Of the many things made in Michigan that have become part of the fabric of American culture — the auto industry, Motown — punk rock is often overlooked. In 1967, years before The Sex Pistols performed incendiary anthems, Iggy Pop and his band The Stooges created an explosive new sound in Detroit that would influence generations of musicians.
The band is, more or less, back together with a new album called Ready to Die, and singer-songwriter Iggy Pop recently joined NPR's Renee Montagne to discuss living life over the edge, why so many fans come around to The Stooges late, and what happens when people disappear.
Tell me about the original Stooges — when you first formed.
Before we were making records, we were making a big avant-garde mess around the Detroit area. We would show up with some oilcans and vacuum cleaners and beaters, and also electric rock instruments, and we would play a kind of trance music. It sounded a lot like the folk music from the desert areas of North Africa. While I sang, I would freestyle lyrics.
Where we were coming from was so out there from the rock world at that time. You know, people are finding love in the streets of San Francisco with buckskins and beads, and, "We're all making money doing this, and this guy's singing about having nothing to do and there's so much to do, ah, f - - - you."
We are talking the summer of love and music like Jefferson Airplane, something like that.
I never liked them. They had one good song: "White Rabbit." But it was better than [sings], "Are you going to San Francisco?" That blows.
I think anyone that would have been seeing your shows in those early days would have thought that you didn't just live your life on the edge [but] that you went over the edge. I mean, there are famous stories of you taking it to the point of — in one case — ending up in the emergency room, being stitched up because you crawled over glass.
Yeah, but listen: Before that, they wanted to send me to Vietnam. If you look at it this way, I got a discount. It was a lot safer to be in The Stooges than to be in the Army that year.
On Ready to Die, "Job" feels like vintage Stooges.
Hey, I think so, too. I was just intensely irritated every time I saw [Mitt] Romney coming on during the elections. "If I'm elected, I'll get you a job. I'll get you a job. You'll have a job." The guy just bugged me, but it was also just the keyword issue: job, job, job, job, blah, blah, blah.
On the other hand, there are a lot of people who work hard, and the job isn't enough to make ends meet. That's a tearjerker for me. That just very much upsets me.
What happened was, we were two months into this record and everybody knows, especially when you're The Stooges, there's not money in the record. We do really well on the road or I do adverts, but here I was working and working and working with these feisty rock musicians — bunch of old rock grumps, you know? And I'm thinking, "There's not even any money in this." So I began to take on the character of the guy, and it became personal.
At this point, is it a point of pride that The Stooges won't make money from the record?
No, baby, here's the way it works: We make an album; everybody complains for the first five years. And after about 10 years, people start saying, "Hey, you know, that's pretty good." The money kicks in about 20 years later.
In the mid-'90s, The Stooges and Fun House turned over into the black, and all the band members who survived started getting checks. And then a little later, the same happened to Raw Power. Little by little, that old band has defeated a lot of our shag-haired, frilly-vest-wearing crapola, corporate rock gods and goddesses of the '60s and '70s. The problem now, of course, is do I have 30 years to wait for royalties for this record? [Laughs.] See, because I'm 66. I think people need to hurry up and buy a record.
There's a song on Ready to Die titled "The Departed." I'm wondering who it might be for.
[James Williamson] sent me a very pretty piece of dobro music, solo, that began and ended with him playing the motif to "I Wanna Be Your Dog" on slide guitar. He called it "Ron's Tune" [in honor of the late Ron Asheton, who played guitar in "I Wanna Be Your Dog"]. I rewrote the lyric, keeping the melody, and I wanted to write about the transition from careless youth to wary older age. And, finally, what happens when people disappear. Hence, "The Departed."
What does happen when people disappear?
I don't know, Renee. [Laughs.]
I don't mean where you're going. [Laughs.]
The best I could get is that they walk through a door and become a part of yesterday.