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When Anthony Bourdain told Iggy Pop the difference between cooking and rock 'n' roll

Shirtless, veins rippling with malicious intent and artistic fluency, the gnarled face of a counterculture hero stares out from the page back at me. In truth, that description could fit either Iggy Pop or iconic chef Anthony Bourdain. While Iggy has always been one to keep his nipples in the fresh air, Bourdain’s love of jiu-jitsu had seen him adopt the Stooges’ frontman’s iconic look more often than not. Sadly, while Bourdain was wrestling on the floors of dojos everywhere, he was also tragically fighting with his own demons too, one that resulted in him taking his own life in 2018.

Prior to that, Bourdain had acted as one of the few punks left on mainstream television. His unique viewpoint on food and community wasn’t just influenced by his years in the business but his nights spent skulking around the streets of NYC finding the smokiest bars and greasiest stages to indulge in his love of rock and roll. When he began such adventures in the 1970s, there was only one man who could say they truly owned the night; Iggy Pop.

Despite their propensity to the inner sanctum of New York punk, Bourdain an unadulterated fan and Iggy Pop the anointed forefather of the very movement, the duo never crossed paths. It’s remarkable considering their unique outlooks on life and their distinct and deliberate ways of living. But, the duo would finally meet, if only on holiday: “I’ve been a fan of Iggy And The Stooges since the beginning,” Bourdain told GQ as part of an interview between the two men.

The celebrated chef and writer continued that he “was so starstruck it took me three days to walk up to him and introduce myself. Then we had him on my show [CNN’s Parts Unknown] and we ate health food together. I didn’t see that coming as a kid.” I’m not sure many people would have seen that coming as adults. But as the interview continues into the present day, there is a shared connection between the two stars that is hard to ignore and not adore.

They talk about everything from music to food and back again, all with the carefree ease of people who know who they are, how they got here and where they’re going. Perhaps one conversation of particular importance is when Bourdain asks Iggy Pop, perhaps the hardest working punk in music, if he seeks contentment or even believes it to be achievable: “I’m starting to get areas of professional contentment, but that stops at the county line; it does not do anything for me personally except that it solves a problem,” replies Iggy.

Adding: “The problem being: for years I was struggling — first to prove that I had any talent, then to create some skills and finally to fulfil it reasonably. But then once I got there it was, ‘OK. I did that, but I want to be happy.’ And that’s a whole different deal. It’s kind of like a dance.”

Iggy goes on to say that he’s not interested in retiring any time soon and that he is actively choosing not to live a really long life: “I’ve actually decided consciously to have a little bit of a shorter life. I don’t really want to sit around till I’m 90,” he commented.

Now aware of the troubles circling him, tragically, Bourdain poignantly remarks: “There is a difference between us. I asked you once what gives you satisfaction and you said when a total stranger comes up to you in the street and tells you how much your music meant to them personally and how they love your work and how important it was to them. That really surprised me. I have a real problem being content. When I finish a book I get that same sense of sort of loss and sadness. Is it possible for you to be happy for an extended period of time?”.

The two men continue in their classic comedic tone – filled with spite and sardonic flair – before they try to answer the burning question on everybody’s lips: is food the new rock and roll? While Iggy is quick to offer his assessment that food is going up and rock ‘n’ roll is going down, Bourdain offers up a more personal retort: “Here’s what I think the difference is: first of all, every chef I know, if they could play guitar or bass or play in a rock’n’roll band, would walk away from cooking in a hot second,” he states, adding: “Cooked food and cooking is not the new rock ‘n’ roll and never will be. It’s a very powerful epiphany to taste something that evokes your childhood or an emotional moment. That’s a very, very strong feeling. But it will never be as strong as the song you lost your virginity to.”

The chef continues with his pointed take: “We experience food differently. We experience food in a very different way now with social media. You almost can’t eat without Instagraming it. It’s like otherwise, it didn’t happen. You know, when you’re eating truffles you want to make sure that people who aren’t eating truffles see that. And chefs used to complain about this thing of people taking pictures […] Now I’ll sit down with ten chefs, out come ten cellphones. And they’re all hashtagging me. I’m like, ‘I’m right across the table. What are you tweeting at me for? I know what you are eating.'”

To confirm the authentic difference between the two types of shared passion, Iggy then lays down his own vision of music: “When I chose music, I never cared about any of that. I never cared. The idea for me is that anybody that’s really any good at it, the music thing, would do it for free. Howlin’ Wolf often gigged for a fish sandwich – a fish sandwich, you know?”.

Truly, if that isn’t the definition of what makes music brilliant then we don’t know what is. Making music people lose their virginity to all for a sweet fish sandwich. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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