Once a punk rock outcast who was locked up in a psych ward, Iggy Pop is now a celebrity, a Reebok model who rubs shoulders with the cream of society.
But his elevated status does not stop him from noticing the absurdity of the situation, as he told Reuters in a recent interview: the kid raised in a Michigan trailer park is often the center of attention at various phoney-baloney shindigs.
“Occasionally I’ll go to one of these VIP affairs or parties, and I always sorta look around thinking, ‘My God, how shallow and crass these people are! Not like me!’ That is honestly how I feel.
“At the same time I recognize the holes in that theory, because I’m there aren’t I?”
So Pop put pencil to paper and composed the spoken-word diatribe “V.I.P.,” which is found on his new album, “Beat Em Up” (Virgin), the 16th of a storied career.
The seven-minute song, which satirizes the V.I.P. culture of entourages, paranoia, reflected glory and fake smiles, was inspired by a dinner party hosted by fashion maven Donatella Versace in Milan. Pop was about to visit the bathroom, until a minder commanded him to use the VIP facility.
“I used the private bathroom, which I can only describe as palatial in a kind of a Venetian or Near Eastern style. A harem style.”
Pop, born James Osterburg 54 years ago, laughs as he recounts the experience. Indeed, his mood has lightened considerably since his previous album, in which he considered “the circumstances of my death.” That album, 1999’s “Avenue B,” a largely orchestral set partly inspired by his marriagebreak-up, sold dismally, Pop’s fans evidently discomfited by his bleak honesty.
A BIG STAR IN MIAMI
“Beat Em Up” finds Pop brandishing a renewed lust for life. He decamped from New York City to Miami – “the acupuncture pressure point of the browning of America” – and found a loving 28-year-old girlfriend. He loves to ride around the city in his cherry-red Cadillac DeVille convertible, a 1968 model for which he paid $5,600. As he relates it, everyone in the city stops in their tracks and waves at him when he drives by in his V.I.P vehicle.
People have been staring at Pop for more than 30 years, since his days at the helm of pioneering Detroit punk group the Stooges, when he would cut his chest with glass, smear himself with peanut butter and dive into the crowd. The scars are still evident on his sinewy body which he bares to full effect when he performs shirtless during his energetic shows.
The Stooges were destroyed by drugs, but their three studio albums, “The Stooges” (1969), “Fun House” (1970) and “Raw Power” (1973), are considered essential listening for anyone seeking a primer on American rock music.
Pop, a mental and physical mess, checked into a Los Angeles psychiatric hospital in 1974, before beginning phase two of his career.
He teamed up with long-time admirer David Bowie for his first two solo albums, “The Idiot” and “Lust For Life.” The 1977 releases yielded some of Pop’s best known songs, such as “The Passenger,” “Nightclubbing” and the title track of the latter album, a popular jingle for ads.
His output has been wildly variable since then, but usually entertaining. He has become a cult legend in his own time, with music critics – “the Mandarin court” – fawning over his legacy, to his occasional annoyance.
“I can’t really pee or go to the bathroom, I can’t open my mouth without being compared to what I did 28 years ago or what I did 15 years ago,” he said.
SONGS FOR THE “COMMON PEOPLE”
With song titles such as “Death is Certain,” “Weasels,” and “Jerk,” Pop’s new album covers familiar territory, decrying – usually with a wink – society’s scumbags. The lyrics are often strained – “A mountain of feces is rapin’ my ear” – but Pop says he tried to make the album “accessible to common people.”
“You do not necessarily have to have read (punk rock memoir) ‘Please Kill Me’ or heard a Lou Reed album in the last 10 years to like this. But if you have, hopefully you can like it, y’know?”
For the first time in his career, Pop produced the album himself. It is dedicated to his bass player, Lloyd “Mooseman” Roberts, a former member of rapper Ice-T’s controversial rock band Body Count, who was killed in a drive-by shooting last year. Pop had hired Mooseman to infuse his music with some street soul.
“I didn’t really want to turn a baseball cap backwards and pose like a black guy. So I got one… I can’t imagine a better name for somebody that plays that instrument than Mooseman. That’s what you want, y’know?”
Pop’s band is rounded out by guitarist Whitey Kirst – a “fairly simple soul” from Canada – who has played with Pop for 11 years and shared songwriting credit on all the new songs; and Kirst’s brother, Alex Kirst, on drums.
Like Bowie and Reed, Pop has distinguished himself in other media. He acts, lectures, does voiceovers and collaborates with other musicians, such as French jazz singer Francoise Hardy and techno-trance band Death in Vegas.
In the late 1980s, Pop was performing perhaps 100 shows a year; these days, he estimates it’s 25 to 30 gigs annually. One of the highlights is “The Passenger,” where he often invites the audience to dance on stage with him.
He is scheduled to begin a U.S. tour in October, a Virgin spokeswoman said. Details are still being worked out.