Prof. Iggy Pop Delivers the BBC’s 2014 John Peel Lecture on “Free Music in a Capitalist Society”

What Alan Freed did for rock ‘n ‘ roll in the ‘50s, DJ John Peel did for punk and new wave in the 70s and 80s, play­ing ground­break­ing artists like Joy Divi­sion on his show and curat­ing essen­tial in-stu­dio per­for­mances in his Peel Ses­sions. But long before he first played the Ramones on his BBC show in 1976, Peel played the 1969 debut album by the Stooges, the scrap­py Detroit garage band whose front­man, Iggy Pop, would lat­er be grant­ed the title “god­fa­ther of punk.” He’s cer­tain­ly lived up to it, con­sis­tent­ly, writes Kris Needs at Clash, “dump­ing on rock ‘n’ roll’s pre­vi­ous­ly set-in stone inhi­bi­tions.” Each new gen­er­a­tion has giv­en Pop a new set of restric­tions to dump on, but many of them could, per­haps, boil down to the same thing, the very con­di­tion Peel so often diag­nosed in pop cul­ture: the pack­ag­ing and sell­ing of rock ‘n’ roll that com­pro­mis­es its raw pow­er and dimin­ish­es its artists.

Who bet­ter then to deliv­er the 2014 John Peel Lec­ture for the BBC at the UK Radio Fes­ti­val, despite the fact that Iggy Pop—who Rolling Stone describes as “a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor from the School of Punk Rock Hard Knocks”—has nev­er deliv­ered a lec­ture before? But he has always been wit­ty and wise, on albums and inter­views, and he is now—as was Peel for over three decades—a BBC DJ, a role that grants him a cer­tain amount of crit­i­cal author­i­ty.

It’s not his only side gig. Dur­ing his lec­ture, Pop admits he’s had to begin “diver­si­fy­ing my income,” appear­ing, for exam­ple, in insur­ance ads for UK insur­ance com­pa­ny Swift­cov­er (England’s been good to him). “If I had to depend on what I actu­al­ly get from sales,” says Pop, “I’d be tend­ing bars between sets.” This is the sit­u­a­tion he addresses—the plight of the artists, the labels, and the fans in today’s mar­ket­place. The top­ic of his lec­ture: “free music in a cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety.”

Iggy is crit­i­cal of the U2/Apple alliance and their intru­sive and unpop­u­lar recent mass album release, but he prais­es Thom Yorke’s deci­sion to release his lat­est solo album on peer-to-peer file shar­ing ser­vice Bit­Tor­rent for $6. Acknowl­edg­ing that Bit­Tor­rent “is a pirate’s friend,” he claims nonethe­less that “all pirates want to go legit, just like I want­ed to be respectable.” This last remark may come as a sur­prise from the guy who want­ed to be your dog, but although he defines cap­i­tal­ism as dom­i­nat­ing and destruc­tive, Pop isn’t anti-entrepreneurial—he’s sim­ply a cham­pi­on of the lit­tle guy. He denounces dig­i­tal theft, call­ing it “bad for every­thing,” but he doesn’t want to see file-shar­ers jailed, which is “a lot like send­ing some­body to Aus­tralia a cou­ple hun­dred years ago for poach­ing his lordship’s rab­bit.”

The larg­er prob­lem is the media con­glom­er­ates, includ­ing not only major labels, but also, and maybe more so, Apple and Google sub­sidiary YouTube, who are “try­ing to put the squeeze” on the indies, “the only place to go for new tal­ent, out­side of the Mick­ey Mouse Club.” Over­all, the talk is a very sober and sober­ing look at the music indus­try from an old pro who has clear­ly paid care­ful atten­tion to the trends. And although his glass­es and stance behind a podi­um might make him look the part, Pop is a lit­tle less pro­fes­so­r­i­al than con­ver­sa­tion­al, deliv­er­ing some bad news with sev­er­al dos­es of opti­mism and good humor, and exhibit­ing an unabashed will­ing­ness to mix tech, cre­ativ­i­ty, and com­merce in a TED-like way.

The com­plete lec­ture was broad­cast on BBC DJ Marc Riley’s show, and you can stream it here for the next four weeks (the talk begins at 37:00, but lis­ten to the first thir­ty min­utes of the show for some excel­lent music and an intro­duc­tion to John Peel). And if you’re in a hur­ry, catch the high­lights of Iggy’s lec­ture in The Guardian’s “Cliff­sish Notes ver­sion” here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

From The Stooges to Iggy Pop: 1986 Doc­u­men­tary Charts the Rise of Punk’s God­fa­ther

Iggy Pop Con­ducts a Tour of New York’s Low­er East Side, Cir­ca 1993

The Dis­tor­tion of Sound: A Short Film on How We’ve Cre­at­ed “a McDonald’s Gen­er­a­tion of Music Con­sumers”

Free Online Eco­nom­ics Cours­es

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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  • Iamcuriousblue says:

    “Each new gen­er­a­tion has giv­en Pop a new set of restric­tions to dump on, but many of them could, per­haps, boil down to the same thing, the very con­di­tion Peel so often diag­nosed in pop cul­ture: the pack­ag­ing and sell­ing of rock ‘n’ roll that com­pro­mis­es its raw pow­er and dimin­ish­es its artists.”

    You mean, like when some­body uses a song like “Lust for Life” to sell sea cruis­es? :-) “Diver­si­fy­ing your income” indeed.

    I don’t mean to dump on Iggy Pop too much, here — every­body’s got to make a liv­ing, and “sell­ing out” is in the nature of the busi­ness. But it’s a bit much to posi­tion the guy as some shin­ing exam­ple of artis­tic puri­ty, the way the above sen­tences do. Per­haps I’m mis­read­ing some­thing that was meant tongue in cheek?

  • 1IreneFlick3 says:

    Per­haps you would pre­fer he tend bar than have the mass­es cruis­ing to his music.

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