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Interview - Tattoo Legend Jonathan Shaw Vs Rock Legend Iggy Pop

Interview and photos appear courtesy of TRIP Magazine

The good folks at TRIP, Brazil's biggest and most influential youth lifestyle magazine, were able to get an awesome interview with the one and only Iggy Pop recently. The whole thing went down in the hills of Rio at the home of Iggy's pal Jonathan Shaw (Artie's son and tattoo legend), who conducted the interview himself. In a rare intimate and relaxed moment, longtime friends Shaw and Iggy shot the shit together, talking Buddha, sex, drugs and plastic rock & roll. When TRIP approached us about running this interview (more of a conversation between friends, really), we said, "hell yes!" So read on and get a glimpse into the inner psyche of one of rock & roll's most dynamic and influential stars.

JS: So, after so many years as a virtual outsider on the fringes of the arts, it seems you're finally starting to get some 'legitimate' recognition as an artist... how's that feel?

IGGY: It's funny, y'know, after all these years, cuz I always had that background with the 'serious' art world where it's like, "oh, Iggy Pop, oh shit, no..." It sorta went from, "don't let him in your house, he'll steal your stuff." Then it stepped up to, "he's silly." Then it was like, "he's crazy." Then it went up to like, "well... it's not really art, is it?" Now, it's finally like, "oh, okay, this stuff is ok."... many years ago there was something called the South Bank show in England. Very prestigious... and in the '70s when I was living there with Bowie and every week we'd see they'd do a show on some major guy, y'know, like from Al Pacino to Noam Chomski kinda thing. And Bowie kept saying, "they should do one on you", and "nobody ever covers us, and na na na..." So that was always a big thing... and finally, like thirty years later they came around and did a thing on me...

JS: What did they do?

IGGY: They sent this English lord, LORD this and that, came to America with a big film crew and they followed us around on the road, made it into a half hour prime time TV show where we were interviewed by the LORD...

JS: Wow!

IGGY: Yeh, Lord winky wanky woo, whatever his name was... and then Lord wanky woo wasn't gonna come to see me and could I come to London... and finally I said, "NO, I WONT DO IT... either wanky woo comes to my fucking house or fuck you..." and so... he came! And ya know he had the accent and the little loafers and he was kinda... well, later he told me that he was very apprehensive to talk to me cuz he thought I was gonna vomit on him and curse or something...

JS: So did you feel like finally validated as an artist, getting this recognition you craved for so long?

IGGY: Well, that's the funny thing, like after all those years of me wanting the thing, by the time they finally did me, y'know, I think I really didn't care so much anymore... it just became like Don Quixote, ya know, "dammit [laughing] I want my respect"... so now I got that one and then I got the French 'OFFICE OF ARTS AND LETTERS' thing, when I got that, it's like this big deal where all the other artists were French, and they're all grumbling about it ya know... they'd taken it but they're all like [French accent] 'How do you feel to take this stinking award from this shit government - you are a SELL OUT!"... and I'm like, "well, wait a minute, is says here on this paper that I'm a fucking officer in the army fighting for the arts. That's a nice thing, ya know, I'll take that at face value. I agree with that." So I did that. I went to the ministers office. He was very suave... in the old palace. Nice. Nice fucking palace...

JS: That is some serious recognition...

IGGY: Well, ya know it was kinda... wierd. It was really a kind of uptight and slightly annoying experience... but what was best was... the people. The minister was like really suave, but he let you know in a certain way just how powerful and ministerial and cool he is ya know, so I never feel too at home in those kinda scenes... but all the people in the crowd, they all really liked it and they were all like, "YEAHHHHH!" so it felt nice... the best part was that I got the medal.

JS: Medal?

IGGY: Yeh, I got this little medal and they pin it on you.

JS: You gonna wear that?

IGGY: Yeah... [laughing] I could wear it around. It looks like an old picture from a hundred years ago, like some old guy, something IMPORTANT... and it says "Republique Francaise"... and I got this plaque too saying, "presented by the "French Republic." I've got it in my little library at home, right up there with my picture of Nina and Lucky [his beautiful, statuesque girlfriend and snow white French poodle].

JS: I guess you haven't had time to see much of anything here in Brazil...

IGGY: These shows really took a lot out of me, two nights, two cities back to back. Usually I don't play back to back shows anymore, like when we're on tour I try and always take a day off between shows nowadays.

JS: That's something new from when I was traveling with you...

IGGY: Yeah well it's been a few years now since then... the age thing creeps up on you.

JS: You could fool a lot of people...

IGGY: Well that's what we do... so anyway, not really much time or energy for the whole tourist thing... mostly just the beach in front of our hotel and now today up here spending the day at your house... but with a view like this who needs to go anywhere? But it was nice that we got to stay a coupla extra days in Rio and the promoter paid for it. That was really good of them, they didn't have to, but I asked them and they did. So we got a coupla free days to visit you here and relax. I always wanted to do that, and show it to Nina, so we got a free trip to Rio... nice.

The guys in the band [The Stooges] have all the unreasonable standards of a '60s rock band... they're still back there, like if they don't like some proposal about a producer or something, they'll just look at the ground and pout. Or they'll say something like, "that's fucking shit, man!" It's not like a modern band who'll say, "Well now, the A&R department this and the demographic that...

JS: Well, judging from the response, you'll probably get some new offers to come back here now. Would you like to do a South American tour any time soon?

IGGY: Yeh, well I'm trying to get a record done with these guys and there's some complexities because the guys in the band [The Stooges] have all the unreasonable standards of a '60s rock band... they're still back there, like if they don't like some proposal about a producer or something, they'll just look at the ground and pout. Or they'll say something like, "that's fucking shit, man!" It's not like a modern band who'll say, "Well now, the A&R department this and the demographic that..." The stooges are still back there in that weird time warp of rock [laughs]... this is a real band now, not just like Iggy and a bunch of paid professionals whose job it is to play backup... its a real BAND kinda thing... I do all the shit work, the 'leadership' stuff. But... I have to answer to them...

JS: How's that feel after being on your own and being the boss for so many years now... getting back together with the Stooges?

IGGY: [laughing]... It's really AWKWARD.

JS: It sucks?

IGGY: IT REALLY SUCKS [laughter] especially cuz the kinda guys they are... it'll be like I'll get a call from Ron at like 4:00 in the morning and he'll leave like six or eight messages about something he wants to do and I'm just supposed to deal with it... but I can't get him on the phone cuz... [laughing]... he's a MUSICIAN... but, it's ok... it works out... it works out... basically, it really doesn't really change much for me, career wise, except that the quality of the work is better and the money. As soon as I got back with them it has tripled... yeah, it's tripled. And, as soon as it tripled...[laughs]... there were three guys to split it with... it really wouldn't matter to me except that it's always better, like you feel better, and you're always better off when you're doing quality work... 'cause, creatively... I felt like I hit a wall... somewhere around 2000-2002 - in there - like I'd gotten as much outta what I was doing as I could. I'd gone as far with that as I could go... just before SKULL RING.

That's why I did all that guest shit, I just opened it up. Before that I had done my thing with my nasty little metal band - just to show everybody I could. Like, "fuck you, I don't need you. I don't need to listen to you. I don't need to listen to this side, that side, or the behind. I can just make this thing with this little bunch of scumbags. My way... and put a PUSSY on the cover!" [laughs] That's what we did, ya know... the original cover had a cartoon of a chick in a bikini with her extra bikini hair visible. She had a cigarette. She had a gun... there was something else... well, Virgin Records saw it and before they would put it out, they had this meeting. The legal department said, "look what we have here... we have... PUBIC HAIR... we have... A FEMALE GENITAL... we have... we have A SMOKING CIGARETTE... and we have A FIREARM..."[laughter] Ya know?... then we started to negotiate... and they took out the body hair. And I can't remember the gun... did that stay on there?... that was a thing called BEAT EM UP... I just made the stupidest album I could make. BEAT EM UP's a trip. It's got songs like "IT'S ALL SHIT."

JS: It's all shit... sooo, moving right along... there's something I've always thought about, watching you perform. And it's become a persistent theme over the years. Working on this documentary I've been making about you... have you ever... I don't know quite how to put this... do you ever consciously feel a presence, like a sort of possessing entity when you take the stage, like you're sorta channeling something that isn't exactly "you?" You know what I mean?

IGGY: [laughing] Wow... well... that's exactly what lord so and so asked about... he actually used the same words... is that what you see?

JS: I've seen it. Yeah, over and over for years, watching you work... I've filmed it, got it on film, like where you're walking out of your dressing room and walking up the steps to the stage and, suddenly, something just comes over you, you CHANGE... like, I know you as Jim and we sit around and talk and laugh and have dinner with the girls... and Jim's a pretty nice little guy... then he gets up on stage and here comes this fucking IGGY... from mild mannered, soft spoken Jim to... RAW POWER...

IGGY: Is it that different? Really?

JS: Night and fucking day, man...

When I was a kid I always liked bands who were made up of gang members. They just always sounded better than ones that weren't.

IGGY: I know... I don't know much about how that goes on... I would say the main thing... I know there's people who... do sports... or work in expressive fields... or even the vanguard of science... and you'll hear 'em say, "in this ONE area, I felt like empowered and like, I CAN." Well, I don't quite feel that... I have this feeling like... "In this one area... I'VE GOT TO." This is the only area... in all the rest of my life, whatever I think or feel, I don't do anything about it at all. Ever... I try not to... I'm not sure, I'm just one of those people... I just usually don't express myself too much... but at that particular moment when I'm doing this thing, working a stage... or recording, if it's something in that sort of whatever this music thing is, then I'll say, "OK, this is where I must..." I dunno, choose your cliche, "express my humanity... stand up and be counted..." bla bla bla, winky wanky woo, jump to the next dimension, whatever the fuck, ya know, be a baboon, whatever it is I'm up to... There's a compulsion... I do feel that is something that's going on in this thing...

JS: Do you feel like you're... serving some higher force?

IGGY: I don't know about that... it could be a lower force... it could be a lower force.

JS: There's a primal essence, a primitive core to your best work... and now there's all this technology in the music business. How does that go for you artistically?

IGGY: When I was a kid I always liked bands who were made up of gang members. They just always sounded better than ones that weren't. There was this band, CANNABAL AND THE HEADHUNTERS, they had this single, "Land Of A Thousand Dances," that I really liked. Later I found out they were a street gang. But to me it sounded somehow mysterious... it had the vibe... ya know something about it was... it just had the vibe. Whereas like, Leslie Gore did not have the vibe... I think that sorta thing, you can talk a lotta grand shit about it, but it comes from little pieces...

ANDY WARHOL would come through town, so, 'OH COOL,' they'd tie up a naked woman and she plays the cello while a man beats her with a hammer...

JS: God is in the details... art is where it all comes together.

IGGY: Exactly... so what I did is I got a job in a record store. I was 18 and I started listening to Toreg medicine chants. I still listen to that shit. I listen to voodoo drum sessions, Musica de Terreiro, Umbanda, Candomble, all kinds of ethnic and folklore music from lotsa musical cultural traditions... that's my real musical influences. Stuff like just a bunch of Arab tribesmen sitting in a field beating on cans [singing monotones] waaaa, waaa waaaaa, waaa waaaa... That sort of thing is really powerful, things with three and four notes repeated over and over again... and shit like Bedouin music was real big for me... belly dance music...

JS: Shaman trance music...

IGGY: Right! And so I was listening to a lot of that shit. And at the same time trying to get exposed to everything that was going on in the '60s...

JS: Overload!

IGGY: Oh, yeh, definately... so you had your confrontational performance art. You had the living theatre disrobing and crossing the presidium - which later became HAIR, a broadway musical dummed down... you had the intellectualization of the blues by bands like THE BEATLES, THE ROLLING STONES, all that, British art school people coming over... you had JOHN CAGE coming through town, ANDY WARHOL would come through town, so, "OH COOL," they'd tie up a naked woman and she plays the cello while a man beats her with a hammer, ya know? And all this was going into my mind and I was taking a lotta acid... and trying to figure out, ya know, how I could make some music of lasting value... I was looking for universal themes, primitive energy... and then it should be available to everything going on in the culture... but never get too fake, cuz at the end of the night, everybody wants to get fucked...[laughs]... or something... and as a kid, I could never dance with the girls.

I was one of those guys, ya know, so after I took enough drugs, one day the Stooges were poor enough, our manager was sick of us, we didn't make any money for him, he turned off the heat in our rehearsal room and I got angry enough and I started dancing around the house, insulting him with this electric mic... and the band started playing different. They played three times as loud and intense as they normally played. And suddenly instead of being a bunch of guys who were attending these rehearsals I'd made up because they had nothing else to do... suddenly, THEY BELIEVED... and it sounded different. And so we had a way to go... So then I had to get pissed off... [laughing] and stoned EVERY NIGHT... so it kinda started like that...

JS: So where does all this technology come into the picture?

IGGY: Well, the technology is usually best when it's MISUSED... so what happened in our case is you take a very simple riff and leave some of the strings open, if you're a guy who can't play or control his guitar very well, a large amplification will cause chance overtones that sound remarkably like a very very complicated raga played by a great Indian master... or also it can sound, by chance, like Burlio's "Silver Apples Of The Sun" or whatever it was, you know... but we didn't have to think about it...[laughs] Really all it was, ya know, like turn up the amp and just let it GO... and was doing shit. It took like two years... I mean, I was a pretty successful drummer in my town and when I realized that to make a band that was gonna go anywhere, that we couldn't be some crappy little band, cuz we came from a crappy little town... We didn't have the kind of input, ya know like if you live in London, or even in LA, you can be a clever, sophisticated, cunning version of a cover band, rip off other peoples information and if you're from a big city, if you look good, get a good manager, you can make a world out of that... but we were just little dumb fucks. We were gonna have to do something artistic.

Try getting a date in 1968 and saying "Hi, my name's IGGY." People make a face, beat you up, ya know?

So for two years I just wandered around this collage town, walking two, three, four miles a day, taking drugs, thinking... and I just thought about it... I can't tell you, I don't think I came to any conclusions, but I absorbed a lot of shit... and I would do things like... once we got a house together to try and make our music... and I'd take acid, turn on like an electric organ I had in the basement, turn an amplifier on 10 with the organ coming thru it... and I'd just put my feet up on it for eight hours and listen to that. I'd just lay there on acid with my feet up on the fucking keys and I wouldn't move them... I didn't have to, cuz it was all moving, ya know... So I went through all that silly shit... I remember once I was with the band and we all smoked DMT, and I saw a huge, finely detailed Buddha - pow - appeared on the ceiling... and I realized it wasn't really there, but I realized it was too detailed and I realized that was more detailed than I thought my mind was capable of handling. And I thought, "Oh boy, you've got some machine here, dude." Ya know... but at the same time, I had this thought, that would be your higher mind... the lower mind would be like, "I gotta take off my clothes."... Which is wierd. And the band - I'm living with three guys, young guys, ya know... but they understood me. They didn't mind. "He's gotta take off his clothes."

So I was nude, with my band, for a year... [laughs] on and off... shit like that... so I kinda went thru this transformative two years, and people felt really sorry for me in my local town... and then we played a house party for our friends - we weren't fully formed. I was an instrumentalist still and everybody was embarrassed for us... it was on Halloween '67... and they didn't give up... then they had this incident I told you about where I got very angry and stoned at the same time. That was in the winter of '67-'68, after that we got a gig based on that and we started March '68 playing and it became me as the front man, vocalist, and that worked out better for me when I started fronting... When I started out fronting, there was this guy, HARRY PARCH, who was a big influence for me. He was a kinda beat intellectual composer. He made up all his own instruments and I would copy them, making up instruments from pots and pans, water jugs and things I found in junkyards and shit like that... so we were very experimental at first, and we got some press we didn't expect from a college newspaper... and they only knew my name as Iggy. It came from a band I was in years before as a drummer, called the IGUANAS... and I hated that. I was like, fuck that, who wants a name like IGGY, ya know? Try getting a date in 1968 and saying "Hi, my name's IGGY." People make a face, beat you up, ya know?... [laughs] It works now. People are like, "Hey, Iggy" and all smiles... something's turned. But back then... no way. So we did that and then as soon as we started getting a little feedback we became less overtly artsy and we became more rock... and then just kinda brought the other shit in...

JS: So you were born, artistically speaking, out of one of the most radical thinking, multi-cultural, experimentally oriented and open minded times in history - the '60s - where everything was valid and explorable and all these new cultural experiments and openness going on and evolving into all these new, exciting ideas and scenes and cultural trends... and so it's interesting that in such a time you were almost too ahead of your time to find wide acceptance or success as an artist, even in all that liberal and apparently tolerant climate. It's kinda ironic that now you're finally getting acceptance and even mainstream respect today in what is probably one of the darkest, most conservative, fearful, repressive, dummed down and creatively mediocre periods in history, in terms of mainstream culture and popular tastes... what do you make of it this strange turn of events?

IGGY: I dunno, I really can't figure it out myself... maybe it's like, sometimes... if you do one line of work long enough, you start to feel like you're meeting the same people again every five years. They just have a different face and a different name tag... so it's like, "don't give me your shit cuz I've met four of you already..." And then you think, "No, wait a minute, people have really evolved. Somehow a lot of information has gotten in there, somehow tolerance has taken place..." And so, maybe the average person is perhaps more tolerant, just more receptive to what were doing... I just don't know the answer to that... I don't really think about it too much...

JS: Do you believe in God?

IGGY: I like them all... I like lotsa gods, I'm more like multi... god of the coffee cup... god of the hot chick... you know, god of all of them, there's a word for that, a little animistic... polytheistic, that's it. I guess I'm polytheistic...

JS: How bout the god of the music business today?

IGGY: The big advance in the music business today is that they're really good now about collecting the money! Much more money, much faster... and that you don't have to get too good at what you do anymore, or stay around too long now to get filthy rich. Like when I was coming up back in the '60s, the top groups like the Stones or the Who were making high art, and they did not have any fucking money... they didn't have any fucking money, they'd have to sell their rights or borrow money from some accountant to get a house or to pretend like they were rich. Whereas now you get a group like NIRVANA, the guy got so rich he couldn't stand it and killed himself, ya know? One good pressing album... and it's a pretty good album. Pretty good... not as good as what the best groups were doing thirty years earlier, not that good, but pretty good... and whoooooh... just cuz with digital and the digital age it's really easy to track and collect the money, it's much, much easier... distribution has been centralized.

JS: And the god of technology in the music business today?

IGGY: Well you see a big change in that the sampling technology has made it possible, in good ways, and not so good ways, for any thug to just say, "yeah, that was a good song in 1952 and nobody's done anything with it, so I'll just take that, put it on top of a drum beat, and sing about my life for other thugs." And then you get, as the world gets more and more divided into the haves, who have everything but a dick, and the have nots who only have dicks, then the haves will go out and buy that music to hear what it's like to have a dick. But meanwhile they don't have to actually give up their fancy house... it's TRUE, that is the attraction of that music... one day they put a witty sample on it, and another day they make it high fashion... and another day they make it socially relevant. But basically it's just, "ha ha, I got a dick" music. That's all it is, "and you don't, so pay up, I'm not your mom and dad. Fuck you"... [laughter] and that's it right there. "Fuck you, I'm not your mom and dad. I don't care. Just give me the fucking money." But what happens with all of that, the drum machine, it has this rigidity, it doesn't leave much breathing space in the music... and I don't believe that music will ever leave its acolytes to lasting improvements in their life... I also don't think it will have a lasting life span... I don't think that people twenty years from now are gonna be listening to, you know, "Fight For Your Right To Party," and saying, "god damn, yeaahhh, I wanna LIVE by that. That's great, yes I can see how backward I am..." I don't think so... I don't think so... so, that's the bad side of it.

JS: So how is it, then, now that you're back working with these older dudes after all those years working mostly with younger players? Is it a different vibe?

IGGY: Yeah, it's a totally different vibe, especially cuz the kinda people you can get when you hire are not gonna be as good as the ones when its an even Steven situation... but once you've got to the point where you've worked really hard for something, you're not gonna just walk up to any old dude and say, "hey, do you wanna share everything I've worked all my life for?"... [laughs] HELL NO. FUCK YOU, ya know? So you have people form these "super groups"... or they do what I did. They wait 'til they can get together. The guys I work with, it can be really frustrating sometimes, but... I went to high school with them... who the fuck else do I know? Ya know what I'm sayin?

You have to be fucking rich to have a rock band nowadays... I think that makes it hard for a lot of new bands to stay in it...

JS: So is it a loyalty thing? family?


JS: Beware of cheap sentimentality...

IGGY: THAT'S RIGHT... BEWARE... [laughs] cheap sentimentality...

JS: You still spend a lot of time touring and traveling around the world.

IGGY: It's not easy. You have to be fucking rich to have a rock band nowadays... I think that makes it hard for a lot of new bands to stay in it...

JS: But with computers and all that new technology, can't just anybody just bypass the whole corporate system more easily now and just put out an album?

IGGY: Yeh, well you can sure do it that way easier now... but to do the traditional instruments and shit and touring, its just cumbersome and... arghhhh, just a pain in the ass, man... [laughs]... and then you have to learn to play and sing and all that kinda shit... [more laughs] ya know?

JS: So, is rock & roll dead now with all the corporate control of an increasingly homogenized media globalization trend? Has it been castrated by the bigness of it all?

IGGY: I dunno man... rock & roll is kinda like a big, stupid, powerful ox, a great dumb beast, ya know. And anybody can get a ride. And once you're on it, I don't think the ox really cares that much who's on it... although somebody who knows how to ride good can do it better, maybe more like a motorcycle... you can hang so much on it, cuz it had a lot of vigor when it started, so it's kinda like an old person, like this really nasty old man with all these outdated old ideas, who somehow is still kinda outspoken and still making babies at 92... It's like that. It's sorta becoming this archaic form that still has enough vigor to sell FACE CREAM. Less REAL vigor probably than in the beginning... but more vigor than ever to sell face cream... it's also being reclaimed by the black people, which is fair enough, I think, since it was kinda stolen from them in the first place. So that's good, that's a hopeful sign. Cuz most of my life, most of the people I'd look at to try and be cool or get into anything cool would be the dark people. Much more than the whiteys. Not always, some whiteys can do it... like your father, he was one...

JS: Well, his big influences were mostly all black players too... speaking of that, I saw there was some of these hard core looking hip-hop guys at the show in Sao Paulo, who didn't look too down with the whole "rock festival" thing... but they really spoke well of you, like, "yeaahh, that guy Iggy, he's the real shit..." Well, the prose has been good, but I think we gotta go now...

TRIP Magzine

Interview - Tattoo Legend Jonathan Shaw Vs Rock Legend Iggy Pop