Of the original members of the Stooges, only Iggy Pop still lives. He has by now survived a great many other cultural figures who came up from the underground and into prominence through rock music in the nineteen-seventies. And not only is he still alive, he’s still putting out albums: his most recent, Every Loser, came out just this past January. It followed Free, from 2019, which includes his reading of Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” — an idea, Amanda Petrusich notes in a contemporary New Yorker profile, that came “after an advertising agency asked him to read the poem for a commercial voice-over.”
“At first, I resisted,” Pop says to Petrusich. “I’m not in junior high.” Indeed, as a vehicle for the expression of one’s own worldview, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” feels about one rung up from “The Road Not Taken.”
Petrusich acknowledges that “the poem has grown increasingly meaningless over time, having been repeated and adapted to so many inane circumstances. Yet if you can shake off its familiarity the central idea — that a person should live vigorously, unapologetically — remains germane.” Pop’s distinctive Midwestern voice, made haggard but resonant by decade after decade of punk-rock rigors, also imbues it with an unexpected vitality.
It may surprise those who know Pop mainly through his brazen onstage antics of half a century ago that it would occur to him to read a poem at all. In fact, he’s a man of many and varied literary interests, having also performed the work of Walt Whitman and Edgar Allan Poe, written about Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and made a film with Michel Houellebecq (whose novels inspired Pop’s 2009 album Préliminaires). All of this while he has kept on showing us, both on records and in live performances, how properly to rage, rage — against the dying of the light, and much else besides.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.