Iggy Pop’s Brand of Experience

Iconic punk progenitor Iggy Pop is touring through the US this spring, and I caught his show in Portland, Oregon last month. As a huge Iggy fan, this tour was no small deal to me. Iggy delivered. Despite new physical limitations, he gave everything his body could give, and the set list of new and old tunes like “Some Weird Sin” and “Repo Man” was a fan’s dream. Ticket prices were not.

Three months earlier, Iggy revealed that he’d recorded a new album in secret with musician Josh Homme. Stephen Colbert featured a debut live performance. The New York Times ran a story. It was savvy marketing. Named Post Pop Depression, the album has generated lots of excitement because it’s Iggy’s first since 2013, and because Iggy, as Homme said, “is the last one of the one-of-a-kinds.” The album even peaked at number one on the Billboard charts ─ Iggy’s first number-one album. But with concert tickets ranging from $50 to $125 (and as high as $400 on the secondary market), people were grumbling.

I get it. A hundred bucks is a lot to spend on the privilege of hearing something once. Part of the problem is what Iggy’s ticket price represents. For an artist who, in the Times‘ words, built his reputation with “blunt, forceful, noisy and unimpeachably redirect songs that he performed with a fearless disregard for self-preservation” and that left him “bruised, smeared or bloody,” $125 tickets seem very corporate-arena rock.

Even though Iggy’s tour isn’t marketed as a farewell, he’s at that age where any tour could be his last. His new album deals with the issues that arise at the end of a person’s career ─ in his words: “What happens after your years of service?” But some of us distrust parting gestures. The Who famously called their 1982 tour their farewell tour, only to tour again in 1989. They’ve even marketed their current 50th-anniversary celebration tour as their last.

Reunion tours have proven a lucrative trend, where influential short-lived ’90s bands put differences aside to play select cities. As Marc Spitz put it in his rich oral history of The Pixies: “Burying the hatchet has its material rewards.”

The Pixies’ 2004 reunion tour raked in over $14 million and helped other cult acts like Dinosaur .Jr, The Replacements, and Pavement generate the revenue in later life that they didn’t as young critical darlings. As the Pixies’ Black Francis rightly said: “It’s not to say it’s not about art, but we made that art fucking 20 years ago. So forget the fucking goddamn art. Now it’s time to talk about the money.”

But Iggy’s wasn’t a greatest hits tour or a ’90s nostalgia trip. Unlike others, he never went away. He’s consistently released new music since The Stooges’ debut in 1969, even when the music wasn’t consistently good. As Iggy told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2001: “Listen, dude, I think I’ve done this for 30 years. The first 15 years were highly creative and featured a low discipline level. The second half has been a reverse. There was overall less striking creativity but more discipline.” Instead, Post Pop Depression is neatly marketed as an ephemeral, one-off collaboration set to detonate like a confidential transmission in a spy movie. If $100 tickets are cost-prohibitive, that’s part of the packaging.

Homme hints at the hidden PR value of scarcity in the Times when he says, “There won’t be hardly any shows, and they won’t be in big places, and you won’t be able to get a ticket. So almost everyone won’t see it. It will be like trying to catch smoke in your hands. And that makes it even better.” Sort of. Prohibitively expensive tickets aren’t better for fans who can’t afford to come.

And yet, I still attended. Maybe I’m a shill. Maybe the marketing is so effective it penetrated my cynical defenses. In February, my finger hovered over the “buy ticket” button as I weighed my options. In my mind, I finally committed $187 for two tickets thanks to my simple regret-management system. I asked myself: will I regret parting with my money more than I’ll regret not seeing Iggy forever? In the scales of financial and experiential cost, a big bill only stings temporarily, but the gaping hole of missing memories lasts a lifetime. Even if “one time/one tour” is branding, I still refused to miss it. Once in my life, I wanted to sing along to “Some Weird Sin” and “The Passenger” with hundreds of people. I wanted to see Iggy flail shirtless in front of me while slapping the audience’s hands, and my wife and I had a blast watching him do the weird thing he was born to do.

Fans buy more than tickets. We buy moments, experiences ─ if not bragging rights then inclusion, the sense that we lived something singular and were a part of some shared generational phenomenon: Woodstock, Monterrey, the first Lollapalooza (which I attended in 1991, by the way. Alert: I’m bragging, and I’m aging).

My decision was also personal. Here’s Iggy, this person who’s invigorated and accompanied me for so many years, and I want to share at least one night with him. Expensive or not, that experience is worth it. What else did I have to do on a Tuesday night? If you love Iggy Pop, or any band, and you have the means, I say go live it up for one night. Put your money where your music is and support the people whose art you consume, which in this case means helping an aging punk ease into a retirement he refuses to take.

Stories discussed: