Iggy Elocutes

Interrupting Infinity Exclusive Commentary. © 2009 by David St.-Lascaux


Photo: Jean-Luc Ourlin; Source: Wikipedia

A New York Times TimesTalk with Iggy Pop
24 June 2009

I SAW IGGY POP TALK. My daughter, nineteen, too. There he was, sitting in a chair, with a Real Mild Child interlocutor (Ben Ratliff of the New York Times) and a giant caption bubble above his head containing the word “Talks.” Talking, politely, about musicians who influenced him. Blah, blah, blah. The evening’s trope, to convey the evening’s themes – the roots of rock in African American music, simplicity, emotion – was a series of clips (a scripted interview with Iggy Pop?), including Jerry Lee Lewis, Howlin’ Wolf, James Brown, the Ramones. The audience applauded for the clips, which were two-dimensional and monaural.

Iggy, out of onstage rockstar persona, is a nice man, tranquil, garrulous. Grew up in the middle class, he says, wanted to be like the black musicians. So far so good. Shoulderlong streaky blonde hair, and he wore clothes: black t-shirt, pegged charcoal denims, shoes on his feet, but wow – when he put on the big glasses, he was a transformed into a lithe-looking 62-year-old lady librarian (chill, Iggy: Casanova wrote his memoirs cuz he was Bored during a stint as librarian to a Bohemian count). I’m not saying, exactly, a GMILF.

A few names and places were dropped along the way: Lewis, whose performance on The Steve Allen Show on July 28, 1957, was shown (“Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”), followed by no discussion about how Lewis’s career was terminated within a year by his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin Myra Gale Brown; Iggy’s workin’ in a record store in Ann Arbor; the Led Zeppelin and lawsuits (did these nice boys borrow material from Howlin’ Wolf?); Hubert Sumlin (Wolf’s guitarist), whose work Iggy characterized as “sneaky, snaky, deadly – slightly evil.” And James Brown, 1968, the Apollo, who couldn’t bring himself to leave the stage, as cape after sequined cape was shouldered over him. How he blew Iggy off at a hotel with a gesture and a “Yaah!” What was unsurprisingly missing was any mention of influence by the Very Real China Girl Billie Holiday, Motown’s uninhibited Aretha Franklin, the manic crash-and-burn, doornail-dead Janis Joplin, or the white-like-me, black-heart-throbbin’ Joan of Jett (her and the Igster oughta do a duet of the Wild One sometime: that would be bumpin’). Men imitate men.

Considering that it was his night, Iggy gave the Ramones serious airplay. How Joey was the “new Statue of Liberty once he got into that stance.” How Iggy opened for their last show… Danny Fields, their “educated” manager, versus the stereotypical “House Weasel,” working for “We-End-Your-Life Records.” ¿Por qué Los Ramones? To, no doubt, subtly suggest that they were influenced by him. But why stop there? The list of Iggy-influenced bands is rather legion, n’est-ce pas?

In the final Q&As, the females again showed up missing. They were in the audience, including New York modern Maori maidens, but none to the microphones to ask the Satyr/Centaur/Merman/Shaman of Animal Id a single question. Are rockstars like Murcielagos, attracting only males these days? Holy Pectorals, Batman!

So why the clips? Ostensibly to pay homage to his heroes. But that’s not what happened. Among Iggy’s anecdotes was one about James Brown’s band keeping the windows rolled up in their Cadillac, which didn’t have air conditioning, to keep up the appearance of (sorry) coolness. Which the TimesTalks format doesn’t do. Iggy’s docile mien lay in stark contrast to Dylan’s historically hysterically hip hostility, and offered none of the controversial frisson of Nina Hagen’s autoerotic talk show demonstration (merci beaucoup, YouTube; BTW, where was mention of Iggygänger Nina?). [Iggy: We prefer that you make an impression.] Was it calculated? A strategic withholding, as Iggy discussed, of supply? Watching clips of other musicians, you quickly realized that none of these icons was Iggy, that you’d definitely rather be watching Iggy Pop «Right – HEY – Now» than the Librarian and the Interview Puppet. Watching the clips, countenancing the slo-mo memory lane backstage trivia – all the while recalling “Raw Power,” “Search and Destroy,” “Hard to Beat,” even the later, commercially hijacked “Lust for Life,” and the mellow smooth new Francophonic Preliminaires, I was reminded of the effect that Iggy “Stooge” (the promoter’s name that graced the record over his objections) and his band had on me at nineteen: the raw energy, raw emotion, raw beat – “slammin’ material,” – Iggy’s words, describing another’s. In fact, to really enjoy the event, you could’ve just cranked your iPod on the Raw Power LP and watched their lips move – look out honey, cuz we’re using technology.

Or purchased Preliminaires. Why not? (Les Feuilles Mortes [“Dead Leaves”] is a nice ballad: coulda sung it in a leave-‘em-on-a-high closeout.) People move on; to misquote Iggy, it’s good to be all kinds of people. Maybe, except when it comes to our rockstars. We want the illusion of illicit potency preserved, inaccessibility. We want Blow-You-Off-With-Extreme-Prejudice Gods of Yaaaaaaaah and-then-jump-into-the-glass-just-one-more-time-for-Auld-Lang-Syne familiarity. Or at least to explicitly, crassly, unpolitically correctly, the-world’s-pretty-face-is-going-to-hell-and-I-don’t-give-a-damnly not make no apology. Say it in French, si vous préférez, but say it. The domesticated human talkstar is pale, tepid, sincerious. As my daughter quipped, “I don’t want to watch someone’s dad.” Was it worth it? Sure, she said, over dinner on me. Sans that incentive, not so sure.

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