By Madeline Bocaro ©
As years go by, this famous photograph of three extraordinarily improbable icons takes on new meaning. It was taken by Mick Rock at the Dorchester Hotel in London at a party on July 16, 1972 hosted by David Bowie’s newly christened alter ego Ziggy Stardust. Exactly one year later, Ziggy would be history. “Bye bye, we love you!”
We have since come to know that all of the soon-to-be legends in the photo; David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed had developed outlandish stage personas which ultimately consumed their minds and their personal lives. Even their absent friend, Marc Bolan of T. Rex – is represented on Iggy’s T-shirt. Marc Feld had transformed himself into Marc Bolan, King of Glam.
Iggy is the sole survivor. We would never have predicted this strange but true circumstance. We lost Bowie in 2016, Reed in 2013 and Bolan in 1977 at the young age of 29 – yet James Osterberg soldiers on. The Iggy Pop name has served and protected him well. In 2019 at age 72 – fifty years after the release of the debut album by The Stooges in 1969, Iggy released his 18th solo album titled Free (September 2019). With his newly found freedom, Jimmy has been able to unleash his true self.
In retrospect, Iggy looks like a scruffy urchin in the photo, holding a cigarette pack in his teeth, standing in between two rising stars. He doesn’t have ‘an outfit’. He is not styled except for some self-applied eye liner. He defies glamour but is guilty by association. He’s looking to see if this alliance can help to propagate his art.
Iggy made a revealing comment about the photograph recently.
“I had crashed that party, innocently, and there I was, so uncool that I was grinning. You have the two pillars of the new alt industry there – and in the middle, you have this sort of shaky proposition.”
– Iggy Pop to Amanda Petrusich, The New Yorker, Sept. 2, 2019
Iggy does not give this away. He hides his insecurity by looking cocky and determined.
There is a nearly identical photo, in which Iggy is smiling. Mick Rock has photoshopped Bowie’s manager Tony DeFries out of the photo (who was lurking in the background) which he now sells as a limited edition at his gallery exhibitions.
“The only thing I remember was Lou saying, ‘This will be a pretty picture!’’”
– Mick Rock, Beijing 2019
The photographer knew that this was a defining moment in music history. Of course, good things come in threes – although they say the same about bad things!
“I knew I was gonna get this picture no matter what happened. I was not letting anybody out until I got a shot of the three of them together. At the time it wasn’t really a big deal. Because David was just breaking and just starting to garner a lot of attention and Iggy and Lou were still underground figures. But for me, this was a very important moment and it remains an important shot. That’s the only time the three of them were in a photograph together.”
– Mick Rock
Iggy further shared his recollections of that day…
“The Stooges had been signed by Mainman Ltd. and they managed to get us a recording contract. Clive Davis signed us – he probably regrets that to this day. But we were in London rehearsing, getting ready to record. I didn’t know it but there was a showcase gig for David at Aylesbury. Lou was in town being produced by David for the Transformer album. They were doing – I didn’t know this – a press reception at the fancy Dorchester hotel – very deco. The Stooges were also slated a few days later to play what became our famous gig at La Scala – a dirty old disused movie theater in a bad part of town. They set up a boxing ring for me. It was pretty cool. A couple hundred people came and they all started bands.
So there we were, and the phone rings in our residence and it was Dave Marsh who I knew form Detroit from Creem magazine saying there’s this thing at the Dorchester. So I walked across Hyde Park on the day and just showed up at the Dorchester and asked for Mainman and knocked on door – It was sort of, “Oh, do come in!” It was OK – it was cordial. I kinda innocently crashed the party.
To my surprise there was LOU REED!! Oh my god! I was a giant, giant fan & admirer of what he did. David was still putting his stuff together. I liked him & I knew he had a lot of talent with melody at that point. But Lou was LOU REED. So the maniacal grin on my face in that picture is basically that fan boy – I’m actually right here with Lou Reed! And David was a mate – and I didn’t have anywhere to put my Lucky Strikes. That was my take on the pic. God knows what the other two were thinking.”
– To Kurt Loder SiriusXM Volume Town Hall, September 2019
In high school, Jim Osterberg was a good clean-cut kid. He mingled with the brainiacs, contemplating a political career until he realized the corruption it involved. Then he got hooked on the blues. His first band was called The Iguanas. He inherited his nickname Iggy from the band’s moniker.
Iggy met the Stooges (the Asheton brothers – his ‘Dum Dum Boys’) in 1967 years before Bowie (still a hippie at the time) had morphed into Ziggy Stardust and concocted his band The Spiders From Mars. After a time as Iggy Stooge, the name Pop was adapted from a dubious character in Ann Arbor named Jim Popp.
After two failed groundbreaking albums with The Stooges, Iggy was summoned to England by Bowie and his cocky manager Tony DeFries with promises of fame and fortune as a solo artist. But Iggy refused to leave his band behind. The Iggy persona was born from rage due to rejection of his work with The Stooges, yet his intellect and perseverance prevailed.
“Until very recently, when I think back to that time, it was always the same emotion. I would get very choked up when we would play [Stooges] songs and the whole house would be rockin’, because for so long, it didn’t. People either resisted it, stepped back or just stared at us. Some people just couldn’t get with it. So for 47 years, I had these tears of inner rage. And now I just have an affection for the audacity of this questionable group of youths who were going to put this thing together, and a certain respect for the simplicity of form.”
– Iggy, NME – The Big Read, September 2019
“My dream audience were the stoner kids. I was thinking about that kid in 10th grade who doesn’t like all this shit being peddled to him by the record companies. I was obsessed with being ahead of everyone else while doing simple, hard-hitting music that had enough form to be relatable…”
– The Australian, September 18, 2019
After the release of The Stooges’ third album Raw Power and more American club gigs culminating in the insane live Metallic KO bootleg album, the Stooges split. Iggy ended up deranged and drug addicted. He was willingly admitted to a mental hospital in Los Angeles in late 1974 and diagnosed as bipolar. His friend David visited him there. Bowie had his own mental breakdown while living in L.A. less than six months later.
David Jones first changed his name to Bowie in 1967. He then constructed and hid behind the Ziggy Stardust character to mask his fears of inherent mental illness in his family. Ziggy was a composite of three people. First was Iggy Pop, especially his name. Another was rocker Vince Taylor, known as the French Elvis in the late 1950s. During Taylor’s final performance in France, he dismissed his band (as Bowie later did onstage at Hammersmith in July 1973 without warning to the Spiders). Taylor soon descended into drugs and madness.
“I met (Vince Taylor) a few times in the mid-Sixties and I went to a few parties with him. He was out of his gourd. Totally flipped. The guy was not playing with a full deck at all. He used to carry maps of Europe around with him, and I remember him opening a map outside Charing Cross tube station, putting it on the pavement and kneeling down with a magnifying glass. He pointed out all the sites where UFOs were going to land.”
– Bowie 1996
The third component of Ziggy Stardust was The Legendary Stardust Cowboy. While sometimes considered a novelty act, he considered himself a serious artist. ‘The Ledge’, born Norman Carl Odam in 1947 in Texas was a forerunner of psychobilly in the 1960s. Odam was interested in space travel since childhood. He combined his interests in outer space and the American West to create the name ‘Stardust Cowboy’ adding the word ‘legendary’ because ‘I am a legend in my own time.’
(On his 2002 Heathen album, Bowie covered Odam’s song, ‘I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship’. In May 2007, The Ledge played at the High-Line festival in NYC at Bowie’s invitation.)
Bowie was so deeply consumed by his own transformation that he wrote the prescient lyrics, ‘Making love with his ego / Ziggy sucked up into his mind / like a leper messiah… “ He would soon cast away Ziggy (whose quick rise and fall were documented on one album). Bowie immediately adapted a succession of other unhealthy personas.
Escaping from their mental baggage and from America, Ziggy and Iggy would live together in East Berlin as David and Jim in 1977, where they reveled in anonymity and in musical productivity).
Lou Reed was also in London recording his upcoming album Transformer produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, which would become a classic decades later. His follow-up album would be Berlin, his latent masterpiece (released exactly one year later in July 1973) which was highly disregarded at the time – and was considered to be commercial suicide.
“Any society that allows people like Lou and me to become rampant is pretty well lost. We’re both pretty mixed-up, paranoid people, absolute walking messes. If we’re the spearhead of anything, we’re not necessarily the spearhead of anything good.”
– Bowie, Dorchester Hotel London – July 16, 1972
Lou was a highly sensitive guy struggling with bisexuality at a time when it was forbidden. He endured electro-shock therapy at the bidding of his parents. He also needed to put up a shield once he had left his band, The Velvet Underground.
“The Lou Reed character, as I see him goes up to a certain point…I’m very aware of what he does and what he’s up to. I separate myself from the act, the creation…I’m very consistent…I’m true to him. I believe in him and what he does. I believe in what I do…It’s one of the reasons I like myself – I’m faithful to it.”
– Lou Reed to Flo & Eddie – The Midnight Special
‘I do Lou Reed better than anybody!’
– Lou Reed, Take No Prisoners
Contradicting his own words, Reed admits that he is in the soul of that character…
“There are some severe little tangent things in my songs that remove them from me, but, ah, yes, they’re very personal. I guess the Lou Reed character is pretty close to the real Lou Reed, to the point, maybe, where there’s really no heavy difference between the two, except maybe a piece of vinyl. I keep hedging my bet, instead of saying that’s really me, but that is me, as much as you can get on record.”
– Lou Reed’s Heart of Darkness, Rolling Stone – March 22, 1979 to Mikal Gilmore
Iggy reads a 1970 poem by Lou Reed, ‘We Are the People’ on his new album Free (2019). Iggy recently mentioned that he and Lou have only ever spent ten hours together before his passing. This is shocking, considering the famous photo of the holy trinity of rock, how much time Bowie has spent personally and professionally with Lou and with Iggy and how much he helped both of their careers.
Now, in 2019 we are finally introduced to Jim Osterberg
as he drops pearls of wisdom – shedding the skin of the iguana.
I will let Jim speak for himself…
Has the name Iggy Pop become protective or helpful?
“It has become helpful. I suppose it’s like I’m my own manager in a way… Jim kinda rides a bit on the Iggy stuff. It used to be the opposite – which was probably a lot more fun for certain people, but that wasn’t gonna work out… If people are gonna take you in two dimensions –it’s great if somebody gets excited about what you do. Boy, I would never fuck with that… This is great – when someone gets excited about what you do but after, once you get that, you’d like people to be curious and would like to get to know you… It could get really cold. You can play it for laughs… I guess the answer is, it’s good to have two. You’d like to have people get to know you. Being only Iggy Pop can get really old.”
– Iggy to Jim Jarmusch, NYC Sept. 11, 2019
“I met this tough little Korean guy who taught me tai chi (the ancient Chinese martial art which Lou Reed also strongly embraced up until the end of his life – ed) and qigong and after that I didn’t want to smoke dope, I didn’t want to smoke cigarettes and I could keep touring. Now I drink like a Frenchman, good wine with dinner at night. I go to bed early. And I live in Miami, which helps.”
– The Australian, September 18, 2019
Iggy Pop is almost separate from you is that true?
“I’d say that’s fair enough. Yeah although I can BE him because I have to be. I’m called upon to be him and also tempted to be him more & more every day as I get more and more goodies. He gets better treatment than I would otherwise. It’s seductive so no, HE is not ME you’re talking to US. Ha ha ha.”
When you talk about wanting to turn your back on something, it’s not Iggy Pop per se is it?
“ …In the lyric in “American Valhalla” nothing but my name, what happens there is I didn’t mean that to be about me – it was a character who I saw as a returning soldier coming home and he’s not rich, and he’s not hooked up with someone and he’s not sane, but he has a good name because he was the one that went out and fought. But what happens in these situations again & again is that I realize later what I really wanted to do was talk about myself. Of course it applied to me, but I didn’t realize it. The way I got there was by putting on this character.”
How is all of this reflecting impacting you on a daily basis?
“The weirdest part is – I’m talking to people a lot right now about myself because I’m supporting the recording. I hadn’t imagined I’d do that… So here we are and I’m talking to… WE are Talking to YOU about HIM and you have a perfect right to ask US. Anything about HIM that you want to. This is the last interview I’m doing today so I think that’s is why we’ve gotten to this really weird point where it’s us and HIM and you. It crystallizes in my mind, and here you have it.”
Are you feeling free?
“I feel I’ve got as much freedom as I can handle right now… part of the process of this album is I was also taking to myself, you know, or I should say HE is talking to WE. He is talking to US, you know, me and HIM. The HIM is talking to ME and HIM about US and so it actually helped me a little bit to push the envelope a little bit and I feel a little more fulfilled than I did before I started making the record and that’s a good thing. So I‘d say I have as much freedom as I’ve earned and as much as I can handle. I’m good with that right now.”
– Iggy – Kreative Kontrol Podcast Episode #496, September 10, 2019
Who is Iggy Pop today?
Well I’m still 22! Still the same – a little spoiled at times now, I’m afraid. Still more comfortable with the waiter than the maître D’. I still get angry easily when I see something I think is wrong. There’s less of me to go around but the little bit that’s there is just about the same guy really, you know a slightly wild rock kid.
– To Paola Maugeri, Virgin Radio Italy September 2019
I changed my name in search of fame
To find the Midas touch…
Oh I wish I never wanted then
What I want now twice as much…
– Ian Hunter, ‘The Ballad of Mott The Hoople’
See my related stories:
Bowie and our Teenage Daydream
Ziggy and Our Teenage Dream
Lou Reed – Transformed
Lou Reed – Berlin Live
Lou Reed’s Sad Song
Metallic KO – The Stooges Crash & Burn
Iggy Pop’s Style
My review of Iggy’s album Free