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A Lonely Sax
Aging is punk
I should 100% be answering emails right now but I have been caught in the tractor beam of Iggy Pop’s powerful Leo rising and he is all I can think about. Two nights ago at the Cruel World festival tragedy struck – during The Passenger he suddenly stopped the set and was like, ‘Lightening hit the stage you have to evacuate,’ and the seething mass of punks and goths who had gathered to see Iggy and Queen Hekate Siouxsie Sioux were utterly blindsided and bewildered, and I turned to my comrades, Peter and Deez, and said, This crowd is pissed and has been drinking for hours there’s going to be a riot ohmygodd. Dramatic, but I was at a goth festival, so drama is expected. There was not a riot – goths are docile creatures and everyone sulkily left the grounds, though when we were not allowed to use the emergency exit by the backstage some punkers got aggro and started yelling and shaking the fence like they would tear it down. Destroy!
Already we had sustained the loss of Adam Ant from the lineup, and saw him replaced with Squeeze (Borrrrrrring!, I thought, but kept hearing their music waft over and was like, Oh, I like this song, Oh, I like this song, too.) Because lightening had not actually hit the stage, and I myself saw but one brief flash in the sky, this all felt like bullshit, and I was very grumpy. I had felt on the verge of a religious experience watching Iggy Pop. This has not happened to me for a long time, but it used to happen to me constantly when I was a teenager going to every show I could manage. I would just get so filled up with life from the beloved on the stage, like I all my chakras were spun open and thirsty and sucking in the magic electric life energy of the people on the stage and what they were doing, the combined ecstatic vibrations their coming together had produced, which was raining down all over me, immersing me – music! I was very intense about it, as were most of my friends.
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Step One of a band coming to town: find out where they’re staying. There was no internet so this took a lot of intuition and guesswork. Most bands I loved played the Orpheum Theater in Boston and would stay at the nearby fancy boutique The Parker House, so maybe we would try to slither in there and act inconspicuous in our capes and black lipstick and hop into the elevator and roam the floors hoping to bump into someone. It never worked. Then we would park ourselves outside the venue to try to meet them when they showed up for soundcheck and maybe even sneak into the sound check, which I did successfully accomplish at a Gene Loves Jezebel show, running through the lobby down into the hall down to the stage, a security guard chasing me, to gift Jay Aston with a sparkly gold scarf I’d bought at a cart on Washington Street, and Jay bowed down to me and let me place it around his neck right before the guard nabbed me and I thought that I would die and that nothing so great would ever happen to me in my life ever again. And then at the show we would hop seats one after the other, dodging ushers and cranky people until we had found our way to the front of the stage where we would hang on for dear life. It drove me insane if any of my friends tried to talk to me while the band was playing. I was rapt, I was enchanted, I was at church, my brain chemistry was in the process of a major alteration, don’t talk to me! Perhaps I would cry. I was drunk, of course, always, but that actually worked right then. I should have quit drinking when I was eighteen or nineteen actually because the next decade-plus would never be as euphoric as it was then, downing a pint of schnapps and gluing myself to the front of the stage. Once a droplet of Billy Idol’s sweat landed on me. Once I reached out and touched the boot of Ian Astbury, the singer for The Cult. Once a girl with a bleach-blonde ponytail kept trying to wedge herself between me and the stage and I finally grabbed her by her pony and wrenched her backwards, back into the crowd, never to be seen again. I was deranged.
I really needed closure with Cruel World after the terrible fire people of Pasadena shut down a massive show at a couple flashes of lightening and thank Goddexx the next night Iggy and Siouxsie came back, and Gary Numan, too, who I love, Replicas is one of my favorite albums, but he didn’t do any of that stuff. Gary Numan has transitioned from android to post-apocalyptic grungoid and looked great with a full head of inky black hair and red lines of paint slashing down his face and scraps of fabric wound around his arms. So much of going to Cruel World was really a pilgrimage to pay respects to the powerful elders of a youth I share collectively with many of the others who were there, even the very young people, of which there were many, and whose teens are surely mind-bogglingly different than mine was and yet because of this connection, there is a deep channel of influence that we share and that influences you in certain ways and we were all together in it, multi-generational.
One person who got a full, triumphant set that first night was Billy Idol and I saw all of it. I have seen Billy Idol a bunch – he was my second concert ever, at the Orpheum theater for Rebel Yell in like 1984, when I had so not punk the only thing I had to wear was the varsity jacket from my Catholic school, and I remember being so embarrassed when the group of girls – teenagers, twenties? – in front of me noticed me and wanted to talk to me. They had big hair and slutty makeup and leopard clothes and spiky silver jewelry and I could not believe they were real, they were MTV made flesh, they were New York City right there in Boston and I could barely meet their gaze I was so embarrassed at how not-them I was. But they loved me, and how could I not respond? They loved me because I was like twelve, or thirteen, and I loved Billy Idol as much as they did and they knew it and they cooed over me like they knew my future, that I was one of them, and I felt blessed by their acknowledgement, knighted. They had a tremendous bouquet of roses for Billy Idol. I hadn't thought to bring him anything.
This weekend Billy Idol came onstage looking very kingly and also like Jocelyn Wildenstein, the cat lady, that type of intervention that makes your eyes kind of small and your nose really wide, what is that? Madonna had a touch of it recently and everyone went apeshit that she looked different. I think of these faces that some of our elders have as just another way of aging, just another sort of style of having an older face, yeah they look different, they’d look different anyways, we’re always looking different, that’s aging. Who cares. I thought a lot about being old this week, how punk it is. First because I saw Gary Indiana read at Poetic Research Bureau, from a Semiotext(e) reprint of his novel Do it in the Dark, which I have never read and am looking forward to. I love to see a shambly, elderly, queeny gay man. We don’t have enough of them, as we know. A sort of genocide. His hair was floppy on his head and he wore a big striped sweater and jeans and he was just so cute. He opened with a piece he’d recently written for the catalog of a Nan Goldin show in Europe and it was all about aging and being old.
Generally I hate talk about being old, Oh I’m so old, you’re young, look at the young people, I’m an old person, I’m so old know, look and me being old, old, old. It has always bugged me, even when I wasn’t old. I would hear older people do it, a type of performance I thought, a scribble of insecurity and awe and wonderment and sorrow, toughness, too. But I was like, It’s not a thing. It’s only a thing if you make it a thing, and why make it a thing? It always had a mournful ring to it. I didn’t see the relevance. Here we all were at whatever cultural event and we all shared in that, whatever it was, something that transcended aging. And now that I’m older I do of course understand there are many changes and while they’re not surprising it is different experiencing them, rather than just knowing about them, but still I don’t know the point in talking about it most of the time. But now I think there may be a way of talking about aging that is very punk, and Gary Indiana did it that night, even though the piece contained all the usual complaints there was something that felt new and rebellious about it, that toughness I’d detect in those rants sort of centered and elevated.
Now that the big punks are wicked old they have brought aging into the realm of punk and I feel very excited about this. I remember years ago I had the extreme good fortune of getting to be a hanger-on with The Gossip as they hit Paris Fashion Week, Beth Ditto in particular, whose memoir I was at work on, invited to all the shows and given a front row seat, the most elite of gifts. We wound up back stage at Vivienne Westwood, and I was standing with Beth as she mustered the right energy to walk over and greet the icon, and I tagged along with her when she did, and I gazed upon the lines etched into her fine and beautiful face, how the creases sort of worked with the penciled arch and swoop of her eyebrows, and it seemed that her age sat decoratively upon her face like makeup, and I said to Beth, Aging is punk. Beth agreed. Fat’s punk, too. Of course it is. And, bodies are punk, and they get punker and punker as they go.
Billy Idol did a couple of costume changes on stage so we could all see the results of the fabled Navy Seal workouts he does. He shed a something leather and put on something else leather. He was in a black undershirt and he was in his own merch, a Billy Idol shirt, lolz. He was in what looked to be a million-dollar leather blazer covered in flat, round studs and leather straps and on the back was like a stud-mosaic of The Misfits’ skeleton which felt hilarious – like, it just looked so Chrome Hearts and cheesy and expensive and then, The Misfits. But it all made me sort of giddy. He took that off and wore a long leather trench over his Navy Seal torso. He is very tan and he can never, ever have a different hairstyle. Sadly, he did Cradle of Love and Mony, Mony, but I was grateful not to hear To Be a Lover or his cover of LA Woman. That Whiplash Smile album does have songs I like on it – Sweet Sixteen, while pedo, is sort of tender and melancholy, and World’s Forgotten Boy, an obvious Iggy Pop homage, is sinister and ominous. But all the hits sucks, as hits so often do. I kept wanting to leave to catch Iggy Pop from the start, but Peter was so passionate about seeing Billy Idol, and we met, Peter and I, sleeping out for Billy Idol tickets in 1986, and have been besties ever since, and it felt right to stay. Deez had never seen Billy Idol and as freaking out a little. I tried to enjoy him through their eyes, but it was hard because he is so cheesy now, and I don’t begrudge him his cheese at all, he has earned it, but aesthetically it was hard for me. I appreciate – ethically – how much he allows his longtime collaborator-guitarist Steve Stevens to hog the stage, but also I hated it a lot because it was just a lot of virtuoso noodling that made me think about metalheads in high school going on about Yngwie Malmsteen. Like, who cares? Steve Stevens was doing all this Gyspy King/Jimi Hendrix bullshit in his neon psychedelic zebra button-up, showing his guitar behind his head and whatnot, and I was like, Enough, we get it. Ok, Eric Clapton, said Deez. When Billy got to the part where he yells New York! in Hot in the City, he yelled Pasadena! Which was cumbersome and ridiculous and made me feel even more giddy and high, like I might get a manic case of the giggles and never stop.
Thank you for my fucking LIFE! Billy Idol shouted at the audience, which fucking touched me. I’ve lived with all of you in this part of the world and you’ve all influenced me, and thank you. And Steve Stevens, thank you for my fucking life! What an attitude of gratitude! I saw this also with Iggy Pop (who this post was supposed to be about, but, anyway), and also found it extraordinarily moving. And still later, with less urgency but a deep sincerity, from Siouxsie. And it gave me chills every time. These people have survived their dangerous lives, lived during times that feel so remote now, it’s like a country that shimmered out of existence. They are here, now, moored in our world, and they are grateful to be alive – it’s palpable – and to be so loved and supported, to get to keep making their art on this scale. I’m getting chills just typing it. Siouxsie is 65 and Billy Idol is 67 and Iggy Pop is fucking 76 and they are full icons, have ascended to godhood as much as a human being can in our world.
Iggy Pop is 76 and his body is as much as a marvel as ever, it is lean and pouchy and taut and saggy and creased and veined and very tan. I had a lot of time to meditate on Iggy Pop’s body because I was miraculously close to the stage and he just won’t wear a shirt. He came out in a little leather vest and swiftly thought better of it, shrugging it off. His trousers hung buckled beneath his modest Buddha belly, and when I commented to Deez that there was something so Mae West about his sassy little strut, she agreed, adding that he really works his bum hip or whatever it is, and it’s true, it’s part of his slink and his saunter. I found an excellent piece about him in The New Yorker where it clarifies that he has a short leg, due to a football injury and also arthritis. Arthritis! I mean he wasn’t doing the splits but he was in constant motion and – and this is important – bursting with radiant joy, is he in chronic pain? Arthritis hurts. In the article it mentioned that his Gucci slides were custom made, one sole thicker, to even out his gait. Fucking get it Iggy. The more you read about Iggy the more it is a true wonder that he is alive, and surely no one knows it more than he, which is the source probably of his tremendous radiance. How is he a Taurus? With a Taurus moon? He must be the wildest Taurus that has ever lived. His Aries Mars and Aries Mercury are the fire behind his music for sure, so many Aries anthems and he did them during his make-up set, Raw Power, Search and Destroy, fired—up, just-born, hitting the planet like a flaming meteor music. I couldn’t stop moving. Guess what? I love to dance. But, like, only to particular music rarely played in any clubs my peers attend, not that any of my peers go to clubs anymore but maybe you know what I mean. In the 90s in San Francisco there was a glam rock club, Sixteen, after the Iggy Pop song, and it was probably the most fun I ever had dancing save when I got to go to London when I was 18 and went to a different goth club every night I was there.
I found a few interviews where Iggy talks about why he doesn’t wear a shirt. This from an interview at the Red Bull Music Academy in Montreal: “When I dropped out of college to start my band, I kept my library card . . . I would go to the library and take books. Cult books about culture and religion, and think about how IO could apply those, and I kept seeing these pictures of the Pharaoh. He never wore a shirt . . . I feel lost in a shirt. I just get lost.” This does seem very Taurus, actually, seeking inspo for a fucking performance-punk project that also involves smearing peanut butter over your body and letting it get all sliced up with glass at a library. How Hierophant. And sourcing history, ancient Egypt. Boom, Taurus vibes: What path has historically worked for people who wanted to achieve what I want to achieve?
(Shout out to the read on the cis, white, thin, guy privilege of a dude taking his shirt off, period. VALID. But I just want to keep grooving on this.)
“Geronimo never wore a shirt,” he told Steven Colbert. “I wear one when I get cold, like anyone else,” he told Rebecca Mead at The New Yorker. To The Independent he explained, “It’s to get across. To get closer to you. It just gets across, like a lonely sax.” Fucking hilarious, and, yes.
In another New Yorker piece, “Don’t tell me that I can’t strip off my shirt and go make a big, primitive noise.” Because people do, of course, because so many people are so bizarrely stupid about aging, as if we’ve done something wrong to get old, fucked up, made a big mistake and everyone can see what a dummy we are. I know this is also true for people with big bodies, as well, and no doubt there are racial correlatives felt by people of color in white spaces and cultures. When the body is not white, thin, young, it is an apocalyptic spectacle. It’s fucking gorgeous, all of it. Again, in that first New Yorker piece, he says of his body, “ . . . it doesn’t look the way it does when I was thirty-two. . . But look – when I am playing, I’m the shit. As long as that’s true, I can take it off.” Iggy Pop will never not be the shit, and the gift of his music – which you can feel even in a recording but which is so heady when he is living and breathing and roaring right in front of you - is we are all the shit, all of us in our weird fucking bodies, or our culturally perfect bodies that are destined to weirden, and weirden, and die. “Fucking thank you!” Iggy Pop emoted at us again and again throughout the set, between spinning with his arms up like a ballerina, striding like an exotic dancer, gyrating with the mic down his pants, halfway mooing us to scratch his ass, leering at us with his tongue lolling grossly out of his mouth. “Fucking thank you so much!” No, dude. Thank you.
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