I went to Miami with no expectations other than being promised twenty minutes with Iggy Pop, the lead singer of the 1960s proto-punk band The Stooges. I didn’t have questions prepared, and I didn’t want to think too much about his answers. All I knew was this: I started listening to The Stooges in high school and it changed my life, Lou Reed died in 2013, and there’s only so much time left before all of the godfathers of punk rock are six feet underground. I was not going to miss this opportunity, and I cared very little about what transpired during the actual interview.
Not entirely true. I wanted to touch his chest, and I wanted him to explain some comments he made recently at the Radio Festival in Salford, England about “free music in a capitalist society.” This struck me as an interesting topic of conversation considering the fact that I was in Miami to interview Mr. Pop (born James Osterberg) about his new collaboration with Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum and its “Flash Collection,” which features a limited edition vest, belt, and selected patches curated by the O.G. punk rocker.
Why would the person who some consider to be the founder of punk rock’s DIY, anti-establishment ethos be shilling so hard, I wondered. Also, Mr. Pop is most memorable for not wearing clothes. He seemed like a poorly chosen candidate for a collaboration promoting a clothing line. Why would an artist trying to sell belts and vests choose to deliver a lecture on capitalism unless he’s asking to be taken to task by a young writer who can’t help but lament our horribly washed music industry?
At first I thought the answer would be simple. Iggy Pop has sold out. All of his smack-addled antics of yore were precipitated by the basic and unoriginal pent-up sexual frustrations of a misunderstood white boy from Michigan. The “raw power,” the pure energy I hear when I listen to The Stooges was just a hoax.
I was wrong. Iggy Pop is still very punk rock, he has several bones to pick with his haters, and he actually gives no fucks. Like, zero.
While sitting in the basement of the The Gale hotel in South Beach, I asked Mr. Pop to help me understand why he delivered the lecture and he said, “Basically I wanted to say to people, ‘look, if you’re gonna start out doing something, please don’t just start out thinking about every five dollars that you’re gonna make, and how am I gonna buy my third condo,’ and all that crap. Making a living can come later. It doesn’t work as a definition of art.”
Easy for him to say. A band like The Stooges probably wouldn’t go very far in today’s industry, but I guess that’s sort of his point. The Stooges didn’t go that far either, but Iggy is willing to milk his fame for everything that it’s worth. “I worked my way up that ladder and the only joy I get out of the money is that, you who mocked me because I didn’t have any, well, fuck you, I have more than you now.”
I found that to be a pretty bleak outlook considering that working his way up the ladder included shilling not only for Sailor Jerry, but for Chrysler, John Varvatos, cruise ships, car insurance, and broadband. “It’s a grim pleasure, that’s all,” he admitted. “But it’s nice to have some dough when you’re older.”
“It’s a hustle, baby,” he continued, and even my inner high-school punk couldn’t be mad at him for saying that. The struggle is real, as they in certain circles on the Internet, and this is a reality for everyone, including one of the founders of punk rock. It’s hard for bands to make it in today’s business, but the point of Iggy’s lecture, which is archived on the BBC website, was that it has never been easy, and you have to take a risk to be an artist, and it’s important, when you do achieve some success, to pay it forward.
The night before our interview, Iggy hosted a warehouse party during which Jacuzzi Boys, a local Miami punk band, played a set. I had never heard of them before, but Iggy was a fan and asked them to perform. They were loud, aggressive, and explosive. Very good indeed. Being anointed by one of the greatest punk rocks of our time is a pretty good feather to have in your cap if you’re a no-name band trying to make it in 2014. Iggy may be selling $600 vests, but he’s also still looking out for bands and artists with whom he has a shared experience. Paying it forward.
My twenty minutes were coming to an end. Iggy, a devout practitioner, gave me a brief Qigong demonstration before I asked him to share his mantra, the words he lives by daily. He gave me the most perfect, punk rock answer: “To my enemies, fuck off or die. To myself, death is certain.”
In that moment, I was so thankful to be sitting next to him and very eager to touch his chest, but before I did that I had one last question: Do you have any guilty pleasures, like listening to Iggy Azalea, for example, I asked.
Red wine and sex, were his answers. This reminded me of a 2012 interview he did with the New York Times during which he referred to his penis as a lobbying group in Washington.
“A lobbying group? I like that.” He couldn’t quite recall the article I was referring to. “My dick is lobbying me to do things. Well it does lobby me to do things, but with less success lately because as you get older, then my comforts and possessions become more important which is a drag. So you have to like watch it with the dick. You know. But the dick is important.”
Like I said, no fucks. Then he let me touch his chest.