The 'Godfather of Punk' spoke to Jim Jarmusch about his latest album and a life spent on the edge.
Last Wednesday, September 11, Iggy Pop sat down with fellow artist, collaborator, and friend, filmmaker Jim Jarmusch at Kauffman Concert Hall as a part of 92Y Recanati-Kaplan talks. The crowd ranged from 80 something true rockers, middle-aged businessmen, and too-eager, young journalists, waiting for a chance at their own conversation with Pop, all with one similarity: a love for this artist. The pair dove into a conversation about Pop’s new album, their recent collaboration on The Dead Don’t Die, and Pop’s journey as a multi-versed artist, first paying tribute to those affected by the events of that day, the thousands of soldiers currently in Iraq, and artist Robert Frank who recently passed.
Iggy Pop, joined by Dave Alexander on bass, Ron Ashton on guitar and his brother Scott Ashton on drums, helped shape the future of punk as the Stooges with their self-titled album debut in 1969. In their breakout song, “I Wanna Be Your Dog” Pop screams in teenage angst about the submissiveness of his sexual desires. The Stooges have been living the rock and rock lifestyle ever since, with Iggy Pop, even cutting his torso with a broken bottle on stage in ‘73, taking the lead as the ʼ70s punk scene’s most destructive, loud, and angry punk rocker.
Continuing to hone in on his musical craft for decades, Iggy Pop is known for the raw nature of his performances, in collaboration or solo. In his 2016 album Post Pop Depression, Pop’s demeanor is eerily self-deprecating, a gruesome medley that comes after decades of being in the spotlight. In this vulnerable album’s final track “Paraguay”, Pop waxes poetic about a life “Free of criticism, free of manners and bores.” His final lines of the album: “I’m sick and it’s all your fault / and I’m gonna go heal myself now.”
Three years later, Iggy Pop returns with his 18th studio album, Free, which dropped September 6th. The punk legend is back to remind us of the importance of self-discovery, resilience, and, of course, freedom. The records title track opens with trumpeter Leron Thomas’s smooth jazz notes paired with Pop’s meaningful yet simple lyrics: “I wanna be free / I wanna be free / Free.” This album, in collaboration with Leron Thomas and Sarah Lipstate, who goes by the stage name Noveller, has sparked spirited conversation amongst fans, as its overall optimism juxtaposes with the dreary, escapist tone of Pop’s last album, which is a dreary narrative on Pop’s fantasies of escaping the modern world.
“‘When you visualize something very powerful it helps you to get it,” Iggy Pop concludes. “I wouldn’t be able to do that vocal now,” he says in regards to his lyrics on Free. “ I have made progress, I am freer than I was a year ago.’”
When Jarmusch asked about his process creating lyrics for Free, Pop referenced the importance of collaboration. “What happened is that the beautiful piece music behind that was something that we had developed to accompany do not go gentle into the good night, a Dylan Thomas poem.” He responded in regards to the album’s title track. “When I heard what Leron did as a soloist with Sarah’s soundscape, I was just so moved I wanted to get out of the way.”
“The way I work as a lyricist, often is, I get my hands on a piece of music that I love in some way, and then I let that bring the words out from inside.” He mentions how he avoided a studio booking the day he recorded this track because he wanted it to be raw, instead he “stole 15 minutes from someone else,” an action fitting of Punk’s rebellious pioneer. Pop offers himself to his composers, and his listeners, lending his voice as a catalyst for minds to travel to the depths of his own. The result: an understanding of the morbidly mundane societal standards which one must be free of, at least according to Iggy Pop.
In the album’s second track, Love’s Missing, Pop offers a painful, heartfelt ballad. “I made it [the song’s protagonist] a woman, but it has some of me in it, it has some of everybody, but in this case it’s a woman and she feels that she is approaching a certain age in which she needs to have order, security, and love in her life, and the clock is ticking,” reminding us of the ever-present fear of impending isolation. In an attempt to uplift and restore faith Pop continues, “It takes a lot of strength in the middle of things to hold up the ends because there are ends in every situation.”
Though Free represents a clear departure from Pop’s iconic punk themes, substituting them with Sinatra-inspired crooning and rhythmic jazz notes, there is something for fans of every stage of Pop on this record. “James Bond”, for example, could be suggested for fans of docile, longing Pop, while “We are the People” may be better suited for those looking for some thought-provoking, melancholy Pop.
“When you visualize something very powerful it helps you to get it,” Iggy Pop concludes. “I wouldn’t be able to do that vocal now,” he says in regards to his lyrics on Free. “ I have made progress, I am freer than I was a year ago.”