No, surely Iggy - you wanna be our dog. Iggy Pop, aka James Osterberg (aka everyone’s favourite peanut butter-smeared real-wild rock-child) has the final word in Jim Jarmusch’s new Stooges film Gimme Danger. And he just wants to be.
But he also wants to talk and talk (something he also apparently does at length for Jeff Gold’s new Iggy photo-book). The loquacious Ig is everywhere all of a sudden.
Anyway, numerous segments from several long interviews are the backbone of Jarmusch’s film. Mr Pop - seemingly relaxed, picking his bare feet and lip-curling into frequent leather-faced smiles - is, I must admit, a very likeable narrator of his own adventures in rock music. He never appears rock-star arrogant and seems quietly relaxed about his achievements. He's also articulate, self-aware and knowledgeable about music. All hail Iggy Pop.
But hang on a minute! What am I going on about here? Why’s the old fool Niluccio rabbiting on about a Jim Jarmusch film in the first place? Good question. First, I’ll admit I’ve long ago given up on Jarmusch’s films, having liked the early stuff (Down By Law, Strangers In Paradise) but disliked his later works. (In something approaching Jarmusch overkill, by the way, the cinema where I saw Gimme Danger is also showing his - rather corny-looking - new film, Paterson). And as I said about a film on Nirvana last year, going to the cinema to see concert footage and people talking about a bunch of musicians isn’t necessarily my idea of an overly-thrilling experience in the first place. But OK, it can work. Brett Morgen’s film about the Stooges-influenced Nirvana proved me wrong and - by and large - so does Jarmusch’s little piece of music cinema. So yeah, I’m seeing this through ...
Essentially, Gimme Danger is a conventional biography of a band. It traces the Stooges’ Ann Arbor origins, tells us how they got together, who knew who, how the musical influences percolated into the mix and how they started to gain momentum. It sort of peaks with Iggy dementedly prancing about onstage or throwing himself into the audience, while the entire band are falling apart through over-indulgence in drink and drugs, as well as a lack of record company support.
Some of it looks like fun but probably wasn’t. (Maybe not no fun, but certainly a period involving more than its fair share of disappointments, problems and outright disasters). One of the interesting things about Gimme Danger is how tragedy and sadness hover over it. When a fragile, stoned-looking Scott Asheton recalls Dave Alexander’s death (aged 27) from drinking-related pneumonia, Asheton’s startlingly blue eyes look like they’re about to cry. Similarly, the super-phlegmatic Iggy looks momentarily moved as he recalls the band’s “reunification” in 2003. At the end of the film there’s a roll call of the fallen: Alexander, the two Asheton brothers, James Williamson. Iggy Pop, the great survivor, is the only one left. Never mind the three stooges, we’re down to one. One of the band comments on the Stooges’ “decay” through heroin use during 1972-3. In this film, decline and death are always lurking.
Still, there’s Iggy. The great iguana himself. Sun-baked, intelligent, amused, drawling away in his Michigan baritone. He's surprisingly interesting on music itself. He mentions learning about the blues first-hand in Chicago, about appreciating the value of “space” from Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, absorbing stuff on drones from the Velvet Underground, and wanting to replicate the MC5’s energy and showmanship. He was a fan of things like Sun Ra and reckons the Stooges’ 10-minute We Will Fall showed they were a band “on a different path” to a lot of the other late-60s R‘n’B-fuelled rock outfits. Meanwhile, with Raw Power, he says he had to take his voice a whole octave higher because Williamson’s omnipresent guitar had completely captured that frequency range, which, when you listen again, is exactly right. My first proper exposure to Iggy Pop was the (excellent) Zombie Birdhouse LP, where he’s virtually crooning. The whine of Raw Power was a shock when I first heard it.
What else is there to say about Gimme Danger? Actually, a lot but ... I’ll try to spare you. On top of some pretty good live footage, Jarmusch throws in lots of film and TV clips for texture and ironic effect. There’s maybe a bit too much kitsch TV stuff, but mostly it works. Plus there are dozens of very evocative photos of the band in their 20s. And he also works in some nice goofy animations of the band as gangly teens. It’s quite a dense mix, and culminates in a rapid-fire sequence near the end where footage and images flash onto the screen as (probably) I Wanna Be Your Dog is pounding away. (A sequence where we hear Dog’s intro playing over a nightime cityscape, by the way, is possibly the single most powerful moment in the film).
Two final quotes to bring this riveting blog to an end. One from their champion at Elektra Records, Danny Fields, which is him quoting what the record company boss Jac Holzman said after watching the band play the Raw Power demos: “I didn’t hear anything”. In other words, he wasn’t impressed and the band were summarily dropped. Fields, a true believer in the Stooges, is still incredulous to this day.
The second quote: from Iggy himself. In the Asheton brothers, he says, “I found primeval man”. Their drums and guitar/bass fired and energised the Stooges. And he did the same for them. He mentions that when he went into a “monkey” crouch on stage the brothers stepped up a gear in their playing, feeding off his own out-there behaviour. Iggy Pop, eloquent, self-assured and worldly, understands that the Ashetons’ almost thuggish qualities (monosyllabic, Nazi memorabilia-wearing) were his perfect complement.
Hmm. I haven’t really spared you, have I? I’m still droning on. Iggy Pop probably wouldn’t approve. He mentions developing a lyric-writing approach based on using no more than 25 words in a song (rather snidely contrasting it with Bob Dylan’s garrulousness).
He also says that Andy Warhol once suggested he should just “read out the newspaper” instead of writing lyrics. Good idea! Let’s see - right, the classified ads section. “Wanted: individual willing to be my personal pet”. Ah, I know the very person. Someone who could even be their dog ...