iggyking south-park
Cartoon versions of Iggy Pop and Robert Smith.

A couple of rock birthdays today: Iggy Pop turns 63 (!) and Robert Smith of the Cure, 51.

The continued existence of the man born James Osterberg as a living, breathing organism on planet Earth—along with those of his contemporaries Lou Reed and Keith Richards—must be considered something of a miracle. Consider this passage from Marc Spitz’s Bowie describing Iggy’s state in 1976:

Iggy Pop resurfaced again once the White Light tour rolled back into Los Angeles. Since being dropped from MainMan, Iggy had sunk even further. He was arrested for shoplifting, sleeping in a garage, and trying to write songs with James Williamson but mostly in a drug haze.

“Iggy was in such bad odor with the rest of L.A. that most of the dealers refused to let him into their apartments,” Nick Kent writes in his classic anthology The Dark Stuff. “He’d made such a mess of his life during the two years he’d been based in L.A. that everyone had him written off as nothing more than a washed up loser….”

When he began to vomit fluid of unrecognizable origin and indescribable color, and with the police threatening to prosecute him for vagrancy, he finally committed himself to the Neuropsychiatric Institute in L.A.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of self-destructive Iggy stories, and yet not only did he survive the 70s, in 2008 he inspired the following passage from Dan Kennedy’s Rock On:

The unplugged so-called alternative metal songs have stopped being played, and the opening band has retreated, maybe even a little earlier than planned, making me think they’re probably decent men on some level. After about twenty minutes, the house lights go down, the stage goes dark, some static and clamor as a guitar is plugged in by a shadowy figure, static for a second, a little feedback, and then the first huge chords ring out and…


The stage lights are up full blast and Iggy Pop hits the stage like he’s not going to stop running until he’s at the back of the auditorium, grabs the mic, and splits off across the stage to the side. A shirtless blur, a tornado of living, screaming, chiseled muscle-and-sinew proof that all of what they told you about growing up or aging is bullshit.

Mike Watt, from the Minutemen and fIREHOSE, is playing bass and looks as amazed as anyone in the crowd. His eyes are absolutely glued to Iggy, and Iggy is everywhere at once. He flies like a computer-animated god-beast deity in an unhinged and hijacked Lucas film. You suddenly realize every punk band you thought was blowing your mind back when you were sixteen was simply a cute little messenger delivering a wadded note to you from this man, wherever he might have been that night.

It goes on like that for awhile, and is worth checking out in its entirety; I just wanted to be sure to work in the Mike Watt reference. Anyway, Iggy, Jimmy, whatever you want to call him, is clearly made of some different material than the rest of us. He may outlive us all. When the aliens drop that special bomb keyed to human DNA patterns to wipe us out so they can take over the planet unopposed, they may find Iggy standing in the wreckage wondering what the hell happened to everybody.

Bob Smith, meanwhile, is a comparatively young 51, which seems hard to believe since the Cure have been around forever. He had barely turned 20 when the Cure’s debut, Three Imaginary Boys, was released in 1979. The deluxe reissue of TIB released in 2004 contains a song of the same vintage called “I Want to Be Old,” which goes as follows:

I want to be old
And creek by the fire
I want to smell of rotting wood
It’s all I desire
I want my joints to seize up
I want my legs to ache
I want my eyesight to fail
I want my skin to flake
To be old
I want to be old
I want false teeth
And not be able to chew
I want to be senile
A centigenarian fool
I want lots of wrinkles
Want my hearing to go
I want to be ignored
And I want to be slow
To be old
I want to be old

One wonders how he feels about that, now that he’s getting up there.

Noticeably not appearing on this reissue is “Killing an Arab,” the 1978 single that inspired the title of the Cure’s first greatest hits album, Standing on a Beach. Due to some controversy over its title, “Killing an Arab” has been Trotskyishly erased from the Cure’s catalog, and no longer appears on any in-print Cure album; this despite the fact that it is a fairly unmistakable homage to Albert Camus’ existential classic The Stranger, and does not endorse the killing of anyone. I happen to be in possession of the original issue of the Boys Don’t Cry CD, and I invite you to listen here and judge for yourself.