My introduction to the work of James Newell Osterberg, Jr, better known as Iggy Pop, came in the form of “Risky,” a song from Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Neo Geo album that featured not just singing but spoken word from the Stooges’ lead vocalist and punk icon. On that track, Pop speaks grimly and evocatively in the persona of a protagonist “born in a corporate dungeon where people are cheated of life,” repeatedly invoking the human compulsion to “climb to this point, move on, climb to this point, move on.” Ultimately, he poses the question: “Career, career, acquire, acquire — but what is life without a heart?”
Today, we give you Iggy Pop the storyteller asking what life is with a heart — or rather, one heart too many, unceasingly reminding you of your guilt. He tells the story, of course, of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” originally written by the American master of psychological horror Edgar Allan Poe in 1843.
This telling appears on the album Closed on Account of Rabies, which features Poe’s stories as interpreted by the likes of Pop, Christopher Walken, Debbie Harry, Marianne Faithfull and Jeff Buckley. We featured it here on Open Culture a few years back, and more recently included it in our retrospective of album covers by Ralph Steadman.
Here, Pop takes on the role of another narrator consigned to a grim fate, though this one of his own making. As almost all of us know, if only through cultural osmosis, the titular “Tell-Tale Heart,” its beat seemingly emanating from under the floorboards, unceasingly reminds this anxious character of the fact that he has murdered an old man — not out of hatred, not out of greed, but out of simple need stoked, he insists, by the defenseless senior’s “vulture-eye.” For over 150 years, readers have judged the sanity of the narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” in any number of ways, but don’t render your own verdict until you’ve heard Iggy Pop deliver the testimony; nobody walks the line between sanity and insanity quite like he does.
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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.