Iggy Pop has been called many things in his life, and we’re sure not all of them he would repeat in formal company though he probably enjoyed them privately. When you spend the majority of your time in the public eye either profusely sweating, bleeding or a mixture of both, you’re bound to have a label or two thrown upon you. But one that has always stuck around is the Iggy Pop labelled as the Godfather of punk.
It’s one we’d subscribe to. The singer made his name with The Stooges by not only recording a set of powerful heavy rock tunes, thus giving way to the purist noodling of before. But giving visceral physical performances on stage, seemingly unhinged and unbridled by any ideal of normality. It was a way of life that undoubtedly influenced those around him who would form the punk scene on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s also the moves which saw him become a legendary performer and the daddy of the most despicable rock genre there is.
With The Stooges, Iggy Pop had become a driving force of the New York scene, the same set of venues and faces which would eventually bear the fruits of punk’s earliest beginnings. With many citing acts such as The Stooges, The Dead Boys, and the New York Dolls as the foundational and immovable stones of the genre, Pop’s impression on punk rock is undeniable, despite his early rejections of the notion.
In 1977, the world was alight with the term “punk” and what started out as a derogatory word used by the press was now being touted by every TV personality going in an attempt to increase controversy and viewership, while appearing ‘down with the kids’. When Iggy Pop and David Bowie joined CBC to talk about their upcoming tour, Peter Gzowski simply asked “Tell me about punk rock” before Iggy responded, rolling his eyes metaphorically if not physically.
“Punk rock is a word used by dilettantes,” he pauses as the audience, clearly not used to the word, snigger, “…and heartless manipulators, about music that takes up the energies, and the bodies, and the hearts and the souls and the time and the minds, of young men, who give what they have to it, and give everything they have to it.”
“And it’s a — it’s a term that’s based on contempt; it’s a term that’s based on fashion, style, elitism, satanism, and, everything that’s rotten about rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t know Johnny Rotten, but I’m sure, I’m sure he puts as much blood and sweat into what he does as Sigmund Freud did.”
It was a technique that was seemingly being employed across the globe too as this interview from Dutch TV shows. The interviewer poses a slightly different question asking, “They call you the Godfather of punk, can you explain why?”. Again Pop takes a drag of his cigarette and composes himself before answering with conviction, intelligence and a searing intensity that would scare most small demons.
“Probably because the word ‘punk’ it was born in newspapers and third rate magazines,” smirks the Stooges singer. “At the time, I was the first guy they called a punk.” Things then get a little more difficult to comprehend, “They used that term for me to represent the idea of someone who wants to do something very strong and very uncompromising, that believes in or has a vision of very badly, but at the same time he’s the kind of person who doesn’t have the skills or ability to do it. So, many funny things happen, and that’s a punk.”
It’s not the average definition of punk and not one you’ll likely see penned down anywhere recently, but taken in the context of 1977 with Iggy Pop seemingly unable to shake this continuous question, the singer seems clearly perturbed by the label. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that perhaps he feels not only mislabeled but undervalued for what he believes isn’t just a fad or trend but his art.
“It comes from films in the thirties actually, like in Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart, there’s a very little guy who works for the bad guy and he carries three or four guns all the time but he’s too stupid to ever shoot anyone with them. So that’s what it means, I guess?”
The interview continues to describe Iggy Pop at the height of his powers not only providing excellent studio albums like Lust for Life and The Idiot but delivering showstopping performances. While Iggy may not have been totally convinced on why his moniker was so resolutely given to him in 1977, sure looking back in 2020 it’s hard to see anyone else take the title of the Godfather of punk.