Iggy Pop Reads Walt Whitman in Collaborations With Electronic Artists Alva Noto and Tarwater

whitman pop

Image of Iggy Pop by Patrick McAlpine, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

I don’t know why no one thought of this ages ago: an album of Walt Whitman’s poet­ry, set to moody, atmos­pher­ic elec­tron­ic music and read by for­mer Stooge and cur­rent Amer­i­can badass Iggy Pop. It makes per­fect sense. Though Pop may lack Whitman’s ver­bal excess­es, pre­fer­ring more Spar­tan punk rock state­ments, he per­fect­ly embodies—in a very lit­er­al way—Whitman’s fear­less, sex­u­al­ly-charged “bar­bar­ic yawp.” And both artists are very much Amer­i­can orig­i­nals: large­ly self-taught Whit­man cast aside 19th-cen­tu­ry deco­rum and for­mal con­straints to write wild­ly expres­sive verse that cel­e­brat­ed the body, the indi­vid­ual, and Amer­i­can indus­tri­al noise; self-taught Pop cast aside 20th cen­tu­ry rock for­mal­ism to cre­ate dan­ger­ous­ly expres­sive music that cel­e­brat­ed… well, you get the idea.

I don’t know if he would have writ­ten “Now I wan­na be your dog,” but in con­trast to “the pop­u­lar, well-edu­cat­ed poets of the time, those sen­si­tive noble­men,” Whit­man wrote—says Pop in his own dis­tinc­tive paraphrase—“Fuc% as$.” 

You know, I think he had some­thing like Elvis. Like Elvis ahead of his time, one of the first man­ic Amer­i­can pop­ulists. You know you’re look­ing at pic­tures of him, and he was obvi­ous­ly some­one who was very much involved with his own phys­i­cal appear­ance. His poet­ry is always about motion and rush­ing ahead, and crazy love and blood push­ing through the body. He would have been the per­fect gang­ster rap­per. Whit­man says, even the most beau­ti­ful face is not as beau­ti­ful as the body. And to say that in the mid­dle of the 19th cen­tu­ry is out­ra­geous. It’s a slap in the face. 

Of the many rock and roll inter­preters of lit­er­ary greats we’ve fea­tured on this site, I’d say Iggy Pop’s read­ing of, and com­men­tary on, Whit­man may be my favorite.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, we can only bring you a short excerpt, above, from Pop’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with instru­men­tal duo Tar­wa­ter and Ger­man elec­tron­ic artist Alva Noto (who recent­ly scored Ale­jan­dro Iñárritu’s The Revenant with Yel­low Mag­ic Orchestra’s Ryuichi Sakamo­to). This two-minute sam­ple comes from a 2014 album these artists made togeth­er called Kinder Adams—Children of Adam, which fea­tures sev­er­al abridged ren­di­tions in Ger­man of Whitman’s most famous book, Leaves of Grass by var­i­ous voice actors, then a com­plete read­ing by Pop, set to a throb­bing, haunt­ing score.

Now, Pop, Alva Noto, and Tar­wa­ter have come togeth­er again to revis­it Whit­man with a sev­en-track EP sim­ply titled Leaves of Grass. Like the ear­ly, self-pub­lished first edi­tion of Whitman’s book, this work will only reach a few hands. “Released on Morr Music with no dig­i­tal ver­sion planned,” reports Fact Mag, “Leaves of Grass is only avail­able in a lim­it­ed vinyl edi­tion of just 500 copies, com­plete with embossed art­work.” You can pur­chase a copy of this arti­fact here (act fast), or—if you pre­fer your more tra­di­tion­al Iggy Pop with­out the lit­er­a­ture, moody, post-rock sound­scapes, and rar­efied formats—wait for his new album in March with Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, sure to hit dig­i­tal out­lets near you. Whether or not he’s read­ing Whit­man, he’s always chan­nel­ing the poet­’s ener­gy.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Iggy Pop Reads Edgar Allan Poe’s Clas­sic Hor­ror Sto­ry, “The Tell-Tale Heart”

Tom Waits Reads Two Charles Bukows­ki Poems, “The Laugh­ing Heart” and “Nir­vana”

Walt Whitman’s Poem “A Noise­less Patient Spi­der” Brought to Life in Three Ani­ma­tions

Orson Welles Reads From America’s Great­est Poem, Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” (1953)

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

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