IGGY AND THE STOOGES: Bring the Weirdness

Iggy Pop didn’t get to be a rock icon with the wrong motivational approach. The proto-punk renegade-who single-handedly invented the stage-dive and set a number of other trends over the years-is a self help advocate. “I coach myself,” Iggy confesses rather simply, albeit boisterously, on the phone from his Miami area cottage. “When I’m lagging a bit, I just go, ‘C’mon, Jim.'”

Iggy Pop didn’t get to be a rock icon with the wrong motivational approach. The proto-punk renegade-who single-handedly invented the stage-dive and set a number of other trends over the years-is a self help advocate. “I coach myself,” Iggy confesses rather simply, albeit boisterously, on the phone from his Miami area cottage. “When I’m lagging a bit, I just go, ‘C’mon, Jim.'”

For Iggy, born James Newell Osterberg, Jr. in Muskegon, Mich. almost six decades ago, that simple philosophy drove his decision to reunite The Stooges for 2007’s The Weirdness (Virgin Records), some 40 years after the seminal rock group first took flight. Counting Iggy, co-founding members Ron and Scott Asheton (on guitar and drums respectively), plus onetime Minuteman bassist Mike Watt (filling in for the late Dave Alexander who died of pneumonia in 1975), The Stooges-known for seminal anthems like “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “T.V. Eye” and “Search & Destroy”-sound terrific on the Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, Joanna Newsom) produced follow up to 1973’s Raw Power.

The man known to many as the Godfather of Punk-who can currently be heard in a prominent Cadillac commercial singing “I’m A Punk Rocker” atop a collaboration with Swedish studio wizards Teddybears-says it took 34 years for a formal follow up to that seminal album, “Because before this time, it wasn’t possible for us to be a living, breathing band. For the same reason we went down once…we couldn’t live in the world, and conditions didn’t clear us to make it possible until now. Society has changed. My ability to do certain things for the band has changed. I’m in a stronger position. I’m able to offer a leg up, and all three of us-Ron, Scott and I-have had a long time to think. As things changed in the music world, our music matured somehow even though our records have remained unaltered. The Stooges mean something different now. Our strengths are a lot more apparent today than they were in 1969.”

Long before he became one of rock’s most dynamic figures, Iggy-who took his name from The Iguanas, his high school band-first zoned in on a band role that was far from the spotlight. “I actually tried to make it as a drummer with blues and jazz guys and took a trip to Chicago,” he says. “But it was over my head. I always thought I could find my way around a lyric. And in the mid-1960s, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison all became popular singers and they were all only singing one and a half notes. So I knew I didn’t have to be Wilson Pickett.”

After befriending Ron Asheton in 1965, Iggy says they “played together briefly in the Prime Movers in ‘66. And by ‘67 we were trying to put this band together.” With Scott Asheton and Dave Alexander in tow, and after witnessing a Doors performance, The Stooges took shape. “I remember seeing The Doors in the Spring of ‘67, and a year later we were sort of being scouted by this weird man named Danny Fields who became the creator of The Ramones. He was trying to apply a lot of the same things to us that he later put in place with The Ramones, but we wouldn’t let him. Like the cutesy shared last name…that was where the Iggy Stooge thing came from.”

In March of ’68, The Stooges played its first live gig for money, opening for Blood, Sweat & Tears. At its second gig, opening for The Mothers of Invention, Pop took his infamous first stage dive. “It was more of a stage fall,” he remembers. “And it kind of went from there, but I was a diving duck before we ever put out a record.”

At that time, bands could have a regional presence and still land a recording contract. “In late ’68 we had a record deal as I remember, even though we had rarely left Michigan by this point-with the exception of some really strange trips to Northern Ohio. And boy those people were really conservative. They didn’t know what the hell to make of me! [laughs] Anyway, I believe we recorded in the winter or very early spring of 1969. But once [the first album] came out we had forays to Pittsburgh, New York, Philadelphia and so on.”

Despite putting their heart and soul into 1969’s John Cale-produced The Stooges (which stalled on the album charts at #106) and the following year’s Fun House (both for Elektra), the group struggled to reach the mainstream. As outsiders looking for a way in, The Stooges couldn’t catch a break. “The common quote at the time was ‘These guys are punks,'” Iggy confesses. “‘They can’t play,’ or ‘poor man’s rock band,’ or ‘fake Doors,’ or ‘imitation Rolling Stones’ or just…‘idiots!’ [chuckles]. But thankfully, at the same time, there were people who really got it…and liked it a lot. And that was gratifying, too. It definitely bothered me at the time, but [I knew] we weren’t gonna have fuckin’ hits anyway. And the funny thing now, of course, is that the guys who might have had hits then are out of work or forgotten or in the ground. They went one way; we went the other. I think in the long run we were the shrewder investment.”

That’s not to say Elektra didn’t try to land them a hit, as the Doors-like organ touches placed atop the radio version of 1970’s “Down On The Street” affirmed. “And it was so stupid,” the man born Osterberg says. “They did some sort of a single with some weird overdubs on it. It was sort of silly, and we did have a hit with it in an overt, American payola kind of way. A DJ named Barry Richards-who was very powerful-said, ‘Come to D.C. and play for free for me, and your song will be in the Top 10 next week.’ [laughs] And we had a Top 10 song regionally for a month. And he just made it up and said, [in Iggy’s best deep DJ voice] ‘Number 7!’ And there we were between “This Diamond Ring” by Gary Lewis and Herman’s Hermits’ “Henry The VIII.” ‘Here they are, the rockin’ and wonderful Stooges!’

4 Comments

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

THE POWER OF INDEPENDENTS: Discussion for a Digital Era-Part 1

ELENI MANDELL: The Love of Love Songs