When David Bowie died last year, it was the first time I’d felt the death of someone I’d never actually met. He was the face of a movement that I didn’t belong to, but that had opened the door for so many subcultures that I do consider myself a part of. In other words, I already had one Bowie tattoo and I was immediately ready to get another.
But Bowie didn’t deserve to win the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album last year. Yes, Blackstar was great, lovely, and more magical than a unicorn running through a field of rainbows, but Iggy Pop’s Post Pop Depression was a better “alternative” (whatever that means these days) album. Of course, anyone who was even mildly paying attention to the situation knew the most outdated awards show in music had already made up its mind. Even before his death, Bowie — like so many other rock stars — had evolved into some sort of untouchable deity more easily identified by his hair and makeup on the cover of Aladdin Sane than what he’d actually done over the last few decades. Iggy Pop never stood a chance — even if he has maintained his status as the gritty (and increasingly leathery) face of punk rock since the genre’s earliest days.
As put on full display this weekend for the thousands of punkers who packed the Las Vegas Events Center for Punk Rock Bowling, the man generally considered the godfather of punk rock is still a force to be reckoned with. Even at the age of 70, the bare-chested Pop danced around the stage better than most of the acts two or three decades his junior while the powerful vocals and chunky guitars of classics like “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” "No Fun," and “Lust for Life" echoed all throughout Downtown Las Vegas.
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But Iggy did more than just putting on one of his classic performances for the Punk Rock Bowling crowd. Surrounded by now-legendary punk acts like Bad Religion and the Adicts, Pop’s set was proof of just how vital he and his sound still are to the entire genre — and the rest of the music world. For every kid who’s ever picked up a guitar with dreams of becoming the next Hendrix or playing with the style and soul of Slash, there’s a high school band in a garage somewhere that wants to rip off Raw Power (whether they know it or not).
With the current generation of punk groups like the Interrupters, FIDLAR, and Plague Vendor delivering strong sets between the more established veteran acts, it was still impossible not to hear Pop’s influence in punk music going forward. For the millions of teenagers screaming along to FIDLAR’s “Cheap Beer” and “40oz. on Repeat” around the world, they’re being inspired by music that not only likely wouldn’t exist without the Stooges, but also hasn’t evolved all that much over the last 50 years. That’s not a knock on FIDLAR’s (personally, I think they’re great) or any other band’s originality, it’s more that Pop’s iconic sound and style are so ingrained into what we consider “punk” that the two are essentially synonymous.
Sure, we’re currently in a time when punk isn’t as mainstream as it has been in the past. Even with the resurgence of emo and pop-punk bands from the early 2000s in the last few years, it’s rare for a punk band with an average age under 30 to appear on non-genre-specific radio and festival lineups, but that doesn’t mean we should be limiting Pop’s impact. Much like how Prince’s label-defying sounds influenced everyone from Miguel to Mushroomhead, there’s little doubt that Waka Flocka Flame would go quite as hard in the paint without the aggression that the Stooges brought into the sounds of the late ‘60s. Beyond rock bands from R.E.M. and the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Slayer and Cage the Elephant covering his tracks, even Lil Wayne goes ahead and namedrops the punk icon during his verse on Jamie Foxx’s “Number One.”
In these days of losing another great musician on a seemingly weekly basis, let’s not wait too long to give Iggy Pop his due as one of the most important frontmen to ever grace a stage. Falling somewhere among the living legends of Keith Richards and Patti Smith, the original Stooge took the artistic energy of Jim Morrison and turned it into the aggression and attitude seen across the musical spectrum today. Without him, music would just be no fun.