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Music

How a Jim Morrison poem inspired the Iggy Pop anthem ‘The Passenger’

@TomTaylorFO

“Old ‘Frisco with end of land sadness,” Jack Kerouac regales in his sermon on 1950s California, “Nobody knew or far from cared who I was all my life, 3500 miles from birth all opened up and at last belonged to me in great America.” In the sweeping rush of the American boom, he saw both the beauty and the lamentable elements of people getting busy, people getting by, and people getting left behind in the great concrete sprawl, “with not even enough time to be disdainful,” he croons in the opening piece of his own jazz-poetry album.

Some years later Jim Morrison would be inspired to pick up that mantle and release his own epic unspooling poem seizing the final frontier in every guise. The essence of On The Road had become an obsession for Morrison—capturing life on the wing, juicing it right down to the pith in search of some sort of timelessness amid a zeitgeist that always seemed to be getting ahead of itself in search of the next thing. This rendered Morrison somewhat of an outsider, and it did just the same for Iggy Pop too. 

Iggy was almost literally living life on the wing like a runaway outlaw with a tortured constitution. Fresh from a stint in a mental institution he was searching for salvation in the passenger seat of David Bowie’s cocaine laden car, perhaps one of the most precarious seats to search for salvation in this side of an electric chair. “I’d been riding around North America and Europe in David’s car ad infinitum. I didn’t have a driver’s license or a vehicle.” He was the proverbial passenger. 

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He watched life whizz by from a window in a literal sense, and in a strange state of dissociation. Fortunately, session musician Ricky Gardiner was ‘in the moment’ in the old timeless way. Gardiner – ironically in the sort of thing that only ever happens in commercials – was sat against an apple blossom tree, strumming his guitar, when his Newtonian moment arrived. “It was a case of the chord sequence slipping through while I was lost in the glory of a beautiful spring morning,” he told The Independent.  

So, that fortuitous bit of springtime happenstance meant that the melody was accounted for when Gardiner was summoned to Berlin to record with Bowie and Mr Pop, but the latter was still thinking through his words. Thus, he took inspiration from a poem that also sought to capture the passenger lifestyle he was almost somnambulantly drifting through—Jim Morrison’s ‘The Lord’. The poem depicts modern life as a cruise through town in a car gazing at the crooked world through a window. You can check out a verse from Morrison’s epic poem below:

“The city forms- often physically, but inevitably
psychically- a circle. A Game. A ring of death
with sex at its center. Drive towards outskirts
of city suburbs. At the edge of, discover zones of
sophisticated vice and boredom, child prosti-
tution. But in the grimy ring immediately surround-
ing the daylight business district, exists the only
real crowd life of our mound, the only street
life, night life. Diseased specimens in dollar
hotels, low boarding houses, bars, pawn shops,
burlesques and brothels, in dying arcades which
never die, in streets and streets of all-night
cinemas.”

In some ways, this is the world that had subsumed Iggy Pop, but he was just about pulling away from it when ‘The Passenger’ hit the studio. As guitarist Carlos Alomar said of Pop’s excursion with his renegade pal to Berlin: “David went to Berlin with Iggy for isolation. It was to humanise his condition, to say, ‘I’d like to forget my world, go to a café, have a coffee and read the newspaper.’ They couldn’t do that in America. Sometimes you just need to be by yourself with your problems. Sometimes you just wanna shut up.” Sometimes you just need to stop the car.

That was the case for Iggy in Berlin, and in doing so he slowed down towards a sense of timelessness and found a lust for life in the process that is reflected in the anthem. Breaking through the city’s ripped backside he found a new artistic lease of life and along with his esteemed company he created one of the greatest songs ever written where “Everything looks good tonight!”