said has some validity at some time with some people. And then there’s another whole group of people that know you because they work in a bar and they saw you once on CNN, and you’ll come in and they’ll say, ‘Hey, I saw your stuff!’ They never even heard it. There’s all sorts of things going on. But does that affect the real value of what you do? I think in the end that’s down to your own character and your own input you’ve got from the life around you.
SO FINALLY YOU’RE 54 WITH A PHYSIQUE TO KILL FOR, BUT HOW LONG CAN YOU KEEP IT UP FOR IN TERMS OF STAGE PRESENTATION?
I can work as long as I like, I’m confident of that. But again, more than most people care to notice, I’ve already changed things. My life is much less physical than it was. If you looked at my work schedule from the last year, you would have found voiceover work, acting gigs, lectures, hire-outs as a songwriter and guest shots as a singer, with music ranging from jazz with Francoise Hardy to techno trance with Death in Vegas. So, there’s more than one thing I can do. If you look at the number of actual gigs I play in a year, if you look at 1985 through 1990 and I’m doing a hundred gigs a year, now it’s somewhere around 25 to 30. And basically if you look at the things I’m doing themselves, my last record was mainly orchestral, spoken word and folk music. So there’s more of a mix and I really don’t have to depend on — don’t worry, I’ll be OK!
NOTE: This is an excerpt from my gossipy rock anthology, Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles, available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com
Copyright © 2013 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING