7 Great Iggy Pop Moments

Highlighting a career that includes involvement in gang fights, nude modeling and an honor from the French government.

Iggy Pop. Photography by Masayoshi Sukita

If there was a Mount Rushmore of rock, Iggy Pop’s face should be staring out from the center. If there is a family tree of punk, the sinewy arms of Iggy are wrapped around its roots, ever since his rise to infamy as the leader of the Stooges almost 50 years ago. But, of course, the Iguana is no dinosaur—he’s collaborated with David Bowie and Debbie Harry, but also New Order, Dangermouse, Peaches and Queens of the Stone Age, as well as being the first septuagenarian to headline Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival. In a life full of (kicked-over) milestones, here are seven that stand out.

1.  Tappan Junior High was a prestigious school outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan, attended by the spawn of cabinet secretaries and auto company presidents. In 1962, the boy declared “Most Likely to Succeed” was student body vice-president and avid golfer James Osterberg Jr., who signed a number of his classmates’ yearbooks, “From the 43rd President of the United States.” Osterberg would indeed find success and renown—as Iggy Pop.

2. If there is an origin moment—or sound—of punk rock, it may well be “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” the song (and the performance) that put Iggy and the Stooges on the map. A primal stomp accompanied by sleigh bells and masochism, it’s been played in the background of video games and haute couture fashion shows, and covered by Nirvana and Boy George.

3. In early 1974, the Stooges were heading toward their final crash and burn. Onstage in Detroit, Iggy antagonized and got pummeled by a member of a local biker gang, the Scorpions—and then went on the radio and challenged the gang to a rematch at an upcoming gig. A few days later, the Scorpions showed up at the Michigan Palace in full force—as did a rival gang recruited by the Stooges. Pelted with ice, coins, vegetables and beer cans, the Stooges took fire and fueled a vicious set, as Pop taunted the audience and basked in their hostility: “Thank you very much to the person who threw this glass bottle at my head. It nearly killed me, but you missed!” The Stooges’ last gig has been preserved as Metallic K.O., which critic Lester Bangs described as “the only rock album I know where you can actually hear hurled beer bottles breaking against guitar strings.”

4. “… Bail was only like a hundred bucks, hundred and fifty bucks. ‘Okay, boom, here’s the money, Can you let the man out?’ And 15, 20 minutes later out comes this weaving, wavering, staggering James ‘Iggy Pop’ Osterberg, wearing a dress at the Hollywood station. A full-length dress. I looked at him and said, ‘Jim, is that a woman’s dress?’ And Iggy said, ‘No, Ray, I beg to differ. This is a man’s dress.’” —One of many Iggy anecdotes, this one from The Doors’ Ray Manzarek in Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk.

5. Iggy’s best-known song is likely “Lust for Life,” the full-tilt swagger rock anthem he wrote with David Bowie. The song’s main riff was copped from the call signal for the Armed Forces Network, while much of its sex-and-junk imagery comes from William S. Burroughs’ The Ticket That Exploded. Ironically, it became the theme for a Royal Caribbean Cruises commercial, albeit with the line “liquor and drugs” replaced with “looks so fine.”

6. In 2016, the Brooklyn Museum of Art hosted an exhibition entitled Iggy Pop Life Class, which was created by artist Jeremy Deller and involved Pop serving as a nude model for several drawing sessions, resulting in over 100 works. Rock ’n’ roll may be largely about sex, drugs and broken bottles, but it’s also about an artist letting a bunch of people take naked pictures of them when they’re pushing 70. That is some “I don’t give a fuck” right there.

7. On April 24, 2017, Iggy Pop was declared a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government “for his contribution to the arts in France and throughout the world.”

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