Saturday, March 21, 2009

Music DVD Review: Iggy Pop -- Lust For Life (1986)

Now Available on DVD

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Although it's hard to argue that the music of Iggy Pop is “worth a million in prizes” as he sings in his most famous hit “Lust For Life” (which first landed on my radar following its inclusion in Danny Boyle's film Trainspotting), my first image of the man himself came from his appearance in Jim Jarmusch’s understated arty movie Coffee and Cigarettes.

In its episodic structure-- filmed over the course of nearly two decades-- Jarmusch, who has always employed musicians since his early breakout hit Stranger than Paradise, offered small groups of people (two or more) the chance to shoot the breeze over the requisite coffee and cigarettes.

In the case of Iggy Pop -- Jarmusch stuck him across the table from none other than Tom Waits. In a hilariously awkward conversation wherein Pop informs Waits that he could just call him by his birth name of Jim (as in James Newell Osterberg, Jr.), instead and continually busting his balls, Waits opts to engage in a verbal chess match that exploits both men's egos, alter-egos, and insecurities, and the result is priceless.

Yes, Iggy Pop-- the iconic and mostly shirtless “Godfather of Punk”-- who spent the earliest part of his musical career on the verge of self-destruction via drugs and onstage mutilation, seems downright casual, fully-together, and meek by comparison to Waits in the tongue-in-cheek exchange fueled by male pride and too much caffeine.

What a difference a few decades makes and this is definitely evident in thebrand-new DVD release of Iggy Pop – Lust For Life, which was originally filmed for German television in 1986 following his success with the single “Real Wild Child” and the Blah Blah Blah album.

Clocking in at roughly forty minutes and filled with candid interview footage featuring both Pop and former Stooges guitarist (the late Ron Asheton who sadly passed away this January) along with archived video and audio clips-- the disc which begins with Pop’s modern shirtless performance of the title track-- quickly segues into his own recollection of what first drew him to music.

Recalling a youth spent in Michigan fascinated by the sound of the endless electrical hum of everything around him with a life-changing breakthrough upon seeing firsthand the machine press at a local Ford Motor Plant, the young man began playing drums around his house and spent his entire high school career in the successful local group The Iguanas (from which he derived his stage name “Iggy.”)

Although he had enrolled and briefly attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor but spent most of his time avoiding class in favor of coffee and sugar which inevitably led to sleepy crashes that found him missing his coursework-- soon Pop made the decision that he'd gotten as much out of that particular town as he possibly could.

Noting that he'd are a studied all of his albums and knew his Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan records back and forth, he ventured to Chicago at the age of nineteen to investigate the blues. Being drawn to the way that Pop stated music seemed to ooze out of the players like "tree sap or honey" and digging their very loose and improvisational movement, he realized that he wanted to take everything he had learned both in Michigan and Illinois and apply it to his next act.

Punk enthusiasts know precisely what this led up to with the advent of The Stooges whose songs like “No Fun” and “I Want to Be Your Dog,” and the sheer volume that became “the spirit” of their admittedly simple tracks took the music world by storm.

Unwilling to do the safe thing and imitate the British invasion groups popular at the time, Pop and guitarist Ron Asheton (interviewed at great length) described the way they used the sounds they admired from bands like The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and others to apply it to lyrics that would fit their Midwestern surroundings.

For example, when Iggy sang “No Fun,” it was a response to what he felt life was like in his immediate surroundings and as Asheton acknowledges, the entire playing style for The Stooges was to offer every guy the opportunity to go “free form”as they would leave the stage with their hands swollen and bloody with roadies allowing the amplifiers to continue to sound that signature electrical hum for a few minutes following their walk off the stage.

Joking that the sound was so loud that it almost physically assaulted the audience so that they couldn't even leave and were stuck by the veracity of the “raw power,” soon their antics became much more infamous following their addiction to hard drugs. Like most sad tales of rock 'n roll and fame-- when drugs entered the equation, instead of the creativity the artists were hoping to draw from tripping, expensive instruments were being sold to support a habit that costs them several hundreds of dollars a day.

Eventually, The Stooges broke up and while there are varying stories as to precisely what led to this decision, unfortunately the DVD’s narration is completely spoken in an entirely different language. While initially it sounded as though it could be Dutch, later it morphs into a dialect that seems decidedly German but I’m unable to offer any accurate criteria on the languages involved since they aren't listed on the DVD or press release.

Luckily, the narrative sequences are brief and the disc is easy to follow given the emphasis on English-language interviews with Pop and Asheton as well as vintage footage of his now extremely famous speech on the Canadian talk show wherein he addresses what punk rock means to him. Additionally, it offers some incredible insight into his friendship and later professional partnership with David Bowie whom Iggy Pop admirably describes as the hardest working person he'd ever seen in his life as Bowie spent a virtually sleepless existence performing, studying, and appreciating music.

When you couple this with great footage of Pop performances (including a vintage tape featuring The Sex Pistols’ still infectious “Anarchy in the U.K.”), the disc is well worth exploring even if you cannot understand the brief foreign narration. Although it was released in February of this year, ironically just a month after Asheton died, it furthermore helps renew interest into the ultra-talented Pop himself who is set to become the subject of an upcoming and approved biopic called The Passenger (after another one of his hits), which is in development and set to star Elijah Wood. Another great and rare release, this all-region (or “region free” or “Region 0”) compatible DVD also features a color insert with a short biography of Pop’s professional career.