The Passenger: what’s the meaning of Iggy Pop’s song

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The Passenger is a single from Iggy Pop’s album, Lust for Life, released in 1977. The song refers to the long journeys of the rock iguana on the Berlin S-Bahn line. The riff is very catchy – simple but brilliant – accompanying you all the way to the chorus, almost like a game, up to that famous “La la la la la la la la.”

It is in the chorus itself that a new figure appears – David Bowie – described by Iggy Pop as a friend and a benefactor. The voice of Bowie, who was the album’s producer, is easily recognisable in the choir sections of the song. Bowie cuts a fraternal figure (as a playmate) and a paternal role (besides producing two of Iggy’s albums, he also went to meet his parents when Iggy was suffering, to reassure them about the son – they were living in a caravan and Bowie frightened the neighbours with his car and accompanying bodyguards).

In the song, Iggy describes his usual journey by train. He sees the stars come out, and everything is dynamic. It’s a surprising journey, yet still ordinary. Then, the song moves into Bowie’s car.

On an American tour, the two, in addition to being arrested for possession of marijuana, sat on the back seats, listening to cassettes and talking about music. A relationship, Bowie-Pop, of union and mutual understanding. Like a team.

And everything was made for you and me
All of it was made for you and me
‘Cause it just belongs to you and me
So let’s take a ride and see what’s mine

Indeed, Iggy says that The Passenger was also written while thinking about the journeys the two took together in David’s car, towards infinity.

And that chorus, that “la la la la la la la la,” says everything about this life, everything about Pop. It is sung lightly but in a decisive way, as this is the real Iggy: a riff of repeated syllables that can mean everything, but that are repeated because this is what he wants – just like with the friendship with Bowie, his long journeys, and that night-time view from behind the glass window of a train. What does he also want? He want to stray, to embrace his excesses, his nomadic tendencies and his immense sense of freedom, full and deep, engraved with the feelings he screams out in his music.

As well as his train journey, which is always the same yet always surprising (as the stars come out), Pop grows more and more excessive, but always remains himself.

Iggy Pop’s “la la la la la la la la” is the intentional mystery that shows the artist to be a disordered but coherent chaos. A star of hard rock.

I am the passenger and I ride and I ride
I ride through the city’s backsides
I see the stars come out tonight
I see the bright and hollow sky
Over the city’s ripped backsides
And everything looks good tonight

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