Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Iggy Pop - L'Uomo Vogue

Theoretically, James Osterberg of Muskegon, Michigan should have already died several times: for the injuries he’s collected on the stage, beating himself with whatever is thrown at him; for the headfirst dives into the audience that sometimes end up on the floor; and for the enormous quantity of drugs consumed during the most turbulent years of his long career as a rock star.
This year, the iguana of punk, aka Iggy Pop, turned 64. He calls for the interview from his home in Miami. The appointment is for noon and the phone rings at 12 on the dot. “This is Iggy, is Nicola there?”. “Ciao Iggy, I’m Nicola”. An awkward pause is interrupted by hearty laughter. “Sorry”, he says, disappointed, “I was expecting a woman”.
The leader of the Stooges, forefathers of the punk rock movement, is a legendary ladies man, a reputation that dates back to when the 18-year-old Iggy seduced Nico, model and muse of Andy Warhol, then grew thanks to his promiscuous attitude, his habit of going a-round half naked and the air of cursed outsider he cultivated with his friend David Bowie, with whom he spent the ‘70s in search of thrills and excess. Their friendship lasted a long while and helped Pop get through the darkest moments of his career, like when he languished for years in a drug-induced haze, forgotten by the public, surviving thanks to the royalties from songs he wrote that were transformed into worldwide hits by Bowie. Today, the times have changed. It’s been seven years since the last time he spoke on the phone with the Thin White Duke.
And from the frenetic pace of New York, where he spent years living on the razor’s edge, he has passed to a more tranquil life in Miami. The anger that once fueled songs like Lust for Life and Raw Power seems to have softened. “I still feel the desire to kick some ass, but I no longer feel like I have to prove anything to anyone”. This must be why Iggy is currently recording, in addition to a reunion album with the Stooges, a solo record of covers that are light years from his signature style – from La vie en rose by Edith Piaf and Sinatra’s Only the Lonely to the ballads of Cole Porter and Serge Gainsbourg. Even his language, though always peppered with streams of cursing, has become more geared toward not offending anyone, for fear of becoming “an easy target for critics and judges”. This, however, does not impede him from speaking frankly about himself. “I need visibility to survive. And not having the talent of a Pavarotti, I have to compensate with my personality.
But being famous is like cooking with lots of oil on a high flame – if you’re not careful, you burn yourself”. Although he has exerted a strong influence on the history of rock, as confirmed by his recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his music has always alternated between peaks of popularity and valleys of semi-oblivion. A great experimenter, Iggy started from the frantic rhythms of the Stooges, which inspired bands like the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, and ended up composing metal and jazz pieces as a soloist, doing voice-overs for films like Persepolis and participating in reality shows like American Idol. Without renouncing his past, Pop is no longer overly conditioned by the character of the eternal rebel, perhaps to avoid the risk of becoming a caricature of himself.
He lives healthily, getting up early and practicing Tai Chi. He lives in a house near the ocean with a lovely yard and fruit trees. Each month he spends at least a week in the Cayman Islands, where “nobody cares who I am or what I’ve done in my life”. And when he wants to work, he goes to his studio in the Haitian quarter, which he considers to be one of the most authentic and interesting parts of Miami. “I still want to reinvent myself, while maintaining certain old habits”. Like spending as much time without any clothes. “If I really have to, I’ll put on a bathing suit”, he says, pointing out that he’s completely nude while talking to me on the phone. At his concerts, he is still prepared to throw himself into the screaming crowd, he’s just more attentive to the mood and circumstances.
He learned at his own expense that the audience is not always willing to indulge his passion for stage diving. A few years ago, he was invited to participate in a benefit concert for Tibet, organized by Philip Glass at Carnegie Hall, New York’s temple of high-brow music. The orchestra was playing his pieces without energy, so after a couple of songs Iggy decided to rev up the crowd by leaping headlong into the first row. The problem was that everyone diffidently moved out of the way. “Luckily they’re not all like that. There are still audiences ready to welcome me with open arms”, he says, laughing. Beware asking him if he feels tamed by the years, lest one wants to seriously risk him hanging up the phone. “There are some who would respect me more if I had refused to talk to you”, he says when I remind him that he used to be famous for mistreating journalists, while now he seems so cordial. “But at this point it doesn’t matter”, he adds before closing the interview with a farewell worthy of Iggy Pop: “You have a good day and all that shit, ok?”.
L'Uomo Vogue, December 2011 (n. 426)

Photos by Mark Seliger

Fashion editor Rushka Bergman
Nicola Scevola


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