Blah-Blah-Blah

Blah-Blah-Blah.
Blah-Blah-Blah (broadcast, 1986).

I thought, ‘why am I in this in the first place?’…to try to create a type of music that could explode me—like a rocket!—out of the type of life that was planned for me, as an American middle-class person.

Interviewer: Why the title, Blah-Blah-Blah?

It’s a way of saying that I disrespect the things that the media and the world in general are saying to me. It’s a very polite way of saying ‘fuck you.’

Iggy Pop, 1987.

Iggy Pop had been yelling at the television for most of his life, from the Stooges’ “TV Eye” [edit: uh, not quite…see comments] to Bowie’s “TVC-15”, inspired by a Pop dream about a TV consuming his girlfriend. And on Blah-Blah-Blah, TV kept infiltrating Pop’s lyrics—“bad TV that insults me freely” (“Cry for Love”), “raw greed and king TV” (“Hideaway”), “I have no time to watch TV” (“Fire Girl”)—until he made the title track a stream of rants and curses at TV: pacing around the box, hurling abuse at it.

Pop was a lower-middle-class kid from Michigan, who had grown up in the Fifties and Sixties, and while he and the Stooges had done their generational duty and had consumed countless hours of television (Ron Asheton was a huge Star Trek fan), Pop came to consider TV a bad narcotic and the rotten ad-man’s heart of the whole American enterprise. Sure, some of this was the sharp self-righteousness of a newly-sober guy living a fairly ascetic existence in New York. But Pop had no illusions that his own field, rock and roll, wasn’t just as complicit. As he said in an interview with Belgian TV at the time of Blah‘s release:

That phrase, ‘rock and roll,’ doesn’t mean anything to me now. All the governments have gotten behind it, all the corporations are behind it. In America, they use Fifties rock songs to sell corn flakes and baby diapers…I can see a day when rock music could be used during civil riots just to keep people quiet.

Pop said this two years before Navy SEALs, during the Panama invasion, besieged the Vatican embassy, where Manuel Noriega was taking refuge, and blasted, day and night, songs like “Welcome to the Jungle,” Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” Billy Idol’s “Flesh for Fantasy” and the Clash’s “I Fought the Law.” It worked: Guns ‘n’ Roses soon wore down the Vatican, who turned Noriega over to the Americans. If you wanted to say when rock and roll died, Panama City in 1989 is as good a place as any, when loud “rebel” rock anthems were used as sonic weapons by the military to beat down a church’s embassy.

So while “Blah-Blah-Blah” began as a sneer at television, its targets grew as Pop developed his rant. Designers, celebrities, politicians, frozen food manufacturers, commentators: all purveyors of garbage. Its singer is tarred as well. Who is “Iggy Pop”? Just another registered and approved provider of “danger” (it’s as though Pop was predicting becoming the TV pitchman of his old age). At the center of the muck was the corrosive idea of information itself—with Pop howling that we are drowning in televised nonsense, with insurmountable problems reduced to “issues” (“Johnny Can’t Read!!! BLAH BLAH BLAH!!!” and later Pop groans “WE ARE THE WORLD!“); that we have become a fundamentally unserious people, and we deserve whatever ills that we bring upon ourselves. The most spoiled brats on God’s green earth, as Pop mumbles towards the fade. And all of this was before the Internet, mind.

“Blah” has one of Pop’s most prescient and gonzo lyrics, one that would be mainly incomprehensible without the lyric sheet, as Pop’s vocal is sunk in the mix and attacked from all sides by echoes of his voice and rival noisemakers. The first verse finds Pop riffing on his stage name—“Pop” was the ground that he chose to fight on, serving as an off-key voice in pop culture, while “Iggy” symbolizes the grotesque dirty animal that he thought lurked within all of us. “I’m a bull mongrel—that’s me.” The later verses are a string of insults, inside jokes, names torn out of headlines and spat on (Israeli PM Shimon Peres or “Senator Rambo,” which Pop sings like “Rimbaud”)—there’s even an apparent dig at Bowie’s “Blue Jean.”

The song’s a variation of the unceasing stomp of “Lust for Life”, while it also seems a reworking of the vulgar goof “Dancing with the Big Boys,” the improvised two-chord rant session with Bowie that was one of the few human moments on Bowie’s Tonight. Like “Big Boys,” “Blah” is filled with whatever geegaws were on hand in the studio, so Pop’s echoed, distorted, delayed and reverbed vocal fights for space with Casio dog-barks, canned laughs, skips and Kevin Armstrong’s guitar, confined to the right channel, which gives a running commentary of shrieks, hammerings, feedback and little barbed riffs (some of them sound like scraps of rehearsal takes thrown into the soup). The vocal mix is so chaotic at points that it suggests the jumble and clatter of a Mekons track like “Trouble Down South.” Keeping a semblance of order is the Linn Drum and Erdal Kizilcay’s simple bass groove, while his garage band organ riff is pure Steve Nieve, suggesting another rant-inspiration for the track: Costello’s “Pump It Up.”

And for Bowie, the track is the clearest indication of his intentions for his upcoming album: Never Let Me Down, with its “topical” protest songs, its over-crowded production and its barrage of name-dropping, profanity and would-be social commentaries, seems one overlong sequel to “Blah.”

We have drifted away from each other, and in a way I understand why. I’ve never talked to him about this and I probably shouldn’t talk to you about it…I think there was a moment where Jim [Iggy] decided that he couldn’t do a fucking article without my name being mentioned, and I don’t think that’s a very comfortable feeling. I completely understand—I really, really do. Unfortunately, I think Jim took it personally, and that’s a shame because I would have liked to remain closer to him.

David Bowie, interview with Gettingit.com, 5 October 1999.

Is he still pals with Bowie? “No.” When did he last see him? “I can’t remember. I spoke with him on the phone about seven years ago, he got my number and we caught up, had a very cordial, nice conversation. He’s living a certain life, I’m living a certain life, there’s not a cross there right now.”

“Iggy Pop at 62,” Times Online, 17 April 2010.

Blah-Blah-Blah is the end of a partnership that had begun in 1971, when Bowie first met Iggy Pop at Max’s Kansas City, and which had created Raw Power, The Idiot, and Lust for Life. Pop and Bowie would never make another record together, would never again collaborate on songs. Along with the dispatching of Mick Ronson and the soon-to-come severing from Carlos Alomar, it’s one of the saddest moments in Bowie’s career, the sudden close of a generous era.

In this case, the break was apparently Pop’s doing. His sobriety had given him a clearer head, and he now had a taste, at last, of commercial success, which bred in him a desire to succeed “on his own” and not as David Bowie’s occasional reclamation project (so Brick by Brick, Pop’s best-selling (and Bowie-free) record, was a vindication.) Bowie and Pop’s friendship apparently has waned in the past two decades: whatever uses that the two had once found for each other, whatever roles that each had once played for the other, no longer worked.

So here marks the end of Iggy Pop’s intersection with this blog, though there’s a sad footnote on Never Let Me Down, which we’ll get to soon enough. It’s a shame, as he’s been fine company. Here’s to you, Jim Osterberg: hail and farewell.

Recorded late April-May 1986, Mountain Studios, Montreux, Switzerland. On the album that it named. (Tom Petty and Bob Dylan’s “Jammin’ Me” seems like a response to “Blah”—with Dylan and Petty piecing together a lyric out of television spots and newspaper articles. & I just realized that there’s a dig at Steve Jobs (?!) in the song).

Top: Jeff Koons, Rabbit, 1986.

21 Responses to Blah-Blah-Blah

  1. MC says:

    Have really enjoyed reading about (and hearing) these songs again, as I haven’t listened to this album for a while. Whatever its reputation today, Blah-Blah-Blah was my gateway to Iggy, the Stooges, and all that. (I was soon revisiting The Idiot.) I still have a lot of fondness for these tunes. Also, the most adventurous tracks (like the title song, which unlike some of the others hasn’t aged a day) made me think, among other things, that Bowie still had it. So I was really primed for Never Let Me Down…of course, we’ll soon see how that one went down!

    Just thought I’d post this grisly coda to the Iggy-Bowie partnership/symbiosis: Iggy and Lenny Kravitz tackling one of the Duke’s glam anthems at, I believe, the VH1 Fashion Awards in 1998. Not necessarily that pretty:

  2. Diamond Duke says:

    A bit of a Son Of Lust For Life vibe about this one, albeit with a more tech-y ’80s feel. Very energetic and irreverent. And the lyrics have only become more and more applicable to the state of our culture as time’s dragged on, sorry to say. Here’s to ya, Iggy!

    As a side note, you think that “Johnny can’t read” line stuck in Bowie’s mind when he did I Can’t Read with Tin Machine three years later?

    And now for a humorous footnote:

    BTW, has anybody seen Bowie’s UK TV appearance on TFI Friday on October 8, 1999? It’s absolutely hilarious! He’s retelling the tale of his Indonesian vacation with Iggy 15 years earlier (documented in the lyric of Tumble And Twirl from Tonight), only he’s presenting it as something funny that happened to him on the way to the studio! (Although he actually did have a nasty bout of gastroenteritis shortly before doing this show.) And what’s more, Iggy’s actually in the studio audience! Coincidence?😉

    • Frankie says:

      One thing that’s great about the later Bowie is his incredible charm and sense of humor. Makes me pine for a new interview/excursion. Thanks for the previously unseen clip!

      • david says:

        That TFI interview was brilliant, but sad to say Iggy wasn’t really in the audience. He’d been on the week before and so they cut to a clip to make it look like he was there.

      • Maj says:

        Seen this hilarious TV thing before but completely forgot abt it. Thanks for putting it here Diamond Duke!

        Frankie, I agree about later Bowie & his charm & sense of humour. Sometimes when I read his 70’s & 80’s interviews I have to roll my eyes at how pretentious and pseudo-intellectual he was. He was still pretentious & pseudo-intellectual in the 90’s/early 00’s too, but his ability to be a total kid & poke fun at his own self has become much stronger over the years. And bless him for that.

  3. scarymonster says:

    I always found the ‘vocal tics’ on the Fairlight a bit irritating, but I’ve just realised they remind me very much of this track:

    covered by Bowie himself 10 years ago, so I’m sure it wasn’t accidental.

  4. david says:

    It’s been wonderful to read about this album, I always loved it and felt it was like a great lost record in the Bowie cannon.

    Its indeed sad that they parted ways after this, I think perhaps Iggy comes off as a little ungrateful of Bowie’s contribution to his career, but I always felt David was trying to atone somehow for his neglect of his brother, since Iggy and Terry look somewhat similar. For whatever the motives, there’s no doubting it was one of the greatest musical collaborations.

  5. PH says:

    I’m guessing that the “sad footnote” to their collaboration has something to do with Bowie’s cover version of “Bang Bang” on Never Let Me Down. I look forward to reading whatever you have unearthed.

  6. Richard Lesses says:

    After reading this last entry for Mr. Pop I did the natural thing – went out and bought Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough). Came out a week before Never Let Me Down. Album titles in the late eighties were interesting, too.

  7. humanizingthevacuum says:

    Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) is my favorite Petty record, and “Jammin’ Me” close to my favorite Petty single (and savvier about its subject than “Blah Blah Blah”).

  8. Maj says:

    Oh how I wish someone did this sort of blog for Stooges/Iggy songs! I’ve grown fond of this guy over the past decade (let’s face it I mainly discovered him thanks to Bowie). I now know a huge chunk of his work but it would be great to get all of it analysed like this & maybe discover a song here and there.
    Anyhoo. Blah Blah Blah, the song is a bit blah for me. I don’t think the production serves it well. I mean I had no idea what the song was about until I read this entry.

  9. relph says:

    The “TV” in TV Eye” doesn’t stand for “television”, it stands for “Twat Vibe”

    “Kathy Asheton, younger sister of Stooges members Ron and Scott Asheton, recalls at one point how she came up with the term as shorthand for a term involving a more vulgar term for her anatomy: “Twat Vibe Eye.”

    “TV Eye” was my term. It was girl stuff. My girlfriends and I developed a code. It was a way for us to communicate with each other if we thought some guy was staring at us …
    Like, ‘He’s got a TV Eye on you. And if we had it then we’d use “I have …”
    Iggy overheard us and thought it was really funny. That’s when he wrote that song “TV Eye.””

    Sorry to mess that portion of the otherwise excellent article up!

    I believe that’s quoted from “Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History Of Punk” by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain.

  10. Jeremy says:

    Never liked this song, but shucks, what do I know!

    Great to know about the origins of the term TVEYE – and we all thought it was social commentary.

  11. diamond dog says:

    Never much cared for the title track the effects have aged it for the worse. pity iggy and ziggy parted company , they made great music together and I hope they do agin before one of em passes to the afterworld.

  12. Pierce says:

    Fairly unlistenable song off an otherwise pleasing album.

    Gee that Kravitz clip is an atrocity. Um…thanks

  13. Remco says:

    I really like this one. It’s the only piece on the album where the production actually adds to the overall effect of the song instead of being a nuisance you have to ignore in order to enjoy the song, which is my experience of the rest of the album.
    There’s so much noise and clutter and stupid eighties sounds in the mix but somehow it fits Iggy’s rant perfectly. But I guess that’s just me.

  14. princeasbo says:

    Blah, blah, blah indeed.🙂

  15. Phil Obbard says:

    There are rumors of demos from BLAH BLAH BLAH circulating with Bowie’s vocals prominently audible. The only one I’ve ever heard/confirmed is “Fire Girl”, which appears on an Iggy box set, and can be found on YouTube…

  16. stowe says:

    I get emotional now listening to Tonight and hearing Bowie’s backing vocals. It’s just an incredible colloboration and it’s just hidden in there, amongst all the brilliance he made, you go to an Iggy classic, and you hear Bowie and are like… dam.

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