It’s certainly not music for a sunny day at the beach! It’s neither for dancing, nor partying – but for driving on a rainy night alone in your car, it’s the perfect soundtrack. For someone contemplating suicide, it might be dangerous. It was on the turntable of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis when he voluntarily checked out.
The Idiot is pure genius. How Iggy Pop and David Bowie arrived at this glorious sonic abomination in 1977 at the height of the Punk vs. Disco era is one of the great anomalies of musical history. What instruments did they use to make it? Guitars, sax, keyboards and one of the earliest synthesizers – on loan from Brian Eno (also used on Bowie’s Low sessions,) – the EMS AKS briefcase model. Eno himself gave the album an ‘oblique’ complement, “It’s an experience akin to being encased in concrete.”
The Idiot sounds like nothing of this earth, yet it is the soundtrack of many lives. It is neither black nor white. It is completely gray. A warped, disturbing dream of wartime cabarets, factories, smokestacks, East Berlin, Metropolis, Oedipus Rex. It is murky and dreary, haunting, eerie and beautiful. When most early synths were being utilized to create mindless Euro disco, Bowie and Pop rightly wrestled those sounds into submission. Only Bowie could have slowed Iggy down to this numbing and anomalous pace.
The album is admittedly influenced by the sounds of industrialism in Iggy’s home town of Detroit. We hear the buzz of mass production, the drone, clang and repetition of machinery – metal on metal. It’s relentless, Germanic, anesthetic, hypnotic…hypodermic!
On “Sister Midnight” Iggy has the dream to end all dreams. Wham bam, thank you MOM!! Oh no – daddy’s after me with his six-gun! “What can I do about my dreams?!”
“Nightclubbing” is the dance of the dead, romantically slow-dancing the ‘Nuclear Bomb’. “Funtime” is “No Fun” in disguise. It’s Iggy’s zombified version of “Monster Mash”. He’s down in the lab with Dracula and his crew. Some great screams and visceral growls on this one! It gradually gets you into a ghoulish groove.
Most probably it was Bowie who turned Iggy’s ode to heroin into a love song to an Asian heroine. He turned his Chinese rock into a “China Girl”, but the ‘orientation’ remained the same! Iggy’s a mess without ‘her’. (She was, in actuality Vietnamese). The ‘toy’ piano adds sweetness to the brooding tune. Bowie’s simple sax on “Tiny Girls” is innocently beautiful, adding a touch of warmth to the robotic opus. The musicians borrowed from Bowie’s Low sessions enfold you in a trance, along with Iggy’s ghostly / ghastly crooning vocals.
It is seldom that anyone pays respect to former band members in a song (they’re usually happy to be rid of each other). On his ode to the Stooges, “Dum Dum Boys”, Iggy pines, ‘Where are you now when I need your noise?’ It was inevitable that the surviving members would reunite, and how joyous it was in 2003 when the Asheton brothers toured with Iggy again. They’re back and still relevant forty years on!
The Idiot was an abnormality in itself, and also of Iggy’s own approach to music. But it is one of his finest moments, never to be compared to anything he’s ever done, or to anything at all.