PLAYBOY: These days the Stooges are revered for having created a template for punk rock. You reunited the band in 2003 and four years ago entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. When you came out of Michigan in the late 1960s, were people as enthusiastic as they are now?
POP: Oh hell no. There were times when the people in the front row were slobbering or just staring at us, mesmerized, and that was about as good as it got. Then it would go downhill. There would be an angry front row, a puzzled front row, an indifferent front row.
One show in particular was painful but hilarious in retrospect. It was when I was solo in the early 1980s, in one of my crazed periods before my last big cleanup. I was a little bored with the backup band, so I took two hits of Orange Sunshine before I hit the stage. The band started to play the first song, and as I listened to it I thought, This sounds like shit. So I said, “Stop! Stop! Try another one.” We went through everything in our repertoire, but I wasn’t satisfied with any of them, so I walked off the stage. My tour manager, Henry, grabbed me in the wings and said, “We have no money to get to the next town. Go back out there right now!” I busted a Jack Daniel’s bottle all over my bathroom that night. I was pretty upset. But you know, a year later people were saying, “I was at that show. It was the most amazing thing I ever saw!” I had periods when I would decide to tour without any front teeth, thinking, That’ll blow their minds! But I maintained a high level of craft and preparation behind the freak show. I didn’t perform bad concerts.
PLAYBOY: You’ve said the Stooges were “not once affected by total rejection and utter poverty.” It seems as if you knew it was a great band, no matter how many times people said you sucked.
POP: Yes, I did. That was what tore me up. Not only that I thought we were so much better than other bands who were having an easy time of it but that I thought—and still think, with apologies—that they’re all utter shit. [laughs] Almost all of the fucking rock business is an utter sack of dirty old filth, and should civilization fall, it will be their fault, not mine.
PLAYBOY: Which bands are utter shit? Do you want to name names?
POP: No, I can’t do that. When I sit with you, I bring the politician with me so I don’t have to go through the utter poverty and rejection again. We’re here together, the politician and I. Part of me thinks, Just tell the truth, that they’re shit, and say exactly how you feel. And I have to push that voice down sometimes.
PLAYBOY: Given the faith you had in the Stooges, do you feel vindicated now when people recognize the group’s importance?
POP: This has been the most secure and relaxed decade of my life. I see people really interested when we do shows. They’re happy—more now than even three years ago. Of course, if you play the Austin City Limits Music Festival at five in the afternoon and somebody’s mom brought them to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers, then they’ll be tweeting, “This old band is stupid! Get them off the stage!”
PLAYBOY: Who is the best live performer you’ve ever seen?
POP: James Brown is fantastic. Tina Turner was amazing at a certain point. I was lucky enough to see Nirvana twice, in tiny clubs—fewer than 200 people. The second time, Kurt Cobain said, “You’re a jinx. Every time you come to our show, we play like shit.” He called me one night, well past my bedtime, and left a message on my phone: “Let’s get together in the studio.” I called him back to be polite. I was not dying to record with him. I don’t ever want to do a Muddy Waters supersession, you know?
PLAYBOY: When you were growing up in Michigan as James Osterberg, your family lived in a trailer. Is that fact relevant to the kind of music you make?
POP: In certain ways. It was a little trailer camp out in the boonies, by U.S. Highway 23, a two-lane blacktop. It was beautiful, surrounded by a stone quarry where you could go swimming and some deep forest where there were animals, and also bean, corn and wheat fields. I always felt different because I lived in a trailer and the other kids lived in houses. I went to junior high in Ann Arbor, and my close friend there was Kenny Miller, whose dad, Arjay Miller, was running Ford Motor Company at the time. Kenny would take my workbook during class and write, “Osterberg blows dead dogs,” then give it back to me. A few of the meaner kids came out one day to visit and shook my trailer up a little. It caused a sort of anger that I keep. The strange thing was, people who didn’t know me would later say to guys in my band, “That guy’s a rich kid, right? Because he walks around like he owns the place.”
PLAYBOY: Just so there’s no lingering doubt, did you blow dead dogs?
POP: [Laughs] No, I never did. I’ve never blown anybody.
PLAYBOY: Was there any privacy when you lived with your parents in a trailer?
POP: No. Much later I realized that the big advantage of living in a trailer was that I learned to be civilized. Three people, day and night, in a 500-square-foot trailer—and that was the biggest one we ever had. Before that it was 400 square feet. My parents were very restrained people. There was no alcohol in the house. In fifth or sixth grade I got into music. If that hadn’t happened, I’d probably be a fundamentalist preacher right now, a Jimmy Swaggart. “Send your dollars to me!”
PLAYBOY: After people meet you, they often say, “Oh, he was nothing like I expected.” Do they expect a drooling, screaming zombie?
POP: Some people do. When you’re younger, you’re coming at everybody because you’ve got to show them who you are, and prove it. Later, if you get anywhere, it flips; they’re all coming at you. You get crazy people coming at you. There’s always some weirdness. The classic one is, I don’t get a limo driver; he’s a conga player. I don’t get a plumber; he’s a playwright. Long ago, during my different bachelor periods, some sexual partners didn’t understand. They’d say, “Come on, you’re Iggy Pop. Whip me! Beat me! Hurt me, hurt me.”
PLAYBOY: So what is your taste in sex?
POP: It runs dark. [laughs] I like darker tones. Skin tones and all the stuff that goes with the skin tone. But I’m not going to do a rundown. Sorry. I am more private now than I formerly was.