❉ As Iggy Pop hits 70, we celebrate one of his most remarkable performances.
This is a short story about a skinny man from Detroit, two versions of a song and a videotape.
OK, calling it a ‘story’ might be a stretch. But somewhere in these impressions, blurs and smudges is a portrait of Iggy Pop. Like the man himself it is deeply lined with the ravages of age: in this case they are the white lines of dropout and static which creep and slither down a VHS image from long ago like rain. Or tears.
It calls back to a time when images of our heroes were hard to come by. When we haunted John Menzies or WHSmiths on a Wednesday for Sounds, or the Melody Maker or the NME, because we might catch a grainy black and white photo of a moment we weren’t there to see, a face looming above a sea of hands, hair plastered to a forehead with sweat and grime, as surely the mark of hard toil as a miner’s coal-blackened cheeks. Our heroes lived in the spaces between snatches of evidence: a gig review here, a brief burst of their music on a radio somewhere, a sleeve in a record shop window. Secret signals we tuned into like psychics and absorbed like junkies, invisible to the world at large.
A videotape shows up in our world one day, a nameless, unmarked slab of plastic a friend gives us as a gift, bought with real cash from a market stall in Camden (or was it Soho? Or the Barras?). By any standards it is near-unwatchable, a noisy, umpteenth-generation copy of a copy of a copy (etc.) Three hours of solid texture with little to no detail. It is a crash-edited compilation of 1970s and 1980s TV appearances by Iggy Pop, starting with his incredible, teddy-bear-humping performance on ITV kids’ show No 73 (witnessed by no less than Sandi Toksvig and future cinema poet Andrea Arnold). It’s a wild ride that takes in Dutch documentaries, David Letterman appearances, gigs on The Tube, dubbed French and Japanese interviews with no subtitles, the grim, none-more-skanky videos for Loco Mosquito and Dogfood, with Iggy writhing in a bathtub and lolling on top of a fridge looking compellingly wretched in the way that only the physically beautiful get to be.
Amidst all this analogue carnage and carnality there is a clip that looms out from the rest menacingly, and drunkenly reaches for our crotch. All these years later and we still don’t know exactly what the show is called or when exactly it was filmed. We think it’s from German TV. We think it’s a show called ‘Scene’. We don’t want to know any more, because the fragility of the moment could be lost. It exists. It happened and there were witnesses and someone filmed it. That’s enough.
The song is ‘Sixteen’ from Lust For Life, a flick-knife of dumb poetry and seething guitars, stomping relentlessly in place like a caged animal who hates its bars. On the album it comes and goes like a shooting star leaving ashes in its wake: you can hear a generation of bands that would emerge a decade or so later being born as it fades into silence, Iggy still gnashing and raging about those leather boots, the voice of a madman being driven off to the funny farm. On the TV clip under discussion here someone (probably Iggy himself, who knows) has decided to soundtrack his performance with (‘mime to’ would, again, be a stretch) the live version from ‘TV Eye Live’: it’s more languid, more loungey, sleazier than the album version. Hornier somehow, more threatening. Bowie’s neon-pink synth-lines echo off of recorded applause as we see our boy Iggy convulse and bounce away from the mic and back again in a cavernous TV studio, as an audience gaze dispassionately: they may as well be Kraftwerk’s Showroom Dummies for all the reaction they display.
It soon becomes clear that this mannequin crowd are simply petrified, or at best baffled by the beast they’re watching. In one single 3-minute camera-take with no cutaways Iggy looms into the lens and sprints off again. He tumbles and twirls, shakes from side to side violently, paying little attention to the recording of his own voice he’s supposed to be lip-synching to. He drops his jacket and arches his bare back towards the ground, miming the lyric upside down. In a flash he’s on his feet counting off the number 16 with his fingers like a punk-rock Ted Rogers, hurling the microphone chord around his neck until it chokes him. He doesn’t flinch. He looks sad and graceful as the mic dangles and bounces suggestively near his crotch.
He approaches the bleachers where a suitably permed and paralysed audience await his attack stoically, visibly shrinking in their seats. He reaches through those bars he hates and threatens them with a mauling that never comes, the way a boxer will pretend he’s going to punch you, but stop short with centimetres to spare. With one kick his jacket lands on his shoulder and for a tiny moment he’s Sinatra. But with Iggy Pop we know that any stillness or poise won’t last long: he has too much electricity in his bones to stay still for 2 goddamn seconds. He shudders to the front of the stage and the camera faces his back muscles. Some girls in the audience are giggling….at him? With him? Embarrassed? Excited? We can’t tell. The studio lamps blaze too brightly in our eyes to be sure.
He gives someone the finger and sashays back up the stage, pulling at his waistband like he’s going to moon us. The camera zooms in for just such an eventuality, but it never happens. Maybe in 1969 or ’72, but not in ’78, Buster. Not when he’s trying to get his head above the parapet. He sways over to another girl by the side of the stage and serenades her (“Baby…I knoooowww…”) and she looks around her like she can’t believe it. Or maybe she just doesn’t know WHERE to look.
“Ah LUUUUUV ya….ah LUUUUUV ya…ah LUUUUUV ya….”: the jacket’s back on and he’s doing that convulsive dance he does, you know the one, where he twists his body and jumps like he’s trying to shake his flesh off, like he’s itchy all over and can’t scratch it. As the song shudders to a stop he pirouettes once and drops forward in a series of elegant, theatrical little jerks. It is one of the most genuinely graceful and balletic things you will ever witness.
Because it’s a PERFORMANCE, right? I’m not really that crazy Wildman you were watching a second ago. Not me. Not all the time, anyway. I’m a goddamn ARTIST, right, German TV audience? Right, viewers at home? Right, viewers on YouTube? You weren’t SCARED were ya?
…nah. Hell no, WE weren’t scared Jim. WE knew nothing BAD was going to happen.
❉ So, happy 70th birthday Iggy! To celebrate, We Are Cult has compiled a Spotify playlist of 29 Iggy Pop deep cuts (One per album, sans Zombie Birdhouse which seems to be lost in the ether). Check it out!
❉ Follow Daniel on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DanielNothing