Iggy plays a North Shore backyard party. Photo Dunc Macfarlane

IGGY POP, PRESERVED BY PUNK

SW: Have you travelled through Hawaii much in the past?

Iggy Pop: Many times, but only once to play. I’m sure that at least 25 people showed up. The show was that awesome. The first time I was here I was on the North Shore here somewhere. It was 1972, just to get away. I’d become mentally unsound after making Raw Power and I said, “I want to go to Hawaii” so they flew me out and put me somewhere. I’m not sure where I was but it was beautiful and there were big rollers. I next stopped in on the way to Japan in 1983. I said let’s stop and do our rehearsals in Hawaii, so we were in Honolulu, in Waikiki, and we did a club gig like I said to 25 people. Nobody was there. I came back in ’85. I’d had a gruelling touring year, Blah Blah Blah had come out and I’d done a world tour for that and the record company insisted that now we were getting somewhere we need you to go back out and open for The Pretenders on another long tour. I was beat and I ended up close enough to Hawaii so I flew to Kona and I rented a house, a very simple A-frame tract ranch-house smack right on the water near Kona. I stayed for three months. I had a little four-track cassette machine in the garage and I had my guitar and I sat there trying to figure out how Motley Crue had hit songs and I didn’t.

Maybe it was the hair.

Maybe it was, but I was trying to figure that out while I roamed around the Big Island, which is a beautiful, beautiful place. I could have bought the house. They wanted me to buy it and I had the money. It was $325,000 smack on the water, the water was right over there, but I passed.

Nobody wears shirts here on the North Shore… you can indulge in shirtlessness and blend right in.

Oh yeah, I definitely feel more comfortable in warm climates.

You’re rocking a boardshort and leather jacket combination, which I suppose is reflective of the two worlds you live in, the day and the night.   

I’ve always been fond of being around water. I grew up in Michigan where we have a lot of lakes – the big lake, little lakes. I loved swimming, I loved the summer, but I never saw the ocean until I made Fun House when they sent us to LA in 1970. I saw walked out the Santa Monica Pier and I just flipped. This was where I needed to be. The next year, ’71, I found myself in Miami for some reason to attend a Winter Brothers concert – Edgar and Johnny – and that was a good lifestyle. Uncrowded, very affluent, it was wonderful, so I always had Miami in the back of my mind. Then starting in 1990 I built a little house in a village down in Mexico called La Playita, next to San Jose El Cabo. I was there a lot from 1991, I was in Mexico and I was starting to live in boardshorts. Dinner would be outdoors, free as a bird, a guy chopping taco meat on a log and you’ve got a tarp over you you’re drinking cold Tecate and the entire bill was 10 dollars. I thought, you know, this was great. This is living. I started to hate coming north, but things in my life changed and things in Mexico started to change and I thought, you know what? I’m going to get kidnapped here! I started to meet more policemen and it was getting weird. So in the mid-‘90s I had a shady friend who owned a condo in a shady building in Miami and he wanted to sell it so cheap I had to check it out. Miami was great at the time, it was a beach slum and that’s the best time when they’re in a down turn – there’s no problem with parking, no problem getting a table, no problem getting somewhere to stay, and the beautiful beach was not getting used very much. So in the late ‘90s I left New York and moved to Miami, sold the house in Mexico and since I moved there I was now living somewhere for the person I am. I wanted to be at the beach all the time. I’ve been in Miami 20 years now. You know, I’ve been fortunate and unfortunate. Fortunate for me in many ways that in the last six, eight, 10 years I’ve finally had the demand for what I do that the people hope to have in there twenties. I got there in my sixties, but I got there. I’ve had some success. So I don’t get as much time as I want on the beach which is the unfortunate part, but whenever I’m on tour or out doing an acting gig or my radio show or even in the studio I always take boardshorts with me. I hate to put on long pants. I mentioned that to someone and next thing I had a call from Billabong. Hey, we’ll make you some shorts with your name on them. And they dry quickly. That’s so important, how quickly your shorts dry.

They’ve become your new uniform.

You’ll like this. I drive a 2009 Drophead Phantom Rolls Royce and I showed up for a photo shoot with German Vogue the other day and there as a very French fashion photographer in charge and I pulled up to his shoot in my convertible Rolls and a pair of boardshorts and nothing else. He went, “You’re driving a Rolls Royce nude! You’re a boy! You’re 70 years old, but you’re a boy!” I looked around and said, “Well. you have a point. You have a point.”

Did I hear right that you started your music career drumming in a surf band?

Well, I drummed in a band and we played Pipeline by the Pyramids, we played Apache, and what was the one by the Tornadoes that we did? Anyway, we knew four or five surf numbers and our first gig was a professional, full-time gig straight out of high school at a place called the Ponytail Club on Lake Michigan. It was in Travers City, the top end of the Mitten there, and it’s still a very nice place to go chill. It used to be in America the very rich wanted to get away from the heat in the summer so they’d go for the cool summers and they go boating up there, people with dough, so their kids they wanted places to play so we had this Ponytail Club. We’d play six sets a night and have a couple of beers then crash and go to the beach all day.

A friend and I went through how many of your songs have ended up in surf movies over the years. There’s dozens.

Oh wow. That’s great. I know Dogs in Space had Dog Food and Endless Sea.

Endless Sea pops up in a lot of surf movies.

I was talking to Creed [McTaggart] yesterday and he told me how he liked Endless Sea and I’m like, of course, it’s a natural for a surfer.

For me you were the soundtrack to every big night I ever had in my twenties because Real Wild Child was the opening song on Rage every Saturday night. We’d come home from a big night out and turn on the TV and there you were.

Yeah, they used Wild Child right? That was the famous Australian guy, Johnny O’Keefe first did that song.

What song of yours would you put on a surf movie soundtrack?

It would depend on what kind of surf movie. Wild Child if it’s more MOR, but if it’s something edgier then I’d say like I Got A Right, something more from the thrash period of The Stooges. Passenger… I wouldn’t say Passengeronly because it’s used in a wide variety of things already. Lust For Life actually also would work because of the drumbeat and the guitar playing on that is kind of bouncy and surfy. That was Carlos Alomar, a very, very fine guitarist. Really, really good. Puerto Rican.

You’ve been perfectly preserved by living a punk life, while for everyone else it seems to take a horrible toll. How have you managed it?

Somewhere around when I was, let’s see… 1983, I was about 35, I realised okay dude, the jigs up. The jigs up. You’ve blown the fuses. So I pulled way, way back and I started emphasising the idea of not drugging, not partying, not going out wasting all my energy on all sorts of people and being a little more steady. Things like that. Early to bed, early to rise most of the time, and I’ve been that way ever since. Thirty years now. Exercise and sensible diet, I’m not faddy with diets, not a vegetarian or a skinny freak or anything like that, but I drink with dinner. I won’t go out standing around somewhere and drink. The drugs sloughed off gradually. I just didn’t want them anymore, and finally around the turn of the century I had to give up smoking. I knew how to do that because once you’ve kicked harder drugs you know tricks to kick other things. I was also lucky that little by little over time more people started listening to my music. It happened in the mid-‘90s with the CD reissue thing, the revolution, and the corporate licensing and music licensing of music for adverts. People started to hear and accept my music, so I didn’t have to deal with the bitterness that a lot of older people have to deal with if they don’t make it. That bitterness will make it almost impossible for you to get your shit together enough so you can keep moving forward. It does it to a lot of people and I was lucky just about the time I would have run out of gas I got a lucky break. The years before that, really between ‘84 and ‘94 that ten years I had to toe the line. I would turn in an album that was everything I wanted it to be but the record company would say you’re going back to release a goddamn hit or we’re not doing it. And I’d compromise a little bit. Or it would be you’re going on this incredibly long tour and most of the people you’ll play for aren’t going to know who the fuck you are, let alone care. And I’d do it. And it was tough. And there would be a choice between something I want to do to be happy and what I’d have to do to survive, and I’d have to choose survival. That kind of thing.

When did it turn around?

So I grappled for a while, then things just started to change little by little. It was really in minor ways. At first the licensing thing was huge in my life and it started in the early ‘90s for me with a bag of peanuts. They had a brand of peanuts in the UK and they called it Raw Power and they wanted to use the song and it was practically for nothing – it was peanuts! – but I said okay. Then later in the ‘90s there were very small film uses. The first person to use Lust For Life was Paul Verhoeven but it was his student film. He made an underground film called Spettersbefore he became big and he loved Lust For Life. He just used it again in his film Elle. Then Julian Schnabel used it in Basquiat then Desperately Seeking Susan used it and these amounts were all pretty little, but then Trainspotting came along and then Royal Caribbean cruises used it and that was a big deal. After that everything in my catalogue started getting used. Mitsubishi was calling, everyone. At the same time in the mid-‘90s Virgin wanted to put out a best of Iggy. A normal record label wouldn’t have done this but they were more adventurous so they called up. Suddenly Time magazine is calling they’re going, “What’s going on? Do they know who this guy is?” And even when Royal Caribbean started using Lust For Life people are going, “Don’t they know that this song is about heroin?” which it’s not, there’s a passing drug reference, but I was lucky and this thing started to turn. Then once the Internet really exploded suddenly the music I’d been involved in had equal presentation with the huge industry giants. In the days of the monster record stores you’d walk in and there’d be a 20-foot cut out of Bruce Springsteen looming over you and I’m in the bargain bin! So I did really well in that climate and I still do. It’s nice.

My favourite description of your late career renaissance is that you haven’t flamed out. It kind of hints that the creative spirit is still there.

I really enjoy it. I enjoy it live, and the recording thing I’m passive about but if someone wants to call me and I want to do it, I do it. I don’t have a preferred style. I can do Bedouin rock, I can do ultra-modern produced avant-garde, which I did for the Good Time movie with Robert Pattinson. I worked with Oneohtrix Point Never, highly advanced electronica music and I can do that and I enjoy dabbling with whatever.

You’ve worked with French writer Michel Houellebeck, and his famous line is that the artist needs to poke his finger in the sore of society and press hard. Is that a fair assessment of your career?

I loved that! He has a way with words. With me it was accidental. I didn’t realise and it started with The Stooges. The first couple of gigs some people were really like, this is different and interesting, but most people were against it and even my name for many years, the mention of my name would make big dudes growl in anger. It either made people furious or laugh. I was really lucky I was born when I was and I lasted long enough for the century to change, because boom, when that new century came around it was like the hair shirt disappeared and it was okay to be me. Not a problem! Go Iggy, whatever.

While a lot of punk can be nihilistic and dark, there’s a real positive and personal quality to what you do.

I don’t emphasise the anger. A lot of the angrier stuff to begin with was because I was working with The Stooges and to be honest they were angry. I would look at things when I saw it, I would front it and articulate it. Then I would get into periods when things weren’t going so well and I’d get mad, but I always tried to keep something else in there something with beauty, growth or its absence, circumstantial problems.

Punk with heart.

I think that’s fair. I managed to be consistently out of fashion no matter what I put out. It was never what was going on at the time for a long, long time and I would suffer to an extent for that. Then finally later I’m grateful for it being that way, because the music has held up over time for that reason.

You get listed frequently as a punk icon, but who are yours?

Well, you know, let me see. They might not fit everyone’s definitions of punk, but for me there are guys who have that attitude in what they do, and that’s how I see it. Definitely Link Wray and I would say the guitar bits of Dwayne Eddie, whatever people say about him. And then there were some somewhat obscure a guy from Texas named Roy Head who had a couple of hits in the sixties, one of them was Treat Her Right and another one I Don’t Want A Lot I Want a Little Bit. James Brown! James Brown was punk. That guy was punk, especially if you read his biography. He was huge for me. I would say early Clint Eastwood. You look at those spaghetti westerns and I saw him on TV when I was living with my parents and he played a character called Rowdy Yates on a show called Wagon Train and he never stood up straight he was always leaning around playing with a piece of straw and mumbling. He never talked right, and he was punky in a way. It’s an attitude. He was someone for me whenever things weren’t going well for me in The Stooges or in my own career till about ‘75 I would go to a Clint Eastwood movie watch him walk in and kill everybody and go, this is good stuff. This is what I need to do.

I was listening to a conversation about genius the other day and it was in reference to Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah. He tinkered with the original version of that song for years to get it right, and the conversation was how in some people genius kind of evolves, while for others they can scribble something on a beer coaster and there it is, genius. Which one are you?

I have a spontaneity when it comes to other artists or situations in life around me, but when it comes to actually sitting down and doing the writing or planning a live show, every detail has been thought about a lot. Maybe I could say I have enough laziness in my early work where a guy like Leonard would write thousands of words, I would flame out at about 25. A few words but get them exactly right. It was probably the marijuana.

When was the last time you stage dived?

Let’s see. [Thinking] Last gig was Russia… it was at a festival in the Mojave Desert this year. October 12th. That was the last one. I don’t do it all the time. This last year I did 22 shows and I think I did seven or eight stage dives. I keep saying this; I can’t keep doing it. I’m not going to do this anymore, but I do have some shows coming up, and I’ll never say never.

Have you still got vices?

The wine. That’s the big vice right now, but just with dinner, too much of it most of the time. And stage diving. And working more than you’re supposed to when you’re 70 but I’m not sure if that’s ever going to change. Hopefully I’m going to slow it down this year because the next year is 50 years since my first record, so if I’m still around I’ll be touring. I’m doing less, generally. I plan to play a few gigs and my radio show and a bit of what I call acting.

Do you enjoy acting?

I don’t enjoy it as much as the music but it’s neat to do it. Not so much as a career thing, but if it’s out there and I do that I might get a nice surprise late in life. The way I look at it some people get to that age when they retire and the worst thing that can happen is you have a static position. It’s the same for any point in life I suppose. Life will always have negative surprises for you, so I thought I’d leave the door open for positive surprises. I’ll be 75 and some guy will be looking at my cameo in Star Trek Deep Space Nine where I played Yelgrun the Vorta with the big ears and he’s perfect for the new Star Trek movie. “Iggy Pop? Is that guy still alive? Let’s find him!”

You don’t seem to sit still very well.

Sometimes I think it’d be better to never work, but then again not long ago I flew to a beautiful island on the equator to look at property and cash out and there was a castle for sale on the water. I looked at it and they gave me a rum punch and it was so strong and I went, “This is great, give me another one,” and they did. I woke up the next day in paradise feeling worse than I had in a year and took it as a warning sign. I’d end up as a real beach bum and I don’t want to do that.

Sean Doherty