NASHVILLE, Tenn. – When Iggy & the Stooges broke up in 1974, almost no one who’d heard of the band had actually heard it.
Almost 40 years later, Iggy Pop’s band has the new album “Ready to Die,” a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and growing reverence for its place in music history. It’s one of rock’s stranger success stories, but what do you expect when it comes to Iggy Pop and the proto-punk band everybody used to hate, but really loved?
“It’s true, it’s a funny arc with us,” Pop said in a phone interview last week. “That is the way it is, actually, in all the various numerical yardsticks of all this crud – it’s bigger than it was. We have the advantage that it was so tiny when we started. It was really, really tiny in numerical scope, but it’s grown, and all those old records still sell really nice and steadily, and they’re heavily licensed. People get to hear them at sports events and on movies and in adverts.”
When historians and critics sort through the band’s legacy, Pop notes, they always point out the Stooges’ initial commercial failure: “But I always felt I was never making them for a quick buck. I was always making them forever.”
The Michigan-based Stooges broke up in 1974 after dropping a pair of influential albums, “Fun House” and “Raw Power.” The group with Mike Watt on bass reformed in 2003, and guitarist James Williamson rejoined the band in 2009 after guitarist-bassist Ron Asheton died.
The 66-year-old Pop spoke to the Associated Press about getting better with age and the possibility of more Stooges in the 21st century:
AP: What do you think accounts for the band’s continuing growth in popularity?
Pop: It got more to the general public maybe somewhere in the mid-’90s. It just sort of got to be everybody was ready to go, “Oooh, OK.” I think part of that is there were fewer and fewer people doing sort of quote-unquote rock ’n’ roll. It’s become less and less available on a daily basis.
AP: Your guitarist James Williamson returned to the band after a long break from music. Did he struggle to get back up to speed?
Pop: There are little nuances that I hear of things that he can do that he couldn’t do a year ago or two years ago. That’s interesting. Ultimately in a group of this vintage, there are certain things that you can’t do quite as much of that you could do when you’re in your 20s. If you’ve got soul and know how to marshal your intelligence, you can more than make up for that by the depth you can bring and the intelligent decisions you can make as a musician when you’re in your 60s, and I’d say that’s kind of what he does.”
AP: The experts say your ability to pick things up slows down as you age. Do you agree?
Pop: No. … In fact, playing an instrument really well is almost a detriment to playing music if you want to play it for your own pleasure or play it as an author, as originator. … If you read “Bound for Glory” by Woody Guthrie, the first chapter it starts out he’s hoboing on a train, and he’s using his guitar to shelter him from the rain, he’s getting into fights with it. It doesn’t even have a guitar case. And everybody knows Woody Guthrie couldn’t play but three chords. I guarantee you you could start in your 50s and learn how to play guitar like Woody Guthrie really quickly. He pulled music out of his box. That’s what it’s about really, pulling music out of your box.
AP: You had a reputation for high-energy shows during the first go-round with the Stooges. Is it more difficult to perform to that standard now?
Pop: My personal ability to project physical energy probably didn’t peak until only about six years ago, seven years ago. … That’s because when I was younger I didn’t work at it at all. Also, the big difference was I was a little ahead of my time, seems to be the general rap on me, and so I didn’t get the audience feedback then. It’s really hard. You can come out and bust ass and keep that up for about three songs, but if a bunch of people are just giving you the cold stare, it gets hard to sort of not to wither. … I would skirmish and regroup, skirmish and regroup. But later as people started to accept it more … I would go to bed early, take my nap, sleep all day, rehearse really hard, and really, really get ready for that moment on stage. And then I bust a move and go home that night and go ouch!!
AP: Do you think there will be more Stooges music down the road?
Pop: You know that’s a good question. … Right now I think there’s a very good chance we could, and I put a lot of time into the politics of the group and trying to improve, harmonize, placate and correct the various members, none of whom are professional entertainers and all of whom are sort of in varying degrees of childish. So it takes a lot of effort. If all goes well, it would be great to do something again up the line. That’s the goal.