It's been almost four decades since Iggy Pop, born James Newell Osterberg Jr. in Muskegon, Michigan, forever sullied rock and roll with the release of the self-titled debut album from the Stooges. Over the years his status as the torso-cutting, peanut-butter-smearing, dick-waving godfather of punk rock has taken on an almost mythological sheen, and his influence on generations of musicians — both with the Stooges and as a solo artist — is immeasurable. One among those mesmerized multitudes was a young Michael "Duff" McKagan, who fell under Pop's spell as a teenager growing up in Seattle in the 1970s. "He can make you feel fucking unmusical and sexually inept, all in one gig," says McKagan of the man whose raw power and, judging from its numerous documented appearances both onstage and off, genitalia size, can hardly be overstated.
Not that Duff has reason to be intimidated by the subject of his journalistic debut. He and Pop have known one another for almost 20 years, since the day when Iggy invited the bassist and his Guns N' Roses bandmate Slash to assist in the writing and recording of the album that would serve to resurrect (yet again) Pop's career, 1990's Brick by Brick. "That was a great experience," says McKagan. "Playing with Iggy pulled me back in for a while and reminded me of what I love about music." Duff and Slash, for their part, pulled Pop "back in" as well. In between cutting songs like "Butt Town" and "Pussy Power," the musicians solidified their relationship with trips to the Rainbow Bar & Grill in West Hollywood and the bathroom in the recording studio. "I was very reformed by then," says Pop with a laugh, "but those guys were certainly not."
"Iggy and I do have a history," says McKagan. "But when I got the call to do this interview I jumped on it, because there's so many things I still want to ask him." He pauses. "That said, I may just kind of come off as one of those guys who keeps saying, 'Hey, remember that time when…'"
In reality, the resulting conversation plays out quite differently, as Duff and Iggy chat for almost an hour about a range of subjects, from rock and roll to salad bowls to their shared interest in Portuguese explorers.
"You know," offers Pop, "people say Magellan brought syphilis here, because all his sailors were fucking sheep in the South Seas. Now, I don't know about that, but it sounds pretty good."
McKagan concurs. "That's probably true. Those guys would fuck anything they could get their hands on!"
On that note, let's get started.
IGGY POP Hey man! How are things?
DUFF McKAGAN Well, we had to fire our singer recently…
POP Oh shit, I know. I didn't want to bring it up! I was just thinking, Yeah, I wonder if I'll mention that…
McKAGAN It was a tough year. I mean, it was a good year for the band — we had the album, we had the tour. But on the other side of the curtain there was a whole bunch of stuff going on.
POP It's a weird thing, eh? But eventually you'll find what you're looking for. But don't ask me what that is, because it's different for everybody. And I hate old, farty assholes that give people advice!
McKAGAN Speaking of singers, back when I was around 11 or 12 — this was probably 1976 or so — I watched something on TV about the Stooges, and about a week later I had a dream where I was you.
POP No shit!
McKAGAN Yeah! I was you in the Stooges, and we were playing in the basement of a church, the one I attending growing up. I still remember that dream vividly. And whenever I doubt what I'm doing, or there's a lot of jive and bullshit going on around me, I think of that dream and go, OK, that's what it's all about.
POP So you felt all right about it? It was a nice dream?
McKAGAN It was pure. It was unadulterated, fucking 12-year-old rock-and-roll fantasy.
POP Well, I don't know if you know this or not, but the Stooges used to play regularly in church basements when we were starting out; we would open for the MC5. The Unitarians would have us a lot. I don't know much about Unitarians except that they're pretty liberal, and we used to pull weird shit down there. I guess the Unitarians wanted to rock! And come to think of it, I was just reading this thing on the Pope, about how the former head of security for the Grateful Dead was hired to help put on this youth rally for him. Churches want to reach out, you know?
McKAGAN So do the nuns. The first time I ever got with a girl, I got the clap. I was about 13 and she was 18, some punk-rock chick. Three days later I'm at the free clinic, and it's all nuns. And one of them stuck a Q-tip right in my dick! I'll never forget that.
POP How could you?
McKAGAN You know, one of the first 45s I ever bought was the Stooges' "I Got a Right." Probably one of my favorite singles, ever.
POP The thing with that song was, I got to a point when I hit my 20s where I didn't believe that the normal rights, like those in the Constitution, were working for me. So I wrote my own song to declare my right to do the things I needed to do. Because I thought, Well, that's what they did with the government, maybe this will work for me. And over the years I've gained a particular affection for the song. As the writer I would get these quarterly intellectual property publishing statements, and the "I Got a Right" single would consistently earn one penny. One penny! So I started to feel like it was a friend, like a panhandler that I knew in my neighborhood.
McKAGAN When did you record that?
POP That was 1972. The Stooges were sort of shedding our skin at that time. We were trying to get a step above Fun House, but weren't quite where we would eventually be with Raw Power. It was intermediate. Sort of like you guys with GN'R Lies. There was some strong stuff on there, but it wasn't formal enough to be the next big release. But it had the fire.
McKAGAN And the B-side to that single was "Gimme Some Skin." What a song that was!
POP That's always been kind of a lost song, because it was never on an album. So when I did one of those repackage things a few years ago [the 2005 Iggy Pop anthology, A Million in Prizes], I put it on there so it would see some light. It's a really cool, fast song with a totally depraved lyric, and then when it gets to the time for the guitar break, we just didn't bother. [Laughs] There's no guitar lead! The band just plays the riff over and over a lot of times and nothing happens. [Pauses, then sings] Typhoid Mary, she's got soul/Sucks all night on an old asshole…
McKAGAN [Sings] Whip it on out, whip it on in/Come on, come on, honey gotta gimme some skin!
POP Cool! You know it! Yes!
McKAGAN I think the first time I saw you live was at the Showbox Theater in Seattle, in maybe late '79 or early '80. It was one of those gigs where the whole thing was magical. I was coming off mushrooms, and the show was part of my trip. You had [former Damned guitarist] Brian James in the band.
POP Oh shit, yeah. That was a pretty good group. Glen Matlock [ex–Sex Pistols] was on bass, and I had this German drummer, Klaus Kruger. During World War II, Klaus' dad walked from Berlin to Moscow and back with a machine gun. He did it on foot! Klaus was a good drummer. He made his own kit.
McKAGAN It caught on fire at the end of that gig.
POP I remember!
McKAGAN You came back onstage and tried to put it out. Nobody was panicking or anything. But you just walked up with… I think you had a salad bowl. And, I dunno, it may have been filled with water, or maybe you just thought the salad would put it out…
POP A salad bowl? Huh. I wonder if that was my German helmet. I had this old German helmet I used to wear around that time. But I like the salad bowl. That's good! You know, I remember probably the first time I saw Guns N' Roses. It was at the Felt Forum, in New York. I've had about 10 or 12 times where I've gone to a rock show where it's what it should be, and does to you everything it's supposed to do. There was the Stones in '69, there was you guys at the Felt Forum, and, actually, another one for me was a Hole concert in the '90s, although it got there just barely, and in a really cheap way. [Laughs] The best part about your show that night was that you made a really good entrance. Everybody in the band seemed vaguely confused and uncoordinated with one another, like you had just sort of bumped into each other on the street. It was an anti-entrance! That was very good. I thought, Oh shit, I haven't seen this before. But then the music was real strong, and you didn't oversell it. The songwriting had enough craftsmanship so that the listener was regularly surprised and taken aback, and also lifted by the music. And the riffs had a lot of power but they didn't hit you over the head. It wasn't like you were being clubbed into submission by some digitally enhanced power drill. It rolled as much as it rocked. And I always liked that drummer of yours, Steven Adler.
McKAGAN He was great, right?
POP When he was good, he was very good. You guys had this thing where the music washed over you as if you'd dropped acid or something. Something like the way light plays on rippling water.
McKAGAN I always wondered: How did it come about that you got me and Slash to play on Brick by Brick?
POP You know, that's a good question. I can't remember! Did I meet one of you guys somewhere?
McKAGAN Maybe. That was a fuzzy time. We were hanging with your son in Hollywood in those days…
POP That could have been it. It could have been through my son, Eric. One thing I do remember is that when you guys came down to the studio for the first time the engineer got real nervous. We were doing the song "Home," and after a few takes you guys went to the bathroom and he pulled me aside and said, "Listen man, you gotta get that guy to take off his chains, because they're coming through on the track." And he was talking about you! And I said, "No, that's really cool. That's what this track needs, some authentic Hollywood-asshole-brat-rock-guy-street-Coconut-Teaser chains, you know?"
McKAGAN I remember Slash and I went to the bathroom together quite a bit…
POP Yeah, and I would kinda follow you guys and say, "Hey, can I join?" [Laughs] But because I was older I would come only every four or five trips!
McKAGAN At that point we had just started working on the Use Your Illusion records, and things had really blown up for us. I had never experienced that kind of big buffoonery at all, and then I was right in the middle of it. I was trying to keep touch with what was real. And getting your demos for those Brick by Brick songs was like, This is the fucking real thing. This is what it's about.
POP You know, one of the tunes we did together, that "Butt Town" song, was used in an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And that thing is still kicking around the world. It showed in, like, Poland last summer. "Butt Town" on The Fresh Prince. I still get a kick out of that!
McKAGAN One other thing I'm curious about: I know that you're something of a history buff. I'm an avid reader of history, as well. I tend to be interested more in the past 500 years or so.
POP I'm into the real old stuff. I just got some writings by this guy Herodotus. He's one of the Greeks, and apparently he's considered the father of history. And I've got a copy here of the other fucking Greek guy that everyone's … Homer! The Iliad — that's some tough shit right there. Lots of gore, kinda like the WWE or something. I've also been reading this guy Allan Bloom. He had a bad reputation; he was considered pretty right wing. But he wrote a book called The Closing of the American Mind that's interesting, even if I don't agree with everything he had to say. In it he talks about how America's getting dumber and dumber. I mean, I agree, but it doesn't worry me. And there's also a real good chapter on music. He says guys like you and me are basically destructive apes. He has a point!
McKAGAN What else have you been reading?
POP Well one of my favorite guys is the Marquis de Sade. After the French Revolution he wrote something called Philosophy in the Bedroom that's really strong and direct. It's like hearing a really evil-sounding rock band, because he just says — and he's talking to the church — "This is Bullshit! I don't wanna do that, I wanna do this!" And he rattles off what's pretty much the rock-and-roll list. He also has this novel, Justine, about a beautiful young girl who's imprisoned by evil, perverted Monks. And every time you think things can't get worse for her, they always do! At some point you just have to start laughing.