'Slightly Damaged': A Conversation with Iggy Pop

After two rings, a gravelly voice picks up the phone and mutters a chewy “hello.” There's no publicist or handler — this is Iggy Pop himself, taking press calls at what he terms his “shack” in the Cayman Islands. The 64-year-old is about to head out for a handful of dates with the reunited Stooges, whose '60s and '70s albums took rock music to chaotic new extremes, foretelling the rise of punk. We spoke to Pop about how he still manages to contort himself onstage, finally joining the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame last year, andwhat new music he's listening to.

You're coming out to play four dates here in California and Vegas. What's the occasion?

All the other guys in the group are from California, and just kept hassling me, [squeaky voice] “We wanna play California!” So I said, “All right.” This edition of the band, which really got underway last year after [original guitarist Ron Asheton's] death in '09, we did the other parts of America that we can go to.

What parts of America can't you go to?

Well, we can't go to Tulsa or Kansas City or Athens because basically we're a certain marque. In the '90s … I was very excited to play Kansas City, and the review came out the next day and the very first paragraph was “Obviously, Iggy Pop's career has fallen on hard times, or why would he be playing in Kansas City?” [Laughs] So I realized, fuck you. At this point, we just go where the demand is.

How has performing with the Stooges changed as you guys have gotten on in years?

Some of the problems are the same, and certainly the feeling, it just doesn't really change. But I get bunged up a lot, and I lose my voice at certain times, and you have to play longer. We worked [the set] up to 45 minutes, which is the longest that anybody is riveting, honestly. Forty-five minutes, and then after that, it's [drops into a nasally Southern accent], “Well, friends and neighbors, there's some T-shirts available in the foyer. Let me tell you about my charity work.”

When you were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year, you yelled at the audience to come join the band onstage. You told a room full of very famous people “Show me you're not too rich to be cool.” How did people take that?

It reminded me in a way like a reverse of the Blues Brothers movie, where they throw the stuff at [the band through] chicken wire. I actually had to step over a U.S. senator who was in the front row there. And I get all those people mixed up, so I actually thought he was Derek Jeter. And I was like, “Cool, Derek Jeter,” and then I found out later it was, what's his name, [Harold] Ford, the senator from Tennessee.

How did it feel to get into the Hall of Fame?

Basically you're in that position, like somebody whose friends nominate them for homecoming queen and then they lose, and this goes on over a decade of your life. And then people start calling you up, saying, “How did it feel that you lost?” So at some point I decided all right, fuck this, I'm going after this. We got it, and that was that. Then you go over to [Rolling Stone Editor/Publisher] Jann Wenner's house and you have a drink with Ron Perlman and David Geffen and look at a Léger on the wall. It's an interesting experience. It's not everyday I get to sing “Search and Destroy” for Diane Sawyer.

You've been pretty up front about seeking fame and sometimes doing things for the money. For a long time in music there was this idea that doing something for money or fame was selling out. What do you consider selling out?

You can just say “Okay, I'm gonna sell this.” For instance, I do a wide range of voiceover work, and I don't really care what it is. I'll do just about anything. And that's great, 'cause that's what real fucking people do — they go and just have to do a fucking job.

When you do something because you think it'll get over — which is what most commercial music was from '78 through the mid-'90s, [it was] the heyday of the big, mega-American commercial radio, and guys with gym deltoids, and bald heads, and baseball caps came in and took over rock 'n' roll, and ran these weird radio stations. At that point the music wasn't serving the public anyway, it was serving the advertisers through these people and masquerading as music. That's selling out.

The Stooges and myself license a lot of music to ads, and we do really well with it. We charge, too, to play — we don't do it for free. But what I would say is you better fucking show up and you better give the motherfucking goods, asswipe. Because what a terrible thing, what a terrible and typical thing, to go to see live music and be disappointed, and feel fleeced over by some mincing, moaning prick. Drop fucking dead!

What are you listening to these days?

If it's new stuff, I checked out Fountains of Wayne the other day, which was okay. Fleet Foxes, I liked the first record and I haven't gotten around the second record. I listen to Boris sometimes or Sunn 0))). I liked MGMT for quite a while. Not Vampire Weekend so much.

There are rumors about a new, non-rock Iggy Pop album this year.

I made something, which is just a collection of some of the stuff I did just for my own feelings over the last year, and half of it is in French [laughs]. Then I did some just great American songs, like “Everybody's Talkin',” “Pushin' Too Hard.” Just singing quietly, in a certain mood, songs for other slightly damaged, intermittently lonely people to listen to and commiserate with me. Right now I just call the thing Existence.

What about a new Stooges album?

I write with [Stooges guitarist] James [Williamson], and we'll probably write some more within a few months, and then we'll see what. Now that I'm an action figure at Toys R Us, I thought like, wow, could [there] be a five-headed Stooge monster and when you pull a string it spews our new music? Something different, you know? Maybe we could do the soundtrack for one of these guys at the drive-in Christian churches [laughs]. Reverend Rick or whoever, [takes up Southern accent] “Well, we've invited the Stooges down here today to shake things up a little bit for Jesus!”

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