Of Stooges, Franco
pop,  new values – and all that jazz….



You’ve heard the mighty Iggy Pop traverse the rockiest
waters and the direst straits with his deep baritone rattle. As solo entity or
Stooge, he’s fingered fate, failure and success. He’s lustfully handled with
different degrees of heatedly literary and primal aplomb 1969 and 1970, China girls, dum dum boys, skull
rings, zombie birdhouses, death trips, weird sins, new values, and all manner
of weirdness. He’s done this very loudly and very quietly – yes he has most
definitely done the latter, if you’d paid hard attention. And he’s kept his abs
and his wits about him.


Yet one thing Iggy hasn’t done is croon nihilistic yet
hopeful end-of-earth songs, sometimes in French, about a man and his dog to the
accompaniment of a New Orleans-ish jazz band and his own bluesy acoustic guitar
licks. So, bring on the Franco-existentialist distress and the hot Jelly
Roll-ing jazz that’s Pop’s most recent solo album, Préliminaires, its score music and tentative tender lyricism
inspired by Michel Houellebecq’s 2005 novel The
Possibility of an Island


Speaking from the backyard of his “club house in Miami with its own little
river,” Pop, it seems, certainly has his more-than-a-possibility of an island.
That allowed him to steer his own course when it came to the haunting jiving
jazz of Préliminaires (it’s not all
jazzed out, kids) and Pop’s brief but poignant history with the writer’s output
and certain projects revolving around Houellebecq


“A year before I thought about doing this music I’d read it
and it became a favorite fiction read for the last few years of my life,” says
Pop. “I hadn’t found a piece of literary fiction that was entertaining,
relevant [and] also technically fairly dazzling.” Houellebecq traffics in icily
complex takes on fringe religions and cult leaders, sex tourism and
prostitution, and an abiding love for pushing free-market economics into his
humanist reveries. Yet, Islands was warmer within its chilling look at a
scorched earth scenario; compassionate, companion-filled, loving. This French
writer is gifted, his soul and tone human; his manners make Pop feel things.


“It made me feel a lot,” agrees the singer. “Islands was
capable of casting a human spell.”


Mention to Pop that we’re drawn to images, text and ideas
based on the course of our life and he agrees wholeheartedly. “You don’t even
have to finish that sentence,” laughs Pop. “I’ve been living more of a world life,
since I was twenty-five. I knew the girl, I knew the cons, the drugs, I knew it
all and I have a dog about the same size as Fox [a central figure in the book]
and had a similar career arc and financial position as the protagonist.
Actually, I’m a little better off than him.”


Along with the cult in Islands being based on the black-sneaker-loving Raelians who parade through Pop’s Miami – “Little Haiti” –
area, he had lots of somethings to be turned on by when a team of European
filmmakers doing a documentary on Houellebecq contacted him about doing
soundtrack music. “It was me and Neil Young they bugged. The filmmakers wanted
to follow the author of Islands around during his attempt to make a big budget
film of his own book. Of course he never made the big film – he‘s a maniac –
but I was interested in the guy and loved his poetry.” Shove came to push and
push came to Pop and the documentary guys (with a modest budget) liked a few
plucky new songs Pop was working on. At the same time he ran into a producer
who had been in one of Iggy’s itinerant bands years ago, and who coincidentally
also had some tapes of Pop singing “Autumn Leaves.”


Pop took the meager money and ran. In a good way. Pop didn’t
really care about the documentary anymore. The book was his muse and he had a
budget enough to make lots of music cheaply without the horror of an American
record company breathing down his neck. As it developed Pop began to realize
that he liked this music and wanted it out as his own album.


Remember, this all took place during the glow of his reunion
with the Brothers Asheton and the triumphant return of the Stooges. “I am
entering a part of my life,” declares Pop, “where I really don’t have anything
that I feel of my own to say anything to anybody. I need an occasion, and the
Stooges were an occasion. It was to fulfill a function for a band that hadn’t
been fully fulfilled, and this was part of going ahead and making a record and
taking our lumps.” (When I mention Pop’s current possible commitment to staying
a Stooge, he skirted the issue. I didn’t and won’t find this a failing with
Iggy. The 60-year old Ron Ashton’s passing earlier this year had to be hard on
Pop, 62. Since this interview was conducted, Pop did indeed make the decision
to reactivate the Stooges, this time tapping the talents of Raw Power-era guitarist James Williamson
to join him, bassist Mike Watt, drummer Scott Asheton and saxman Steve Mackay.)


however, marked a shift in the singer’s playing tastes.


“I wanted to play to tracks with a real Fats Waller, Jelly
Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong kind of feel,” says Pop, who points out the
swaying beautiful swing of “King of the Dogs.” 
He was going to do quiet little depressive songs, saying with a laugh,
“My spirit’s shot, it’s not a problem, I just wanna go to the beach, I’m in
pain, leave me alone, everything’s cool.” And he was going to do it his way.

A few things to note; firstly, that Pop has done soft and quiet; “Tiny Girls”
from The Idiot; bits of The Stooges and Funhouse; even on a bootleg I have of Pop singing “The Shadow of
your Smile.”


“The first Stooges album has half a ballad on it sung very
badly, but I tried,” says Pop, abruptly crooning the lines “you took my heart and you broke my will”. “It’s a quiet song and I could only sustain it for about a minute and a half
before we lapsed into a psychotic murder bludgeoning bolero. But, you’re right;
it has always been there.”


Secondly, Pop had always espoused a love of the more
dissonant brands of jazz: Coltrane, Ayler, Coleman. Pop was exposed to jazz’s
avant-garde through MC5 manager John Sinclair and never really listened to Fats
Waller and Louis Armstrong. “I’m just kind of catching up now. I think part of
it has to do with being older, more mature or something. I should’ve been
listening to Louis when he meant something – that voice is so expressive. He
did what he hadda do to get over in show-biz, to the point to when I was a
young kid I just saw this guy trading shots with Bing Crosby.”


As for the light-hearted Jelly Roll Morton, Pop learned
about him through William S. Burroughs’ The
Western Lands
. “I wanted flexible music with life in it that runs opposite
to the drek that’s available,” says Pop, of his own new values based on a love
of vintage wines from the cellar of Fats, Jelly Roll and Satchmo. Though there
are thundering rock elements and a blues bit (“He’s Dead She’s Alive”) on the
album, Préliminaires is the sound of
a man done with the dunderheadedness of loud guitars.


“Rock is now officially the world’s worst musical form,”
announces Pop. “It’s lower than polka. At least polka you could have two beers,
and if the accordionist is good, you’ll be happy. You can’t say that about the new
Coldplay or whatever it is.”


That’s some Apocalypse Iggy Pop’s got here.





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