Searching in Ann Arbor for the origins of Iggy Pop

Courtesy of Leni Sinclair

BY DAVID RIVA
Daily Arts Writer
Published April 17, 2011

There’s a certain aura that exists when a musician spends his or her formative years in an area. That person lives on through stories shared in record shops and concert halls. Some might call it legend, but those who reach this mythical status have an inextricable influence on the place where they grew up — their presence still emanates from the walls of local public schools, convenience stores and diners.

Iggy Pop is one of these musicians. The 63-year-old artist will be playing a tribute show tonight for the late Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton in the city in which the Stooges formed — Ann Arbor.

“(Iggy Pop) was one of the most energetic dancers,” Ann Arbor-based musician Dan Mulholland said. “When he started taking off, he was just riveting. I don't know if it was cocaine or what, but he would just fly across the room like James Brown. He made Mick Jagger look really bad.”

Musician Scott Morgan, who went to Iggy's high school in Ann Arbor, echoed the praise of the star’s untamed energy.

“He puts everything he’s got into the show,” he said.

Off the stage, Iggy was just as memorable as he was while performing, and Ann Arborites eagerly share their anecdotes that loosely connect them to this substantial figure in the city’s history.

John Kerr, owner of Wazoo Records on State Street, recalled his “one fabled encounter with Iggy Pop,” when he was working an early-morning shift at a convenience store called Stop-N-Go on Broadway Street in Ann Arbor.

“It was a complete ghost town, and I guess Iggy was playing at some festival in Toledo that day,” he said. “I looked out across the parking lot, and there came Iggy, and he came in. He was the only person in the store with me. He bought a loaf of bread, paid for it with small change to the exact penny ... He had an Iggy Pop T-shirt turned inside out that he was wearing.”

Born Jim Osterberg in Muskegon, Mich., Iggy and his family moved to a trailer park in Ypsilanti when he was young. He wasn’t fond of telling others about this housing arrangement, though.

“He didn’t want anyone to know that he lived there, so he told them he lived somewhere else,” Morgan said.

However, his self-conscious attitude was something that didn’t last long. Jim would acquire the nickname Iggy and with it would become one of the most notorious rock‘n’rollers and recognizable stage performers of his time.

But while attending Ann Arbor's Pioneer High School in the ’60s, Jim was just another kid.

“He was pretty straight when he was in high school,” Morgan said. “He was a gymnast and played golf.”

On stage, during high school talent shows, Jim began to stand out, and his Iggy persona started to take shape.

“He did (a) comedy routine,” Morgan explained. “He played this character named Hyacinth. He didn’t talk, and he just kind of acted funny. I don’t know how to put it, but it was a look at what he would do later with the Stooges.”

Around this time, Jim took a job at the now-closed Discount Records on State Street. This is where Herb David, owner of Herb David Guitar Studio on Liberty Street, first met him.

The now-80-year-old David exudes a tone of wisdom after years of observing the Ann Arbor music scene and had only positive things to say about Jim’s early years, calling him a “nice young man” and “a guy with a lot of spirit.”

Morgan would also frequent Discount Records, and Jim was always there to give him music recommendations.

“He’d point to different records and say, ‘Check this out, it’s Van Morisson’s Moon Dance,’ ” Morgan explained. “I’d just take his word for it and buy the stuff, and he was always right.”

One time, Jim suggested Morgan buy a record by Detroit jazz saxophonist Yusef Lateef. On the album, a song called “Eastern Market” contained a riff that Morgan would later notice in the song “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by Iggy and the Stooges.

Another memory of Morgan’s illustrates Jim’s competitive nature. When Jim was still working at Discount Records, Morgan’s band, the Rationals, recorded a song called “Leaving Here,” originally by the Motown songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland. Perhaps out of jealousy, Jim didn’t want the recording by the Rationals to succeed.

“(He) took all the copies of the record that were in the singles bin,” Morgan said, adding that Jim wanted to record a version of the song himself. It’s likely that Jim took that stack of singles to the stock room, where he spent a large portion of his time while at work.

“They banished him to the stock room because he was always just talking to girls when he worked upstairs,” Morgan said.

Jim briefly attended the University in 1965 before dropping out to study blues drumming in Chicago in 1966. When he returned to Ann Arbor eight months later, Jim joined the Prime Movers. The blues band frequented local concert halls, and its performances serve as some of David’s earliest memories of Iggy as the world knows him today.

“The band was playing onstage, and Iggy had a rope from the ceiling and he was swinging (on) it like Tarzan across the auditorium,” David said.

Anybody who’s ever seen Iggy live has a unique story to share about his one-of-a-kind stage presence.

“Iggy doesn’t keep his shirt on for very long,” explained Matt Bradish, owner of Underground Sounds on Liberty Street. “It’s usually (off) by the end of the first song.”

Though this is a common occurrence seen by many, Bradish encountered even more skin than he ever wanted to see at a concert in the early ’90s.

“I was in the front row — not very far from (Iggy) — and the guy mooned me from like three feet,” Bradish said. “(I’ve) got to say, he does shower.”

These onstage antics are acceptable to some, but to others they are borderline dangerous and unnecessary.

Mulholland, for instance, criticized Iggy’s performance style.

“Sometimes Iggy would play a song for 25 minutes just making noise into the microphone, just trying to fuck with people,” he explained. “He’d get in somebody’s face and start kicking them ... I said, ‘This is too violent for me, I’ve got other shit to do.’ ”

Mulholland offered a story that shows a side of Iggy that is not well documented — the brilliance of his mind.

“I went into the Fleetwood (Diner on) a hot summer day, and there’s Iggy at the counter,” he explained. “His memory was, like, photographic.

“I said, ‘Do you remember the time you came over the house and we smoked some joints, and you told us about getting signed to Main Man (Records) to do Raw Power?' (Iggy) remembered who was there, who brought the bag of weed. It must have been 15 years earlier, (but) he remembered everybody’s name. It was uncanny.”

Whether in a diner, convenience store, a record shop, at school or on stage, Ann Arbor is the site of countless tales of a kid named Jim who developed into the famous icon Iggy Pop. Though we can never fully know the entire story of Iggy, traces can be found in the town that raised him.