Friday, April 18, 2008

"Iggy, We Hardly Knew Ye"

When I was eighteen years old I frequented a club called Rodney’s English Disco, which was on the Sunset Strip. It was hosted by a man named Rodney Bingenheimer, who was apparently the world’s biggest rock fanboy and official welcome wagon to visiting bands in L.A. I went there on weeknights because the admission was free, on a dead night the drinks were sometimes free as well, and things were low-key enough to catch people at their least pretentious, posey and unguarded selves. And some nights were more unguarded than others.
There was the night a Congressman from a Midwestern state came by (with bodyguard). He asked Rodney what’s the deal, and within minutes a groupie named Lori Mattix came by and disappeared in the back room with the Congressman and Rodney. Nothing much was thought of it then, however, a few months later, there was posted on the wall of the club a letter with the official Congressional Seal on it. It was from the same Congressman thanking Rodney for showing him such an entertaining evening. I had a nice chortle over that. The most unguarded nights, however, were the Iggy Pop experiences.
On a slow Tuesday night Iggy came in, but I didn’t believe it was him. I couldn’t believe Iggy was so short and stocky. I was used to seeing him as he appeared on the cover of “Raw Power”, platinum-haired and silver jeaned. Tonight he showed up in blue denim dungarees and his hair was dyed black. Worst of all, he wore a T-shirt with his face on it (old Stooges photo circa 1970). Now, you have to bear in mind the Stooges had broken up, Iggy didn’t have a band or a solo career yet, and frankly, he was a drunken, stoned mess. I sat by the bar and he leaped onto the stool next to mine, craning his head towards me and staring right at me, hoping I’d make the association between his face and the image on the shirt. I was tired, in a bad mood, and didn’t care.

There were four other patrons in the club besides myself, all at the bar. No one would indulge Iggy by acknowledging him. In fact, everyone there seemed to think he was a washed-up, useless loser. Rodney was playing records in the DJ booth, which was an elevated platform above the dance floor. Iggy went up to the DJ booth and talked to Rodney.
Rodney picked up the club mike and announced to all five of us, “Okay! Tonight we have a special guest star, live at Rodney’s English Disco, it’s Iggy Pop!” Side 2 of “Raw Power” started playing over the PA and Iggy sang along to it on the club mike, or at least attempted to. He was on downers and seemed to have trouble spitting out the words when he wasn’t having problems remembering them. Here’s a partial transcription:
“Dance to the b-b-b-beat of the...uh....lose sleep...uh....Raw Power is...uh....s-s-s-sure to come...uh....” Two girls at the bar laughed derisively at this pathetic display. They were with an Englishman who found the whole affair, well, “Disgusting!” he spat bitterly. “Fucking failure! What a disgraceful bastard!”
The next tune on Side 2 was “I Need Somebody”. Iggy struggled with the words once more. “I need...uh....just l-l-l-like, uh, y-y-y-you....”, he stammered statically.
“Oh, this is just awful”, the girls at the bar moaned, in between shrieks of laughter.
“What a bloody egomaniac, he is”, the horrified Englishman grunted angrily. “Wearing a T-shirt with his bleedin’ face on it!”
Next song: “Shake Appeal”. Iggy fared just as badly on the vocals, loud and distorted, the record playing over the PA too quietly to hide how incredibly bad he was. He lasted another two songs (with more running commentary from the Brit and his two clubmates), and then he called it a night. I felt sorry for him, but I found the whole scene fascinating. This was the same guy I’d see on the bus sitting in front with all the old ladies. He’d always get off at the Strip, walking down the street with the saddest, most dejected look I’ve ever seen.
One month later, an awful biker bar hippie blues band played Rodney’s. They were set up on the dance floor. Iggy pushed up through the crowd, back in platinum blonde hair, and bum-rushed the bandstand in dress, high heels (three sizes too big), and wearing full women’s make-up. He didn’t look very feminine, if anything the drag merely exaggerated how masculine he really looked. While the band blasted through another inept hippie blues workout, Iggy would stand in front of the bandstand contorting his body, doing handstands and cartwheels in front of the band and posing like a Vogue Magazine model, predating “Voguing” by a good 15 years!
Bravo, Iggy! While the singer was perfecting his worst Jim Morrison blues-man delivery, Iggy grabbed the mike from him and hooted a hog-calling yell.
The fat hippie blues singer was terrified by this insane drag queen crashing his set. The audience loved it because Iggy woke everybody up from their deep slumber the blues band was inducing, I went home shortly after this but found out several days later that at the end of that night Iggy was grabbed up by the police and jailed for female impersonation and being under the influence of drugs. Needless to say, life got better for Iggy Pop and we’re all the better for it.

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