This week’s episode of Radiotopia’s Song Exploder is pretty special. A podcast that breaks apart a song and intercuts certain segments with interviews from the artist about process, intent, and meaning, Song Exploder this week focuses on a track from Iggy Pop’s 2016 LP Post Pop Depression. The relationship Pop built with now-legendary artist and producer Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal, Them Crooked Vultures) began with the featured song of this episode: American Valhalla.
The episode focuses least on craft and sonic process but rather on the weight of the lyrical content. Born from a conversation Pop and Homme had over text message, Pop wonders allowed in the song’s refrain “Where is American Valhalla?” Pop’s character, and one that the entire LP is built around, is a battle-worn, passed-his-prime warrior searching for the most dignified of resting places: Valhalla.
I played this episode for my dad over the car stereo, heading out to a Good Friday family gathering. A purveyor of all things Pop (and much more than the Iggy variety), my dad holds the tomes from the battles warriors like Iggy Pop fought, locked away in 2000-some pieces of vinyl. As conversation in this episode turns to Pop’s age (68), to his changed place as a witness to the world, to ultimate finality, my dad asked me a question: “Was this before or after Bowie’s death?” I didn’t have an answer more than guesswork but sat listening, still thinking on the question I figured was really being asked: “Is this part of the same narrative?”
This narrative probably started with Johnny Cash’s American Recordings series. The seemingly-eternal youthfulness of rock music came to a realisation: death doesn’t come at the wrong end of a revolver, or at the tip of a needle, or in the fireball of a crashed private jet — all at the age of 27. No. Death, even for rock music, comes from disease, from erosion, from the clock’s placid march down to zero. If Iggy Pop’s warrior character is still embroiled in any war, it is a war of attrition.
We are in an era when rock music will die with those who birthed it. It’s almost sure enough to bet on that the surviving titans — Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, Patti Smith, The Rolling Stones, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, and Iggy Pop himself — will be gone within two decades (and honestly that’s being generous). Where the deaths of Cash or Bowie or Lou Reed might have felt like shocking anomalies, similar deaths will soon be the norm. Their work embalmed in vinyl will no longer serve as the fanfare for a revolutionary generation that won but as the funeral march for a generation that’s lost.
Iggy Pop laments in American Valhalla’s closing seconds “I’ve nothing but my name.” If this is all Pop thinks he has left, I have some idea where everything else went. The recent public outpouring in the wake of David Bowie’s death is indicative of the amount that was given to the world during his life. With recent news that the mural of Bowie in South London will be preserved, that which Bowie gave is now immortal. But Bowie himself could never be. As rock music’s Roll of Honour grows ever longer with rock music’s names, rock music will stay right where it always was.
Valhalla is where the warriors go so we will forever enjoy the fruits of their victories.
I encourage you to listen to the full episode of Song Exploder below.
Originally published to Medium on March 26th, 2016