On the Road… with Iggy Pop

The 2022 Pirelli Calendar aims to capture the life of an artist on tour. Few know that experience as well as legendary rocker Iggy Pop, who has been performing live for nearly 60 years

It may be half a century since The Stooges frontman, silver-gloved and shirtless, hurled himself into a rock festival crowd, was lifted into the air and smeared himself with peanut butter but there’s still an air of excitement, of anything-could-happen, about Iggy Pop. The 74-year-old punk pioneer says that even today, before going on stage he feels “compelled to be hot… Maybe a little bit of a bad boy.”

The first of the nine artists to be photographed by Bryan Adams for the 2022 Pirelli Calendar, Pop arrived on set with his trademark bare chest and long blond hair, ready for whatever the photographer had in mind. In this case it was posing in the basement of the Palace Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, sprawling in a chair in a dressing room, dancing – arms aloft – in front of the camera, and being painted head to waist in silver paint. He described the experience as “beautiful – a musical photographer. You can’t go wrong.”

Pop grew up in a Michigan trailer park and began playing drums in high-school bands. He co-founded The Stooges in 1967; the band has broken up and reformed several times since. Famous for his wild stage antics and drug use, Pop became a cultural icon and figure of huge musical influence, his persona and sound paving the way for the punk movement. His solo career has included the David Bowie-produced albums Lust for Life and The Idiot and in January 2020 he was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He reflects on his life on the road and the power of performing live.

What does touring mean to you?
I started out when I was about 15 years old. We’d drive out of town in our van full of equipment, two, three hours out, and stay up ‘til midnight playing and not get home ‘til 3 in the morning and it seemed like an adventure but I was already beat down by the next day. And then things escalate and it becomes a kind of stimulant that you take for granted, you don’t appreciate it really too much until you start meeting people who have never been anywhere. Then you begin to think more about it and the advantage of it is that you meet people and you see places… The downside of it is that all travel is really, really treacherous, exhausting and has to be managed eventually, otherwise, one by one, people die of it. It’s still the one place where you prove who and what you are and what you have to say. Anybody can fake anything but you go and do the gig, and people come, and they either stand and watch, or maybe dance and jump or something. But they’re thinking and they’re evaluating and they’re feeling what you do and that’s one of the few real things left, you know? The movies are great but when you go to a movie, the end is already decided before you sit down. Not with live music.

Do you have any show routines, rituals or superstitions?
As you get older you need to develop a routine and I’ve gone through various ones in my life, the silly little superstitions – oh, I used to have one where I had to jump three times in a circle counter-clockwise before I went out… But for years now it’s mostly just anything that will keep other worlds, other people, the news of the day, and other stories away. You don’t want an intrusion… you just try to concentrate very quietly on what you’re about to do and then a few minutes before you’re going to do it, the terror will hit you and you’ll have an enormous rush of adrenaline and then you just go do it.

How was working with Bryan Adams?
I’d met Bryan; we did a show together in tribute to Elvis Presley at the Memphis Pyramid (in 1994). But I wondered how he’d be as a photographer and it was just great. He is a music guy so he knows how to hang, you can have a good time, have a little give and take, but he’s also… watching and he’s trying to build to that shot and get the result, and he does not waste your time, which is really, really good about him. He says he works fast. I would just say he works effectively.

What do you feel before going on stage?
Compelled to be hot, that’s how I feel. Maybe a little bit of a bad boy.