By Johnny Papan
A decade ago, when Iggy Pop announced that his 2009 album, Préliminaires, would replace his traditional distorted and thrashing guitars for the sensually smooth vibrations of a jazz ensemble, fans were perplexed. Iggy had flooded his sweaty warehouse mosh pits with the rain of a 1950s film-noir taking place in New York City. Préliminaires transformed him into a psychedelically enhanced Acid-Sinatra of sorts.
The Ballroom-dance escapades were a drastic change of pace for the once stage-diving, self-mutilating, cock-flashing godfather of punk, yet it might have been one of the most punk-rock moves of his career. People so-often confuse “punk” as simply a music genre, whereas Iggy confirms it’s much more than that — Punk is a way of life, a matter of doing shit your own way.
His newest record, Free, is the third of his jazz installments. Iggy describes it as an album “that happened to him, and he let it happen.” The record’s A-side is a self-reflective narrative of crumbling relationships, loneliness, the price of individuality and societal commentary, while the B-side wraps you within a darkened musical space odyssey. He calls it an exploration of the dark side of the soul.
“In that first track, all the guy wants is to be free,” he explains. “He feels like he should be free, but you’re never really free. At the end of the track he can visualize how beautiful being free would be.
“There are a host of bureaucracies that you become entangled with by the time you’re 72,” he chuckles. “I wanted to loosen up the bureaucracies held over my life a little bit. There’s music bureaucracy, there’s a financial bureaucracy. There are social bureaucracies, personal. The way you spend your time and your personal life, that sort of thing.”
Free was recorded fresh off of touring his Post Pop Depression album, which he produced with Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age. Pop felt the experience rid him of a chronic insecurity that “dogged” him for years. This statement comes as a bit of a shock, considering he built his entire career on not giving a fuck.
It comes as no surprise that the blend of an oversaturated market of artists adjusting to changing appetites for new music, and the introduction of streaming culture continues to make it exhausting to be an artist. Even Iggy Pop, a pioneer of one of the most influential movements to help shape the modern world, grew anxious and insecure about his ability to keep up.
“The music business is a numbers business,” he explains. “My numbers started off very, very tiny. Then they grew up to small. Then they got from the small side to mid-league up through till I was about 50.
“And then in my early 50s something happened when the century changed. All of a sudden, all the various numbers—the attendance at gigs, the size of building, the size of stages, record sales—they were starting to shrink.”
Premiering on Epix this past March, Pop executive produced the four-part documentary series, Punk, which shines a light on the movement’s key figures, history, and meaning. Over its run time, it features interviews with Iggy Pop, Kathleen Hanna, Johnny Rotten, Henry Rollins, Dave Grohl and more, concluding with shining the spotlight on this generation’s new wave of punk rockers.
In a way, punk today is much like it was when it first started in the late 60s and early 70s — a secret of the underground, a haven for building a DIY community.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know of any legitimate rock anymore that isn’t punk,” Iggy says. “The only rock worth calling itself rock anymore is actually punk. I’d say punk is the future of rock. I know the the large industry giant-forces are trying to exhume rock again, pushing this awful stuff but the only real, only legitimate rockers around anymore are the punks. It’s going to take over.”
As one of the most prolific artists in the history of rock and roll, Iggy Pop’s lengthy career has been a wild ride. He’s had highs and lows, and may have finally found peace of mind. Pop concludes with, what he says, is the greatest lesson he’s learned over the last 50 years in the music business. A message for the artists of today:
“Never give up on the audience,” he says. “If they’re not giving you what you want, don’t give up. I’ve done that before, when I was very young, and I always regretted that. Other than that, I would say always imagine: If you like something, somebody else will too. If you just keep at it, somebody will eventually like it even if they might not at first. Don’t be cynical. Go for the heart of the matter, that’s what I would say.”Free, Iggy Pop, jazz, punk, rock