As a preteen in Boston, Paul McAlpine was taking his camera to rock shows; by 1977, he went on tour with Iggy Pop and continued snapping him through the Blah Blah Blah tour in 1986. Those shots are featured in his recently-published book, Iggy Pop: Bare & Real. Eric Davidson talks with McAlpine about his career in the rock & roll trenches.
Paul McAlpine has a surname that echoes the pinnacles of rock & roll that he has scaled as a gadabout photographer since the 1970s. First heading out to shows as a pre-teen in a burgeoning Boston scene in the very early ‘70s, McAlpine translated his affection for Iggy Pop’s music into being a frequent photographer on numerous tours and gigs across Pop’s whole solo career.
He began on the first solo tour in 1977, and after shooting some of the Blah Blah Blah shows in 1986, McAlpine concocted a book of all his Iggy work, but back-burnered it until now. Iggy Pop: Bare & Real is a gorgeous, expansive collection of live and more intimate photos, out now in a very limited run, on Fat Possum/Tyrant Books.
PKM: Okay, start at the top — why the title Bare & Real?
Paul McAlpine: Iggy Pop: Bare & Real. No Sex, No Drugs, No German Jokes is the full title/subtitle of the book. Bare and Real – he bares his emotions and is a very real human just making his way through life with something to say. And I nicked it from Chocolate Drops.
PKM: How did your photography career begin? Who did you shoot right before that first 1977 Iggy tour; and how did they compare with dealing with Iggy?
As they checked off your name on the guest list, you got hit with a whip cream pie in the face. Everyone was on roller skates, and they had endless beer and whip cream so you could bomb your friends. You have to understand I was in the eleventh grade, so free beer, adult women, and whip cream was a very good introduction to the rock & roll world. At the party I met Steven Tyler, and he asked if I could shoot his band Aerosmith. They were playing high schools at the time, and I said sure. Aerosmith went from fun to hell faster than a Maserati. We can save them for another day.
PKM: How did you hook up with Iggy; and what were your expectations going into that 1977 tour? I know you mention in the intro that you were a little burnt out, even jaded – at only 20. Do you mean jaded about where music was?
Paul McAlpine: Ah, I thought I was jaded! When you are 20, you have a very unique take on the world as you see it with young eyes. Rock & roll was exploding in the ‘70s, and Boston was a hot city. I would be out at gigs four or five nights a week. Bowie had a management company called Mainman, which became Isolar. I had always wanted to shoot Iggy, so I asked my friend at Isolar for access to the Harvard Square gig. The date was March 16, 1977, at the Harvard Square Theatre. The gig was just a few days before The Idiot album was released.
PKM: What was the crowd like? Us non-Bostonians assume loads of sweatered preps on Harvard Square, maybe a bit freaked out by Iggy.
Paul McAlpine: To be honest, when you are shooting all manual camera gear, your head is more than busy. I do remember the woman I left the theatre with that night.
PKM: Did you ever shoot the Modern Lovers?
Paul McAlpine: For some reason, I never shot the Modern Lovers, although I do recall shooting a few images of Jonathan playing pinball at a club in Harvard Square. I was there with Nico and Patrick from Ireland, who appeared in a Warhol film or two.
PKM: You mention in the intro that the 1977 Iggy solo tour was the first nationwide tour Iggy undertook since the Stooges officially quit. Was he still really bummed out about how things dissolved?
Paul McAlpine: If you spend too much time looking back it becomes difficult moving forward. The Idiot album was set for release, and I imagine he knew it was an album like none recorded before. With focus, you move forward as an artist. I think of Berlin as the Die Brücke era for both Iggy and Bowie.
PKM: Yeah, he was living in Berlin by then, trying to clean up, correct? So how did you find him on the tour, his general demeanor? Were you able to have some good chats?
Paul McAlpine: Hmmm, in the ‘70s, things were very different than today. I would shoot a gig and go hunt a cold beer backstage after the house lights came up. For some reason, there was always jumbo shrimp platters if you were hungry. It was all kicked back, people just wanting to say, “Cool gig. Hey we are going to a club, are you interested?” I am a pretty quiet person by nature, and we met at the Palladium in New York. Yet another lost venue. I recall coming up from the West Village; the air was very dry and cold. As I arrived, the Ramones were just finishing their set, giving me time to load up my gear and chill. Soupy Sales introduced the guys, and there were static lightning sparks across Iggy on the first frames of the night. One thing is certain, he can wind up himself into a human hurricane, but he is a very genuine and appreciative person one-to-one. Yeah, he had his moments but there is absolutely nothing wrong with passion.
PKM: On that tour, was he staying away from Stooges material at that point? Was he happy with the band he’d assembled?
Paul McAlpine: As an artist Iggy had written some very important songs while in the Stooges. You will see throughout the book I included the set lists to give the reader a feel of what was cooking on stage. Tony and Hunt Sales (Soupy Sales’ sons), tight rhythm section; add Ricky Gardiner and David Bowie – great band!
PKM: Yeah, famously, Bowie played keyboards on some dates. And I’ve read how a lot of people showed up expecting Bowie to sing and play guitar and generally be more out there, but he basically stayed behind the keys, right?
Paul McAlpine: You know, as the house lights dimmed and the band began pounding out the intro to “Raw Power,” you could hear fans screaming “David, David” – that all stopped when Iggy walked out on stage. Bowie sang background vocals and played keyboards. The Idiot is an extremely powerful collection of songs and thoughts. I look at them as paintings – there was only one spotlight onstage.
PKM: Also famously, Blondie opened. Did Iggy set that up, or was it a label thing?
Paul McAlpine: Who knows? There is a group of musicians that all seem to have worked together at one point in time between Iggy, Blondie, Patti Smith, and Fred Sonic Smith’s Rendezvous Band.
PKM: Did you ever shoot Sonic’s Rendezvous Band? I feel like Sonic Smith remains a bit of a mystery man after all these years.
Paul McAlpine: They were Iggy’s band on the ‘78 “Eurostrike” tour, something I missed. You should check out their arrangement for the “The Endless Sea” – very powerful.
PKM: Chris Stein of Blondie is a great photographer himself. https://pleasekillme.com/chris-stein-photography/
Did you two ever get to talk about photography?
Paul McAlpine: I went over and visited Chris at home with Iggy one afternoon, and we talked about the artist H. R. Giger. I forget why we went over, but Chris had some very cool stuff he was collecting.
PKM: What did Iggy think of Blondie? And how aware, at that point do you think Iggy was with the punk movement going on?
Paul McAlpine: That is a question for Iggy. There has been much talk of punk lately. I recently did a talk at Lecia Gallery, and you know I’ve got to say we just went out to see who was playing on any given night of the week. We didn’t put labels on music. Punk was about not wanting a label stuck on your face.
PKM: And where were you at that moment, as far as music? You had already shot some big acts, right? What did you think of punk, and the way Iggy was being kind of re-cast as the punk godfather?
Paul McAlpine: 1977 was a busy year for me, I shot gigs on both Queen tours, Boston, Aerosmith were big arena acts. The Cars were playing gigs around Boston. I shot a few gigs on the Rod Stewart tour, and the very first frame of his Madison Square Garden performance turned out to be his promotional still. If you really want to talk about punk (the attitude), look at Los Saicos from Peru. I could be wrong but punk wasn’t a sound, punk was an attitude.
PKM: The other night, I found this interesting 1977 clip on You Tube — Iggy Pop hates “punk rock” (1977)
In the clip, Iggy seems to poo-poo the notion of “punk,” though of course in his usual sly style, you’re not exactly sure where he’s coming from. So what do you think his attitude was towards punk, right at that moment where he was trying to be taken more seriously, and yet being hailed as the godfather of punk?
Paul McAlpine: To be appreciated is important in this life, and life passes so quickly. You know, Iggy begins the night by giving everyone the finger on both hands. He has taken a symbol of hate and made it a symbol of love and thanks, in my mind. But he may be just giving everyone the finger.
PKM: Any good stories in general from that 1977 tour, off the top of your head, that you’d like to tell?
Paul McAlpine: You know the Ramones opened the Lust for Life gig in New York – that was when Soupy Sales introduced Iggy. A few years later, I went to shoot his first appearance on the David Letterman show. The show is filmed in the afternoon, and we acted like a pair of high school kids sneaking a small bottle of JD backstage. You know, the simple little things can be the best memories. The make-up artist for the Broadway musical Cats came and painted Iggy’s ears purple. “Eat or Be Eaten.”
PKM: So over the course of his solo career, Iggy may have musically been trying some different sounds, but I know in the live setting, he still went pretty wild. How was it shooting him live?
Paul McAlpine: To be honest, shooting in the pit is where the rock action happens, it is also a dangerous place to be. Many a night I would see my chest all black and blue from being pushed by the kids against the steel staging.
PKM: Were there chances on the tour to do some more intimate portraits or casual hanging around shots?
Paul McAlpine: Yes, there are times for private images, and then you must also respect personal space. You know in Japan it is considered bad manners to photograph a private home that survived the war. We survived the ‘70s, and you got to respect that.
PKM: So you essentially became Iggy’s tour photographer through the next six years and five albums, right?
Paul McAlpine: No, I wouldn’t say that. Over the early solo years, I just made it a point to cross paths with Iggy when possible. I have deep respect for him as an artist and as a human.
PKM: Did it feel to you that by, say, Zombie Birdhouse, that Iggy was again burning out a bit himself?
Paul McAlpine: No. Iggy did his Breaking Point tour and it was time to take a break. Things happen in life and perhaps at the time you don’t see it but it happens for a reason.
PKM: You mention that Blah Blah Blah in 1986 was a shot in the arm for you — so where were you at that point; and did Iggy seem re-energized to you? I know I saw that tour (first time I saw Iggy!), and it was a great show. His band was great. If memory serves, Andy McCoy from Hanoi Rocks was on guitar?
Paul McAlpine: I was living in L.A. at the time, and it was primetime Californication. I was out with friends at a club called La Dome on Sunset, and a promo cassette of Blah Blah Blahwas handed to me. It was a few hours before sunrise, and I found myself with two girls, windows down, blasting Blah Blah Blah on the way to a house in Laurel Canyon. The guitarist on the album and that tour was Kevin Armstrong. Kevin by the way is Iggy’s band leader today and has just released a collection of his own work and collaborations called RUN. Andy McCoy was hired for the Instinct tour, although Steve Jones (Sex Pistols) was the guitarist on the record. Steve came out for a few gigs here and there.
PKM: Oh yeah, that’s it. So, in general, you were a friend and fan, and just shot Iggy when you could along those years?
Paul McAlpine: You know, putting another body on the road is expensive. And unless you are headlining 15,000-plus venues, having your own private photographer just didn’t happen. When MTV came along, bands needed photographers less and less. Between MTV and later the cellphone, the “rock photographer” went the way of the dinosaurs. On the Blah Blah Blah tour, Iggy paid for me out of his own pocket, and I was happy with a clean T-shirt in the morning. Then as 1988 rolled around the corner, we began working on the next record, Instinct. Collins & Taylor got me a place in Soho, and Iggy and I did a series of early morning photo shoots. My last few days in New York City, guitarist Steve Jones and I shared the place. Looking back, it was very cool getting the opportunity to work with Detroit poster artist Gary Grimshaw on the Instinct cover project.
PKM: Any memories / stories of the “Cold Metal” video shoot with Sam Raimi?
Paul McAlpine: Yeah, “Cold Metal” was filmed in the old Mack Sennett Film studio. Greats like Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, and the Keystone Cops were all his doing. I am very sensitive to past spirits, so that studio was very cool.
PKM: As the 1990s rolled on, the Stooges started getting reissued, every other band name-dropped them as the main influence on “alternative rock,” grunge, and well, everything, and it seems Iggy settled comfortably into his role as the godfather of it all. You say — as a handwritten aside in the book’s intro — that off stage, Iggy is Jim, “unless there is a big crowd of people around.” Did you feel like Iggy had kind of become a character?
Paul McAlpine: No, not at all. When there are people around it keeps things simple saying “Iggy.” I do agree many bands have been influenced by his life body of work as an artist. He is also helping a new generation of artists by collaborating with them on new music. There are many flavors on the menu, and now is the time to taste them.
PKM: How did this book, Bare & Real, come about? You really had the idea in hibernation since 1986?
Paul McAlpine: Yes, the original book was put together after the Blah Blah Blah tour, and things were moving towards crazy MTV vids. Soon enough I was in New York for Instinct, and the book was forgotten. I caught up with the guys in Chicago for Riot Fest 2015, and the idea came up to finish this project as a legacy for everyone in the book.
PKM: Iggy is executive producer of that new Epix documentary series, Punk. Have you seen any of those shows?
Paul McAlpine: No. I don’t watch television, and I was there the first time around.