Iggy Pop: Open up and Bleed by Paul Trynka

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A review by John Kerrens

Jim Osterberg, aka. Iggy Pop, is one of the most influential and vaunted rock singers of the last half-century. Born James Newell Osterberg in Ypsilanti, Michigan – a small town located between Detroit and Ann Arbor, (a major college town and hotbed of 60’s counterculture radicalism) he formed the ‘proto-punk’ band, ‘Iggy and the Stooges’. They became massively influential on a subsequent generation of punk/grunge bands around the world.

The Detroit/Ann Arbor axis was a major incubator for contemporary rock/pop acts like ‘MC5’ (Motor City 5), Up and Destroy All Monsters, among others. The Stooges became major players in this roster and Trynka’s book steadily documents the formation, deterioration and eventual implosion of the band. This musical self-destruction was accompanied by the singer’s change of alias from “Iggy Stooge” to “Iggy Pop”.

His personal life was a melange of drug abuse, sexual licentiousness and err… drug abuse. Needless to say, his self-indulgence and hedonism takes up much of the book’s 420-odd pages. For many years, Iggy Stooge has been on the short-list of stars like Keith Richard and Lou Reed, who were expected to “check out early” due to their insupportable life-styles.

What initially amazes, though, is his idyllic middle-class upbringing. His father is described as a stern, formidable and intellectually challenging man who mostly tolerated his son’s wayward attempts to make himself a star. At school, young Jim excelled academically and was voted “boy most likely to succeed.” In later years, he would be the boy most likely to self-destruct.

Furthermore, he later studied anthropology at the University of Michigan. The fact that Iggy Stooge was academically gifted will come as a surprise to many readers who are more familiar with his dissolute lifestyle.

Rock and roll was always going to win and Iggy soon joined up with like-minded musicians; Ron Ashton (guitar), Dave Alexander (bass) and Scott Ashton, aka, ‘Rock Action’ on drums.

Called ‘Iggy & the Stooges’, the band’s first, self-titled, album and the follow-up ‘Funhouse’ are both regarded as seminal punk classics and hugely influential to a later generation of bands like the Sex Pistols and Nirvana and containing such memorable fare as ‘Down in the Street’, ‘TV Eye’ and ‘I Wanna be Your Dog’.

However, commercial success eluded them. By 1973, Iggy was more or less destitute, both financially and musically. He was scrounging drugs and freeloading off friends. Around this time he teamed up with David Bowie who was a fan and wanted to help.

James Williamson, the king of the “Buzzsaw” guitar was brought in and a new album;

“Raw Power”, contained many memorable tracks, including “Search and Destroy,” “Shake Appeal” and “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell”. The record was widely criticised for its poor production and muddy, turgid mix. Like the earlier albums, it sold poorly.

By 1974, Iggy’s personal problems had escalated and he was drifting aimlessly. A number of solo albums followed, including the great “Lust for Life” but his subsequent solo career has been erratic. Today he looks dog-eared and worn out but has certainly proved his credentials in terms of staying in power.

Trynka’s book is unusually dispassionate, analytical to a fault. He has written an academic paper when a blockbuster was called for, and manages to describe Iggy’s countless acts of outrage in a dry “disinterested” manner. Still, it’s a well-researched and written effort about one of rock’s more extreme characters.

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