When Iggy Pop met Irvine Welsh: "Hey, I can get car insurance!"
Novelist and film maker Irvine Welsh sat down with his old friend Iggy Pop to talk Trainspotting, Memphis, Madonna, the Stooges and Lego Rock Band...
It’s been a while since I’ve seen Iggy Pop, despite us living pretty close to each other in Miami, so doing this piece was a great chance to catch up. Iggy has two homes in South Florida, his main residency he shares with his wife and an assortment of animals.
I meet him at the one he uses to ‘hang out with the guys’; a pleasant spot with a garden of dense tropical vegetation, backing onto a slow-moving river. As we make our way to the patio furniture at the river’s edge, a huge blue crab greets us, standing its ground and waving its pincers threateningly. He’s just a foretaste of the wildlife to come; as we sit down, we disturb an alligator, who slithers from under a mangrove bush into the river.
I’m a little disconcerted, but Iggy smiles appreciatively; those guys are obviously old neighbours. Deeply tanned and relaxed in waistcoat and jeans, Iggy’s rimless spectacles evoke the studious intellectual Jim Osterberg, the alter ego of the über rock'n'roller, though he navigates between those two sides of his personality with seamless ease, his Midwest voice as rich in timbre as ever. We swap tales about our respective Miami lives, as a Muscovy (a kind of red-faced tropical duck) comes to beg some food.
Iggy asks me about how things are going at Hibs (he looks out for them since I gave him a football strip some years back), and hasn’t heard much lately other than that things got pretty dull last season. I bring him up to speed, telling him about the new manager, Leith born-and-bred John Hughes. He’s delighted that a local man is at the helm and starts talking about the impact young black Miamians are making on the city’s sporting franchises. Our conversation moves on to the Miami Heat basketball team and the current Dolphins football side.
I tell him a tale about my dark old days before laser eye surgery, when I ended up embracing Hulk Hogan in a Mexican restaurant on Miami Beach’s Alton Road, thinking he was Iggy, who’d been hammering the steroids. This incident confirmed that it really was time for the procedure, and is a source of great mirth to Mr Osterberg. But you want to know about Iggy Pop, not Jim Osterberg, or Irvine Welsh, so it’s down to business. Iggy is as good a listener as he is conversationalist, so I’ve edited out the bulk of my own ramblings.
IRVINE WELSH: I saw your performance for Madonna’s induction into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame on YouTube. You were dancing around all those stiff-arsed suits and she was looking like the girl from the Bronx enjoying her society wedding in the Hamptons, when the drunken big brother comes crashing in...
IGGY POP: I know! “Here he comes!” I knew it was gonna be like that, and I think she did too. She worked with us before – she hired us to open for her in Ireland, at Slaine Castle. That was not a dissimilar reaction. There were 85,000 mentally-challenged people there to listen to her drum machine and watch one very overpaid person and a bunch of underpaid acolytes go through similar motions.
Why did she hire you again?
She’s from up the road. She’s from Rochester, Michigan, I’m from Ypsilanti. We’re a long spit from each other. So I think that’s one thing. I think she wanted to keep it just a little edgy,
I guess she wasn’t fuckin’ any bad boys at the time, so she thought: “I’ll hire one anyway.” I think she felt conflicted about the Hall Of Fame thing and thought, “Well, if you want me, you’re gonna get this...”
I remember the last time we sat down like this and chatted into a tape, it must have been 10 years ago, you told me you were going to get The Stooges back together and do a ballad album. You’ve done both those things.
Yeah, those were the things I wanted to do, and it takes a while to get it done sometimes, but I got it the fuck out...
Obviously, with Ron (Asheton, the Stooges guitarist who died earlier this year) gone now, where does that leave The Stooges?
You know, The Stooges, capital ‘S’, is over, and sort of my last official act as the head of that is to go to New York and sign copies of our coffee-table book. It was important to me to publicly endorse it: a hardback full-bound book that you can put on your coffee table with pictures of us snarling and nodding out, weiner sticking out of my pants, all this various stuff... So that’s that. But the one thing that never got done, was what I’d call the second growth group, which is Iggy & The Stooges.
This is the Raw Power era rather than the first album/Funhouse era?
Yeah. So that group has its first gig in about four weeks in São Paulo. [They played on 7 November 2010.]
Excellent... Will you do fresh material with them?
Oh, this is something interesting. Probably. Eventually. We started actually, and wrote two things, neither of which are very good, which is always how you start... Because Ron passed away and we wrote a song about that, a sombre piece of music with sombre vocals... Nobody’s ever gonna hear it. [Laughs.]
So it was something you had to do, to get it out your system?
Exactly, exactly. We did that. What I’m really interested in, is the body of work that we wrote and never recorded. There’s a whole album’s worth that we only played live after we’d been suspended by Mainman, dropped by CBS, kicked out of our apartments, and finally we were living in a daily rental with Mexican labourers. But still we were going out and going, “Wait, no, here’s another one!” (laughs). “Ok, so maybe they didn’t like Search And Destroy, but have they heard Wet My Bed?” (laughter). But that’s what I actually thought!
It’s 1974 and, like, Rainy Days And Mondays and Loving You Is Easy 'Cos It’s Beautiful are at the top of the charts. So I’m like: “No! Wet My Bed! Wait till they hear this!” So I’ve been listening to the live recordings of all this stuff, there’s Open Up And Bleed, Rubber Legs, Rich Bitch, Cock In My Pocket, Wet My Bed, Heavy Liquid, Head On The Curb, She Creatures Of The Hollywood Hills, Jesus Loves The Stooges, our gospel song...
We got about 10, and I would like to do those. I would like go into the studio on the right occasion and finally get that fuckin' work out!
They’ve all been bootlegged to fuck.
Oh yeah, but it doesn’t matter 'cause they’re all from live recordings. Not only are they not studio versions, but we couldn’t play them right 'cos I was way too stoned. [Laughs] The band would start, and it’s time for the first verse, but a minute later I still haven’t stopped insulting people...
So this is the lost album you’re going to try and get together?
Yeah, it’s the lost album. I’d really like to do that, and while we’re in there, and with no pressure, not expecting anything, jam like hell...
... And see what comes out...
...Or not! It could just be a bunch of old farts opening their legs and going, “Ooh, I’ll compare my fart to yours...” So I’m looking for an occasion, hopefully there’s an occasion. That’s the thing. There’s no occasion anymore. Nobody cares if anybody makes a new album.
It’s not an event now, is it? There’s too much out there.
No, it’s only an event if they’re like 16 years old and on TV, if their audience is large and stupid enough. So I’m looking for a filmmaker. I’m talking to one now, trying to pitch it to this guy, and there’s another that’s popped up who wants to make a Stooges movie. So I’m looking for an occasion... [At this point Iggy’s grin could give our gator pal a run for its money] ... and somebody to just do it on their dime...
[Laughing] Yeah, it’s always the best way.
Other than that, I don’t care that much. I feel guilty when I don’t write though. I had one song, which is how Preliminaires came about. These guys wanted something sombre for a documentary on Houellebecq [Michel, the French novelist], something nice and depressing that didn’t fit elsewhere. You know The Stooges would never let me [he does an imitation of a redneck snarl] “record that shit...” [dog barking sounds] ...so I haven’t been writing my own stuff but I take on these projects.
I wrote one with Slash – let’s see if it comes out. I wrote one with Danger Mouse – but these guys are so big now it’s all that, “It’s a book, no it’s a film, no it’s an album, wait... the record company doesn’t hear a single...” You know, you get caught up in other people’s problems. So the last piece of writing I done, I wrote for Michael Moore, for his film that’s just out now...
Capitalism: A Love Story. I haven’t seen it yet.
Yeah, I ain’t seen it either, but it starts out with Louie Louie. He heard a version I did, a political version from the 90s. You know, how did it go: [voice of a vocalist] ‘The communist world is falling apart...'
[Voice of a novelist] ‘...capitalism is just breakin' hearts...’
Yeah, so he wanted me to write other verses to bring in current affairs. It was pretty interesting. We did it all by email.
He’s from your home state as well, isn’t he? Another Michiganite. (Like Madonna and Hulk Hogan.)
Yeah, he called me, and it was nice, you know, no agents, no managers... So I did that on assignment, and he’d go, “How about something on credit default swaps?”
But you’d be good at that now. You’d be able to write about your insurance experience.
Oh, my car insurance....
Yeah, your car insurance.
The car insurance experience was awesome. I meet a lot of nice British families now, round the hotel pools in America. [Posh BBC accent] “Oh I say, it’s the man from the telly, who sells the car insurance! I say! Do you actually have the insurance yourself?” [Laughter] “Wellll...”
You can’t have it, can you? They won’t let you?
Hey! I think I could have it...
If you dug your heels in they’d give you it, aye?
Yeah, they were willing to do it... [In April 2009, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld complaints that Iggy's Swiftcover ad was misleading because the company did not insure musicians. Swiftcover changed their policy and Iggy is still the face of their campaign – Ed.]
I could buy a car over there, or I could be a second driver on your car – if you had one! [Laughs] I had a ball. Since I was six years old I wanted to be in an advert. Ever since our first Stooges album I thought: “Why doesn’t somebody hire me to do an advert? I can sell shit better than the zombies on TV!”
You’ve also got involved in Lego.
Yeah, I’m in the game called Lego Rock Band. I’m a character in that.
Now that is brilliant.
Yeah... always wanted to be...
(Iggy tails off as IW laughs. He joins in. At this point a manatee swims downriver, passing just a few feet away from us. We’re both thrilled to be so close to one of these amazing creatures.)
What about Preliminaires? Have you done any gigs for it?
I did one really weird thing; something called the Century of Song in the Ruhr in Germany. I played in a converted steelmill. I collaborated with Marc Ribot and a lady named Tine Kindermann. We did songs of love and death, but my songs were basically sex and death. I don’t really do love, I just do sex. [Laughs] I did four from Preliminaires, one German folk song with her, then “One-two – fuck you pricks!” and we’re into Cock In My Pocket. Then I did a live radio gig and a French TV concert.
Do you think they would take that more over there, whereas here they’d just want you to rock out?
Yeah, I didn’t want to do it over here. I was almost ready to do it for the Dolphins, at a big tailgate party, but we didn’t come to terms and there were too many other things I was doing at the time. But I was working myself up to doing stuff from _Preliminaires _and other stuff from some of my records that I thought would sound good with horns and traditional instruments. But I didn’t wanna tour at all this year, 'cos I told myself for one year that I’m not gonna tour.
What about acting in general, are you still into that? (Iggy’s already aware that I’m working on an extremely low-budget film, so his tone becomes a bit more cautious in response to this question.)
I approach it as I always have... Well that’s not true. For the first year, which was 1985, I actually pursued it on a novice level where I got a coach and went to acting classes. I was with all these models with shit-for-brains, and of course, I was no better than they were! I went to auditions and got turned down continually till finally I got a non-speaking part in The Color Of Money. For a couple of years I didn’t pursue it, but if you called me up I would go coast-to-coast for a few hundred bucks. I would be the dead body on a detective series, anything.
Did you enjoy doing it?
No, I hated it. But I understood, I had a side strategy, which ended up culminating with the book you wrote (Trainspotting), though it obviously came about the other way; which was to get my music out there through films.
That’s what I was after! I saw how people are. How they think. I thought, “I could do that, and if I’m in that...”
So you’d have that visual recognition and then people would get turned on to the music... Just pushing your stuff up into the light.
This is it. That’s what I was after. I pushed it for a couple of years, and now it lies dormant and has since 1990 really. But if I like the script and you pay me, I’ll do it. If I knew how to fix pipes, that’s good money too, I’d do that. There are a lot of days I’m not busy, I’d go fix their pipes. But when I was 18, outta high school, I not only gave myself a dream job, I was president of the fuckin’ dream company. I started out at the top job and I’ve been working my way down since, because nothing’s really as good as that.
Any plans to do another straight-down-the-line Iggy Pop album?
I dunno what else I want to do. I haven’t murdered country yet. I’ve done a little country...
What do you think about doing country and western? Cookie McBride on Zombie Birdhouse was a country song.
Yeah, that’s kinda country, and there’s one called Highway Song on Blah Blah Blah.
Would you ever go the full hog and think, “Fuck it, I’m off to Nashville for six months, I’m just gonna hang out, round up some musicians, get in the studio and do some shit?”
No, because it would be Memphis.
You’d go to Memphis?
Oh fuck yeah, that’s the centre of the universe. The only good place in the whole universe. I often feel like a fool that I’m not there...
(Personally I think Memphis is a bit of a shithole, but Iggy was in full flight so I kept my counsel. Maybe I just had bad luck the last two times I was there.)
...and the music – it’s not really happening now, but the people who have that attitude, most of them all black... “Yeah, yeah, Memphis man... Nashville, aw you know, I can take it or leave it,” all that stuff. Even Merle Haggard doesn’t like it. I read an article in Rolling Stone where he was going on about “cowboys think they can send cow turds down the river to my property...”
It’s kind of weird how things have changed, 'cos when you see these country musicians, a lot of them are young guys. Whereas all the best rock’n’rollers are old guys. It’s like rock’n’roll is the older medium now.
'Cos country music in America is a huge and viable career opportunity for a young professional. They’re about as country as my fuckin’ balls with their crappy little starched pants, wearing a stupid fuckin’ cowboy hat, and the songs are just pop pap, but it’s the only form of white music that America buys in large, consistent quantities, except for teen bitches. You can be a pin-up or you can be country.
Basically, because of broadcast politics, most of the radio stations are in the south. The people in the north don’t have time for music. Don’t have time to make it, don’t have time to sell it, don’t have time to listen to it. But the people down south still do, so it’s still a good thing to do if you’re 20 years old and you’re a kinda good-lookin’ guy from Tennessee and you can strum three chords, [excited southern voice] “I can be a rich ’un in five or six years. Hell yeah ah could!” They are very organised, these people.
How do you see rock’n’roll now in the world of downloads and the whole disposable culture of music?
That’s healthy, all the internet trading and chitter-chatter. I think it’s the last stand, because, well, the West wants to be comfortable as it gets older and the rest of the world doesn’t wanna rock, they wanna just kill all the white people [laughs].
“Kill whitey and let’s move along!” In its quest for comfort and stability the west has taken away... Where does a kid 13 to 16 – the age I was when I found buds to play with – where do you do that? We played church socials, teen clubs, ice-cream parlours. Where do you go now? You only go to the mall, and there are restrictions on everything you do. As long as there are kids who want to pervert themselves in the name of life – I don’t mean ‘pervert’ in a bad way, but not go with the programme – there’s gonna be the spirit of rock’n’roll, but where do they go? They can’t find each other anymore.
And if they do manage, it's easier to buy a big bag of coke and a gun.
Yeah, and you can buy a little drum machine too. Affordability, portability, ease of access, easier to steal. Rock’n’roll will be around but I’m happy to say it’s not my problem, the real problem is the attitude, “Oh my God... People have stopped buying 10 million Bruce Springsteen albums!”
That’s not a problem.
Damn straight! They never bought 10 million of my goddamn albums! I’ve been at it 40 years, I’ve probably sold under four million albums. So, fuck, do I care? I don’t care! I don’t care if there’s no more Beatles, you know! So I don’t really see it as a huge problem if vast amounts of money and huge economies of scale which result in what? Which result in the piteous sight of 73,000 neo-vegetarians bowing their heads and shuffling into a gigantic stadium to be played at by a commercial rock group that can’t roll. Fuck that! I don’t care! Whoo! Whoo!
It was a great pleasure to see Iggy again. He remains a born raconteur, his charm and grace as abundant as ever, while he stills brims with anecdotes, insights and information on just about anything you care to mention. If I had to put together a Rock ’N’ Roll University Challenge team, his would be the first name that would spring to mind.
Mind you, he’d be numero uno on any list I had to compile on all things pertinent to rock’n’roll. It amazes me that in my cynical middle-age I’m still as much a fan as ever. So fuck Cash, Presley, the Big O, Dylan, Brian Wilson, Springsteen, Morrison or Cobain. I’m hanging out with the greatest of them all, watching the tropical afternoon sun falling behind the palm trees...
This article originally appeared in Classic Rock #152.
For more on Iggy, then click on the link below.