I wasn’t there so I can’t be totally sure, but in some nightclub somewhere in West Berlin in the late seventies, I picture Iggy Pop stalking through darkness, trudging along with a vampiric gaze to the drum machine of ‘Nightclubbing,’ with David Bowie, pale as snow with a face so gaunt you’d think half of it went missing.
They walk through town like lifeless automatons, Iggy Pop singing in drone while Bowie prods him with a stick in the back to keep leading their insomniac march. And Iggy maintains his deep monotone, which began one song earlier and would continue onto the next. After years of howling with his old band, The Stooges, The Idiot is a man stuck in a mechanism, and the only time you hear any bit of emotion, it wallows from far away, like an echo from the past.
The odd thing is that Iggy Pop’s second solo album, Lust for Life, begins the opposite way, with real drums this time, an old spirit returning from its depths, singing out stories from his days as the idiot.
The Idiot and Lust for Life, released just five months apart, works most intriguingly as a make-believe double album. Certain themes are prevalent, and from the first track on The Idiot to the last track on Lust for Life, Iggy Pop manages to achieve a loose and understated arc, which says something of the musician’s songwriting merits, as well as the thoughtfulness of his character, which has perhaps been overshadowed by his boisterous and rowdy on-stage persona. Or his past.
His old band broke up in ’74 and a crippling drug addiction may have propelled him to seek recovery in West Berlin. He was far away from home and embarking on his new path as a passenger, Iggy’s alter-ego, that character that weaves through the Iggy Pop double album, like a Dante who never quite reaches his Beatrice.
Although he is only overtly addressed in Lust for Life, the Passenger was the Idiot when he was younger. He recalls his vampiric nights, spent on the edges of civilisation, which evolved into an overpowering sense of ‘outsiderism’ through Lust for Life‘s lyrics.
There is another recurring character throughout Iggy’s double album, a girl whom the passenger once loved and therefore tried to protect—most of all from himself. In The Idiot, she’s the Baby, she’s the China Girl. In ‘Mass Production’ she’s on her way out the door. She’s only recalled in Lust for Life during ‘Tonight,’ perhaps the last time he saw her, and ‘Fall in Love with Me,’ perhaps the first.
In a recent interview, when asked for his explanation on his music’s staying power, Iggy said, ‘There’s life in some of those records and I fight for that, too… There’s a person in there and people will listen. If they hear another person speak to them, they’ll listen because it’s lonely out there.’