Protopunk Iggy Pop is sitting in a cushiony chair at the posh Chateau Marmont in L.A., discussing the last time he came to San Francisco for a 1994 Warfield gig in support of American Caesar. Shirtless, drenched in sweat, and whipping his long brown hair to and fro, he pogoed through both guttural new rockers and chestnuts from his Stooges days. He was 46 at the time, but you couldn't tell from his incendiary headbanging performance.
“I was at a museum in Berlin about a year after that Warfield show, and there was a very nice American family, nice-looking people, nice vibe, looking through the museum, too,” he recalls, smiling. “And just before I left, the daughter — very young, maybe 19 or 20 — came up to me and said, 'I saw your show at the Warfield, and that was the best show I ever saw!' And that made me feel really good, and I said, 'Wow — thanks!' because I put a lot of work into it.” Mostly, he scowls, “You do these gigs and 900 miles later you think, Well, that's up in smoke!”
There's been something of a Pop-culture renaissance lately. The singer has a recurring role on Nickelodeon's hip Peter and Pete series, as the crotchety Mr. Mecklinburg who once forced local teen truants to scrub his soiled sidewalk with their toothbrushes. He made a cameo in the film Tank Girl, and hits the big screen again in Jim Jarmusch's upcoming Dead Man, followed by a sequel to The Crow, in which he plays an archvillain named Curve. He says he was allowed some typically Iggy ad-libs: “When the Crow is coming to kill me and he says, 'I'm gonna get you, Curve,' I say, 'Fuck you, bird-dick!' ” Pop goes into hacking hysterics. “'Cause 'Crow,' get it? 'Bird-dick,' right?” Yeah.
And this week, Pop marks his musical return with Naughty Little Doggie (Virgin), a real sucker punch whose punk-era power chords won't come as any big surprise. Meet the man, and the image is complete: In his jeans, biker boots, Gumby Pizza T-shirt, and wire-frame sunglasses, his platinum-blond tresses trailing long past his shoulders, Iggy is of a dying breed of showmen who understand that heart is nine-tenths of adrenaline-rush art.
It wasn't always like this, Pop clarifies. As he talks, he fiddles with some just-shot Polaroids of himself, which he's shredded into little pieces. “There was one point after I'd made a few albums, I somehow got myself into this rock rut,” he shrugs. “Livin' the life — it was babes, intoxication, guitar, guitar. But I just sank into the sludge of that in the '80s, and I couldn't do it right anymore because I was too into it, you know?” He says a love of art, film, and dance — impressed upon him by old pal David Bowie, who produced the Stooges' Raw Power in 1973 — lifted him out of the quagmire.
“Bowie is a tremendous collector and a very knowledgeable person about a lot of different things,” Pop says, “and when I was hangin' with him on a constant basis he just laid a lot of stuff on me. And since then I kinda thought, Wow — this is a nice way to live, to be around all these things. It got me wound up, and I kept going on my own.”
Pop's New York flat is now adorned with art by Joe Coleman, Robert Williams, and Brion Gysin and some fierce ancestral totems from Indonesia. He's not sure which Berlin museum he visited, but he does remember being awed by its cast of Nefertiti's head. So don't listen to Doggie on scratch-riffed surface value alone, he warns. In the linchpin track, “To Belong,” Pop observes in his patented off-key snarl, “A bird is sitting on the pavement/ Someone broke his wing/ Now that bird is gone and nowhere/ And he's suffering/ Now I understand the setup, I see everything.” The chorus is a screamed, “To belong … to belong here!”
“There is definitely a problem in that song,” he explains. “And I think it's something a lot of people go through. You wanna join the group, you wanna join the other people and yet in the process of doing so, on every different level, there are offenses that are gonna be committed against your sensibilities, and you have to deal with them somehow. Some people are too sensitive to take it. Some are too brutal to notice, and some people are too lazy to deal with it at all. So how much of yourself do you give away to get something back?” Other cuts — “Innocent World,” “I Wanna Live,” “Heart Is Saved” — are laced with equally dense rhetoric.
But this is Iggy Pop we're talking about, he of lustful anthems like “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” He uncages his libido once again with the down 'n' dirty spoken-word swagger of “Pussy Walk,” inspired by the Caribbean and Latin American women he ogled outside a recording studio last year. (“I was charmed and fascinated,” he says, “and then I started thinkin', Isn't it a tragedy if I go to my grave and I haven't actually gotten intimate with somebody from these places?”).
Despite his predatory image, though, and the privileges of stardom, he knows you can't always get what you want. “I tried to talk to somebody just the other day — I was in a video store and there was somebody I wanted to meet, but I was too shy.” A block away, he stopped himself, mustered the courage, and headed back. “The person was pulling out of the store lot in their car, so I just walked right up to the car and waved and smiled. She looked at me in utter terror and floored the thing,” he sighs. “Like, 'There's a maniac who's after me! I'm gettin' outta here as fast as I can!'