Our music supremo Liz Buckley loves Iggy Pop. Like, really loves him.
It’s all too easy to gleefully tear apart the things you dislike: insults run so freely off the tongue, and the language of hate is as bountiful and imaginative as the script for The Thick of It coupled with an Inuit’s supposed vocabulary for snow.
Describing how and why you adore the things that make your heart sing is far harder as, by their very nature, they leave you feeling tongue-tied. When you love something or someone, your heart feels speared on a stick, having left your breathless body, and now beating hard somewhere about a foot in front of you.
Having travelled around to see my much loved Iggy Pop play last week, a friend asked me how that trip had been and I struggled for the words. “The best gigs of my life?” doesn’t cover it. It might help if you know I go to gigs constantly and, always choosing wisely, tend to enjoy most of them – so the comparison and compliment is at least vast.
But that yardstick feels feeble for what I need to describe. It may also help if you know my personal music taste and my love for my cat so when I tell you my first attempt at a sufficient Iggy review was “Four Jack Whites and a Meep?” still wasn’t enough, you see the problem.
Iggy Pop is not just my hero, he radiates joy to everyone near him; you see him become a hero to new people right in front of your eyes. In the three times I saw him play in the past few weeks, on each occasion I took a different friend and each time, I left with someone who also had their heart beating out in front of them.
So the insufficiency of the language of praise frustrates me. Perhaps I can help you better comprehend how much I – we – loved those gigs if I say Iggy Pop is, to my mind, the best person on earth. He is my rock, my touchstone, my nonsense, my hedgehog and my sausage… I mean, that may not make any sense to you but that’s love for you.
I first realised Iggy was amazing when I was around 12 years old. A record collector from a young age, I, like many music lovers, organised my albums, made lists, learned lyrics and generally kept a tight ship on this eminently organisable hobby of mine. Then I saw Iggy Pop on Top of The Pops and all sense of law and order went out the window.
This isn’t a man you sang along with – Iggy wasn’t even up for doing that himself. He was so busy flinging himself about the studio, he didn’t bother (or remember) to mime. The backing track played on and I sat nearer and nearer the screen.
“Can he do that?” I amazed to myself. “Is he allowed to DO that?” Not only did he do that, I looked into it and I can confirm he did that and more all the bloody time. It’s one of those moments where you promptly put everything you’ve ever loved in the bin and start again.
Iggy, of course, has a reputation. But it’s a very misinterpreted one, given to him by an establishment that didn’t understand him. People will say he’s unhinged, he’s a rebel, he’s a punk, he’s ruleless, he’s disrespectful. These people have never seen or heard Iggy Pop play or talk. Iggy Pop is, without question, an absolute bundle of joy. With surprisingly impeccable manners.
There’s a famed American TV chatshow interview where he’s sat with a tooth missing and blood running from his lip and people cite it as an example of his craziness, but it’s his tooth he’s lost, not yours, and he’s smiling because he lost it having a fucking blast.
And he took that blow to the face because, he explains, he was determined not to break the studio’s microphone. That’s respect!
The famous gig in Cincinnati where he crowd surfs and covers himself in peanut butter? As he climbs off stage, you see his hand slide back and return the fallen mic stand to the upright position so as not to hurt anyone or do damage to the equipment.
In every moshpit at any Iggy gig, there is an unwritten code of conduct: people may be slamming and flying around, but anyone who falls is immediately picked up and as Iggy walks around the audience singing “ALL RIGHT!!!” into your face he’ll then also stop to ask in a quite different tone of voice, “You all right?”
Iggy is not intimidating, Iggy is never unkind and Iggy never stops smiling. When he catches anyone’s eye he waves with both hands like a happy child and in the case of his recent appearance on Later With Jools Holland, he’ll happily stand holding hands with Jools too.
Another thing that gets misrepresented is Iggy’s annoyingly notorious appearance in a car insurance advert, which the UK music press reacted to as though he had betrayed his ethics. But this was not John Lydon shouting the praise of a creamy brand of butter, nor was this was Joe Strummer having been to private school. American punk is not UK punk: Iggy never had a manifesto, he never made promises, he never had rules and more importantly, he never made money.
I’m not really sure how the man who would smear himself in shit, vomit on his critics and play a 45-minute version of Louie Louie at a biker gig just to annoy the Alpha Male audience has suddenly now ‘let himself down’.
As Iggy explained back in that tooth-lacking TV interview, “I’d rather have fun than anything else. It’s all for fun.” When he’s asked why he’s ever done something the establishment might consider outrageous he kindly smiles and says, “Well what did you do that year?” Iggy is just joy, and there is nothing less complicated or more precious than that.
As well as not being the Sex Pistols, another of Iggy’s great strengths is his pet adoration. Iggy Pop currently has the best account on Instagram – a selection of videos of him and his beloved cockatoo sidekick, Biggy Pop. Iggy will serenade Biggy (my favourite being the appropriately chosen song Vulture) while Biggy headbangs and – yes – cage dances.
Iggy has had adored cats he’s shared all his meals and dinner plates with, dogs he’s bereft on tour without and birds he treats like gods. I don’t think I will ever rest until Iggy Pop owns a dog called Doggy Pup.
His 6Music show is also a heartbursting treat. The choices are enormously eclectic, drawing on everything from Peggy Lee to Snoop Dogg with all that’s in-between, and you can never pre-empt how he’ll choose to talk about his selections; I’ve heard him suggest to Nas and Dolly Parton, played back to back, that they “say hi” to one another, as though the records he spins are dollies having a tea party. Iggy would rather have fun than anything else.
There have been several occasions where I should have met Iggy, but I’ve always found the idea too much. My friend Will’s band supported him at Brixton when the Beat ‘Em Up album came out in 2001 and Will very kindly gave me one of very few passes they were allowed. “You have to speak to him of course,” Will announced as I gently curled into a ball and rolled safely round the corner out of sight.
This year has of course been a terrifying one of losses for us all – Bowie, Prince, Victoria Wood, Alan Rickman and many more making us realise the people we saw as ‘the immortals’ are not safe and how we wish we could have told those people we adored them while they were here to hear it. With this spurring us on, a few weeks ago my friend Mary and I went to Berlin on an Iggy pilgrimage. Not to meet with him, but to pay homage – and where better to see our boy play than the place he recorded Lust For Life and The Idiot, and the city where he lived with Bowie.
We even arranged to visit Hansa Studios while we were there, to meet the lovely Eduard Meyer, the studio engineer during Iggy and Bowie’s Berlin years, and Eduard kindly took time to tell us stories of “Dave and Jim” and showed us the 1976 visitors book.
Someone else’s history moulds with your own life and they become part of your own precious memories. And it was a wonderful trip, as Iggy might say.
The people you love are precious, and that love you have for them should be fully and effusively expressed even if it involves the words ‘hedgehog’ and ‘sausage’, which can surprise people.
And we can all be heroes. Even if it’s just for one day.
Enjoy this Iggy Pop playlist: includes tracks from the current live setlist, the current album with Josh Homme, the classic Berlin albums, some Stooges, some hits, some duets, some covers and some rarities. ALL RIGHT!
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Department manager at an independent record company. Liker of Frank Sinatra and Nick Cave. Very sudden laugh. Pasty but tasty. Quite tired.