Although it might seem like yesterday to some of the older generations, the year 1969 is already half a century ago. These historic 365 days gave room to Woodstock, saw the election of president Nixon, and were filled to the brim with events relating to the Vietnam war. All of this might make one think that a simple 12 months could not be filled with any more history and change, yet the year also contained the debut of The Stooges in the music industry. In a time where music, or popular culture in general, was mainly occupied with love, peace and overall flower power, the Michigan band – initially formed by Jim Osterberg, better known as Iggy Pop – suddenly introduced a totally new sound. The controversial, dark and almost aggressive atmospheres that the group conveyed were early signs of what Iggy Pop was about to become: a voice of the anti, a personification of Raw Power, or in other words, ‘the Godfather of Punk.’
In a 1986 interview Iggy stated that he is:
not a singer, a walking instrument like Aretha Franklin. When you get an Iggy Pop record, you don’t get ‘Iggy Sings.’ I am also a style of music, an approach.Iggy Pop, 1986
To me, his approach is one of the reasons Iggy Pop can be seen as one of the most important artists of his time. A minimal processing of his songs, at times even making up lyrics on the spot, combined with a harsh, sharp and shrill sounding guitar, contributes to the rawness of his music. This ties in with Iggy’s world famous stage presence. He covered his body in peanut butter, puked on the stage, purposefully wounded his chest with a broken champagne glass and stripped naked on several occasions. He embraced the weird, angry, violent side every human possesses, and brought it out time after time during each of his live performances.
This almost Warholian embracing of an underground, trash aesthetic, opposed to the eternally optimistic worldview of the stereotypical hippie, makes Iggy Pop one of the founders of the punk and hard rock movements that followed. He was not particularly handsome, but artfully disgusting, not highly metaphorical, but speaking about dog food and heroin use, and not peaceful, but provocative. Most importantly, he was still real, still original, which in a movement like punk, is – in my opinion – of great importance: if you collectively criticize the systematic, the sameness, and even the rationality within society, you lose all credibility as soon as you entrap yourself in those things. Iggy Pop did not feel any need to cover his body with tattoos and piercings, nor to change his long hair into a mohawk or start wearing black leather jackets. Of course, those phenomena were not yet in fashion during his time, nor is there essentially anything wrong with them per se. However, they do display the change punk has gone through since its early beginnings. From being a movement focused on individuality and with an almost Dadaist appreciation for the chaotic, punk slowly became that which it detested: a group effort with strong conventions, rules and uniformity, things Iggy Pop – luckily – never got into.
If it is not clear yet, I am a fan. I can listen to songs like Nightclubbing, Gimme Danger or Search and Destroy endlessly. The rawness, the pure human frustration translated into music, decorated by a pinch of humour, never seizes to amaze me. Iggy Pop is, to me, what true rock ‘n roll, or punk, should be: uncaring, instinctive and passionate. If this article has made you somewhat curious, I, unsurprisingly, strongly advise you to give his music a chance. Start from the beginning by first listening to the albums he did with The Stooges, ease into the anti by giving his first solo album, The Idiot, a listen, or simply search for his name on Spotify and delve into the deep by hitting shuffle. With greats like David Bowie and Lou Reed gone, Iggy is one of the last stars of his generation that are still here. On the 21st of April, he will turn 72. And although his body, voice and energy might no longer be of the same quality as fifty years ago, he will keep on poppin,’ hopefully, still for many years to come. Happy birthday, and thank you for an amazing fifty years.