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Iggy Pop, Don Was offer insight at Grammy Foundation event
DETROIT -- Normally, Iggy Pop and Don Was would come to the Majestic Theatre, or any venue, to play.
But on Sunday night, Oct. 23, they were there to talk -- and, ultimately, play a little before the night was through.
The Ypsilanti-raised Pop, frontman for the Stooges before going solo, and Oak Park-raised Grammy Award-winning producer Was (nee Fagenson) came home to take part in the Grammy Foundation's Living Histories Live, an oral history project archiving stories from significant figures in music history. Moderated by Grammy Foundation Vice President Scott Goldman -- who also conducted long-form interviews with both artists prior to Sunday -- Pop (real name James Osterberg) and Was traded stories and mutual regard along with expressions of musical philosophies and thoughts about their roots in Detroit and its environs.
"To get up here and play with (Pop) in the city of Detroit...and do an event like this, I got choked up driving over here today -- I won't (kid) you," Was, who's produced two albums for Pop, said before the program. "It's really meaningful...He's a giant."
The two did play as well as speak; Following about 80 minutes of insightful discussion Pop and Was were joined by guitarist Dean Fertita, the Royal Oak native who plays in Queens of the Stone Age and backed Pop on his latest album and tour, for acoustic versions of Pop's "Butt Town," "Nazi Girlfriend" and "Candy," and the Stooges' "Little Doll."
Goldman said the Pop and Was Living Histories episodes should be up on the Grammy Foundation web site within the next couple of weeks. While we wait, here's a dozen of the most interesting things the two had to say during the session...
Was fessed up to a fib he used to tell about the first time he saw Pop and the Stooges perform. "I didn't go to Farmington High School, but I was at the show there," Was, an Oak Park High alumnus, said. "I was telling people for 40 years I saw the Stooges at my high school. It wasn't my high school -- but I was there."
The two credit their Detroit roots for an instant chemistry when they first met for Was to produce Pop's 1990 album "Brick By Brick." "An enlightened A&R person had told me about this guy," Pop recalled. "He hadn't had a hit as a producer yet; He just told me, 'this guy's cool. YOu should work with him.' And I went to a Grammy party, and at the party it took us less than one minute of semi-verbal communication, not even full sentences, and we were good, we were gonna do a record. Because we were both from Detroit, all you had to do was go 'Yeah man'...'Well, I thought maybe...' 'Okay.' that was the whole thing. He was the guy."
Was, 64, recalled the particularly meaningful influence Motown had on him during his youth, when it helped divide the racial divide in his junior high school, where primarily white students from Oak Park and black students from Royal Oak Township came together. "It was a little tough to break the ice, and the thing that did it was in the lunch room they played Motown records during the lunch hour and all the kids got up and danced together," he remembered. "It was dancing to Motown records that really thawed everything out."
Was also noted that the Detroit's diverse, melting-pot musical heritage shaped his approach as a producer. "I think coming out of here was really significant," he said. "If you grew up in Detroit you were truly exposed to all kinds of music. As a producer, if you're helping an artist paint, you maybe can add some more colors the palette. It left an aesthetic value that was critical."
Pop spoke about his early days playing drums in an Ann Arbor blues band called the Prime Movers, whose leader Michael Erlewine went on to found the All Music Guide online site and book. "He was a very savvy guy," Pop said. "He was an early beatnik, intellectual kind of guy who'd go hitchhiking with Bob Dylan. His brother writes all the reviews. I don't always like my reviews -- but that's OK. Maybe they're (angry) I left the band."
Remembering his days living in Chicago between the Prime Movers and the Stooges, Pop recalled advice he was given by members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Guitarist Michael Bloomfield, he said, told Pop that "music is like a sandwich...just put a nice piece of bread on the beginning and make sure there's a nice piece of bread on the end. YOu can put anything in the middle." Pop then turned to bassist Jerome Arnold for thoughts about his drumming. "He just sorta -- I overplayed at the time. Young people do. I was very enthusiastic. (Arnold) just sorta said, 'Uh, well man, just lay it like you mean it!'"
Pop -- who entered the Majestic stage with one of his trademark, swivel-hip performance moves -- told the Masonic crowd that he enjoys the impact the Stooges "I Wanna Be Your Dog" has come to have over the years. "It took 40 years to catch on, but it DID catch on," Pop said. "The youth of today goes bonkers. Toddlers! there are toddlers on the Internet who wail to that in their little diapers. There was an infantalism in my early works."
Pop called David Bowie, who produced his mid-70s albums "The Idiot" and "Lust for Life," a valuable teacher. "I learned a whole lot of things, and...I was able to internalize a whole lot of information that I still use today but couldn't use as much at the time because I wasn't fully engaged in the industry," Pop explained. "But now I'm in show biz."
He also remembered being locked in a public phone booth by a prankster in Berlin when he was there working on those album switch Bowie. "I was the victim one night at about three in the morning of a prankster who had a key to the phone booths all over Berlin, and he locked 13 people in phone booths and I was one. I made the papers the next morning," Pop said. "I was in the phone booth drunk, with something (illicit) in my pocket...and the police just came and I thought, 'This it it.' They just opened the door and asked me where I lived and did I need a ride?...That's how to protect and serve!"
Introducing "Little Doll," Pop described the Stooges' early songwriting process. "When we made our first Stooges album we had four songs. They were each about 10 minutes long," he said. "We never recorded any stuff before our first record. We didn't have home machines or anything. We would just write a little two0minute song and play it, and then we'd jam for eight minutes and we were always smoking a lot of grass and we didn't know it got boring after two and a half minutes."
The 69-year old Pop offered some poignant parting words towards the end of the discussion. "I'm trying to find a balance between joy and dignity on my way out, 'cause that's where I'm headed," he said. But he quickly added, "I'm not out yet."
Pop has two more appearances in Detroit this week:
Pop and director Jim Jarmusch will do a Q&A following a screening of the film "Gimme Danger" on Tuesday night, Oct. 25, at the Detroit Film Theatre in the Detroit Institute of Arts. Tickets are sold out. the film starts a two-weekend run on Friday, Oct. 28, at the DFT. Call 313-833-4005 or visit dia.org.
Following the screening on Tuesday, Pop and co-author Jeff Gold will discuss their new book "Total Chaos: The Story of the Stooges/As Told by Iggy Pop" at Third Man Records, 441 Canfield St. Admission is free and open to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis. Call 313-285-8162 or visit thirdmanrecords.com.
Pop releases "Post Pop Depression: Live at the Royal Albert Hall," a CD and home video from his tour this year, on Friday, Oct. 28.
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