‘Hey, we’re fighting bears here’: Iggy Pop and Jim Jarmusch celebrate the Stooges with their new documentary ‘Gimme Danger’
The musician Iggy Pop declared himself “a street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm” in the lyric to the song “Search and Destroy” on the 1973 album “Raw Power.” That visceral statement of intent was relatively little heard on its original release, though the song is currently in a luxury car commercial. Another early song, the woozy, fuzzed-out “1969,” was in a recent jeans ad.
“I feel that the group was meant for a different kind of success,” Pop said of the long path to wider recognition for his early band, the Stooges. “I gotta tell you, we are in the culture.”
The new documentary “Gimme Danger,” directed by art-house idol Jim Jarmusch, charts the rocky course of Pop’s early career and the life of the Stooges. The film opens in New York on Oct. 28 and in Los Angeles on Nov. 4.
The band’s brash, dynamic music, with song titles such as “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “No Fun,” “Down on the Street,” “Dirt” and “Death Trip,” alongside Pop’s startling, confrontational performance style, eventually made them a widely acknowledged forerunner to punk rock. Through tumultuous times, personnel changes, drug addictions, breakups and beyond, the film covers the band’s initial run from the late 1960 to early 1970s and their more than decade-long reunion that began in 2003, presenting them as a combustible, eternal force.
“The original group was, right from the beginning, repeatedly rejected, aggressively rejected,” Pop continued. “And it made me angry. Angry in the way of, ‘Hey, we’re fighting bears here.’ This is not a joke. We’re talking survival. And then finally you see people enjoying it, people paying attention to it.”
The original group was repeatedly, right from the beginning, repeatedly rejected, aggressively rejected.
Iggy Pop on his early band the Stooges
Pop and Jarmusch were sitting next to each other on a couch in a hotel suite during the recent Toronto International Film Festival, where “Gimme Danger” and “Paterson,” Jarmusch’s new fiction feature starring Adam Driver, were both screening. Side-by-side, the filmmaker and his subject made for a distinct study in contrasts, the droll stillness of the 63-year-old Jarmusch only underscoring the expressive energy of the 69-year-old Pop.
Jarmusch has a long-standing connection to music and musicians, having previously made the 1997 documentary “Year of the Horse” on Neil Young and his band Crazy Horse. He often casts musicians in his movies, including Tom Waits and John Lurie in “Down by Law,” Joe Strummer and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in “Mystery Train” and RZA in “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” or Method Man in “Paterson.”
In 1993, Pop appeared with Waits as bickering versions of themselves in one of Jarmusch’s series of short films made under the title “Coffee and Cigarettes.” Pop was also in Jarmusch’s 1995 psychedelic western “Dead Man.”
The Stooges released three albums, their self-titled debut, “Fun House” and “Raw Power”, before breaking up in 1974. They launched a series of reunion tours and albums beginning in 2003. When Pop had the idea to memorialize the band with a documentary he didn’t want something that felt too promotional. Inspired by a film directed by Martin Scorsese on the Rolling Stones, he wanted a noted filmmaker to take on the project.
“I realized, if you have an auteur, if you have somebody who’s not used to compromise, they’re used to making what they want, they’re gonna make something better than what you could conceive of. That was the idea,” Pop said on reaching out to Jarmusch. “So, I thought, you know, ‘I know a top guy!’ ”
Jarmusch jumped at the chance — “I was like, ‘Really? I’ll start tomorrow,’ ” he said — to spend more time with Pop and document a band he considers among his true favorites.
“It’s personal,” Jarmusch said. “The film is not an innovative piece of cinema, it is intended to be a kind of fan letter, and it’s a fan film in a way because I love the Stooges. It’s a celebration, that’s its intention.
“To me, the Stooges are that primal-ness, that mixture of these things. It’s hard to describe them, but there’s a kind of blues-based, psychedelicized, slowed-down rockabilly with avant-garde jazz mixed in. Like what the hell is this? But it speaks to forever. The Stooges are forever.”
Iggy Pop’s real name is James Osterberg — “Everybody has to decide what to call me,” he said with a wry laugh — and his peripatetic years after the Stooges’ initial run means he does not have the extensive archives or vaults full of film and video footage, photos and memorabilia some other musicians do.
“I don’t own a single thing that was in my life from before the year 1983. I’m one of those people. I lived in either a suitcase or a duffel bag all my life until I was about 40 and I actually acquired a mortgage and two suitcases.”
Alongside archival footage Jarmusch sourced elsewhere, the film’s spine is a number of interviews with Pop at home in Miami. Jarmusch kept a tight focus on who appears on-screen, including brothers and founding members of the group Ron and Scott Asheton, “Raw Power”-era guitar player James Williamson and saxophonist Steve Mackay along with reunion-era bassist Mike Watt, Ron and Scott’s sister Kathy Ashton and music industry figure Danny Fields. (Ron Asheton died in 2009, Scott Asheton in 2014 and Mackay in 2015.)
“I always wanted to have Jim Osterberg as the central oral historian of the voyage of the Stooges, with only the band members and closest of other people,” said Jarmusch. “I just want to keep this intimate and I want Jim to be the guide.”
In the chorus to the song “Search and Destroy” Pop rails, “I am the world’s forgotten boy,” something he most certainly is not now. Pop noted that he spent almost eight years with the Stooges in their original run and then about 12 years with the group during its comeback. And though the Stooges had faced rejection time and again in their career, in that final phase, Pop was pleased to see them accepted at last.
“Every member of the group during that 12-year period and our sidemen graduated with honors,” Pop said. “Meaning, when they passed away, they had houses, money and bad habits. Those are the three things a rock star is supposed to have.”
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