The Best Quotes From Iggy Pop’s “Free Music in a Capitalist Society” BBC Lecture

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Iggy Pop and BBC’s Lauren Laverne. (courtesy of BBC/photo by Matt Squire)

That’s Prof Pop to you! In addition to his BBC Radio 6 DJ post over the last year, the Godfather of Punk delivered BBC Music’s annual John Peel Lecture Tuesday night (October 13) in an hour-long presentation at the Lowry theater in Salford, Manchester. His topic — “Free Music In a Capitalist Society” — was a fascinating one, particularly for a musical icon who has moved in and out of DIY and commercial realms for much of his career, eventually having little shame over licensing “Lust For Life” to a Carnival Cruise commercial (among other ads). “If I want to make money, well, how about selling car insurance?” he postured. “At least I’m honest. It’s an ad, and that’s all it is. If I had to depend on what I actually get from sales, I’d be tending bars between sets.”

As the conversation weaved in and out of industry analysis and personal experience, Pop remained a level-headed critic of the ever-changing digital music culture, including the recent distribution experiments from U2 and Thom Yorke. (He calls U2 “good guys,” but concedes towards the end: “There’s something in this ‘huge’ thing that kind of sucks.”) All the while, he weaves in and out of hilarious accents. (Listen to it here, start around the 37-minute mark to hear Pop’s hour-long presentation.) We’ve got the highlight reel of Iggy’s quotables, and here’s the full transcript.

PUNK LESSONS:

“The most punk thing I ever saw in my life was [Sex Pistols manager] Malcolm McLaren’s cardboard box full of dirty old winklepickers. It was the first thing I saw walking in the door of Let It Rock in 1972 which was his shop at Worlds End on the Kings Road. It was a huge ugly cardboard bin full of mismatched unpolished dried out winklepickers without laces at some crazy price like maybe five pounds each. Another 200 yards up the street was Granny Takes a Trip, where they sold proper rock star clothes like scarves, velvet jackets, and snake skin platform boy boots. Malcolm’s obviously worthless box of shit was like a fire bomb against the status quo because it was saying that these violent shoes have the right idea and they are worth more than your fashion, which serves a false value. This is right out of the French Enlightenment.”

“I worked half of my life for free. I didn’t really think about that one way or another until the masters of the record industry started complaining that I wasn’t making them any money. To tell you the truth, when it comes to art, money is an unimportant detail. It just happens to be a huge unimportant detail. A good LP is a being, it is not a product. It has a life force, a personality.”

“As the commercial trade swings more into general showbiz, the indies will be the only place to go for new talent, outside the Mickey Mouse Club, so I think they were right to band together [against YouTube] and sign the Fair Digital Deals Declaration.”

ON MASSIVE BANDS:

“Johnny [Ramone] asked me one day, ‘Iggy, don’t you hate Offspring and the way they’re so popular with that crap they play? That should be us, they stole it from us.’ I told him, ‘Look, some guys are born to be the captain of the football team and some guys are just gonna be James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, and that’s the way it is. Not everybody is meant to be big. Not everybody big is any good.”

“The people who don’t want the free U2 download are trying to say, ‘Don’t try to force me.’ And they’ve got a point. Part of the process when you buy something from an artist, it’s a kind of anointing, you are giving people love. It’s your choice to give or withhold. You are giving a lot of yourself, besides the money. But in this particular case, without the convention, maybe some people felt like they were robbed of that chance, and they have a point.”

ON PIRACY:

“I actually think that what Thom Yorke has done with BitTorrent is very good. I was gonna say here: ‘Sure the guy is a pirate at BitTorrent’ but I was warned legally, so I’ll say: ‘Sure the guy a BitTorrent is a pirate’s friend.’ But all pirates want to go legit, just like I wanted to be respectable. It’s normal. After a while people feel like you’re a crook, it’s too hard to do business. So it’s good in this case that Thom Yorke is encouraging a positive change. The music is good. It’s being offered at a low price direct to people who care.”

“I think that prosecuting some college kid because she shared a file is a lot like sending somebody to Australia 200 years ago for poaching his lordship’s rabbit. That’s how it must seem to poor people who just want to watch a crappy movie for free after they’ve been working themselves to death all day at Tesco.”

ON DREAMING BIG:

“It’s good to remember that this is a dream job, whether you’re performing or working in broadcasting, or writing or the biz. So dream. Dream. Be generous, don’t be stingy. Please. I can’t help but note that it always seems to be the pursuit of the money that coincides with the great art, but not its arrival. It’s just kind of a death agent. It kills everything that fails to reflect its own image, so your home turns into money, your friends turn into money, and your music turns into money. No fun, binary code — zero one, zero one — no risk, no nothing. What you gotta do you gotta do, life’s a hurly-burly, so I would say try hard to diversify your skills and interests. Stay away from drugs and talent judges. Get organized. Big or little, that helps a lot.”

“I’d like you to do better than I did. Keep your dreams out of the stinky business, or you’ll go crazy, and the money won’t help you. Be careful to maintain a spiritual EXIT. Don’t live by this game because it’s not worth dying for. Hang onto your hopes. You know what they are. They’re private. Because that’s who you really are and if you can hang around long enough you should get paid. I hope it makes you happy. It’s the ending that counts, and the best things in life really are free.”