“Godfather of Punk” Iggy Pop, 71, is an unlikely mainstream icon. But the rocker has become much more than an underground poster boy over his lengthy, sometimes fraught career. Pop, born James Osterberg, is an articulate, serious, and seriously busy multifaceted artist, one whose music —both solo and with his infamous band the Stooges — now shines in contemporary movies and ads. The ‘70s tracks “Lust for Life” and “The Passenger” have since become ubiquitous, along with his work with friend and collaborator David Bowie, including their co-written hit “China Girl.”
Yet despite his influence, Pop has never won a Grammy, and has only been nominated twice. (Further proof of his difficult-to-pigeonhole mien, the first nod was for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance in 1989; the second, in 2017, for an album made in collaboration with Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme in the Alternative category.) That will finally change this year when Pop receives a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy.
We caught up with the Miami-based provocateur ahead of the 2020 ceremony to discuss his legacy, career, and Grammy win. While his initial, very punk response to hearing of the honor was “50 years, what have they ever done for me?,” ultimately, Pop is happy to be part of a group of peers he reveres.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Do you know what the criteria is at the Recording Academy to be honored with a lifetime award?
IGGY POP: No. I was surprised. I was doing some voiceover work and was a little … grumpy already, and my manager said, “The head of the Grammys insists on speaking to you personally on the telephone.” I thought, “I don’t want to. Nothing good will come of it.” But as it turned out, that was a nice thing, and I was quite surprised. I thought, “Well, there must be a bit of a sea change going on.” [He spoke with then-new CEO Deb Dugan, who was recently ousted from her position as the first woman to head the Recording Academy].
I was looking at the list of your fellow nominees, who are—
Ooh, really good! Really good!
Yeah, right? Roberta Flack, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Isaac Hayes—
That was the best part. I know everybody’s stuff, but the closest is Isaac Hayes, because when Shaft came out, the Stooges had collapsed for the first time, and I had had a drug problem, so I was between chapters and I was back living at home in our trailer. My mother would leave $2.50 out on the kitchen table every day for me, and I’d walk about three miles to a popular hamburger restaurant called the Big Boy in Michigan. I’d sit down and order coffee and toast, and they had a little individual jukebox for each table, and I would play the Shaft soundtrack over and over and over. That really gave me hope. I would say Shaft, Clint Eastwood when he was the Man With No Name [Eastwood’s character in Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy] and a couple of other guys like that. [For] Isaac, not just the Shaft soundtrack, but also all the stuff with Stax/Volt [Records, an influential soul/blues label]. We took a lot of that for the Stooges, the simplicity, and there was a lot of cheek in that music they were making at the time.
A few years ago you did a keynote speech for the BBC where you said musicians should diversify and delve into other areas, which you consciously did in your career.
Yeah, I did absolutely try to start doing a number of other things because it just made [sense]. One feeds into the other. So doing radio, I’ve done a show for five years now at the BBC … or longer. Only steady job I’ve ever had! Through that, I started meeting all sorts of great musicians because I play their stuff looking for [music to play] and I end up on their tracks. I’ve done a little film work. I’m not Sir Laurence Olivier, but… The first effect of that was the music supervisors. It’s such a small clique of people that make films, especially in the two big towns, New York and L.A., and also in London and Paris. They started thinking, “Oh yeah, him. Maybe we should use one of his songs.” They weren’t ready to build the film around me, but all of a sudden the use of my songs in film and TV shot up, and you learn things. You learn how to stand in the key light. You learn things about storytelling, and you diversify. I have three pensions now. I have SAG, AFTRA, and Social Security. I love it. It’s much less money than my royalties, but I’m so proud because I feel like a regular guy. I’m a union man!
The Sex Pistols who turned down an induction into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, which was a very punk rock move. Have you ever turned down an award?
No, I picked up all of them! I have so many. I started at the bottom with something called the Brick Award in 1990. I have a huge brick with my name on it and the cover art from my album Brick By Brick. From the Brick Men Stackers of America who were concerned that bricks weren’t being used enough in building materials. Concrete was taking over, so they created this award. Heavy D also got the award because a lot of his videos were in brick alleys. So, yeah, I’m not so … whatever the word is — I have my areas where my control is strict, pristine, and tyrannical, and that’s what I do on stage or on a record. My standards are my standards and I know what they are and that’s that. But outside of that, I’m not really excited about excluding anyone or anything, really. That’s not how I feel. When I’m having a bad day, I ask my assistant, “Did I get [an award]? Did it come yet?” “Nope, not yet.” So there you go.
When you receive a lifetime achievement award, it implies that you’re done, or can rest on your laurels…
I know. Well, all I can say to you is that I already have gigs in 2021; I start another BBC season in April or May, so as long as I can breathe, avanti! I’d rather drop dead working. [Performing live] is still just as important to me; it’s very, very important for me.