Henry Rollins: Iggy Pop Is the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of Rock

Iggy Pop performs at the Greek Theatre, April 28, 2016.
Iggy Pop performs at the Greek Theatre, April 28, 2016.
Photo by Levan TK

I am sitting on the front porch of Dischord House in Arlington, Virginia. This humble abode has been the offices of the mighty Dischord label for well over 30 years. I started visiting here two months after it opened. Later this evening, I’ll be at the Lincoln Theater for the premiere of Live at 9:30, which will air soon on PBS.

When I left this area in 1981 for Los Angeles, I made quite the quick exit. Ian took all my records out of my newly vacated portion of an apartment I shared and brought them back to Dischord. When I would pass through town on tour, or if I got some downtime, I would come here, visit my records and make cassettes of as many of them as I could.

When I had a chance to sit in front of the small bookshelf that held my meager stash of vinyl and listen to anything I wanted, it was time out of time. In June 1983, I had a break from band work. I flew to D.C., went to Dischord and pulled a few all-nighters, just listening to music. I was trying to absorb as much of it as I could before I went back out into the trenches.

I have always been fascinated not only by seeing interesting places but also by returning to them. There is something down-to-the-marrow deep about coming back to certain locations again and again. It often evokes a great solemnity and ancestral magnetism, self-invented though it may be.

Most of the spots I return to are tied to music. Two nights ago, I stared up into the window of my old apartment on Tunlaw Road and remembered how I hiked from there through the snow to the Ontario Theater and back in February 1979 to see The Clash, with Bo Diddley opening.

Music allows you to take effortless journeys through time. You put on the right song and suddenly, you’re back in that spot.

At Dischord, I would sit in front of that small bookshelf, which I’d had since I was 6, and commune with my records, knowing that it would be up to a year before I saw them again. About 16 years ago, we boxed them up and sent them West, where they now reside with me.

A few years ago, I got a call from the place where my mail is sent. A large box had arrived. Ian and the Dischord staff had custom-made a container and sent the bookshelf out. I have set up a small system on it and still sit in front of it, listening to records. Every record that used to live here at Dischord I have tagged, so I can always be sure of its provenance.

Down the road from Dischord is Don Zientara’s Inner Ear Studio. At this point, probably only Don knows how many hundreds of bands have worked there. Don’s previous incarnation of Inner Ear was at his house. The bass cabinet would sometimes be in the living room, the rest of the band in the basement. It’s not only where a lot of the early Dischord records were made but also where Bad Brains recorded their August 1982 demos that eventually became the Black Dots album. H.R., the band’s vocalist, sang in the backyard. On the record you can hear Don’s kids playing in the background, tripping on H.R.

No sooner did I write about Mr. Z than I find out that he’s on his way here with three musicians from Argentina, who want to meet Ian. That’s how it is at Dischord; someone is always coming and going. Joe from Fugazi just left.

Sometimes the place I try to return to isn’t a place, it’s a person. I want to be in the same location with them and burn time. There are some people you just want in your life. This is why I try to see Iggy Pop play as often as I can.

Hours before I got on a plane to come here, I was at the Greek Theatre for Iggy’s L.A. appearance. This particular lineup, featuring members of Queens of the Stone Age and Arctic Monkeys, isn’t going to be doing a lot of shows, so this tour will be one of the hotter tickets in 2016.

As far as I could see, there wasn’t an empty seat in the house. When the band hit the stage, everyone was on their feet. Good grief, what a band. Joshua Homme and company were just amazing. They brought out the best in Iggy — whose voice, at 69 years, is still massive.

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Part of the show, days later, still makes me pause. The band played “Paraguay” from Iggy’s new album, Post Pop Depression. It’s a standout track, where Iggy seems to be on his way out of the building: “I’m goin’ where sore losers go/To hide my face and spend my dough/Though it’s a dream, it’s not a lie/And I won’t stop to say goodbye.” The song ends when Iggy, after artfully inviting a great swath of the Earth’s population to shove it, gives his reason for exiting: “Because I’m sick/And it’s your fault/And I’m gonna go heal myself now/Yeah!”

After the song finished, he said, “Nothing personal.” When the band went directly into “Success” from Lust For Life, that’s when it hit me that Iggy might really be saying goodbye, as if he had crossed a career finish line, that the success he was singing about was surviving all he had put himself through over the decades. Hard to take, absolutely, but if this is it, that’s that.

I am flying to London to see Iggy play at the Royal Albert Hall. At this point, a chance to return once more is as rare as the man himself. All hail the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of Rock.

Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.


More from the mind of Henry Rollins:
Let's Invade Canada

Bend Over, America — Here Comes President Trump
I Am Basically a Vinyl Cat Lady


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