JOHNNY MARR INTERVIEW
“It's Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges it came out in 1973. I heard about it in 1978 I think when I was about fourteen – fifteen.
A bunch of friends that I used to hang out with who were all guitar players at various levels and a bit older than me, I used to play around at friends houses and one guy said I should check this out because it reminded him of the way I was playing at the time, so that intrigued me.
This name Raw Power kept coming up again and again.
So I got on the bus and went into town to buy it, which was a big deal because I was only a kid and I didn't really have that much money.
When I actually pulled the sleeve out of the rack I just could not believe it – I mean - the power of that image hasn't diminished anyway. Just the sleeve alone promises quite a lot and I couldn’t really imagine what I was gonna be getting into.
On the bus all the way home I was just kind of stunned by these images, these Mick Rock pictures. So I was already hooked before I'd even played it really because the sleeve alone - well for a start it does what the music does. It’s got the promise of some kind of shadowy other world - which if you live in the suburbs as a teenage kid looking for something interesting it's really quite alluring I think.
I couldn't believe the music - I still absolutely love it and listen to it often.
The thing about it is a lot of people assume that Iggy Pop particularly and the Stooges were just about ramshackle random attitude - there is plenty of attitude behind it but the amazing thing about it is that is very very deliberate, it's almost intellectual - that was something I didn't really understand at the time.
I think a lot of people still don't realise that about Iggy Pop and James Williamson, who is the guitar player - and who is actually my favourite guitar player because of this record - that there's a real agenda. It's not just people putting their heads down and being messy – yeah it's got alot of attitude and it’s got a lot of raw noise manifesto in it but it's very deliberate and the words are pure street poetry I think - “Search and Destroy” particularly. ”I Need Somebody”, “Penetration”. So it's about sex, it's about drugs and it's about an alternative subterranean world I think. Which are all amazing things particularly for a teenager or someone who’s looking for something outside of the culture but it doesn't really last unless the people making it actually live it.
You can have all those things sort of things hung around the iconography around the sleeve and the titles - this idea of sex and drugs and subterenea - but the thing is with these guys they were actually really living it.
I think it's very beautiful as well, tracks like “I Need Somebody” has this kind of burlesque bordello folk music aspect to it.
Almost like 20's or 30's prohibition American folk that is about illicit things. It’s about sex really and it has that in the music and its matched perfectly by the vocal delivery - so again in Iggy Pop you've got a very young livewire poet who read Time magazine and Newsweek because he wanted to - as I understand – because he wanted to know what the enemy was doing and wrote his lyrics accordingly.
He's not just someone who's trying to cop an attitude, he's someone who really understands that he's living in the shadows kind of thing and it’s just this kind of other worldly kind of promise he delivers.
Aside from all of that its got killer rock 'n' roll riffs - really killing riffs.
I'm often asked who's my biggest influence or who's my favourite guitar player and all that, and I've always been able to say James Williamson.
I don't really play like him other than if I go back to where I started with this story.
The start of this song on there called “Gimme Danger” is this very haunting arpeggio acoustic thing and that's where this friend of mine put the connection between me and this record together because it does like sound the way I was learning to play.
I think often with things that you connect with on an artistic level, so in my case records.
There's two ways you can do it - one is that you admire something and that's fine - that you admire a record or you admire a painting - but often I think it's because the artist is capturing something that you understand - a feeling that you understand, so even if you’re looking at or listening to something abstract there’s a little lightning bolt of recognition in there.
I think that’s what makes artists great because it’s an unquantifiable almost subconscious thing for many humans who dare to kind of peak around the regular third dimension.
You might sitting on a bus or in your car or on the way to school or at the back of the classroom or wherever it may be. Perhaps when you go sleep at night and you have this thing in your consciousness or subconscious and we don’t really pay attention to them until they come out in a colour or a riff or they come out in a lyric
I think music and painting does it better - particularly abstract painting does it better (than a lyric) because language immediately by definition quantifies things and what I’m talking about is this extrasensory aspect - and all the greatest music that hooked me as a kid did that - it’s like the promise of a different world that you weren’t living in but at the same time you recognised it - it was familiar.
I can’t ever disassociate this record from all those things because it was so powerful to me. So even if I wasn’t in the mood to listen rock ‘n’ roll music I would always have that massive connection with this record because it really sums up a big period of my life that seemed to be constantly strewn in sodium light that was coming through the windows of my bedroom in my parents council house you know.
I’d turn all the lights off and there was one of those big yellow street lights outside the window that would seep through the room from late September till spring really, so it seemed like an eternity as a 15 year old and I would just listen to that record and play along with it.
I understood it without having to analyse it – “I’m a street walking cheater with a heart full of napalm” is the opening lyric.”
Johnny Marr: Richard Goodall Gallery, Northern Quarter, Manchester, 23rd February 2011