Iggy Pop is one of those names that seems to have been around forever. I can’t remember when I first heard of him, but I do remember knowing who he was in 1977 when people were excited by the fact that David Bowie was playing keyboards in the band that he was touring with.
Part of his renown came from the infamy associated with the rumours of him cutting himself on stage with glass or that he vomited on stage, but the other part was that he had been performing punk rock before punk rock even existed. However, for all that, I actually knew very little about the man or his history.
The documentary film Iggy Pop: Lust For Life was shot in 1986 when Iggy showed up on the charts again with a song of the same name. It features interviews with both Iggy and the Stooges’ lead guitar player, the late Ron Asheton, concert footage from 1986, and archival footage of the Stooges dating back to their early days in Ann Arbor, Michigan playing on campus at the University of Michigan.
Released by MVD Entertainment Group on DVD for what might be the first time, the 45-minute film gives those who don’t much about the man and the band (aside from the name and the reputation) not only a substantial amount of information about them, but also a sampling of their musical career to that point.
The first surprise is finding out that Iggy and the Stooges formed in 1969 and were playing the two to three chord punk sounds that became the hallmark of bands like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. Interestingly enough, Iggy says in an interview that one of his earliest influences was the electric blues of Chicago.
He talks of a trip he made to that city in the mid 1960’s and how the music blew him away with its honesty and rawness. In the same interview he said that as a little white guy he couldn’t very well do what they were doing, but it did inspire him to try and find his own way of being that honest in his expression.
One of the funniest pieces of archival footage that makes up part of the film is an outtake from an interview Iggy did on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) back in 1977 with a very uncomfortable looking Peter Gzowski on one of Canada’s earliest late night talk show, 90 Minutes Live.
At one point Gzowski asked about punk rock, and Iggy responded by saying that only dilettantes referred to it as punk rock because punk was a derogatory term. When Gzowski pressed him about the rumours of him having vomited during a show, he calmly replied that it only happened once when he wasn’t feeling well. As he knew he was going to be sick, he said, he decided to try and make it as artistic as possible – and proceeded to jump and demonstrate how you can be physically sick artistically. (Minus the puke.)
Watching him during that interview it was hard not to believe he had a serious drug habit. There was just something about the way he handled himself and his speech patterns that led one to believe he had to be using something.
In the interviews with Ron Asheton, who sadly died on January 9th, 2009 after the Stooges had only recently reunited, he not only talks about the early days of playing together, but the fact that it was heroin use that caused the band to break up for the first time back in the 1970’s. He doesn’t mention anybody’s name specifically, but it was pretty obvious he was talking about Iggy.
These interviews were shot in 1986 when Iggy was having some commercial success with his release Blah Blah Blah and the song “Real Wild Child”, but he wasn’t playing with Ron or any of the other original members of the Stooges. While the interview with Iggy takes place on a rooftop in New York City, and has the feel of a “rock star” interview, the one with Ron takes place back in Ann Arbor, and has him leading the crew around to visit all the old sites where the band used to rehearse, gig, and sell drugs.
He doesn’t look very much like a rock star anymore as he stands in the basement of his parent’s home where he and the guys used to rehearse back in the late 1960’s, and where he came up with the guitar sound that was their distinguishing signature.
While the interviews with both Iggy and Ron are informative and fun, as Iggy is a fascinating man, and Ron has no compunctions about being completely honest about how he feels when it comes to the band’s demise and his current (1986) relationship with Iggy, other parts of the movie are a little bit disconcerting.
While all the interviews are conducted in English, the voice over narration is in German; and there are no subtitles provided to tell you what’s being said. While some of it is fairly easy to guess at (introductions to songs aren’t that much different whether they’re done in English or German), there are other times when it would be nice to know what the heck the narrator is talking about.
I also understand that while it makes sense to talk about which groups and musicians influenced the Stooges, and who they in turn influenced, it seemed sort of silly to play a full song, “Anarchy” by the Sex Pistols, and a fair bit of music by Jimi Hendrix (according to Ron one of the band’s biggest early influences) instead of filling that space with music by the Stooges.
As for the concert footage of Iggy and The Stooges, the pieces taken from Iggy’s 1986 tour were of reasonable quality, but most of the other clips — including the previously mentioned interview with Peter Gzowski — are not that good. Either the sound is full of static or the picture is poor. It’s sort of neat to see grainy black and white footage of the Stooges playing an early concert in Ann Arbor, but the quality is so poor that you can’t even make out what songs the band are playing.
Iggy Pop is one of the seminal figures in American popular music. His music laid the groundwork for many of the punk and garage rock bands that became prominent in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Iggy Pop: Lust For Life does a good job of providing us with a portrait of the man and the early history of the band, but there really aren’t enough examples of their music to back up the facts.
There are no special features to augment the movie, and even though the sound is Dolby digital, it doesn’t do much for clips where the music can’t be discerned in the first place. The movie is a good introduction to the man and his band, but leaves you wanting more. At 45 minutes it can only scratch the surface of what has to be a far more involved history than the one depicted here.