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How Iggy Pop's 'The Idiot' turned his career around

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. 

Bowie, likewise, was on the brink of total collapse. He had entered the phase of The Thin White Duke, developed a fascination with fascism, and an even greater nose-acquainting fascination with piles of cocaine. He believed his swimming pool was possessed by the Devil, and he delved deep into the world of witchcraft. It says a lot about Iggy Pop’s state at the time that he was actually the one who was officially institutionalised. 

The pair sought solace in creativity and journeyed away from the gaudy cocaine glow of America into the safe heroin haven of war-torn Berlin. It was a move that resulted in an artistic rebirth for both of them. For Iggy, in particular, it catapulted him from the fading doldrums of the ill-fated nearly-forgotten to the celestial realm of Rock ‘n’ Roll icon. The Idiot was the record that shot him there. 

Iggy Pop had accompanied Bowie on the extensive Isolar 1976 tour in support of the Station To Station. Following the tour, in July 1976, 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. 

Over a tape-loop of industrial noise, the landscape of The Idiot was crafted by two of the greatest musical architects ever. It was this gritty, urbanise, creative expanse that resurged Pop’s artistry, as he once told Bowie, “I admired the beauty of the American industrial culture that was rotting away where I grew up.” This notion of recapturing youth became the lifeblood of the record, much in the same way the Stooges’ visceral energy is built on youth’s passion. This upsurge led to a slew of songs, which were later taken back to Berlin to be polished up at the legendry Hansa Studio’s where Tony Visconti would assist with the final mixes. 

At this stage, it might be expected that I eulogise the brilliance of the record and betray opinions about ‘Nightclubbing’ featuring the greatest production and drum-sound in music. However, its legacy stretches beyond the sumptuous strength of the record. It is no exaggeration to save that it saved Iggy’s creatively, and it may have even saved his life full stop. 

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.

Ultimately both artists now reside rightfully amongst the greats, but without The Idiot, it would have been very different.