Famous wearer of very little, Iggy Pop, is launching…a clothing line. Tom Ellen asks him why
Iggy Pop has one of the best laughs you’ll ever hear. It’s the sort of laugh that would suit a good-natured elderly bear in a Pixar film – a warm, hiccupping, syrupy chuckle that’s hardly in keeping with the man’s enduring image as, to quote Alan Partridge, a “sweating lunatic”.
But while most people (this writer included) fell in love with Iggy for his peerlessly brilliant early albums and electrifying, can’t-take-your-eyes-off-him-for-a-second live performances, James Newell Osterberg Jr has evolved far beyond the howling proto-punk trailblazer he was four decades ago. At 67, he’s still making music, but his CV has expanded into DJing (for 6 Music), acting (he’s next in Dario Argento’s The Sandman), public speaking (his recent John Peel lecture (below) explored “free music in a capitalist society”) and now clothing design – it’s his new fashion line with Sailor Jerry that I’m phoning him about today. Happily, though, he’s also keen to discuss on-stage insanity, The Stooges and seabirds that resemble “Homeland f*cking Security”…
Hi Iggy. Where are you right now?
I’m in a little house I’ve got here [in Miami], on the edge of the ’hood. I’m by a little river called the Little River. It’s like your granny’s house, if she was from Mississippi. It’s raining, but that’s fine because the rain smells really good.
Do you fish in the river?
You know, I used to. When I bought the place 10 years ago, the fish were f*cking jumping like crazy, but now this cormorant has moved in. He lives here now, and he gets all the fish, so nobody can fish any more. He looks like Homeland f*cking Security, man [laughs]. A Swat bird. There’s something called a manatee here, too. Beautiful creature. Like a sea monster.
Let’s talk about the fashion line you’ve created for Sailor Jerry. Isn’t it odd that a man famed for wearing not many clothes has now become a clothing designer?
Well, there are no shirts or pants in the collection, so we’re right into my style [laughs]. Usually, when I’m at this little house, I’ll wear at least one piece of clothing, because somebody might see me. But at my family home, I have my very own jungle, so I just go nude all the time. There’s a vest [waistcoat] in the collection, though, and one of the things I’ve always worn instead of clothes is the vest. Particularly the denim vest. You can use a vest for a pillow. Or as a social signal, like biker gangs do. “Oi! I’m in The Scorpions! Don’t f*ck with me!”
Who were your style icons growing up?
Huey P Newton from the Black Panthers. And Rufus Thomas – man, he was f*cking unbelievable. I liked pimp fashion, frankly. I really liked Shaft. Older-period Brando. James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause – the jeans and the red cloth jacket.
Do you still have your most famous pieces of clothing, such as the transparent trousers or the leopard-head jacket from the Raw Power sleeve?
I have the transparent trousers here, actually, but the older stuff… no. It all got lost in the shuffle. But I know who’s got that jacket, because he brags about it online. Someone called ‘Long Gone John’.
Do you look at online Stooges forums and fan sites, then?
Once in a while. I know how to look, but not well enough that I could get obsessed [laughs]. What I do is this: I have a filter. His name is Spencer. He handles my ‘e-identity’, so I don’t reply to anything personally. I keep the computer in this house, I don’t take it home. But it’s all changing now, because I got an iPad.
So you’re presumably addicted to Angry Birds these days?
No, I don’t do any of that sh*t. I would not do that sh*t in a million f*cking years [laughs]. I tried to play one of those games once, but I got bored.
What do you do to stave off boredom, then? What does an average day involve?
I go swimming. I do Chinese exercises. I read serious literature. I play two acoustic guitars; one in standard tuning, one in open G blues tuning. I’ve been peripatetic for so long that I can’t stay anywhere for more than a few days, so I travel between my family house and a place in the Cayman Islands.
Do you cook?
I am a relentless, but terrible, cook. I don’t give up. Around the time I moved to Miami, I’d just got divorced, and I was dating. So, I thought it would be very romantic to cook for one date. I brought her to my flat and presented this meal, and she looked at me and said, “I seriously don’t think I can eat that.”
What was it?
It was my spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino. But I think there was too much of a ‘swim’ with the oil.
As one of the great rock’n’roll lead singers, do you think truly engaging frontmen are a dying breed?
Well, gee… Maybe what’s happened is that the people that are genetically fit for that sort of thing are now going into business for themselves, with a slew of managers, a Disney education and a drum machine. Which is a shame, because it’s hard to do music when you don’t know sh*t about it [laughs]. The little sh*ts know now that if they pull the right levers, big money is quickly accessible. That was not possible back in the day. There’s a great book called Beatles Vs Stones [by John McMillian], and it has these actual transcriptions from Mick Jagger to [the Stones’ management], saying, “They’re going to turn off the electricity if you don’t give me money!” This was when he’d had six gold albums! It was a mysterious, arcane world back then; copyrights, expenses, royalties. No one knew what the f*ck was going on.
How much planning went into the mad stuff you used to do on stage? Walking across the crowd’s hands, rolling in broken glass – did you know you were going to do these things before you stepped out?
Half and half. Was I gonna get on stage and roll around? Yeah. Was I gonna roll around in broken glass? No, that came in the moment. It was the same with walking on the crowd – didn’t plan that one. Sometimes, I’d go on stage with a pen and paper in my pocket, so I could dive into the crowd while the guitar solo’s going and ask, “Hey, so, what’s your number? What you doing later?” That was as much planning as I did [laughs]. But in a group like The Stooges, who had absolutely no hummable choruses, whose fans were outnumbered by their detractors, I needed a range of different responses to keep things moving. If points arose in the gig that were musically weak, or the audience was weak, I would call on these responses.
What did you think of David Bowie’s Berlin-themed Where Are We Now? single last year? Did it bring back memories of when you were both living in the city during the Seventies?
Oh, that’s a beautiful single. I don’t know if I’ve ever lost my memories of that place, though. That town was so physically and socially generous at that time. Plus, not many people. No problem parking! No crowds on the subway!
Do you keep in touch with Bowie?
No, we last spoke about 11 years ago. It was a very nice chat, though. He was doing Meltdown Festival, and he was looking for talent. I wanted to do it, but I had a conflict with another tour.
Finally, one of my favourite stories about you involves you going up to Jack Nicholson before a gig in 1973 and demanding money for drugs before you got on stage. Did that really happen?
Oh yeah! All I can say is I don’t remember doing it, but it sounds like me [laughs]. I did things like that all the time. I remember once, before a gig, I went outside and there was a line of hundreds of people around the block. I went down the line, asking each person, “Who’s got the dope?” until I found some. That’s not exactly what you call ‘professional behaviour’, you know? But on the other hand, it’s unique. So, over time, it gains a certain value.
There’s another great story that The Stooges used to demand a ‘Bob Hope impersonator’ on their tour rider…
[Laughs] That is down to my long-time friend and roadie, Josh. Roadies get bored, so Josh used to put more and more fantastic things on our rider list. I think he asked for a crocodile once. There was one that was taken really seriously: we were in one of the recently liberated Soviet satellite countries, and Josh had put, “We must have wind machines that will blow Iggy’s hair in a manner consistent with a Bon Jovi video” [laughs]. They actually gave us these machines, but they grumbled in the local press: “Iggy’s making these outrageous demands…”