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Iggy Pop: Bare & Real captures every angle of punk rock’s most vital force

iggy pop on stage

By the time the late ’70s came around, a young Paul McAlpine was already fed up. He was a wunderkind rock photographer that had captured the pictorial glamour of David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Queen, Alice Cooper and more. Peaking early, he was jaded and at a loose end.

So, when you’ve covered the most lavish productions that were touring in the era, where do you go for new inspiration? Instead of languishing on the sidelines, McAlpine decided to get right back in the saddle – a decision for which he was handsomely rewarded. He didn’t know it at the time, but his life and Jim’s (Jim is better known as Iggy Pop), would be interwoven for decades to come.

In the pages of Iggy Pop: Bare & Real, Paul McAlpine has bottled the electric energy of this most photogenic of rock and roll iconoclasts.

On that first night, Paul McAlpine went to see Blondie open for Iggy Pop at Harvard Square, Boston. After Blondie’s set, the snapper was transfixed by the opening bars of Raw Power, emanating from Iggy and his band – which included David Bowie on piano. As is evidenced within the luxurious pages of Iggy Pop: Bare & Real, McAlpine maintained that state of acute observance for many years to come.

As those who’ve been exposed to the art of Iggy will attest, it’s a full frontal assault on all senses. The sonic information is raw, honest and abrasive. The performance on stage is physical and dangerous. The photographs that have been displayed here by McAlpine convey all that sensory data and more.

Early on, the action is focussed on the East coast of the US. McAlpine’s work centres on the tours that supported The Idiot, Lust for Life, New Values and Party tours of the late ’70s and early ’80s. Even in this comparatively short slice of Iggy Pop’s career, the pictures capture moments of transition within.

The gigs from early in that era are sweated-drenched, every angle reflecting sinewy strain. Later in this early period of their relationship, a more diverse range of Iggy’s on-stage personalities are reflected. Theatrical, but somehow still so personal, McAlpine catches the exact moments when performer and audience are locked in a moment of recognition.

After these heady days, McAlpine lost his way again. Somehow he wound up on the West coast, pursuing LA for reasons that most people do. Far from stardom though, he was adrift, noting that, “I judged how good a rock video shoot was by the quality of the craft services.” This was the second time that his old friend Jim was to serendipitously cross his path.

McAlpine was back on the tour bus and this time, Iggy had sunshine on his shoulders. The photos from this epoch catch Iggy and his band in moments of contemplation, connecting with fans, behind dumpsters doing interviews, in soundcheck and in conversation with friends. The hours of airport drudgery are real, but in some respects it’s also a tender portrait of a family unit on the road. The pictures depict the personal bonds that make it possible for a band to take on the world.

The sun-kissed Californian tour gave way to the cold austerity of Europe. Then the warmth returns as the party heads to Brazil. Landscapes abound – there are obviously new curiosities to drink in – yet, when the lens is focussed on the main man, the same power and visceral ability to communicate through performance is always there. No matter which audience is placed before him, he delivers the only thing he knows how to: the truth.

Throughout Bare & Real, there are well-placed anecdotes from the pen of the photographer, lending the scenes an enriching context. A moment of peace in the tour bus, a cherished Hollywood memory of the gang piling into a convertible, pointing out that the DJ in a radio interview had to stare at a “Bruce Springsteen – Play 2 Songs Per Hour” sign while interviewing Iggy.

McAlpine explains that he once – accidentally – made off with a pair of Roy Orbison’s jeans and recounts the story of a girl, newly revived after an overdose (in the Chelsea Hotel, no less), with her only question being, “Do any of you guys have an extra ticket for Iggy tonight?” It was all very rock and roll.

There’s even a foreword from the book’s subject. Iggy remarks:

“For me, these were the years 1976 through ’89, during which I flailed, tranced, mimed, and outraged my way through the halls of the professional music business.”

Though self-deprecating, he sure made that time look pretty good. Through the keen eye of Paul McAlpine, we can all bear witness to these flailing outrages, as majestic as they are.

Iggy Pop: Bare & Real is out now via Tyrant Books.

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July 25, 2019