Why I Cover: “The Passenger” by Iggy Pop

Photo courtesy of Discogs

Photo courtesy of Discogs

Milo Paul, Web Staffer

To begin, I want to elaborate on what this article and its potential sibling articles existing in that nebulous jet-pack future are about. With it being the case that I have been in a lot of bands and other musical projects over years-worth spaces of time, I find that, on at least more than one occasion, I will learn to perform a song not written by me. A betrayal of the creative self? Maybe. Is it fun? For sure! I love covering songs that I listen to outside practice. The startling amount of catharsis that comes with performing one of the angriest songs off your phone’s library is a sensation not frequently reencountered in other mediums of artistic expression, and I will tap into that reservoir as often as possible—with my bandmates’ consent, of course.

That said, looking for the set requisites constructing what a choice cover song is for me is like spitting into a bottomless pit expecting to hear it hit something; you’ll never be satisfied and, personally, the process is a whole row of mental gymnastics I’d prefer to avoid. Songs come with contexts, and contexts can be a can of worms that provides surplus experimental noise to an already slippery little hypothesis. The only rational way of deciphering why I want to cover a song is by examining it subjectively, and I decided that I could do that by rambling about why I love some of these to a faceless audience from whom I can expect no harm. Anyway, why “The Passenger”?

It’s extremely fortunate that my first song in this series is this one, as it was and still is my personal favorite tune of all time. This supposed rip-off of The Doors channels the exact aesthetics and energy I desire in music, unhampered by its extreme accessibility as a great starter song for guitar players. It is a triumphant effort on Iggy Pop’s part.

“The Passenger” throws a dark and proto-gothic shadow over listeners with each lyric, championing the vagabond outsider in a way that 1977 Punk wished it did. The narrator is hyper-vigilant in his nihilism, stuck in his car straight from 50s rock ‘n’ roll as he watches the world destroy itself, a sight terrible and beautiful at the same time. Every “La” is another dawdling gesture celebrating the accepted unreality he knows is around the corner, even as he dreads it. Neurosis bleeds into the latter act of the song, painting with barely disciplined drums and guitar a sound and world of an unsettling stillness, post-apocalyptic and foreboding. Pop does not sing so much as he recites what seems to be the epitaph of every teenager ever to hate the world, simultaneously meowing in tribute and recoiling in anger and lighting up with passion. If this all seems dissident and negative, that’s because it is. Young Milo NEEDED to hear this song when they were 13.

I surprised my guitar teacher when I asked if I could practice “The Passenger” instead of “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica. I guess that goes to show how bad of a teacher he was. See, the best part about this song is that, because it is so easy, you can play it any way you really want to. Slow, with or without lead parts, with different lyrics; Mr. Pop gave young artists a blueprint when he debuted this bit on his Lust For Life album, not a song. I love experimenting with it, molding it, changing it. “Nothing Else Matters” does not give you that necessary creative nudge, even if it is almost as easy a song. “The Passenger” speaks to listeners and works WITH listeners. If I have ever found comradery in literal sound, it was in “The Passenger”. And, to be brutally honest, this song has saved my life even while nurturing the overall despondency I developed as puberty continued. This song is the water and sun to my seed and tree, who I am artistically at the most basic level. It is my normal.

Since the same four chords used in this song are my go-tos when fiddling on my guitar, it makes sense that it still is one of the first songs I’ll practice with a band. Never has it been not fun to play, and that’s reason enough for my covering it as often as I do. But, I can’t just say that’s all there is to the subject. As the last few paragraphs show, I have had years to play and think about the same 4 minutes over and over, and the overall philosophy I found therein is really what makes it so attractive to cover for me. Any pissed off kid can sing this song or play the song’s instruments easily—and this provides a uniting factor to a tune about precisely the opposite, or being an outsider looking in as your parent’s society fall to shit. You ride with the narrator because you and anyone else can be him. All the outcasts sing “La” when you listen. “The Passenger” is the only song I know that can be that universal on one end and still be unwaveringly subjective or personal on the other. I love it for that.

Anyway, here are my existing covers: