Iggy Pop and Jonathan Richman of The Modern Lovers were fellows who had one thing for certain in common—they were proto-punks who didn’t much care for the label ‘punk’. Their expressionist styles that cherished individualism more so than polished virtuosity heralded a furtherment of rock ‘n’ roll, but it would’ve gone nowhere if it wasn’t for the simple human feeling behind it.
And that’s where they think the term punk misses the point—it intellectualises the ethos too much, and glosses over the expressionism behind the intent. Fittingly, Pablo Picasso was similar in this regard, but more on that later. Pop had already been outspoken about his dislike of “punk” when Peter Gzowski asked him, simply: “Tell me about ‘punk rock’…”
As if expecting the question, Pop begins: “Well, I’ll tell you about ‘punk rock’,” he fires back like a punk. “Punk rock is a word used by dilettantes,” he pauses as the audience, clearly taken aback by 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.”
Continuing: “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.”
Richman, being Richman, obviously wasn’t as fervent in his analysis, but when fellow musician Andrew Bird asked him for his thoughts, he replied: “We all just thought we were rock bands.” Continuing of the earlier upstarts, “there was no what you’d call punk. And if there was, nobody was flattered by the term. A punk was a guy in a street gang who took a cheap shot. A punk was not Muhammad Ali.”
Adding: “At the time it was just a strange category that I noticed when I was over in European that we didn’t have in the States. I really cared more selfishly than that. I just wanted to express myself in front of the audience and I wanted to have rock music happen.” Thus, it is no surprise that Richman and Pop dug Picasso’s ‘Abstract Expressionism’.
And as Pop proves below, you can even express yourself with two snapped strings as he delves into a cover of The Modern Lovers classic ‘Pablo Picasso’.