'I'm the old git with the chick, the Roller and the rock band'

From his trailer-trash childhood to life in Miami, Iggy Pop has come a long way since The Stooges blasted the Sixties with their raw sound and notorious on-stage antics. He just wants to make one more album before he hits 60

Iggy Pop lives in Miami these days, which seems all wrong, until his PA picks you up from chic South Beach and drives you over the bridge, away from the roller-bladers, the hip-hoppers, the glittering sea - to ramshackle Little Haiti, and Iggy's place.

We pull up at the end of a cul-de-sac outside a modest bungalow. Modest, except for the soft-top Rolls Royce Corniche nestled under the car port. Iggy is out back, at the bottom of his small garden, sitting by the river in shorts, shirt and flip-flop, singular.

He looks amazing, as he always has done. Whippet body burnt to leathery teak, hair blonde and straggly, face like a cartoon: boggle eyes, sunken cheeks, turned up nose, shark grin. A red Indian sun bunny, or, yes, an iguana (in a wig). 'Well, hey!' says Iggy, enthusiastically. 'Come on and look at my river! Isn't it beautiful?'

Actually, no: it's brown and sludgy, and on the bank opposite is a rotten old shack and an industrial plant. Still, Iggy seems to like it. He doesn't swim here (no one would), but he sits and looks and thinks, and he works in the house. Iggy, born James Osterberg on 21 April 1947, is now 57 and still not retired; he has brought out no fewer than seven LPs over the past 15 years, the last reuniting him with his original band, The Stooges, alongside more contemporary names such as Green Day and Peaches. This as well as acting in a clutch of films, including Cry Baby, Tank Girl, Dead Man and The Crow II. Plus Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes , released this week.

First, though, Iggy takes me on a tour. His place is small but stuffed: Haitian love goddesses battle it out with Mexican madonnas on Italian marble tops and Chinese antique dressers, which cuddle up to cow-skinned chairs, curly mirrors, a cartoon of the serial killer Carl Panzram, a 'cut-up' work by a contemporary of William Burroughs, Brion Gysin. There's an Iggy painting of a Stooges gig on one wall; a Shirelles CD sits like a single on the old record player. The house is dark, except for the kitchen. It's hot and sticky outside; Iggy's place feels voodoo, swampy, Southern.

Iggy himself, though, is sunniness personified. What a gent he is: friendly to the point of goofiness, always laughing. This is only shocking if you know his history. On stage: receiving blow-jobs, spiking heroin, brawling with Hell's Angels, rolling around on broken glass, giving his (impressive) dick a regular airing, throwing himself into the crowd, crashing to the floor, losing himself and taking the audience with him like no other rock performer ever has. Offstage: similar. The unstoppable, original Jean Genie. Today, Iggy's booming voice and Come ahn! speech cadences make me think of a motivating corporate speaker. It's just that, instead of 'Believe in yourself! It's all in you!', he's saying: 'With the Stooges' first albums people said, "A monkey could have written that! My five-year-old could have played that!" And now they call 'em classic albums and I'm like, FUUUUCK! Fuuuck yooou!' Which is the same thing, really.

Iggy's upbeat nature underpins his part in Coffee and Cigarettes. The film is made up of several short ones joined together, each based around two famous participants meeting up for a fag, a brew and a natter. The result is uneven, to say the least. Tough it out, though, for Cate Blanchett's section (she plays both parts), for Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan, the Wu Tang Clan's GZA and RZA plus waiter Bill Murray, and Iggy and Tom Waits.

Their bit was filmed in 1992 - I saw it as a short with another Jim Jarmusch movie ages ago - but Iggy remembers it clearly. Jarmusch tagged the film on to the end of a Tom Waits pop video shoot; writing the script himself and giving it to Iggy and Tom the night before the filming. 'Neither of us were thrilled about the content,' grins Iggy. 'Tom walked in, threw the script on the table and said, 'Hey Jim, why don't you circle the laughs here because I don't see any.' And I was grumping over the whole thing about my name (Iggy offers Tom various options: Call me Jim, Iggy, Ig, Jim), you know, I'm in a scene with Tom Waits, who I look up to, and the stage direction is, Tom will be late, Tom will be surly ... '

The very funny scene plays on Tom's awkward git nature and Iggy's desire to please: 'I thought to myself, well Jim's seen something about me. He'd spent time with us both, had a look and went from there. It's just a more thorough version of what all directors do before they cast. They're like, well, she didn't look fuckable, or he looked like a smart guy, or a guy the average American will follow into battle ...' What Jarmusch saw is what you see when you meet Iggy: a sweet guy vulnerable to criticism.

He has seen the film once. He likes the bits where 'I totally forgot to act'; it was the first time in his acting career that he'd dropped his armour and got it right. 'It takes time. It's hard for an old git to learn anything new and the only way you do it is the same way you did it when you were 18. Jump into something where you are painfully inept.'

The painful ineptness of The Stooges was a major part of their appeal. They formed in Detroit in the late Sixties, when counter-culture wafted and wore beads; they played raw, heart attack sounds to panic the hippies. Iggy and The Stooges' amateurish industrial discord was genuinely ahead of its time, and it came with other talents: the look, the energy, the ideas, a whole charged being that emerged from their outrageous live performances, from what the journalist Lester Bangs called their 'illiterate chaos'. Ask Iggy, though, and he just says: 'We were interesting and we were cheap. That's pretty much how I've been getting my gigs ever since. Not much has changed - maybe the price is a little less cheap, maybe I'm a little less interesting, but still, that's the basic idea, ha-ha!'

Neither The Stooges, nor Iggy solo ever had a proper hit single, except for 1986's 'Real Wild Child'. Still, 'I Wanna Be Your Dog ' (1969), 'The Passenger' (a B side, unbelievably) and 'Lust For Life' are proper pop classics. The latter two we owe to David Bowie, who in the mid-Seventies dragged a burnt-out Iggy from an LA psychiatric ward (Iggy scored coke off him whilst in there) and took him to Berlin. There Bowie produced and Iggy performed two era-defining albums in a single year (1977): Lust For Life and The Idiot . Iggy was by no means a Bowie creation, though: they fed from one another, with the cannier Bowie taking Iggy's outrageous style and parlaying it later into Ziggy Stardust. Perhaps in recompense, in 1982, Bowie covered Iggy's 'China Girl', which earnt Iggy hundreds of thousands. Then, in 1996, Trainspotting 's soundtrack introduced him to a new generation; but it is only recently, mostly through licensing his tracks to adverts, that Iggy has made any money at all.

This is partly because he was never that interested. Too busy. Iggy's younger years were consumed by consumption - of drink, women, violence, crime, music, experience. And a huge amount of drugs, including those which we think of as modern: 'I had ecstasy when it was called MDA and MDMA. I was homeless, penniless, clothes-less, in poor health, knocking up some crazy woman, wandering round for three and four days ... extremely happy! I had crack when it was called rock cocaine, I had the forerunners of Xanax, I had pretty much anything.' But it was heroin which crocked Iggy - as it does: 'It flips on you pretty quickly.' Why so many drugs? 'Not to boost my confidence about making music: to shut out the negative voices. You don't have next week's rent. Thirty-seven people in important positions think you're no fucking good. You are going to be slammed in your next interview.'

Even now, when his only vices are coffee and wine, Iggy says his work is fuelled by 'what Dali characterised as the paranoid critical method': he is always worrying, trying to push his talent to better things. At the moment he is obsessed with making another LP; he tells me he wants to complete the circle - record, release and tour a final Iggy and The Stooges album before he is 60, when he'll retire. That's why he is spending so much time in this house, even though he's actually got a more conventional South Beach pad, where his girlfriend lives with their three dogs, two cats and a bird. Over there is where he eats and sleeps, over here is where 'I wrestle with some matter of grave importance to the future of art, ha-ha, sitting quietly with bombs going off in my head'.

In a city of show-stopping women, Iggy's girlfriend, Nina, could get a man arrested: a green-eyed, half-Nigerian, half-Irish amazon, who gave up air hostessing to take care of him. They have been together five years. Her looks really tickle Iggy: 'I'm the old git with the chick with the bam-BOW, the Roller convertible, the little old rock band ... the kinds of happiness that eluded me at 14 are mine now!'

Iggy grew up an only child in a rural trailer park in Ann Arbor, Michegan. His dad, Newell, was a teacher, his mum Louella, who died in 1996, a secretary. Iggy looks just like his dad. A clever boy surrounded by kids who were less well-educated - 'economically and socially I was in a funny spot' - Iggy never fitted in. When he went to a posh junior high and was put into a class with kids whose parents were architects, lawyers, ran technical companies, Iggy freaked. Plus, as he points out, 'most kids with successful parents are indulged and given freedom. I was not'; Mr Osterberg, an ex-military man, was a very strict disciplinarian. It wasn't until Iggy played drums in a talent show that he began to enjoy himself; when he finally left school, he lasted one term at university before rebelling utterly and forming The Stooges. At first sight, he seems to have spent the rest of his years in total rejection of his childhood, to the extent of taking his only son, Eric, born when Iggy was in his early twenties, out with him to clubs and gigs when Eric was barely in his teens. (Eric himself ended up with addiction problems, and the two have had 'a rocky few years', says Iggy; he has not met his baby granddaughter as yet). However, Iggy is close to his own dad, and I suspect that Newell's discipline has stood him in good stead. He is still work-driven, still studious.

There are a lot of books in his house. 'Though I'm not sure I bring my intelligence to bear on my music. I know some clever people in this business that make successful music, but they're not my favourites. I think, OK, but that's just clever, you know?' Cleverness is not enough for Iggy; he's too smart for that. Which makes me wonder which way he's going to vote in the US elections. He has only voted once before, and he was forced into that. Virgin records, who had just given him a record deal, were promoting Rock the Vote, and he made a few ads for them. A journalist spotted that Iggy wasn't even registered to vote, so he did, and voted Clinton - 'even though I knew he was a crook'. He is registered this time, but won't say directly who he's going to vote for; it sounds as though he's a natural Kerry sympathiser, but is disappointed. 'I wish Kerry would just come out and say, 'You know what, if I'm President, I'll just get us the fuck out of Iraq'. Something positive. But he won't. And people see Bush like they see a class bully: I don't really like this guy, but it's impressive how he throws his weight around.' And of course, this is Florida. Election results aren't exactly reliable.

'No. The way Bush talks, I think he could use the same rhetoric that he used to justify an illegal intervention, to stop losing an election. You know: "OK, we made a mistake in the voting process, but the country really needs us to save it."' Why do you think everyone loves you, Iggy? 'I dunno. They say I'm not a sell-out, but maybe I just wasn't sold to the people who don't think I sold out. Dudes come up to me, totally harnessed-in dudes, you know the type, and say, 'Hey, I like your stuff', and they walk away and I think, you ain't got a mother-fucking album!' And he laughs his manic laugh, smart, sweet, free-thinking, hard-working, caring but not caring, tough but vulnerable. The world needs Iggy Pop to save it, not stupid politicians. I think we can persuade him to carry on. Let's all buy his next record, and keep him around. Who'd want an Ig-free world?


Miranda Sawyer

The GuardianTramp

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