High Times Greats: Iggy Pop

The road of excess leads to the palace of Iggy Pop—the proof of which are these excerpts taken from his 1982 autobiography, I Need More.
High Times Greats: Iggy Pop
Iggy Pop/ Photo by Andrew Kent

Back in the late ’60s, Iggy Pop and his band the Stooges were pioneers of pathology rock. A typical concert would include some songs, a number of vicious fights with the audience and Iggy’s assorted acts of self-mutilation. In I Need More: Weird Tales From the Rock ‘N’ Roll Crucible (written with Anne Wehrer), Iggy recalls those halcyon days of yore; and jabbing the old wounds gets the blood flowing one more time. Originally excerpted in the December, 1982 issue of High Times, we’re republishing the following on the occasion of Iggy’s birthday April 21.

Something about Myself

Maybe I should tell you something about myself. I used to go to high school. By the time I was 20 I had this band of my own, the Stooges. I wanted to be a lead singer, you know, and write songs, you know, and la-di-da.

None of us were real musicians—I had been a good drummer, but that’s not being a singer, right? The rest of them had been in this band they called the Dirty Shames. They used to play along with records, at least whatever notes they knew on the record. When they didn’t know a note they didn’t play. So that’s the Dirty Shames—a one-note samba band.

Anyway, we formed a band and did nothing but talk bullshit for months and months. I actually provoked the fellows into practicing by, mainly, scoring a quantity of grass or hash. We were young and just getting into smoking, you know, we loved it.

When we first started rehearsing, it was in the winter and I was living with my mother and father because I had no money. I’d get up in the morning, and my mom would leave me $2.50 on the kitchen table. We lived in a trailer court about five miles across town from where Ronny and Scotty Asheton—our bassist and drummer—lived. It was about 10 miles by bus, and I’d take the bus hither and yon, over hill and dale. I’d also have to walk. I’d put on all these heavy clothes, and then I’d take a little bit of hash or grass or whatever I had in my pocket, la-di-da…

We had to practice, and we had to start in something resembling the morning because their mother got home at three-thirty from work and wouldn’t allow loud music. She wanted to relax when she got home from work.

But these guys were like, the laziest juvenile delinquent sort of pig-slobs ever born, right? Really spoiled rotten and babied by their mothers and white bread and chocolate and fighting and you name it. Literally spoiled rotten. In fact, one of them, Dave, was spoiled to death. It was terrible. He was just too drunk to live.

I’d make that trek and then the trick would be to get one of them to open the door because they’d always sleep roundly, soundly, until around noon. They would always be asleep and I’d ring, ring, ring, ring the bell. Sometimes they’d answer and sometimes they wouldn’t. So I had to turn on the garden hose and spray their windows, throw rocks, yell weird things, throw snowballs. Finally I’d get in and then I’d have to wake them up a couple more times. They were really moody guys. Very hard to wake up. I’d spin a few records to get them in the mood. Later on, Dave, who lived down the street, would pop over. But at this time it was just the three of us, me and Ronny and Scott.

Finally, by about two, I’d actually gotten everybody to where they’d play some music and we’d go down to the basement. We’d go down to the basement and turn off all the lights, and once we’d get down to it these guys had a fairly strong degree of concentration to give something like music—something fanciful. They’d been just such totally free, undisciplined, spoiled, derelict guys for so long that they were really good at things like TV watching, or making wonderful creations, like collages out of advertisements and things. Of course, feeling real stoned was a necessity—only on smoke at this time…

I’ve got them in the basement, all the lights out, only the Christmas tree lights and sort of an amber lamp on the floor and I’d play this sort of wild Hawaiian guitar with a pickup that I had invented, which meant that I made two sounds at one time, like an airplane. That’s the only way I can describe it, it sounds like an airplane.

Anyway, so I played that and Ron played the bass and I taught Scotty how to play drums, with a drum set I designed. We felt we should buy him real drums, but I had already worked for a month at two jobs—one serving burgers, fries and colas; the other as stock boy at Discount Records of Ann Arbor—and that month of employment was the end of my rope. I worked long enough to buy a small Fender Princeton amplifier and a Kustom piggyback amp that sounded like shit and was covered in tuck-and-roll Naugahyde—like any other country n@gg#r, I couldn’t resist. I found myself unable to continue work to finance a set of proper drums.

So, using 55-gallon oil cans which I got from a junkyard and rigged up as bass drums, I homemade a drum set. For drumsticks I designed these semiplastic molded hammers. Scotty beat the shit out of these cans; it sounded like an earthquake—thunderous. We lit all these drums in black light, and they were scrawled with obscenities like “tits” and “p@ssy.”

On the front of these drums were written Indian symbols for like love and regeneration. (The Stooges had two sides, you know: One side was just totally foul, very weird, very into fascism, into violence.) Then we proceeded to play just this thunderous, racy music, which would drone on and on, varying the themes. It was entirely instrumental at this time, like jazz gone wild. It was very North African, a very tribal sound: very electronic.

We would play like that for about 10 minutes. Then everybody would have to get really stoned again. The entire band, after 10 minutes, would be blown: “Oh, wow, man, I’m exhausted.” But what we had put into 10 minutes was so total and so very savage—the earth shook, then cracked and swallowed all misery whole.

We’d toke up again to play. I’d play the organ, and Ron would play guitar. And we’d just play this exploratory, very emotional music.

We weren’t interested in anything like writing a song or making a chord change. I didn’t bother with anything like that until I had a recording; once I had the contract I thought I’d better really learn how to write some songs—so I did.

Our music was flowing and very conceptual. We’d have just one given song, called “Wind Up,” or I’d change the title to “Asthma Attack” or “Goodbye Bozos” or, I don’t know, “Jesus Loves the Stooges.” So, la-di-da, that’s how we started out.

Allman Roadies

One time the Rawpower Stooges played in Nashville, Tennessee, at a joint called Mother’s. And the support band to play with us were the roadies of the Allman Brothers, who were then very big, right? These guys had muscles on their muscles, and they were everything you think of as shit-kicking, badassed, top-drawer roadies—for that sort of group—right? I mean, these guys were tough and mean and longhaired, lantern-jawed, cowboyed out and everything.

So they were doing their sound check when we come in, and James is dressed up in this outfit that has a diamond-shaped piece cut out in the middle exposing his skin, like Spider Man or something. It’s weird looking. It shows his belly button and his breasts, and he looks a bit like a parrot or something, like a f@gg*t, I guess— not to me, of course. I was wearing a sarong, just a simple sarong over Cabaretta knee boots and a little shawl. And they looked at us and said, “Wow! Isn’t that some fuckin’ nice, finger-licking good, wet p@ssy! Oh, look at that! Oooh-wee, hidee-hey, you girls got some p@ssy in there? I bet you do, little honey,” la-di-da, and everything.

We were scared and locked ourselves in the bathroom, right? Locked the door, and they were pounding on the door of the bathroom. “Come on out-ta there, puss. We’re gonna be real good, good lovin’ for you.” They were getting nastier and nastier.

But then it was time to go on, and we went out and played our gig. When we came off and hit the dressing trailer, there they were to apologize to us. Yeah, they apologized: “We all didn’t know that you all could play like that.”

There seems to be this discrepancy between badass music and really being a badass. Ha, because I ain’t, you know, a badass.

After that gig James cleared the entire dressing room of every radio: He liked to steal things at gigs. That was his kick.

Drugged in the City

Iggy Pop goes to the city to get drugged. The Stooges had a date. At this point we were privileged to return to a club called Ongano’s, run by brothers Amie and Nick, lovely gentlemen and true believers. This was about the only small club you could play—now closed down. We had a four-night stand.

You gotta understand that I was still like Topcat, the cartoon character. I was very lazy, and happiest dozing in a garbage can. I mean, four nights in a row? In a row? “Hey, I don’t know, man.” At this time we were playing 45-minute sets. I finally accepted the gig and came to New York. I had a couple of days rehearsal. We’d never appeared more than two nights in a row, and one set a night, of course, was all you got.

I met this guy at the Chelsea Hotel named Billy who had a lot of cocaine—good coke. And we were pretty poor guys, you know. So, before the first gig, I went up, marched up, in all my glory into Elektra Records, into a plush new office in the Gulf & Western Building. The design is space age, and I go to Jack Holzman, the president, who sends me to Bill Harvey, general manager. And I say, “Bill, here is where it’s at. We’ve got four straight nights, and you know that this is a sacrifice on my part.” I carefully explained that I wouldn’t dare do to my body what my body wasn’t accustomed to, and that in order to get through the entire gig—”I’m sorry to have to ask you for this, but you’re going to have to give me four hundred dollars for a one-quarter ounce of cocaine.”

I was obviously making them flip out, right? He just couldn’t believe his ears. “That’s impossible. Who do you think we are? We don’t give out… that’s impossible!”

I’m just leaping around the room. There is no question about this. We’ve gotta have it. I didn’t even say, “Or there’s no gig,” just we’ve gotta have it. That’s right. So he did it. He gave me the money, and I signed, you know, probably an advance for something. You know what I mean. So that was funny.

I took so much coke through those four nights. I took so much. If you look at pictures of those gigs, I look like a Biafran or something: skinny isn’t the word.

Those were fun gigs, though, because there was no stage. We played on the floor. Miles Davis came over. He stayed. It was good music. The third night I decided to hang from one of the pipes in the ceiling like monkeys do—hang upside down. I didn’t know that the pipe was part of the sprinkler system. So I was hanging by my legs, you know. I was upside down, swinging, and slowly but surely it started to give. The entire sprinkler system in the whole place gave way, and I fell on my ass. It ripped out. It hung in the air, like some weird fallout—very strange looking—and all this plaster and dust had fallen down. Apparently cost them a lot of money.

In such a mess it is always nice to have an up-and-coming guy around, like Danny Fields. Danny was my mentor at the time and the man who discovered me. He was just really full of love. They were furious. It would cost them a lot of money, but by the time Danny was through with them it was no sweat. They were smiling and saying, “You were great tonight, just please stay off the pipes tomorrow night, right?”

First Downer

I’d never taken a downer before but I was pretty wired after those four gigs, right? Bernie, our roadie, liked downers, right? And he offered me one: “Take one of these, it makes you sleep better.” Of course, being me I couldn’t just take one, so he gave me two of what they call Tuinal and one Seconal—I took ’em all.

I’m told that sometime in the middle of the next day they tried to wake me up to go back to Detroit in our van, and I couldn’t be budged. So they left me. They just left me in my room at the Chelsea, and I slept for two and a half days. When I finally woke up I had this enormous bill and only a few dollars. They didn’t really care. They were very—I don’t know—rude. The Stooges never really liked me, tough titty for them. They were Stone Age jealous to the max. I was the only one unaware of it, cause I’m an idiot: how sweet it is. So I had to call my mother, and she bailed me out of the bill.

Getting Over Feeling Bad

It’s an interesting point, about suicide and about when somebody feels bad. So often for so long in my life, I’ve felt very bad, maybe even bad toward myself, because I couldn’t seem to communicate or to get through to anyone. At least that’s what I think was making me feel bad.

At one point, my situation went from bad to worse. I really was down for a few years—went to a mental hospital, was unemployed, laughed at and for all intents and purposes was washed out in the industry, though I was too stubborn to quit. Contracts hanging over my head, like a portable cloud, prevented me from changing management in L.A. Thank God! I would have signed anything.

But I got a lucky break through David Bowie, and we did some traveling together and collaborated on this album called The Idiot. He was touring the world and working under much harsher, more demanding circumstances than I’d ever experienced, and I became free, not that I haven’t been since those old days, but this was new. I was free from drugs and their demands, in the sense that I didn’t feel compelled to go to sleep every time something unpleasant happened: I didn’t need Valium, ‘ludes or this and that. Mind you, I still have my weaknesses. I don’t think one needs to make one’s unpleasantness public or dwell on it, but the whole thing was that I had never up until then been able to beat drugs in my life.

One day we were in Chateau d’Herouville in France, outside Paris, taking a Ping-Pong break. Never in my life had I been able to play Ping-Pong. I never had the coordination—literally couldn’t play. David said, “Come on, give me a game.”

“I can’t. I can’t play.” But I tried it, and suddenly that day I could play, and I’m playing and we were about tied and I said, “You know, man, this is weird, really weird, I always failed at this game and now I can play it.”

He said, “Well, Jim, it’s probably because you’re feeling better about yourself.” In the most gentlest way he said that, because usually, you know, nobody wants to be anybody’s teacher or learner—you know what I mean? In the very gentlest way he said that. I just thought that was a nice answer. Three games later I beat him, and he never played me again. I got good real fast.

Close Encounters

I’ve been spit at, I’ve been slugged, I’ve been egged. I’ve been hit with paper clips, money, cameras, brassieres, underwear, old rags and with expensive garments and belts and things. I’ve been hit with, well, a slingshot. Yeah, you just get used to it after awhile.

I was just in Detroit about six weeks ago, and this guy threw a Johnnie Walker Black whiskey bottle. I know it was a Johnnie Walker Black because the band picked it up later. Threw a whiskey bottle at me. He’d gotten it in past the people, past the friskers. It just missed my head. It brushed my hair, actually. I saw the gleam as it arched near me. I saw it about the last six feet. I didn’t have time to move, really. I just heard it whoosh by and crash. The glass was so heavy it didn’t break. It’s really heavy glass. Johnnie Walker Black is a good bottle. And I told an asshole TV commentator afterwards how good it felt when the bottle was going past my head, which he took all out of context, saying a terrible thing about how “this is the way my fans traditionally greet me and that I like it and encourage it.”

I got hit with a grapefruit once, right in the center of my head: in Cobo Hall in Detroit.

One time we were playing in a place called the Rock and Roll Farm in Wayne, Michigan. I mean, this place was a pit. I used to play a lot of pit holes. Nobody in the Stooges cared, we just played, you know. Well, we’re playing this pit in Wayne, Michigan, way out on a farm road—about 800 or 1,000 kids—and I was dressed in a floppy woman’s hat with three flowers on it and wearing long bleached-blond hair and a dancer’s leotard with little ballet slippers—practice slippers—and a sash affair around my waist—I think it was somebody’s curtain.

Eggs kept flying up on the stage, and as the set went on I was getting really sick of it. So I said, “Okay, stop the show right now!” I do this sometimes. (It’s a funny thing—maybe it’s common to other rockers, I don’t know—but the sort of music I do is very aggressive and intoxicating, and after a few songs I enter another state, probably an adrenal overload of some kind. I believe I can do just about anything. It’s not true, of course, and I often used to get into fights I just couldn’t possibly win.) So finally I say, “Okay, stop the music!” Again, this is a low-ceiling dump of a room—could have been a pinball palace. I want to know who’s the one throwing the eggs. Lo and behold, the waters part, and hundreds of people spread apart, and there before me—about 75 feet yon—really, just standing there like Man Mountain Dean, with long, flowing red hair, just grinning, feet squarely planted, toes out, was this enormous youth with the most, the biggest, happy smile I’ve ever seen. Really, it was a wonderful smile, ’cause he knew he was king and was about to kick my ass (I’m hoping not too badly). He must have been 6’5″, huge shoulders, had this large plaid lumberjack shirt, this big grin. And this one arm had a knuckle glove on, a knuckle glove that went all the way up the arm, studded at the knuckles. He was carrying one of those dozen-egg cartons—his weapon. He’s clearly got his act, and he’s just standing there, a hand on his hip, just leering at me, you know, and in a deep, resounding voice he says, “Hello.”

So I had to make a show of it, and I’m on my toes like what I’d seen boxers do on TV, and I come out like David against Goliath to face my tormentor. Watching his fist moving toward you was like waiting for a train to hit you. He just squared off and decked me with one punch, right down on the ground, and I’m bleeding —I still have a scar, just dead between my eyes—I’m bleeding and everything. I saw stars. It was obvious I couldn’t win, so I said, “All right, well… on with the show.” And I went back and did “Louie, Louie.”

I have this deathly fear of cops, of authority. And I had this girl friend who lived in the area—a very straight girl. She was a virgin at the time, ha!—a detail I took care of a year later. She lived with her parents, and she said, “Quick, I’ll hide you.” I just wanted to get out, I knew there’d be police. I didn’t want them near me. So I just ducked out with her in my little ballerina costume, right, and crept into her house late at night. I spent a night in the suburbs with this chick in my ballerina clothes in grandpa’s bed or something, and to add insult to injury it was a chick that didn’t even screw, you know. So I was all hot—a beautiful girl, you know—and trying to make it with this chick in my ballerina costume in the suburbs all night. The next morning I had to go through tea with her mother, in the daylight, in my little ballerina costume and all. So that was an unpleasant day. It was just the wrong clothes.

That same day I went back to Detroit. I went to the radio station and challenged the entire gang, the Scorpions, of which the guy was a member, to come down and do their worst at my big show in Detroit—at the Michigan Palace —which they proceeded to do.

It became “the last-ever Stooges gig” tape, Metallic K. O., with a picture of me on the front of it knocked out cold—a picture of me lying in state as it were. And you can hear all sorts of things on the tape flying through the air. Shovels, four-gallon jugs, M-80s, blah blah, but our lady fans in the front rows threw a lot of beautiful underwear, which I thought was sweet.

And spit: I’ve probably been spit on more than any person alive outside of, I would say, a member of the prison system. It’s funny how one’s chickens come home to roost: I was the one who instituted the custom of spitting. I used to spit on my audiences—when I was pissed off with them—to get them going. I couldn’t get satisfaction any other way, so I spit on the fuckers.

But ohhh my, three years later—I did a comeback tour in 1977 with David Bowie’s help. He was in the band on the piano. We had a gig in Friar’s Court in Aylesbury, near London. It was a warm-up gig for London. We had been living on the Continent for some time, and we heard about this Punk movement that was going on in England and certain of its associated rituals.

Apparently audiences had learned to gob on the performers, right? So I came to Aylesbury and was greeted with the most affectionate hail of gob—no, a frenzied hail of gob. They were leaping in the air to get to me. They would even work out these rotations so that everyone could get a gob in, you know. The people who really get hurt in all of this are the other band members, because they can’t dodge as quickly as I can. People’s aim is often wild—they often misjudge—so my band got a lotta gob.

I hired a soul musician, Jackie Clark, a black fellow who had played with Ike and Tina Turner, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and perhaps with Dr. Hook’s Medicine Show or one of those putrid American bands. This was, like, a professional, soulful musician, and I hired him to play rhythm—he had a good sense of rhythm. Well, I hired him on one tour, and he dressed in sort of the Blazing Saddles kind of tradition. He dressed the black cowboy that was his particular bit—sort of a Gucci Bo Diddley—a very beautiful, fine, wide-brimmed Stetson hat, tan, in good taste, and these toreador-type pants—very overdone cowboy. The first night out he came up to me, “Jim, I don’t care what they do to me, but when they gob on my hat I get mad.” He used to get just covered in gob.

As a matter of fact, a lot of my musicians have strange things happen to them. Klaus Krüger, my German drummer, came over to America for the first time to do the New Values album with me, and he decided to take a little trip to see America. It was just before Christmas. He drove across magnificent deserts and canyons. And on Christmas Day some kid threw a grapefruit off a freeway overpass right through the windshield of his car. It nearly killed him.

Half of my band got beat up on this last tour trying to defend me—to save me— from a monster I provoked. Marseilles may be meaner than Detroit.

From I Need More by Iggy Pop with Anne Wehrer. Copyright ©1982, Karz Cohl Publishing. Inc. Featured photo by Andrew Kent.

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