The 66-year-old punk godfather — whose latest, ''Ready to Die,'' reteams him with his fellow Stooges alums — tells the tales behind his most iconic tunes, from stoned cornfield excursions to stealing from Sinatra.
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? ”I WANNA BE YOUR DOG” (1969)

”[Late Stooges guitarist] Ron Asheton was messing around with a Jimi Hendrix number called ‘Highway Chile,’ and he started playing the riff, and I said, ‘Whoa, that’s it!’ Then I spent months taking psychedelics and getting mildly drunk and walking through the cornfields of Michigan thinking, ‘I wanna be your God? No, that’s not right. I wanna be free? I wanna be stoned?’ I knew I wanted to be something.”

? ”RAW POWER” (1973)

”I stole the title from a heading in Time magazine, about how they were planning to win the Vietnam War. I wanted to be the baddest band in the universe. I was thinking, ‘What phrase would sum up being the most invulnerable, heavy unit?’ I left the band house so I had privacy to write the lyrics, and I was staying in a very chic hotel in London. I was trying to get to the idea that if you can set aside all prosaic concerns, you can find a way to connect to a universal energy. That’s what it was supposed to be about, but who would have thought that was in the head of this weird-looking delinquent in silver leather pants?”

”LUST FOR LIFE” (1977)

”The best thing about ‘Lust for Life’ was it was written on a ukulele by David Bowie. Bowie was sitting around his digs on the floor, because it was a no-chairs kind of place, and picked up this little ukulele — it might have been his son’s. He came up with the title, and later I realized that was a reference to the Kirk Douglas film about van Gogh. In the two albums we made [Lust for Life and The Idiot], I think Bowie wanted to make the comment that I was an idiot à la Dostoyevsky and insane à la van Gogh. Like, ‘Here I am producing albums for this insane idiot — let’s see what happens!”’

? ”THE PASSENGER” (1977)

”I had the title in my mind since the Antonioni film came out. I think about a year after that, I bought a book by Jim Morrison called The Lords and the New Creatures, and I thought the poetry was pretty good. In one of the poems, he said modern life is a journey by car, and as time unfolds passengers begin to reek in their seats, and we can never really get out of this situation, all we can do is change cars. I like that idea of being stuck on a very narrow but forward-hurtling system like a highway, always in your own little compartment. I wrote it overnight, then got the guys lined up, and I said, ‘There’s no rehearsal, just listen to the riff, we’re going to start at 1, 2, 3, 4 and do this as a living thing.’ And that was one take. I loved it for that reason.”

? ”READY TO DIE” (2013)

”I was really intrigued by this story of four old retirees in Georgia who were plotting to blow up government buildings while they were having their coffee at a Waffle House. They were overheard by a waitress who called the authorities, and away they went to a new address. I originally wrote it as, like, a Beach Boys-type song sung from the point of view of one of these guys. In the end, I thought it was a cheap shot, but there was something resonant about the idea that to find meaning in their lives, a lot of people feel they have to risk death or face eternity. The second verse, about the lonesome town, I stole from Frank Sinatra. ‘This lonely skin is wearing thin,’ that I can claim as autobiography. I never got to the next step. I’m not really ‘a hanging judge of the world I’m in.’ But I can sympathize!”

Lust for Life
  • Movie
  • 122 minutes
  • Vincente Minneli