Music Interview Interview

Top image: Live performance at Rodney’s English Disco, Sunset Strip, Los Angeles, CA, 1974. Photo from Total Chaos: The Story of The Stooges

Jeff Gold is a music historian and collector who turned a childhood obsession into a career. Landing an entry-level job as Assistant to the President of A&M Records, it was here that Jeff would first meet Iggy Pop and The Stooges.

Unheard of at the time; bleeding, teeth knocked out, hoisted by the crowd and jumping off the stage, Iggy Pop was like no other, and Gold’s latest chronicle TOTAL CHAOS: The Story of The Stooges / As Told By Iggy Pop attests that’s still the case, charting the history of the band. Going straight to the source, this is the first time the seminal band’s story has been told by the man himself; conversation spurred and sparked by rare memorabilia attained by Gold and contributor Johan Kugelberg throughout the years.

With the help of fellow acclaimed music author Jon Savage; Gold took what began as an idea three years prior, and collated images, documents and Iggy’s memories into a hefty tome that captures one of the most exciting and volatile acts in musical history.

Clementine Zawadzki: What first got you interested in collecting music artifacts?
Jeff Gold: I was really obsessed with Jimi Hendrix. For my fourteenth birthday in 1970, my father asked, “What do you want?” and I said, “Take me to Tower Records,” which was this epic record store in Hollywood. They had import records; English and German records and all these Hendrix records with colours that I’d never seen, and in some cases tracks different to the American versions, and so he bought me some and it kind of opened my eyes to the fact there were all these groovy other records that weren’t so easily available in the U.S. It kind of coincided with this explosion of used record stores in California, and so, I was off to the races.

“It was this completely chaotic half hour show where Iggy was wearing nothing but blue Lurex bikini panties and he had the microphone stand threaded through them and he was kind of dry humping it and singing songs about buttfuckers in the Hollywood Hills that weren’t on any of the records.”

Live performance. Rodney's English Disco, Sunset Strip, Los Angeles, CA, 1974. Photo from Total Chaos: The Story of The Stooges

Clementine: What fascinates you about documenting things and chronicling someone’s life, the way you did with this book?
Jeff: I’m really interested in the history of how artists came to be who they are and when I was in the record business I always really enjoyed speaking to artists about their careers and the evolution and it’s kind of an unusual thing for people in the music business to dive deep into. Usually it’s: “How can I figure out a way to sell as many records as possible?” And that’s where it begins and ends, but I’m really interested in the history of it.

Clementine: And in the case of The Stooges?
Jeff: Well, how did these guys living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, really come to invent a genre? They weren’t musicians but they just dove right in. Although I knew Iggy and spent time with him when we worked together at A&M Records, I never really dug as deep as I did when we were putting this book together and I realised that he was the guy just pushing and pushing and pushing the other guys. On the introductory page he says, “If I didn’t make a complete break with the music that was going on, I wasn’t ever going to make it as a musician,” so he had to stop what was going on and make something new, and the answer come via “drugs, attitude, youth and a record collection.” I thought that was a really great, succinct summary of how The Stooges came to be. 

He started out like most kids, he had a few drum lessons, was in conventional high school and post-high school bands, but he saw what a lot of people didn’t see; that this was a route to playing in bars and diners and small clubs for the rest of his life, and he wasn’t interested in that, and there were a lot of people already kind of stuck doing that. He wanted more for himself and was interested in bigger things. He and I had similar experience in that we worked in progressive record stores that weren’t just selling Top 40 records, but in his case classical records and jazz records and avant-garde records, and there were individual experts in each kind of music, and that was the case with me at Rhino, and so I learned just by going to work everyday and talking to the people who worked with me and listening to what they played, and Iggy had the same experience and it kind of opened up Pandora’s box for him, in a good way.

Live performance. Eastown Theatre, Detroit, MI. 1970. Photo from Total Chaos: The Story of The Stooges

Clementine: It’s interesting how those mirrored experiences with Iggy came full circle and resulted in that shared understanding and evolution of certain things. That no doubt aided the journey of this book…
Jeff: There’s a lot of commonality in our origins and he’d never done a comprehensive overview of The Stooges before and I think I hit him totally coincidentally – I was the right guy at the right time with the right concept. Ron Asheton [guitarist for The Stooges] had died a few years before and when I approached him about doing this, I was someone he knew and someone he felt comfortable with. I’d also interviewed him for my first book called The 101 Essential Rock Records and he really liked the way that book came out, his interview and the fact there were two Stooges things in there. So I was a known commodity to him, rather than some guy just calling him up. Unfortunately, between the time we agreed to do this and when we went and interviewed him, Scott Asheton [drummer for The Stooges] died. So he was in a very reflective mood, he’d been thinking about the band a lot and their history and I chose 100 things from my collection and from my friend Johan’s and the idea was we were going to show him things and ask him about them, and that was really a lucky break too because it gave him a jumping off point. I sent him all the stuff before we went down there and it really blew his mind. There were lots and lots of things he’d never seen or hadn’t seen in 30 or 40 years. I think there was a comfort zone between us that really worked.

Iguanas with Iggy in centre holding drum, photo from Total Chaos: The Story of The Stooges

Clementine: I presume you first got to know Iggy when working together at A&M Records, although you’d seen him play before. Do you remember your first encounter?
Jeff: Very much. I only went to his show because I’d heard David Bowie was involved in getting him signed and they were managed by Bowie’s management company, and I was a huge Bowie fan. So I went and saw The Stooges at the Whisky A-Go-Go without really knowing much about them. It was this completely chaotic half hour show where Iggy was wearing nothing but blue Lurex bikini panties and he had the microphone stand threaded through them and he was kind of dry humping it and singing songs about buttfuckers in the Hollywood Hills that weren’t on any of the records.

Clementine: That’s not something you forget anytime soon.
Jeff: No, and after about half an hour he just kind of collapsed and was helped off stage, and it was one of those riveting things where I was thinking that was terrible, but really interesting and fascinating and I’d never seen anything like that, and it made me go back and listen to their record. Then, when Bowie made The Idiot and a couple of other records with Iggy, he played the Santa Monica Civic – maybe three or four years later – which is right by where I lived. It was Iggy’s show, but Bowie was playing piano in his band, and I was sitting right up front. It was a much more controlled and professional show, so I knew that he was capable of a much more ‘professional’ presentation, but you never know what the person is going to be like separate from their stage persona. When he signed to A&M, I felt he could’ve been anything from that wild man to the controlled guy on stage, and it turned out he was really, really smart – which blew me away – he had tonnes of great suggestions for what he wanted to do for marketing his record. We went and had a long lunch early on, and I was asking him about The Stooges and his history, and I was just completely unprepared for what a nice, super smart, super knowledgeable, super together guy he is.

Photo from Total Chaos: The Story of The Stooges

“Nobody had ever done this before. Nobody had covered themselves in peanut butter on stage or done these crazy dance moves or bloodied themselves. He invented the stage dive and stage walking and crowd-surfing. Nobody had ever made a record that sounded like The Stooges.”

Clementine: What was your time with Iggy like when you were interviewing him for this book?
Jeff: It was so fascinating. We were sitting outside his house in his backyard, which is along this beautiful creek, and it was a sunny day and we were just drinking soda and eating and talking, and he’s just a brilliant conversationalist, which I think comes across in the book. So my job was just to look at the time, remember what my next question was, and kind of adjust to make sure that we could talk about everything that I wanted to talk about. But I would say there’s fifteen minutes of me in every eight hours of talking.

Clementine: The book also features words from Joan Jett, Johnny Marr, Dave Grohl… How did they become involved?
Jeff: Well, once I realised we were doing a book on The Stooges, I thought, ‘You know, the other guys have been interviewed pretty extensively about this, but Iggy hasn’t, so I want this just to be his point of view.’ He was clearly the guy who formed the band and kept it going against all manner of adversity, over and over again, but I started thinking that it would be interesting to talk to a few people about his influence on them. I had worked with Joan Jett and I knew she was a fan and a friend of Iggy, so I reached out to her and she immediately said yes. Johnny Marr I know and interviewed him about Raw Power for my previous book, and while I was doing the book Iggy announced that he’d made an album with Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age and they were on the road, and he was immediately amenable and great. He had this great story about how he bought Raw Power at eleven years-old, just because he liked the cover.

Kurt Cobain’s number one album was Raw Power, and I knew that Dave Grohl was a big fan, but I was completely unprepared for the story he told me. He totally coincidentally ended up playing drums for Iggy at a showcase, long before Nirvana, when he was a starving musician – an incredible story. These people don’t have a causal interest in The Stooges, they’re people whose careers started or were dramatically influenced by Iggy and the band. I intentionally didn’t intersperse that in the book, I wanted it all at the end so the first nine tenths of the book were just Iggy and me, and then we’d have a little spice at the end.

London, 1972, photo from Total Chaos: The Story of The Stooges

Clementine: In your opinion, what makes Iggy and The Stooges so iconic and still relevant today?
Jeff: Nobody had ever done this before. Nobody had covered themselves in peanut butter on stage or done these crazy dance moves or bloodied themselves. He invented the stage dive and stage walking and crowd-surfing. Nobody had ever made a record that sounded like The Stooges. Nobody had ever written lyrics like Iggy. No band had ever sounded like that before. So in my mind they really invented Punk, and it wasn’t an intentional thing, it just kind of happened. The thing that really got me thinking about this was that first show I saw in 1973 – and The Stooges broke up very soon after; drug addicted, broke, no management, no label, no prospects, nothing – and 29 years later I saw them headline Coachella. It was the first reunion show they played. They broke up to complete disinterest and 29 years later they’re headlining the biggest American rock festival in front of 30,000 kids going absolutely berserk. I started thinking, “How does this happen?” Nobody was promoting The Stooges during this era, yet the cream really rose to the top and people bought the records and heard about them and saw them cited as influences and saw Kurt Cobain and Johnny Rotten wearing The Stooges’ t-shirt and heard Nirvana and the Sex Pistols and The Ramones and Joan Jett cover The Stooges and talk about The Stooges. Iggy really feels – and I think he’s absolutely right – that the photographs were a big part of it. All of these kids were talking about punk rock, but they could see it right there. Though Iggy had a successful solo career, Ron and Scott Ashton had been in bands that never really sold any records or got any real notoriety outside of Ann Arbor or Detroit, and James Williamson left and got into the electronics business, so 29-30 years later these guys have all of a sudden become rock stars, and they’re touring and playing in front of stadiums full of people going crazy. I wanted to explore how that happened.

Total Chaos: The Story of The Stooges by Jeff Gold is out now via Third Man Books.