Located at the bottom of the Sunshine State, it's as if everything good and bad about Florida filters its way down to Miami: You get the great weather, all kinds of different cultures, languages, and cuisine, but you also have the tourists, the terrible drivers, and the sports fans that the media loves to take swings at. The city has always been a strange mix of glamours, seedy, and a little dangerous, with the latter two thanks largely to its reputation as the cocaine capital of the United States in the 1980s.
Today, the Magic City is again flush in (now mostly questionable real estate) money, and is still known for its Art Deco buildings, beaches, swirls of Spanish everywhere you go, and parties that go well into the next morning. But Miami is also currently experiencing a cultural boom, something that is especially apparent in December, when Art Basel Miami draws the focus of the entire art world in the biggest event of its kind in the United States. It has also encouraged the opening of dozens of art galleries in the city in the past decade, proving that Miami is simply a place where you go to get a good tan; that there's plenty to experience here. And somewhat unlikely, one of the ambassadors for Miami's new renaissance isn't some native art world darling; it's Iggy Pop.
On paper he's another retirement-age ex-Midwesterner who's pushing 70, never seen wearing a shirt, and soaking up the South Florida sun. Yet this is Iggy Pop we're talking about — he's one of the greatest lead singers in rock and roll history, constantly referred to as 'the godfather of punk,' and a man who can tell you stories you probably wouldn't believe if anybody else told them to you.
"I had a home in Mexico that I'd moved to so I could get away from America, and narcoculture was coming in stronger and stronger. So the police would offer me cocaine to bring them a gun from America, and I started thinking I was going to get kidnapped soon," Pop says about the decision to look for a new home in the early-1990s. Although he's best-known for his work with the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band The Stooges, and later with David Bowie in Berlin in the late-1970s, it usually comes as a surprise when to find out Iggy's been in Miami since 1995. "I came down here, nobody shot at me, nothing bad happened," Pop says of an initial visit before buying his first Miami home. "It was so quiet, and nobody knew who I was, and there was the beach. There was the ocean, there was the end of all the tension and complications."
Coinciding with another resurgence in popularity, thanks in large part to the his song "Lust for Life" being included on the soundtrack for the 1996 film Trainspotting, Pop notes that people were more willing to travel to Miami for meetings, photo shoots, and recording sessions in his part of town he describes as, "A great little dump." He adds, "A great little dumpy dump."
Now Miami is building itself up once again after the city was reportedly hit harder by the 2008 recession than any city on the entire planet, and people are still coming to see Pop, like Sailor Jerry, the rum distiller named after the famous tattoo artist, Norman Collins, who asked Pop to design a flash collection celebrated at the gallery and music venue Grand Central, a spot situated in an old train station that looks like it would sit comfortably in Brooklyn or Portland, filled with guests who look like they could live in those capitals of cool. They munched on pulled pork sliders from Sparky's Roadside BBQ, a place that locals say is maybe the best barbecue spot in the state, topped it off with a stocked microbrew list, and then watched the evening's act, local garage rockers who've made it big nationally, the Jacuzzi Boys. And it all went down thanks to Pop.
While it feels strange to call Pop one of the most active seniors living within the 305 area code, that's the case. He's part of the large population of the retirement age crowd that has populated the city since the middle of the 20th century. And although some of his neighbors might consider keeping busy going on cruises and playing golf, the 67-year-old Pop has a much different set of activities to keep him busy. Whether it be recording new albums, touring, and doing his BBC 6 radio show, Pop doesn't look to be slowing down anytime soon. Projects pop up constantly, people like Ke$ha asking him to contribute to tracks, brands asking to use his songs, and more people wondering if he'll ever write a proper memoir like Patti Smith's Just Kids after he recently delivered the keynote John Peel Lecture to wide acclaim ("If I do it now, the problem is that my life has been so shared that I'd have to write about Ron Asheton, Scott Ashteon, David Bowie; I'd have to write about Nico, all sorts of great people who have a right to their privacy," he says). He thanks moving to Miami in 1995 for the second-wind that keeps the guy who seems ageless going: "I regained my physical vitality and my health" when he moved there nearly twenty years ago.
If you're planning a visit down there, Pop points out that it's Miami's diversity that makes it so special, saying that visitors looking for something to do that they won't find in a guidebook should rent a "reliable" car and drive through neighborhoods like Overtown and Liberty City to experience the mix of West Indian and Latin American culture alongside historic landmarks like the Lyric Theatre on 2nd Avenue. And while the best Cuban sandwich you will ever have might not be too hard to find, Pop suggests that with a little searching, you can enjoy a plate of roti as delicious as you'd get in Jamaica. He also recommends looking in the windows of the Santería stores ("All the Cuban and Haitian voodoo stuff is beautiful"), and stopping off at South Florida's most popular record store, Sweat. A place that Pop has championed for over five years now.
"The first time I spoke to him, I was nauseous from how nervous I was," Sweat owner Lauren Reskin says of her initial exchange with Pop. A longtime DJ, promoter, and music lover, Reskin knew she wasn't talking to just anybody when she reached out to the music legend, asking him to help the store with a fundraiser to buy a new AC system (something that is a necessity anytime of the year in Florida). "It turns out he's the nicest, most gracious and classy guy you'd ever want to meet," she says of Pop, who showed up to the fundraiser as the guest of honor, and then kept coming back, hanging out at the store's annual block party, which happened to fall on his birthday. "We got him an ice cream cake and he hung out for hours watching bands and meeting fans," says Reskin. "I love how much he loves Miami, he really gets what is so wonderful about living here."
Plenty of famous people have Miami homes, Pop is the type of celebrity you're most likely to see around town. It's pretty difficult to miss him: He's usually the shirtless guy with the trademark long blonde hair taking business calls on the flip phone he's still proud to use; take away the excesses of his past, and he's still the same Iggy Pop. He hasn't changed much during his time living in Florida, but the city looks better suited for a rock and roll legend these days than it once did. The decadence and the dirt are balancing out more and more, making Miami the kind of place you visit for an experience, not to just sit by the water all day and watch life pass you by.