Now the Star of David Bowie's Tonight Show—Here's Iggy Pop

updated 12/10/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/10/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

The first time David Bowie saw him, Iggy Pop was covered with Skippy peanut butter. It was a gift from a frenzied fan during a telecast of the 1970 Cincinnati Pop Festival, A Midsummer Night's Rock. While his band, the Stooges, cranked out white-noise boogie behind him, Iggy zapped the gathered peaceniks with his lunatic shtik—flicking his tongue like a lizard, contorting his body into impossible pretzels and finally slapping that brown goo over his scrawny frame with X-rated vigor.

"David was actually very turned off by the onstage violence I got into," Iggy, 37, says with a chuckle. But the force of his atomic punk stage act—which at times also included etching his chest with broken glass and taunting dazed teenyboppers with vulgar ditties like Rich Bitch—so transfixed King Glitter that he fashioned his most famous creation, Ziggy Stardust, after it. "David thought Iggy was ahead of his time," says Danny Fields, who had signed the newcomer to his first record deal and introduced him to Bowie in 1970. "Iggy was avant-garde by his standards."

Bowie has since become an active patron of the Ig's maniacal pop art. He produced two of Iggy's most influential LPs, The Idiot and Lust for Life, and played keyboards for him on his 1977 tour. The royalties from Bowie's Top 10 cover of China Girl last year did wonders for Iggy's ailing finances, and Bowie's latest album, Tonight, features no fewer than five Iggy copyrights.

It is the first time the former James Newell Osterberg has made any real money from his theater of the surreal. Measured strictly by sales, the 12 albums he's released since 1969 were all stiffs. But thanks in great part to Bowie's zealous marketing, Iggy Pop is now universally recognized as the Mad Daddy of new wave rock. New York bands like the Ramones emulated the sound of his heavy metal blitz. The Sex Pistols and disco diva Grace Jones cranked out their versions of his songs. Punk self-mutilation with safety pins and lighted cigarettes was just a crude update of Iggy's shock tactics.

"I was doing a whole concept," he insists. "I took anthropology in college and a big influence on me was what I learned about tribalism and primitive societies." Indeed, the late critic Lester Bangs said Iggy "embodied rock 'n' roll as animal savagery at the most purely atavistic...nihilistic level." The big difference between Iggy and some of his greatest admirers, like Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious, is that he's lived to talk about it.

"I've learned that you can't fire all your missiles every day," he says. Currently, he drinks nothing harder than black coffee and gets high on song-writing and household chores in the new Greenwich Village high-rise apartment he shares with his Japanese girlfriend, Suchi, 23. "He has done a complete turnaround," his mother, Louella Osterberg, says proudly. "He really enjoys getting up early in the morning and doing mundane things like reading the paper and eating a croissant."

An only child raised in a trailer park outside Ann Arbor, Mich., he never gave his parents (James Sr. is a retired high school English teacher) any indication that he was headed for rock 'n' roll trouble. He was a model student and in eighth grade ran for student council vice president as a member of the "Party" party (his platform: more sock hops). "All the mothers I knew would say 'I wish my son was as well behaved and nice to talk to as your Jim,' " brags Mom.

That didn't last long. After playing drums in teen bands like the Iguanas (whence he took his nom de punk), he briefly sampled the blues life in Chicago and then dropped out of the University of Michigan to raise full-time havoc with the Stooges. "It was glorious," he crows. "I was stoned all the time, day and night. People were scared to have me in their clubs." Small wonder. At one New York show in 1970, he dangled baboon-style from a pipe in the ceiling—and ripped out the fire sprinkler system.

Iggy's behavior onstage and off (captured graphically in his 1982 autobiography, I Need More) was nearly the end of him. "I've come close to death many times, as if I were poking lighted matches in front of the open stove." In 1974 he checked into a Los Angeles sanatorium to kick heroin as well as his increasing reliance on alcohol and barbiturates. A frequent visitor was David Bowie, who later escorted him to West Berlin for a little R and R—rest and recording.

"Although opposite sides of the same coin, we've gone through a lot of the same problems in our craft," Bowie recently told Musician of their friendship. "But there's never been anything like 'Hey little brother, clean up your act' between us," Iggy adds. Bowie is just "a very nice class of person to hang out with," he says. They still travel together a lot; Tonight's Tumble and Twirl was written about their vacation in Indonesia earlier this year with their respective paramours.

Now Iggy mostly hangs out with Suchi, the daughter of a Tokyo policeman. He brought her to the U.S. after a 1983 Iggy concert in Japan, and they have since settled into a sweet romantic groove in spite of her shaky command of his language. "It was a golden opportunity to play English teacher," says Iggy, who speaks no Japanese. He accompanies Suchi on trips to fabric stores (she is an aspiring fashion designer) and gladly does half the housecleaning, "mostly bits and pieces patrol."

While he waits for the signal to start work on his next album, which Bowie will produce, Iggy bangs out poems and lyrics on his portable electronic typewriter. He is also indulging a new interest in serious theater by auditioning for off-Broadway plays—without luck so far. "I think the name throws them," he worries. "Like 'What is an Iggy Pop doing in our theater?' "

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