I got Free for my birthday. In 2019. My Wife’s sister bought if for me. Even though it was a very thoughtful gift, I only played it once. Weird thing for me to do considering what an Iggy Pop fan I am. I lost my dog Horace that same day you see. All pretense of pretending things were OK went out the window. This track is on that album. Horace was the first pet I’d ever chosen myself. I had him 14 years. He walked by my side every day until he got too sick and couldn’t manage. He was my best mate and the kindest gentlest soul you could meet (unless you had a hat on, then he was having none of it).
I knew what was coming from the moment I got out of bed on that birthday. I had originally booked the day off work to go for a dog walk and pub lunch (tradition for Mrs ForTheDeaf and I) and to celebrate my age moving ever closer to the RPM of a single. No longer a long player myself. Of course the day didn’t go that way when I watched my mealy muzzled buddy struggling to eat again and then collapse down onto his bed breathing heavy and hard after every attempt to rise. Returning to the record at first just seemed like a bad idea. It could only be a distressing association of bad memories and difficult jazz influences.
I’d heard James Bond a lot with it’s salsa bass line backing and weird hypnotic vocal. I’d heard the mellow Sonali too as those two songs had been the promo tracks ahead of the albums release. This, it was clear, was not going to be a build on Post Pop Depression from 2016. An album I believe many saw as a crown of gold on a career of punk fury. This album was one of Iggy’s departure records. Like Zombie Birdhouse or Après he was doing *ahem* world music *ahem* not rock and roll. Still, usually I liked pretty much everything Iggy did and how would I ever get into Latin rhythms or weird arty Jazz if I didn’t let Iggy teach me?
So the album sat on the shelf barely used and by last year he’d eclipsed it in my mind with that birthday version of Family Affair he put out. Then the Dirty Little Virus single (which was in no doubt very much Rock and Roll). Just recently though he revisited Free himself by releasing a video for the very track that scared me away from going back to that album the most. His (pretty straight) reading of one of the few poems EVERYBODY knows. Dylan Thomas‘ Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night wiggled it’s way through the programming and lines of code that make up the matrix and lo… Just the other morning, in the front room of my house the leaders face appeared on my TV screen reading those words.
It didn’t create a triggering mind slide of grief. It was kind of comforting. Any school kid who payed attention in English class knows these words. Or anyone who was stirred by President Bill The Fighter Pilot Pullman in Roland Emmerich’s Alien punching block buster Independence Day in 1996. Maybe you know it from the Coolio soundtracked Hip Hop meets Michelle Pfeiffer Poetry slam movie Dangerous Minds which came out a year earlier.
Maybe it was the episode of Dr. Who where it became a plot device. Or the TV commercial Iggy read it in. Perhaps John Cale’s version set to his own music and retitled Words For The Dying. Most likely in the modern world it’ll be the Christopher Nolan sci-fi navel gazer Interstellar that brought Dylan Thomas’ most famous work to the fore for the youth of today. Good movie. Excellent use of the poem. The deluxe Hans Zimmer soundtrack version has pretty much all the A-Listers in that movie reading it not just Michael Caine like in the film.
Free is a good album. It’s not a punk rager like PPD. It didn’t need to be. I’m glad recent events have gifted it back to me. Watching Iggy read those words while looking directly into the camera is a sobering experience. Every year he’s still with us is a gift.
Happy birthday Jim.