Born James Jewel Osterberg, April 21, 1947, in Ann Arbor, MI. Addresses: Record company-Virgin, 30 west 21st Street, New York, NY 10010.
Often dubbed "the godfather of punk rock" by critics and fans, singer Iggy Pop became an immediate cult figure in the late 1960s as a member of the Stooges, a boundary-breaking rock band known for its ear-splitting guitars and nihilistic attitude. Although never a major commercial draw, the Stooges' influence on later generations is inestimable. After the Stooges dissolved in the early 1970s, Pop went on to create a number of striking solo albums with the aid of British pop innovator David Bowie. However, by the end of the decade it seemed to many that Pop had begun to mellow, and had been eclipsed by the very decadent thrash of punk rock that the Stooges had helped inspire. By the mid-1980s, Pop impressed listeners once again with a string of albums that were still angst-ridden, if somewhat slicker than before.
Iggy Pop, born James Jewel Osterberg, grew up in a trailer park in the college town of Ann Arbor, Michigan. As a teenager, the disenchanted Pop played drums in a garage band called the Iguanas, and after dropping out of the University of Michigan, in a blues band called the Prime Movers. He moved to the South Side of Chicago in 1966 to take in that city's rich blues scene but returned to Ann Arbor the following year. Christening himself Iggy Stooge, Pop then joined brothers Ron and Scott Asheton, who played guitar and drums respectively, and bassist Dave Alexander to form the Stooges.
The Stooges made their live debut on Halloween in 1967 and made no haste in raising the eyebrows of local rock fans. Aside from the New York band Velvet Underground and fellow Ann Arborites the MC5, few rock bands could have prepared listeners for the Stooges' brand of potent, feedback-edged guitar crunch. Perhaps even more shocking, though, was Pop's riotous onstage antics which more than matched the fury of the group's music. Screaming, diving into broken glass, and smearing his body with raw meat, Pop marked the dawn of a new chapter of disillusionment and outrage in the history of rock. Nevertheless, Pop later told Kurt Loder in Rolling Stone that "I never felt like a self- destructive person when I started out. I admit that I may have been the first performer to vent his immediate angers in this format -if I was pissed off, I sang about it. But that was only part of it."
After gaining a regional reputation, the Stooges were signed to Elektra in 196, and a year later their self-titled debut hit record stores. Although the record sold only marginally, it developed a strong cult following but, more importantly, The Stooges was a revelation for the next generations of young musicians tired of the often banal nature of commercial rock. The Stooges would become a key influence for the first wave of punk rock groups, both in form and content. To wit, one can easily draw a direct line between the "no future for you" chorus of punk legends the Sex Pistols' 1977 "God Save The Queen" and the Stooges' "1969," in which Pop drones: "Another year for me and you/Another year with nothing to do."
Although The Stooges was nothing short of a musical revolution-with tracks like "No Fun" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog" later becoming standard cover fare for underground bands-its sequel, Funhouse, released in 1970, was even more impressive. Subsequently noted by many critics as one of the rawest, most energetic rock albums ever, Funhouse showed Pop's vocal style to have grown from the first album, ranging from his drawling, near-monologue singing to an ear-splitting wail. From the opener "Down On The Street" to the finale of "L.A. Blues," the album provided still more classic tunes to the underbelly of rock.
After Funhouse, the Stooges temporarily broke up, and Pop spent over a year trying to shake his growing heroin addiction for the first of many times. Relocating to London, England-where the Stooges had developed a sizable following-Pop met the esoteric singer David Bowie, who decided to assist Pop on his next effort. The two managed to corral all of the Stooges except for Alexander, who was replaced by Ron Asheton on bass. With new recruit James Williamson taking up lead guitar and co-writing with Pop, the newly dubbed Iggy and the Stooges recorded Raw Power for Columbia. At least on par with previous releases, Raw Power pushed the band's fixation on sex and death in the atomic age to new extremes, and once again provided a share of proto-punk anthems like "Gimme Danger," "Search and Destroy," as well as the catchy title cut. Although the album might have marked the acme of the Stooges' career, within the year the group disbanded permanently and Pop returned to his heavy heroin habit.
Solo Career Launched
In 1974, Pop moved to Los Angeles to untangle a number of legal problems left in the wake of the Stooges' breakup. After checking in and out of a mental hospital, during which time he and Williamson recorded what would later be issued as the slapdash album Kill City, Pop again left the U.S., this time to Berlin, Germany with Bowie as his guide. Pop was considerably influenced by Bowie, who allegedly cajoled Pop into opting out of an early retirement. Fully collaborating with Bowie, Pop released his first two official solo albums in 1977, The Idiot and Lust For Life, revealing a persona strikingly more subdued than Iggy Stooge. Although songs like "Sister Midnight," "Lust For Life," and "The Passenger" were edgy and engaging, overall the two records had more in common, not surprisingly, with Bowie=s Berlin-inspired landscapes of European decadence than with the Stooges. Despite this shift, or perhaps because of it, The Idiot and Lust For Life became the most commercially and critical successful Iggy Pop albums.
Although Pop's solo albums were a clear sign of Pop's maturity as a performer and songwriter, his onstage habits of self-mutilation, exhibitionism, and audience-heckling swelled to new proportions. Touring the U.S. and Europe with Bowie as a band member and New York's New Wave/disco group Blondie as openers, Pop demonstrated that writing catchy tunes need not entail a compromise of energy. "Rock's oldest adolescent, Iggy, wrote the book of punk and continues to do it better than most of the children he spawned," wrote Rolling Stone's Kristine McKenna in response to a 1980 Los Angeles gig. "ABusting the evening open with a rabid version of [1960s rock group] the Animals' 'I'm Crying,' he proved himself the consummate showman and the unstoppable animal boy he's always claimed to be." The 1978 live album TV Eye captured the previous year's tour, but most critics agreed that its middling audio quality did not do Pop justice.
In 1979, Pop signed to the Arista label and released a trio of albums there before moving on. The first, New Values, showed the singer in fine form, and even yielded a minor hit within the confines of the budding medium of college radio, "Five Foot One." Unfortunately, the following releases, Soldier and the pseudo-dance record Party, were much weaker and commercially abominable. Subsequently all of Pop's Arista output was deleted in the U.S. After the Arista debacle, Pop submerged himself into heroin and alcohol while living in a squalid hotel room near New York City's Times Square. "I would try to play without drugs, and I'd get so depressed I'd just beat up on people," Pop later admitted to Rob Tannenbaum in Rolling Stone. "It was a disaster."
Pulling himself together and signing with the Animal label, Pop created the more satisfying Zombie Birdhouse in 1982, a more experimental effort that saw the singer dabbling in beat-oriented tunes with almost rapped vocals. Nevertheless, Zombie Birdhouse was to be Pop's last record for the next four years, although a myriad of bootleg Stooges live albums began to surface during this hiatus. While his bootleggers were busy, Pop spent time in Switzerland with Bowie and in 1984, married a Japanese woman named Suchi. In the meantime, Pop's legacy was influencing another wave of bands who pushed the drone and feedback of the Stooges to unimagined new levels, such as New York City's Sonic Youth and England's Spacemen 3 (who later covered The Stooges' tracks "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and "Little Doll," respectively).
Another Comeback for Pop
When Pop returned to the studio in 1986 to release the album Blah Blah Blah, he shocked many listeners once again, but this time around the shock stemmed from the commercial direction Pop had chosen. Produced by Bowie and featuring ex-Sex Pistol Steve Jones on bass, the mainstream oriented Blah Blah Blah alienated some fans who looked to Pop for abrasive, even offensive attitude. However, the majority of listeners and critics applauded the album. "Blah Blah Blah is no wholesale sellout," defended Kurt Loder in Rolling Stone. "Iggy still sings like a lion, and 'Cry For Love,' the first single, illuminates his existential stance as clearly as anything on Raw Power did thirteen years ago. But in its sonic details, the album is frankly designed as a crossover move - one for which Iggy has never been readier."
After Blah Blah Blah, Pop increased the commercial viability of his albums with guest producers and session musicians, yet still retained his cocky, sometimes adolescent, verve. Although he had finally become a bona fide mainstream rock star, Pop became outspokenly venomous towards the contemporary entertainment business. On his 1990 effort Brick By Brick, for example, which featured star producer Don Was and heavy-metal guitarist Slash of the heavy metal group Guns N' Roses, Pop lampooned the sleazy, show-biz world of Los Angeles with the song "Butt Town." Despite the juvenile leanings such a title suggests, critics could not fail to see Pop's maturity. As Tannenbaum wrote of Brick By Brick in the Village Voice, "[t]he mixes as clear, the tempos remain consistent even during the hard- rock interludes, the arrangements are varied, and the range of expression includes a sentimental duet with Kate Pierson of the B-52s and a marital ballad set to David Lindley's bouzouki. Almost like a real adult!"
Stooges Sound Returned
With American Caesar, released in 1993, Pop took a step backwards towards the sound of his earliest work, albeit while keeping his high profile as a performer. On songs like "Wild America" and "Perforation Problems," the latter about quitting heroin, Pop once again gave listeners snapshots of the seedier side of life in the U.S. with instrumentation slanted towards his classic Stooges work. "Brick By Brick showcased [Pop] as a classic rocker, with plenty of loud but clean guitars," posited Stereo Review. "American Caesar lets him play in the dirt. The solos here are nasty, brutish, and short - distortion and reverb rule. Iggy is definitely back, the noblest punk of them all." Mark Kemp, writing in Rolling Stone gave the album even greater praise: "What elevates American Caesar from merely a good album to a great one is that the songs are sequenced in a way that sharpens the record's dynamics-musically, stylistically, and thematically. By all appearances, this is a concept album-but the good kind."
Pop released another album in 1996, Naughty Little Doggie, which in comparison to American Caesar was less stinging in its music, if not its content. "The lyrics are twisted, but there's a lot of longing," Pop told Jim Bessman in Billboard. "They're about a guy in middle age who goes 'Jesus Christ! I haven't got that long, but I still want to touch people and I don't know how-or if I can get away with it!'" However autobiographical the album might have been, critics continued to marvel over Pop's ability to indeed get away with it at almost fifty years of age. "If Iggy had died ahead of schedule, he would be just another rock & roll martyr," Rolling Stone's David Fricke wrote in his review of Naughty Little Doggie. "Instead, the funhouse is open for business.... Celebrity is great, but survival is the best revenge."
Pop's survival alone was in fact incredible, if not miraculous, given his decades of heavy barbiturate, alcohol, and heroin intake. Still more impressive was the vitality his recorded work retained, as well as the influence it wielded. By the mid-1990s, Pop was embraced by a third generation of youth culture, this time in the form of the so-called American "grunge" scene of fuzzy guitars and flannel sweaters. And yet Pop remained as nonchalant about his laurels as ever. "I think I'm lucky I didn't get paid enough to drown in the syrup of success; I'm still really hungry," he told Kim Neely in Rolling Stone. "I could to relax more, I will say that. You know, if you're going to hold a bird, you still have to hold it with a certain tension, or it will fly away. But if you crush it, you're gonna kill it. I gotta learn how to hold the bird."
by Shaun Frentner
Iggy Pop's Career
Joined the Stooges in 1967, who released their self-titled debut two years later; released Funhouse in 1970; recorded last Stooges album Raw Power, 1973; traveled to Berlin, Germany with David Bowie where the two recorded Pop's solo albums The Idiot and Lust For Life, 1977; Pop tours the U.S. and Europe with Blondie, 1977; signs with Arista in 1979 and records New Values; published autobiography I Need More, 1982; performed the title song for and made a cameo in the film Repo Man, 1984; returned to recording with Blah Blah Blah on A&M, 1986; recorded critically acclaimed album, Brick By Brick, 1990; released American Caesar, 1993; released Naughty Little Doggie, 1996.
Iggy Pop's Awards
Brick Video Music Awards, Best Video by a Male Vocalist and Best Rock Video for "Home;" Hall of Fame Award for Brick By Brick, 1990.
- Selected discography
- The Idiot , RCA, 1977.
- Lust For Life , RCA, 1977.
- TV Eye Live , RCA, 1978.
- New Values , Arista, 1979.
- Soldier Arista, 1980.
- Party , Arista, 1981.
- Zombie Birdhouse , Animal, 1982.
- Blah Blah Blah , A&M, 1986.
- Instinct A&M, 1988.
- Brick By Brick , Virgin, 1990.
- American Caesar , Virgin, 1993.
- Naughty Little Doggie , Virgin, 1996.
- with the Stooges
- The Stooges , Elektra, 1969.
- Fun House , Elektra, 1970.
- Raw Power , Columbia, 1973.
November 4, 2003: Pop's album, Skull Ring, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_2/rock.jsp, November 6, 2003.
January 18, 2005: Pop's album, Penetration with the Stooges, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_5/index.jsp, January 19, 2005.
- Billboard, October 26, 1991; January 27, 1996.
- Rolling Stone , November 20, 1986; September 20, 1990; September 30, 1993; October 14, 1993; February 22, 1996.
- Stereo Review, November 1993.
- Village Voice, July 19, 1988; August 14, 1990; September 17, 1996.