Iggy Pop and David Bowie played hard and worked hard. Iggy said later that the album "Lust for Life" was written "on a diet of German beer, red wine, black bread, cocaine and German sausage."
Well, I couldn’t cook at all back then (laughs) . But during those years, David did produce his Berlin trilogy, the albums Low , Heroes and Lodger . Jim made The Idiot and Lust for Life . I still think these are their best albums.
Can you remember the very first time you heard "China Girl"?
Yes, I remember Jim playing it for me before it was finished. At first, he was staying with David while his own apartment was being renovated. He had to sneak me in, because the rule was that no one was allowed to go into that apartment unless David had agreed. So I was sitting in one of David’s seven rooms. Jim gave me headphones, and I listened to the recording.
Did you get to join them when they were working at the Hansa Studios together?
Not at first. But eventually, David learned to trust me. David was very good at producing Jim, even though their sounds were so different. That’s one of the great things about David. He has the ability to take himself back a little and concentrate on the artist he is producing. He did this with Lou Reed too. David really wanted to get the best out of Jim.
You stayed in Berlin together for two years, then you moved on. In 1980, Iggy Pop was quoted by the magazine Sounds as saying: "Berlin was special for a while. Today there are too many artists, too many people in carrot jeans. Idiots. I gave up the apartment in Berlin and am moving to New Orleans."
We never moved to New Orleans, of course, but Jim liked the idea of living in an American city where they spoke French. We actually went to New York City. It was a crazy time. Just everyone seemed to live in New York then. We kept running into Andy Warhol. David was performing in a theater production of The Elephant Man . For us, leaving Berlin and going to New York was definitely the right thing to do.
You also spent three months in Haiti together. That’s where you shot the cover for Iggy Pop’s "Zombie Birdhouse" album.
That was in 1981. Jim had been there before with a friend and liked it. We wanted to relax there for just a few weeks, but it turned into three months. It was horrible.
On our first night there, we went to a voodoo ceremony. Jim took his clothes off right away and danced. The voodoo priest didn’t think it was very funny. He put a curse on us. I don’t believe in things like that, but still, the following weeks were unbelievable. Jim was always getting lost, he spent all our money on drinks, and eventually we found him on one of the streets. He was out of control. We were broke. I had to work for a Belgian dentist as an assistant, and pulled teeth to finance our return flights. The worst night was at a restaurant, when suddenly everyone around us stopped talking. A boat docked on the beach, and a group of men came into the restaurant. Among them was the brutal dictator of Haiti, Jean-Claude Duvalier, known as Baby Doc. I told Jim: "Please pull yourself together. Don’t look his way. Don’t speak to him. He gets people killed when he doesn’t like them." I was so afraid. But luckily, Jim listened to me this time. Haiti was a nightmare.
How did your relationship actually come to an end?
It was after one of Jim’s tours in Japan. He was exhausted, and so was I. I flew back to Europe by myself. And it was obvious to both of us that it was over.
Just like that?
Yes. He didn’t want a big discussion, and neither did I. I stopped calling him. He stopped calling me. That was it. That was in 1983. His mother still called me though. And then Jim married a woman from Japan. He is not a nostalgic person. He never looks back, only forward. And I’m like that too. Nostalgia is nice, but you have to keep looking forward, otherwise you get stuck in the past. Over the last few years, we’ve been back in touch. If he is doing a show somewhere close by, I go there, and we chat a little backstage. Then I go back home.
Why do you think you got together in the first place? Did you discover any parallels in your biographies?
Jim came from a difficult family situation. His father was an orphan, adopted at 14 by a family living in a trailer park. Jim lived a pretty restless life from an early age. He loved being on tour, being on the road.
And your family?
I come from a Jewish family. My parents were Holocaust survivors. In the 1950s, they moved to New York with me. After my mother died, I returned to Germany. But the idea of having a home was never that important to me. Jim and I were both restless.
During the period you were together, a British journalist described Iggy Pop as looking like a bodybuilder who had just risen from the grave.
Jim is blessed with a good body. He just looked great without ever having to do much for it.
And he liked to take his clothes off onstage.
It was his way of attracting attention. He is very perceptive and very sensitive. I remember the first time I saw him purposely cut himself with a broken bottle on stage. That’s how he got everyone to give him their undivided attention. He did that frequently in those days when he felt the audience was getting distracted.