Without Iggy Pop, the Red Hot Chili Peppers would never have existed. Neither would mosh pits. Nor Black Flag, Flipper, Rancid, the Ramones, or the Sex Pistols. Ditto Television, Talking Heads, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, or any pimple-faced band that ever played 924 Gilman. Iggy — aka James Newell Osterberg Jr. from Ann Arbor, Michigan — now a sensationally wiry 69 years of age, is the Fountainhead of Punk. Jim Jarmusch’s Gimme Danger tells us so.
In Jarmusch’s vampire pic Only Lovers Left Alive, there’s a wall of fame with portraits of such counter-culture heroes as Edgar Allan Poe and Billie Holiday. The chart of artists who influenced Iggy, and who were in turn influenced by him and his proto-punk band the Stooges, could fill up a wall twice that size. For a kid who grew up in a mobile home and began playing drums in imitation of a stamping press at a Ford auto plant, Iggy got around. TV kiddie-show stars Howdy Doody and Soupy Sales taught him to keep his songs short and simple. He admired the work of avant-garde composers John Cage, Luciano Berio, Harry Partch, and later, Frank Zappa. He and his mates worshipped jazz and R&B, especially James Brown and John Coltrane. Iggy was buddies with Detroit revolutionary rockers the MC5, and collaborated with Velvet Underground legends John Cale and Nico — never mind his later duets with Britney Spears or Yoko Ono.
But it was his madcap stage antics that put him on the map. Spinning and grinding like a bare-chested Baryshnikov on methamphetamines (or heroin, or alcohol), he turned three-chord, two-minute wonders like “No Fun” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog” into theater, again and again, in a frenzied act that somehow lasted fifty years. All his former sidemen are dead now, but here he is sitting in an ornate chair, looking ready to explode. Long live Iggy.