A Documentary About Iggy Pop
and the Stooges, by Jim Jarmusch (108 min)
Rock ‘n’ roll does not lend itself to sober accounts well removed from the heat of the moment. Nor does it bury its dead. As a band fueled by raw exuberance, the Stooges crashed and died in the arms of their critics and fans by their third album, “Raw Power.”
Years later they seemed to come back to even greater acclaim. This idea for a film on the band came at one of those moments of popular reprise. Iggy Pop, no stranger to Jim Jarmusch’s style, and an occasional actor in his films (“Coffee and Cigarettes,” “Dead Man”) broached the topic with the eclectic filmmaker, during a Stooges revival tour in 2008.
Iggy Pop and Jim Jarmusch have been good friends for the last twenty-five years, though Jarmusch’s adulation for The Stooges goes beyond friendship. As he comments about the band–“No other band in rock ‘n’ roll history has rivaled the Stooges’ combination of heavy primal throb, spiked psychedelia, blues-a-billy grind, complete with succinct angst-ridden lyrics and a snarling preening leopard of a front man who somehow embodies Nijinsky, Bruce Lee, Harpo Marx and Arthur Rimbaud.” In another moment Jarmusch hails them as “rock and roll’s greatest band ever.”
This film is a part biography of Iggy Pop, the main character in the telling of the story, but it seems to his celebrated solo career, where he had his greatest commercial success. Still, enough of The Stooges is enough, and Iggy holds the narrative together like mayonnaise on a sandwich.
Jarmusch lets Pop conduct the flow of the conversation, with his bandmates, Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton, James Williamson, Steve Mackay, and Mike Watt, given their moment to shine as well. Most of them are gone, but Jarmusch was able to catch all of his early cohorts, even such influencers like the lead singer of the MC5 Wayne Kramer, and their manager and White Panther founder John Sinclair. (One exception – Stooges bassist Dave Alexander who passed away in 1975).
We see his Iggy in review – born Jim Osterberg, son of a Cadillac-driving, high school English teacher and coach, growing up in a trailer park in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where he played drums in the living room of his family’s mobile home. He had a great relationship with his parents, although we don’t hear much about his mother. Osterberg says.
“They helped me explore anything I was interested in. This culminated in their evacuation from the master bedroom in the trailer, because that was the only room big enough for my drum kit. They gave me their bedroom.”
Through an expert use of live footage from the era—including some amazing segments filmed by Loni Sinclair, John Sinclair’s wife–interviews with band mates, short cuts from 60’s TV shows, and stop action animation, the director and his talented crew kept the action of the story’s history moving.
Pop playing in the frat band Iguanas, where he got his name; appearing at the teen dance club The Ponytail–his drumming in blues-oriented The Prime Movers; a brief sojourn at the University of Michigan; meeting the Asheton brothers, his co-creators of The Stooges, originally called the Psychedelic Stooges.
At his cusp of his bandhood, Iggy was impressed by the energy of the bands he saw in Ann Arbor and Detroit. Not only the MC5 but also national acts like the Jim Morrison and the Doors, the Sonics — and ‘black’ acts — Bo Diddley, James Brown, Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters. And one of the biggest at that time, at least in the Midwest, was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. In a meeting with Mike Bloomfield, bassist for the band Iggy was told: “’If you want to learn to play [the blues’, you have to go to Chicago.” So he went and gigged with the likes of James Cotton and Johnny Young when they went to the ‘white’ suburbs.
No British Invasion for him. He was dedicated to recreating the sound and the mood of the ‘real’ blues he discovered in the smoky gin mills of Chicago’s South and West Sides. Which ironically enough was the motivation for much of the British Invasion.
The MC5 played a crucial role in the recording career of The Stooges. When Danny Fields, who was working for Elektra Records at the time, flew out to Michigan to hear them live, he also heard the Stooges, a local band the MC5 were raving about. The Stooges also got signed to Elektra and they dropped the adjective psychedelic from their name.
Ron Asheton called up Moe of the Three Stooges to ask for their permission to use ‘The Stooges’ as the band’s name. Moe replied that he didn’t care what the fuck they called the band as long as they didn’t call it The Three Stooges!
Interesting factoid. Leni Sinclair, the wife of John Sinclair, manager of the MC5 and one of the founders of the White Panther Party, shot much of the footage included in the film.
One reviewer notes, “Iggy’s so chill he does half of his talking heads next to a washer and dryer, while guitarist-turned-producer-turned-engineer-turned-guitarist James Williamson files his from what looks like a public restroom.”
There is much good to say about “Gimme Danger,” and I can’t think of a single bad thing to say about it.
Last question—when is Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk – by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain — which has one of the best recollections of early Iggy and The Stooges I have ever read — going to be made into a movie?