Induct Iggy – Twice

When I listen to his music I feel like his priest. I feel as though he is confessing to me intimate thoughts that he doesn’t even share with people in his personal life. He reveals painful memories of love affairs gone wrong, of immoral behaviour now regretted, of the difficulties in getting the music business to understand what he’s tried to accomplish with his music.

What will it take to get Iggy Pop inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? He’s been a trailblazing musical eccentric for 5 decades now and has yet to receive the ultimate thank you for all of his tireless efforts. Without his indelible prints the terminally cyclic world of rock and roll would be very, very different.

Personally, I’d like to see him honoured twice. First, for his work with The Stooges and second, for his much superior solo work. If Eric Clapton can be accepted three times for being in The Yardbirds and Cream and for his own solo work, why can’t Iggy be recognized once? I’d settle for that. I’m sure he would, too.

So, what gives? How is it that Patti Smith is in and Iggy remains shut out? That the artists and groups he inspired – among them, U2, The Ramones, The Clash, The Sex Pistols – have been voted in and he’s still waiting? Why do the disciples get more respect than the original? Even his peers, David Bowie and Lou Reed, have been acknowledged. But not Iggy and most definitely not The Stooges, despite the latter being selected a few times as a finalist. (The required number of votes to seal the deal were not achieved.)

Those in the music business who consider themselves to be cutting edge or, at the very least, vastly different from the fluffy darlings of the mainstream pop world, owe a considerable debt to Iggy Pop. There are many poseurs in the world of music that I’m sure Iggy would like to run over with a bulldozer, most especially those who disgrace the open-ended genre of alternative rock. But he’s the real deal, warts and all.

Everything you need to know about the man himself is exposed in his lyrics. I don’t know of anyone else, except maybe John Lennon, who can be tender and thoughtful one moment and heartless and cruel the next. He is the Sigmund Freud of music, forever frustrated and confounded by women. He can be merciless in his observations and he can be generously complimentary. He’s written songs like Tiny Girls and Look Away which deal with his hebophilia, his fascination with underage ladies. He seemed to be at his lowest when he made Tiny Girls with David Bowie for The Idiot album. Singing with deep solemnity, he rattles off all the reasons he despises women. 2 years later, he wrote and recorded Girls for his New Values album. It radiates with love and affection and quiet appreciation. This love/hate dynamic is evident throughout his catalogue.

Iggy Pop is a master lyricist who spares no one, not even himself. Each studio album he’s made is a time capsule capturing the man at his most naked. Some records are more accessible than others but I find myself drawn to all of the ones I’ve heard so far. (Kill City is now the only album he’s made that I’ve not yet experienced.) A curious thing happens to me when I listen to certain Iggy Pop records. This pretty much began in 1996 when I seriously started getting into his back catalogue. I remember buying the first two Stooges albums and coming home to play them. The second one, Fun House, sounded demented. The arrangements were loose and chaotic. The last song on the record, L.A. Blues, featured nothing but screaming and fragmentary noises. I liked a few songs off the record but the rest didn’t connect. Years later, I listen to it again and I find a few more songs grow on me, except L.A. Blues which remains the worst song Iggy ever wrote.

I remember getting The Idiot for Christmas one year and only liking a couple of songs. I ended up selling it (along with a bunch of other CDs) in order to raise money for a Beach Boys box set I wanted. Last year, I gave the album a second chance after getting a public library copy. I ended up liking half the record. This year, after listening to that same library copy several more times, my appreciation for The Idiot has grown to the point where I feel there are no bad songs on it anymore. I should’ve never sold my copy in the first place. I’ve had similiar experiences with Brick By Brick, Avenue B, Zombie Birdhouse, Raw Power, and Lust For Life. These are much better albums today than they were when I first listened to them.

Iggy Pop’s music is like wine. You like it better when it’s aged. He exemplifies that part of the human spirit that more sensible people keep under wraps. Despite revealing ugly personality traits, there’s an undeniable beauty to his melodies. They’re guided along effectively by his unvarnished vocals. He once wrote in a record company bio that when he heard Frank Sinatra sing at age 5, he wanted to do the same thing. During his most tender moments on record, like his only American Top 40 hit, Candy, or Ordinary Bummer, or Beside You, his most surprising influence comes shining through.

His best song remains Lust For Life, also his most familiar thanks to its constant licensing. His best album? American Caesar. Better than any of his solo work and most especially, the three records he made with The Stooges. All facets of Iggy Pop’s personality are heard on that eclectic, magnificent record.

The use of that album title is a good example of another recurring Iggy theme: the use of literary references. American Caesar is the name of Douglas MacArthur’s biography. In Lust For Life, he makes a reference to “hypnotizing chickens” which was something William S. Burroughs wrote in The Ticket That Exploded. The Idiot was a famous Dostoevsky novel. Dostoevsky is name-checked in the American Caesar version of Louie Louie. The line “exterminate the brutes” in Wild America is a nod to Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness.

Besides sex and literature, Iggy is never afraid to tackle his dealings with the music business. Kill City, Neon Forest, and Butt Town say things no one else has the balls to declare. His disgust is palpable and unmistakable. Despite working with David Bowie, Steve Jones, Don Was, Green Day, Sum 41 and members of Blondie among many others, he’s never had the consistent commercial acceptance lesser artists receive and take for granted. The music business has never understood him and vice versa. Confusion breeds no support. And no support means a life of struggle for acceptance. But struggle builds character, he once sang. And he’s still going strong, still making good music for real people of all persuasions.

All that’s missing is an invitation to the hall of immortality. Iggy Pop has earned the right to be there. Twice.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, April 21, 2006
1:41 a.m.
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Published in: on April 21, 2006 at 1:39 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I’d have given anything to see the Stooges live in the “Fun House” era. It’s one of those weird moments in rock where something organic and perfect seems to create itself. I can’t think of anything that would have influenced such a document. And after all these years he’s still at it. Look at the video for “Wild America” He’s still lean, flexible and clearly insane. It’s about time he got the honor that’s his due.

  2. I will check out more of his music


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