[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Saturday KCRW broadcast.]
Iggy Pop, who was born on April 21, 1947, turns 65 this Saturday. It is perhaps a waste of time to assign an age to someone so uniquely ageless, but it gives me an excuse to write about him. The passing years have made his face all the more charismatic; his cheekbones and jaw line are more rugged, his eyes more fiercely focused.
Does he need an introduction? After all this time, do we have to point out that Iggy Pop was born James Osterberg in the great state of Michigan? Do we need to say that, together with the Asheton brothers, Ron and Scott, and Dave Alexander, he formed the Stooges, a band that is as essential to rock music as water is to life?
From the '60s to this moment, Iggy Pop has been a solid reminder of what happens when an artist stays true to himself only and doesn't give a damn about the rest of it. For this, there is a price to be paid, and most of us cannot and would not have the stamina or the sheer guts to foot the bill.
Elvis Presley has been crowned “the King of Rock & Roll” by someone somewhere, and apparently, it has stuck. That's fine, kings are swell. I have always maintained that Iggy Pop is the Heavyweight Champion of Rock & Roll.
In our lifetime, there will be no other like him. There is no one alive in music who has been battling the forces of nature like Iggy. Nope, sorry, not Mick Jagger, who, in all his uncontested greatness, has left only a small fraction of the blood onstage that Iggy Pop has. Anyone else? I'll answer — no, there is not.
Iggy Pop, weatherer of many storms, maker of many mistakes, perpetrator of numerous victories and failures, has let it all hang out. The honesty is, at times, more than you want to deal with. The level of guts, genius and insanity that this requires is all his. Entire genres of music come and go, taking along with them their momentary heroes, some of whom survive only to bloat and have plastic surgeons cut away parts of their faces. Far more just become irrelevant, fade away or die. Iggy Pop was making records before they were born, and he is still here.
Many years ago — I think I was at CBGB in New York City — I was talking with Iggy. He offered that I should come onstage and jam with him and his band sometime. I took this to be a pleasantry, something polite one says. I offered that he should do the same with my band. Heads were nodded and the topic was changed. I didn't bother repeating the brief conversation to anyone, as I reckoned there was nothing to it.
In the early autumn of 1992, we were touring through New Orleans and I got a call at the venue to come on over to Daniel Lanois' studio down the road and join Iggy in the studio for a song he was working on for his American Caesar album. I got down there immediately and ended up making a small contribution to the song “Wild America.” It was a blast to be singing live in the studio with Iggy. I asked him if he wanted to come to sound check and perhaps work on something that we could do that night. Much to my disbelief, he said yes.
A while later, Iggy came to sound check. Everyone in the place just stood there staring. He came to the stage and we put together a blues-based jam that we could all remember. Iggy made up a chorus and we all made up notes. Hours later, we were at the end of the set and I was about to introduce our surprise guest. I looked over to stage left and there was Iggy, his eyes staring holes through me. It occurred to me that he was going to kill us all. I introduced him, and the place went nuts as Iggy came running onto the stage. Within a minute, we were all backed up against the gear, having wisely chosen to stay out of his way to avoid injury.
The song went down well and all came through intact. We remembered it as the night we played with a human tornado. After the show, storm becalmed, he politely thanked us for letting him join us and left. It was one of the best nights in the life of our band, a true high point.
Of all the records I own, some of the most frequently played, decade after decade, are ones that Iggy has had something to do with. One of the great hot-night listens of all time, perhaps the purest rock & roll recording I have ever heard, is the self-titled first album by the Stooges. So minimal and perfect. Every note, beat and lyric are essential to the whole. The older I get, the more I learn about music, the more amazing this album is to me.
Perhaps my ultimate late-night listen in any temperature would be the Iggy/Bowie collaboration The Idiot. Again, there is not one moment on that entire album that could be cut out and not compromise the overall. As good as it gets.
There is no possible way to thank the man enough for all the great work. This Saturday night would be a perfect time to put on some of those Iggy records and turn them up loud. Also, check out my all-Iggy show this Saturday, 8-10 p.m., on 89.9 FM KCRW. It's going to be a great one!
I'm a street walkin' cheetah with a hide full of napalm
I'm the runaway son of the nuclear A bomb
I am the world's forgotten boy
The one who searches and destroys.
–Iggy Pop, “Search & Destroy”
He is all that. His music is flint and steel; that is, it always works. Happy birthday, Iggy!!!