The protopunk madman isn't so mad anymore. He's making money and avoiding AARP.
PLAYBOY: These days the Stooges are revered for having created a template for punk rock. You reunited the band in 2003 and four years ago entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. When you came out of Michigan in the late 1960s, were people as enthusiastic as they are now?
POP: Oh hell no. There were times when the people in the front row were slobbering or just staring at us, mesmerized, and that was about as good as it got. Then it would go downhill. There would be an angry front row, a puzzled front row, an indifferent front row.
One show in particular was painful but hilarious in retrospect. It was when I was solo in the early 1980s, in one of my crazed periods before my last big cleanup. I was a little bored with the backup band, so I took two hits of Orange Sunshine before I hit the stage. The band started to play the first song, and as I listened to it I thought, This sounds like shit. So I said, "Stop! Stop! Try another one." We went through everything in our repertoire, but I wasn't satisfied with any of them, so I walked off the stage. My tour manager, Henry, grabbed me in the wings and said, "We have no money to get to the next town. Go back out there right now!" I busted a Jack Daniel's bottle all over my bathroom that night. I was pretty upset. But you know, a year later people were saying, "I was at that show. It was the most
amazing thing I ever saw!" I had periods when I would decide to tour without any front teeth, thinking, That'll blow their minds! But I maintained a high level of craft and preparation behind the freak show. I didn't perform bad concerts.
PLAYBOY: You've said the Stooges were "not once affected by total rejection and utter poverty." It seems as if you knew it was a great band, no matter how many times people said you sucked.
POP: Yes, I did. That was what tore me up. Not only that I thought we were so much better than other bands who were having an easy time of it but that I thought—and still think, with apologies—that they're all utter shit. [laughs] Almost all of the fucking rock business is an utter sack of dirty old filth, and should civilization fall, it will be their fault, not mine.
PLAYBOY: Which bands are utter shit? Do you want to name names?
POP: No, I can't do that. When I sit with you, I bring the politician with me so I don't have to go through the utter poverty and rejection again. We're here together, the politician and I. Part of me thinks, Just tell the truth, that they're shit, and say exactly how you feel. And I have to push that voice down sometimes.
PLAYBOY: Given the faith you had in the Stooges, do you feel vindicated now when people recognize the group's importance?
POP: This has been the most secure and relaxed decade of my life. I see people really interested when we do shows. They're happy—more now than even three years ago. Of course, if you play the Austin City Limits Music Festival at five in the afternoon and somebody's mom brought them to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers, then they'll be tweeting, "This old band is stupid! Get them off the stage!"
PLAYBOY: Who is the best live performer you've ever seen?
POP: James Brown is fantastic. Tina Turner was amazing at a certain point. I was lucky enough to see Nirvana twice, in tiny clubs—fewer than 200 people. The second time, Kurt Cobain said, "You're a jinx. Every time you come to our show, we play like shit." He called me one night, well past my bedtime, and left a message on my phone: "Let's get together in the studio." I called him back to be polite. I was not dying to record with him. I don't ever want to do a Muddy Waters supersession, you know?
PLAYBOY: When you were growing up in Michigan as James Osterberg, your family lived in a trailer. Is that fact relevant to the kind of music you make?
POP: In certain ways. It was a little trailer camp out in the boonies, by U.S. Highway 23, a two-lane blacktop. It was beautiful, surrounded by a stone quarry where you could go swimming and some deep forest where there were animals, and also bean, corn and wheat fields. I always felt different because I lived in a trailer and the other kids lived in houses. I went to junior high in Ann Arbor, and my close friend there was Kenny Miller, whose dad, Arjay Miller, was running Ford Motor Company at the time. Kenny would take my workbook during class and write, "Osterberg blows dead dogs," then give it back to me. A few of the meaner kids came out one day to visit and shook my trailer up a little. It caused a sort of anger that I keep. The strange thing was, people who didn't know me would later say to guys in my band, "That guy's a rich kid, right? Because he walks around like he owns the place."
PLAYBOY: Just so there's no lingering doubt, did you blow dead dogs?
POP: [Laughs] No, I never did. I've never blown anybody.
PLAYBOY: Was there any privacy when you lived with your parents in a trailer?
POP: No. Much later I realized that the big advantage of living in a trailer was that I learned to be civilized. Three people, day and night, in a 500-square-foot trailer—and that was the biggest one we ever had. Before that it was 400 square feet. My parents were very restrained people. There was no alcohol in the house. In fifth or sixth grade I got into music. If that hadn't happened, I'd probably be a fundamentalist preacher right now, a Jimmy Swaggart. "Send your dollars to me!"
PLAYBOY: After people meet you, they often say, "Oh, he was nothing like I expected." Do they expect a drooling, screaming zombie?
POP: Some people do. When you're younger, you're coming at everybody because you've got to show them who you are, and prove it. Later, if you get anywhere, it flips; they're all coming at you. You get crazy people coming at you. There's always some weirdness. The classic one is, I don't get a limo driver; he's a conga player. I don't get a plumber; he's a playwright. Long ago, during my different bachelor periods, some sexual partners didn't understand. They'd say, "Come on, you're Iggy Pop. Whip me! Beat me! Hurt me, hurt me."
PLAYBOY: So what is your taste in sex?
POP: It runs dark. [laughs] I like darker tones. Skin tones and all the stuff that goes with the skin tone. But I'm not going to do a rundown. Sorry. I am more private now than I formerly was.
PLAYBOY: Here's another thing that goes against type: You have an art collection, right?
POP: When I was living in New York in the 1990s, the Broadway dancer Geoffrey Holder had a great Haitian art collection. He auctioned it off in Sotheby's basement, and I'd loved that art all my life. I was newly separated and felt like spending my money on something I liked. "I'm not going to have any 'family discussions' about this!" I went to Sotheby's and got quite a few things Geoffrey had. Hector Hyppolite is the most financially valuable of all Haitian artists, and I have one of his pieces through Geoffrey. I got a couple of Edouard Duval-Carriés, some Andre Pierres and George Liautauds. I can sit with a painting or sculpture for hours the way someone else watches a favorite TV show. I don't need things to move.
PLAYBOY: You probably don't take Orange Sunshine before shows these days. Are you done with booze and drugs?
POP: I drink red wine now. I'm partial to Bordeaux and Barolos. But I'm stone-cold sober on the job. Always. For the first five years of this century, I used—Zantac? Xanax? No, that's different. It's on TV; you get it at Walgreens for ladies to help them do their housework faster. Legal speed. I'd take one of those when I was doing the Stooges. Before that I was drinking three Red Bulls before a show, and I'd be burping and sloshing around. I've been on the natch now, onstage, for about eight years. I have two or three big espressos in the afternoon in the hotel before work. That gets me awake enough to care. The person I am now couldn't write "I'm Sick of You" and record it with the same authority I had in 1977. If I did, people would be embarrassed for me.
PLAYBOY: What award would you like to win?
POP: I have an assistant, and when we haven't spoken for a few days, I call him and ask, "Hey, Spencer, did I get the Nobel Prize yet?" And he says, "Nope." That would be good. Think of all the peace that has been caused by me and the Stooges, running around the world and calming things down by acting out all this violent stuff.
PLAYBOY: You've written a lot of songs about death, and last year's Stooges album was called Ready to Die. What will the first sentence of your obituary say?
POP: Oh dear. They'll probably call me "inventor of the stage dive." I have a beach house in the Cayman Islands, where there are sharks. When I go swimming I think, Boy, a shark attack would solve a lot of problems. I seriously do notwant to go into assisted living or a nursing home, so I'm hoping for a shark attack. That would be good.
PLAYBOY: You appeared recently in a Chrysler ad, which surprised some people. You also licensed "Lust for Life" to the Royal Caribbean cruise line. How do you feel about doing commercials?
POP: I've done quite a few, including for car insurance and perfume. Here's the way I feel about it: I was angry all through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, because I had to suffer through music that was pretending to be art but was corrupt. It was a commercial clothed as art by a businessman with a guitar, presented by some fat fuck in suspenders with a baseball cap at some goddamn horrible radio station that picks what crap people hear. I never did any of that with my music. None of it. When I do a commercial, you're going to know it's a commercial. Most people who like what I do are aware of what I went through and are happy I can finally get a roof over my head and get paid—in some way, that I get justice.
PLAYBOY: When did your financial situation start to improve?
POP: I started getting organized in the mid-1980s, after David Bowie recorded our song "China Girl." It's still a very good earner. That was the beginning of my having any sort of success. I bought a place on Bleecker Street, and then I bought a house in Miami in 1998, and I've been there ever since. I lived in New York for 20 years. It's a tough town. I won.
PLAYBOY: Bowie put out a very good album last year, and there have been rumors that he has cancer. Can you tell us anything about that?
POP: I can't tell you anything about him whatsoever. We last spoke about 10 years ago. He called me to do a couple of things when he was curating the Meltdown arts festival in 2002, but I had a schedule conflict. We had a nice chat, and that was that.
PLAYBOY: People on Twitter were incredulous when you turned 66 last year. What surprises you most about getting older?
POP: It's not so great! [laughs] Listen, I don't recommend getting older as a happiness strategy. Most of my life I've been indifferent to what other people feel. Now I'm softening up a bit. That's surprising. Other than that, I miss my parents. I feel I didn't do well enough for them. If I'd had a different career it would've been better for them. That bothers me. Especially my mother. She passed away in the mid-1990s, when I was still one of those obscure American figures. I'd show up on some TV show and go, "Motherfucker! Motherfucker!" She'd say to my dad, "Oh, I wish Jimmy wouldn't say 'motherfucker.'" [laughs] I wish she could have seen some of my worldly success.
PLAYBOY: Do you collect Social Security?
POP: No. I was told to wait—apparently the amount you get goes up if you wait. I had a gut instinct not to depend on the government. I have three union pensions and my own pension. I'm not sure Social Security's going to be there for me. Eric Cantor might say, "No money for you, Iggy Pop!"
PLAYBOY: Do you take advantage of the discounted movie tickets?
POP: No, but my business manager has been trying for 16 years to get me to join AARP. Every year, he sends me a pamphlet with a little note: "Jim, you should really look into this. You get some great discounts." And it goes straight in the trash, every year. AARP? I don't want to hear about the fucking AARP!
Photography by Gavin Bond