In Mikhail Bulgakov’s utterly masterful novel The Master and Margarita, he pays homage to another Russian literary great with the following passage: “’You’re not Dostoyevsky,’ said the citizeness, who was getting muddled by Koroviev. ‘Well who knows, who knows,’ he replied. ‘Dostoyevsky’s dead,’ said the citizeness, but somehow not very confidently. ‘I protest!’ Behemoth exclaimed hotly. ‘Dostoyevsky is immortal!’”
It is undoubtedly true that Dostoyevsky lives on, a whiff of him emanates from almost every page of literature following his passing. As such he has escaped the pages of history, influencing things as wide-ranging as Taxi Driver to Steve Martin’s magnificent comedy The Jerk. In a strange sort of way, it could be argued that Iggy Pop’s wild and crazy ways coupled with acerbic artistry stand somewhere between those two features. As it happens, the former Stooges man was also heavily inspired by Dostoyevsky himself.
The annals of music history are a mind-bending thing to study. There was a point when the musical luminaries of Iggy Pop, David Bowie and Lou Reed were on the brink of destitution. Now, however, it is incredulous to envisage them as anything other than the Gods they are rightfully heralded as.
The Stooges may well be a band who changed the course of music, but they scarcely altered the course of Iggy’s life. Having broken up in disarray following 1973’s now-iconic Raw Power, Iggy’s life post-Stooges was docked in the tempestuous bay of bewilderment, booze and substance abuse. Through a caustic combination of excesses and artistic exile, Iggy wound up in a Californian mental institution.
When he eventually sought sobriety with David Bowie in Berlin, it became a make-or-break moment for him musically. Following the Station to Station tour of 1976, in July, Bowie and Pop took up residence in the legendry studio Château d’Hérouville. The pair had wrestled their way back from the brink to some sort of normality and now set about crafting the tunes which would feature on The Idiot. Along with bassist Laurent Thibault and drummer Michel Santangeli, the four seminal musicians traversed through the hectic turmoil of creative uncertainty in the studio to embellish Bowie’s bare-bones demos into gilded final cuts.
The Idiot charted at 72 in the US; it broke the top 30 in the UK and was a hit in Berlin and beyond. The title of the record is taken from the Fydor Dostoyevsky novel of the same name, and as if it was woven into place by some mystic figures of fate, Pop and Dostoyevsky traversed a very similar path. The two artists shared issues with excesses, greatness, threats of the gulag or institutions, brushes with being forgotten and a way of capturing life with veracity but eviscerating all the banal burdens that realism can sometimes entail.
If Iggy Pop wanted to capture the idea of laughing in the face of adversity, while looking it square in the eyes, then he had chosen the right literary hero to do so. However, it was his pal and producer David Bowie who suggested the title and after Pop thought that it might simply sound insulting, he soon came around to the idea of the literary depth behind it providing a great irony to the remark.