Pop psychology: A peek inside the mind of Iggy Pop
I have just come back from a two-week holiday in Portugal and managed to catch up with reading a lot of non-academic books. Two of the books I took with me were Paul Trynka’s biography of Iggy Pop (Open Up and Bleed ) and Brett Callwood’s biography of The Stooges, the band in which Iggy Pop first made his name (The Stooges: A Journey Through the Michigan Underworld ). Just before I left to go on holiday I also read Dave Thompson’s book Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell: The Dangerous Glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed (2009). This engrossing reading has been accompanied by me listening to The Stooges almost non-stop for the last month – not just their five studio albums (The Stooges , Fun House , Raw Power , The Weirdness , and Ready To Die ) but loads of official and non-official bootlegs from the 1970-1974 period. In short, it’s my latest music obsession.
Although I say it myself, I have been a bit of an Iggy Pop aficionado for many years. It was through my musical appreciation of both David Bowie and Lou Reed that I found myself enthralled by the music of Iggy Pop. Back in my early 20s, I bought three Iggy Pop albums purely because they were produced by David Bowie (The Idiot , Lust For Life , and Blah Blah Blah ). Thankfully, the albums were great and over time I acquired every studio LP that Iggy has released as a solo artist (and a lot more aside – I hate to think how much money I have spent on the three artists and their respective bands over the years). Unusually, I didn’t get into The Stooges until around 2007 after reading an in-depth article about them in Mojo magazine. Since then I’ve added them to my list of musical obsessions where I have to own every last note they have ever recorded (official and unofficial). When it comes to music I am all-or-nothing. Maybe I’m not that far removed from my musical heroes in that sense. I’m sure my partner would disagree. She says I’m no different to a trainspotter who ticks off lists of numbers.
One thing that connects Pop, Reed and Bowie (in addition to the fact they are all talented egotistical songwriters and performers who got to know each other well in the early 1970s) is their addictions to various drugs (heroin in the case of Pop and Reed, and cocaine in the case of Bowie – although they’ve all had other addictions such as Iggy’s dependence on Quaaludes). This is perhaps not altogether unexpected. As I noted in one of my previous blogs on whether celebrities are more prone to addiction than the general public, I wrote:
“Firstly, when I think about celebrities that have ‘gone off the rails’ and admitted to having addiction problems (Charlie Sheen, Robert Downey Jr, Alec Baldwin) and those that have died from their addiction (Whitney Houston, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse) I would argue that these types of high profile celebrity have the financial means to afford a drug habit like cocaine or heroin. For many in the entertainment business such as being the lead singer in a famous rock band, taking drugs may also be viewed as one of the defining behaviours of the stereotypical ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ lifestyle. In short, it’s almost expected”.
Nowhere is this more exemplified than by Iggy Pop. Not only would Iggy take almost every known drug to excess, it seemed to carry over into every part of his lifestyle. For instance, reading about Iggy’s sexual exploits, there appears to be a lot of evidence that he may have also been addicted to sex (although that’s speculation on my part with the only evidence I have is all the alleged stories in the various biographies of him). Another thing that amazes me about Iggy Pop was that he decided to give up taking drugs in the autumn of 1983 and pretty much stuck to it (again mirroring Lou Reed who also decided to clean up his act and go cold turkey on willpower alone). Spontaneous remission after very heavy drug addictions is rare but Iggy appears to have done it. Maybe Iggy gave up his negative addictions for a more positive addiction – in his case playing live. David Bowie went as far as to say that playing live was an “obsessive” for Iggy. As noted in Paul Trynka’s biography:
“[His touring] was simultaneously impressive and inexplicable. David Bowie used the word’ obsessive’ about Iggy’s compulsion to tour – but there was an internal logic. Jim knew he’d made his best music in the first ten years of his career, and he also believed he’d blown it…but he knew his own excesses or simple lack of psychic stamina were a key reason why the Stooges crashed and burned. Now he had to still prove his stamina, to make up for those weaknesses of three decades ago”.
Iggy Pop is (of course) a stage name. Iggy was born James Newell Osterberg (April 21, 1947). The ‘Iggy’ moniker came from one of the early bands he drummed in (The Iguanas). I mention this because another facet of Iggy Pop’s life that I find psychologically interesting is the many references to ‘Iggy Pop’ being a character created by Jim Osterberg (in much the same way that Bowie created the persona ‘Ziggy Stardust’ – ironically a character that many say is at least partly modeled on Iggy Pop!). Many people that have got to know Jim Osterberg describe him as intelligent, witty, talkative, well read, and excellent social company. Many people that have been in the company of Iggy Pop describe him as sex-crazed, hedonistic, outrageous, a party animal, and a junkie (at least from the late 1960s to the early to mid-1990s). It’s almost as if a real living character was created in which Jim Osterberg could live out an alternative life that he could never do as the person he had become growing up. Iggy Pop became a persona that Jim Osterberg could escape into. When things went horribly wrong (and they often did), it was Iggy’s doing not Osterberg’s. It’s almost as if Osterberg had a kind of multiple personality disorder (now called ‘dissociative identity disorder’ [DID]). One definition notes:
“[Dissociative identity disorder] is a mental disorder on the dissociative spectrum characterized by at least two distinct and relatively enduring identities or dissociated personality states that alternately control a person’s behavior, and is accompanied by memory impairment for important information not explained by ordinary forgetfulness…Diagnosis is often difficult as there is considerable comorbidity with other mental disorders”.
I don’t for one minute believe ‘Jim/Iggy’ suffers from DID but a case could possibly made based on the definition above. Some of the things he did on stage in the name of ‘entertainment’ included gross acts of self-mutilation such as stubbing cigarettes out on his naked body, flagellating himself, cutting his chest open with knives and broken glass bottles. He was a sexual exhibitionist and appeared to love showing his penis to the watching audience. On one infamous occasion, he even dry-humped a large teddy bear live on a British children’s television show. (Maybe Iggy is a secret plushophile? Check out the clip on here on YouTube).
In 1975, Iggy was admitted to the Los Angeles Neuropsychiatric Institute (NPI) and underwent treatment (including psychoanalysis) under the care of American psychiatrist Dr. Murray Zucker. After he had completely detoxed all the drugs in his body, Iggy was diagnosed with hypomania (a mental affliction also affecting another of my musical heroes, Adam Ant). This condition was described by Iggy’s biographer Paul Trynka:
“Bipolar disorder [is] characterised by episodes of euphoric or overexcited and irrational behaviour, succeeded by depression. Hypomanics are often described as euphoric, charismatic, energetic, prone to grandiosity, hypersexual, and unrealistic in their ambitions – all of which sounded like a checklist of Iggy’s character traits”.
Dr. Zucker later told Paul Trynka that hypomania tends to get worse with age and it hadn’t with Iggy and therefore the diagnosis of a bipolar disorder may have been wrong. Dr. Zucker now wonders whether “the talent, intensity, perceptiveness, and behavioural extremes” of Iggy were who he truly was “and not a disease…that Jim’s behaviour was simply him enjoying the range of his brain, playing with it, exploring different personae, until it got to the point of not knowing what was up and what was down’. In short, Dr. Zucker (who maintained professional contact with Iggy during the 1980s) claimed Iggy was perhaps “someone who went to the brink of madness just to see what it was like”. Dr. Zucker also claimed that Iggy (like many in the entertainment industry) was a narcissist (“excessive for the average individual” but “unsurprising in a singer…this unending emotional neediness for attention, that’s never enough”). In fact, Iggy went on to write the song ‘I Need More‘ (and was also the title of his autobiography) which pretty much sums him up many of his pychological motivations (at least when he was younger).
It’s clear that Iggy has been drug-free and fit for many years now although many would say that all of his best musical work came about when he was jumping from one addiction to another – particularly during the decade from 1968 to 1978. This raises the question as to whether musicians and songwriters are more creative under the influences of psychoactive substances (but I will leave that for another blog – I’ve just begun some research on creativity and substance abuse with some of my Hungarian research colleagues). I’ll leave the last word with Dr. Zucker (who unlike me) had Iggy as a patient:
“I always got the feeling [Iggy] enjoyed his brain so much he would play with it to the point of himself not knowing what was up and what was down. At times, he seemed to have complete control of turning this on and that on, playing with different personas, out-Bowie-ing David Bowie, as a display of the range of his brain. But then at other times you get the feeling he wasn’t in control – he was just bouncing around with it. It wasn’t just lack of discipline, it wasn’t necessarily bipolar, it was God knows what”.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Ambrose, J. (2008). Gimme Danger: The Story of Iggy Pop. London: Omnibus Press.
Callwood, B. (2008). The Stooges: A Journey Through the Michigan Underworld. London: Independent Music Press.
Pop, I. & Wehrer, A, (1982). I Need More. New York: Karz-Cohl Publishing.
Thompson, D. (2009). Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell: The Dangerous Glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed. London: Backbeat Books.
Trynka, P. (2007). Open Up and Bleed. London: Sphere.
Wikipedia (2014). Iggy Pop. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iggy_Pop