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Iggy Pop and Jim Jarmusch Tell Us How They Brought The Stooges' Naked, Acid-Soaked Hysteria to Film

It took eight years to make 'Gimme Danger'—the definitive Stooges doc.

by Kim Taylor Bennett
07 November 2016, 9:37pm

I'm transfixed by Iggy Pop's hair. In real life it's shiny, silky, fine; a lighter brown than the teaky tone of his weathered skin. His eyes are wet marbles in dark blue. "Kim, I'm more than a little bit deaf," he tells me in his warm baritone. Iggy's laugh is an unexpectedly bubbly guffaw, which he emits sometimes because he's tickled by his own thought process, other times because of some comment from director Jim Jarmusch. For the past few days they've been a tight team, promoting their newly released, eight-years-in-the-making Stooges doc, Gimme Danger (named after a Stooges song, naturally). Jarmusch—the man behind Coffee and Cigarettes, Down by Law, Dead Man, and countless cult favorites—is generally a reticent interviewee, rarely granting access, but having Iggy by his side has changed the whole experience. "He's probably sick of me—but I'm not," says Jarmusch. "I love doing this, because I hate doing press for my films, but here I get to listen to him. I love to hear him talk about anything." They make a cute pair: when they answer a question, one will flatter the other, and the other will immediately demure.

Listen to Noisey Beats 1 featuring Iggy Pop and Jim Jarmusch​

Iggy is having quite a year. He kicked things off in February when he agreed to pose nude while 21 artists sketched his frequently supine, spread-eagled form. An exhibition of said drawings will take place at the Brooklyn Museum later this month (you can buy the book too). In March he released his 17th album, Post Pop Depression (produced by Josh Homme), and then toured the living daylights out of it (50 plus dates!).​ Plus he celebrated the release of two films, Gutterdammerung (with Henry Rollins and Grace Jones), and thriller Blood Orange, which according to imdb, is about an "aging rock star living with his beautiful and promiscuous young wife." (He'll also be starring in a project helmed by Italian horror maestro Dario Argento shooting next year.) ​In recent weeks, alongside the release of Gimme Shelter, he dropped his Live at London's Royal Albert Hall record and soon fans will be able to get their hands on Total Chaos, a definitive coffee table tome that covers the history of The Stooges—as told by Iggy—with tons of photos and memorabilia. That's a lot for anyone to keep track of, but 69-year-old James Newell Osterberg Jr. is seizing his moment. One to add the considerable pile of moments in his varied, unpredictable career, which stretches back to when he was a teenager playing drums in The Iguanas.

In the eight years since Iggy initially asked Jim Jarmusch to document the seminal band's story, a lot has changed—namely that Iggy is sadly the last original member standing, with both guitarist Ron and drummer Scott Asheton passing away in 2009 and 2014, respectively, (their first bassist, Dave Alexander lost his life to complications from pneumonia way back in 1975 when he was just 27). Still, it's not a stretch to imagine, these three—and indeed all those intimately involved—would be pleased with the way their stories are told. Gimme Shelter is a straight up chronological doc: talking head interviews with the band and their inner circle are woven together with an impressive array of archival, including never before seen live footage, with animations applied to fill in the blanks. Such a linear approach is not necessarily what you'd expect from Jarmusch, but the director's primary concern was to service Stooges fans and faithfully preserve the band's legacy, and this much he's certainly achieved.

The early days of The Stooges story, the riffs, the highs, the lows, the rock 'n' roll chaos make compelling viewing. Jarmusch also makes sure to highlight that although their tenure together was relatively brief and sporadic, the band's ongoing and abiding influence has far outstripped the number of years they were together. Of course Iggy, as The Stooges jittery, near-naked frontman, hopping like a baboon, shimmying like a snake, and knocking out his front teeth out with his abandoned performances, is the doc's driving force. But as the singer affirms in conversation later, his life isn't solely his own, his story is theirs too.

​Noisey: You guys initially met 25 years ago. What were your first impressions of each other?
Iggy Pop: I felt like I knew him from his films, Permanent Vacation—I loved Jim so much—and then I saw Stranger than Paradise, I started thinking, what! You don't like Florida? OK, when I meet him, don't talk about Florida. I hadn't gotten there yet, but it was my dream, as I'm from Michigan. People from Michigan tend to want to make it to Florida before they expire.

Jim Jarmusch: I'd been a fan since I first heard the Stooges when I was 16, so I tried to be cool about it and not be like, "IT'S IGGY POP!" Because we're both from the Midwest, it was very easy, right away. Then it was like, "Oh wow, he's Iggy Pop, but he's totally cool." You don't have to worry about being starstruck.

What made you want to entrust your story with Jim?
Iggy: Here was somebody who always has final cut, he's his own person. That was also a central element in the group: we were our own people. Our music was made our way, nobody else's. And then I knew what I thought he did well, which is a whole lot of things in film. And then the added thing was that he's from the Midwest; I could talk to him. I knew him from working with him and he knew all about the group. And he knows more good music than I do.

Jim: I don't know about that, but I'm learning from his radio show.

Where did you guys start with this?
Jim: We started first with a long interrogation, which I will call an interrogation, of Iggy. We filmed it one day for 10 hours and then we came back the next day for another four hours, kind of burned him out. And then we had this whole transcript of this interrogation. And it wasn't necessarily chronological. Then I started editing the thing on paper and using him as an oral historian of The Stooges. This is a Stooges film; this is not a history of Iggy Pop. And then we filmed other people, the intimate people, members of the band. We didn't want critics or other musicians really, we wanted to keep it that way. And then we had a form and we started illustrating it. But it's a kind of a fan film. I didn't want to make a Jim Jarmusch-like film, it's a film celebrating The Stooges. Initially, I wasn't sure I wanted to go chronologically. I had this idea of little subjects and categories that would jump around, which would maybe be more of my kind of style. And yet, the editors convinced me that it was stronger to go chronologically. So we followed that path and then illustrated it with all kinds of wacky stuff.

I particularly like the animation of you guys outside the MC5 dressing room where you're listening to "Kick out the Jams" and shivering like crazy.
Iggy: Yeah! I still remember how cold it was. There's a wind in the Midwest, you know, when that kicks up. It was so cold; the door was about this thick. I don't know if it was meat lockers or what, but it was a very thick door. You could pound and pound, it wouldn't matter. They did let us in eventually and we sort of stood there, wow, in awe.

What was it like for you seeing that old performance footage? I hear that you were on acid during some of those clips.
Iggy: Often. Yeah. I remembered it. I remembered how it felt. The way it usually worked was—I'm a professional—so I would drop the acid about 40 minutes before I was scheduled to get on stage so my consciousness wasn't diffused yet; I wasn't hallucinating or anything. It was just coming on. And then what happens is, at least to me, you go on, and the music's very direct, and given my style [of performance], I'm doing something physical, a little bit athletic, I suppose, so that keeps the acid from quite… it wants to overtake you and take you to this, into a kaleidoscopic dream, right? But it can't quite, so you can see it, actually in the footage with the peanut butter. If you look, you see me go from, anger, to laughter, there's all sorts of, there's abandon and ecstasy going on. Because that was me reacting to the music and I had a little help, to be honest with ya. And then about 20 minutes after the gig, when I do that, it's like, BAH! [Laughs.]

That's your afterparty! When you're fully peaking.
Actually, yeah, a little afterparty. So that's how that worked. That was a period with me from late 1970, and it didn't last long. Cause you can't go too far in that direction without having to put on the breaks.

You guys worked on this for eight years. And Jim you initially sunk a lot of your own money into this. What compelled you to do so?
Jim: Well, he asked me to make a film about The Stooges and I'm a Stooges fan. I just started in, I was just gonna do it. And it did take a while to then get some financing. And obviously to do all this research and get clearances. I made several films in between, like Only Lovers Left Alive that we partly shot in Detroit and in Tangier. And then we made another film, Paterson, which is coming out at the very end of this year, early next year. So there were a lot of things going on, but we were steadily working on it, but it just took awhile. He was always very gracious. Like when I'd tell him, I gotta stop for awhile and make this other film. And he would say, "Well that's cool, no time pressure on it, but it's still coming along?" And I'm like, "Yeah, we're doing it." It took awhile.

Iggy: The group has a unique time frame. The Stooges spent about four and a half years together, and then we went down. Then we resurrected for about three/four years, then we went down. And then there was a big break, from 1974 to 2003—that's awhile. So it has a long time frame to it and I don't think of it in normal terms. I think of it as something timeless. Although there's scattered visual imagery and scattered recordings—official and bootleg—all over the place of the group. The group was still under represented. There's probably a Behind the Music about Poison, there's one about me, but not The Stooges. So there was something kind of undiscovered and unsung and even kind of recessive about the group. And that's also in the sound of the music and especially on the first album. It begs to be pulled out a little bit. And then there was more of a story to the group maybe then I even realized until Jim started asking me to talk about it. It's absolutely fine to put your group together in an agency office—but that's not the case here, it never was. We didn't even know what publishing was! It was just different.

Jim: Also, I think it's important to know what inspired The Stooges. Iggy was very knowledgable of all kinds of music from working in Discount Record Store in Ann Arbor. He knew about avant garde music, outside jazz, Gamelan music, all kinds of stuff. So this didn't start with a group of guys in a basement trying to imitate The Rolling Stones. It started in a kind of avant noise band, investigating the parameters of what now you would call avant rock. But this is starting in 1966 or whenever you guys started. It's not like they're the origins of Aerosmith: this was art. They had a lot of problems throughout because of that. They were always pushing boundaries even of what rock 'n' roll is. And they were The Psychedelic Stooges. That primal investigation continued always for The Stooges.

Iggy I must admit I didn't know you started off as a drummer. I loved that moment in the film where you were like, "Ah I was just sick of looking at people's butts." So then when you got out in front of the crowds as the frontman, was that when you decided to start ripping your shirt off? When did this begin?
Iggy: I did it starting on our second gig. I just came out shirtless, with whiteface, and also shoeless. And I was shoeless for as long as I could get away with it. A pair of jeans and that's it. The idea that I had was to strip it down so that I could express myself better. But also, clothes say something. The same outfit that can say practically nothing if you're in a room socially, or even in a setting like this, you put it on a stage and it starts to say other things. So I didn't want to say too much except what was going on with the music—there was this very dreamy music that was seeking to be powerful too. I was trying to provoke, so that was, that was kind of the idea.

Jim: Not to get academic, but there's a shamanistic thing to nudity, or partial nudity. And there's a strength. He said that during his semester at University of Michigan he was studying anthropology and was very struck by the pharaohs being shirtless. And that was a powerful thing. There's more to it than just, I'm gonna take my shirt off cause I look good.

Iggy: No, that's absolutely right.

And then you have this exhibition of nude drawings. How did you get to be so comfortable with your body?
Iggy: I mean that's a Jeremy Deller piece; Jeremy's a real bright, good artist. He started asking me many years ago to do this, and I wasn't comfortable, but at this point, how do I put it? I feel like the soufflé of life has been fully baked. I know what comes next. The French call it the bout de soufflé. Yes, that means, thwomp. [Makes a deflating sound.] You know what comes after a while and so I just thought I better do this now. The other thing was, you know how the hell else am I gonna get in the museum? I'm not gonna get in the museum as a clothes horse. I'm not Chuck Berry, they're not gonna shoot me into space singing, "I Wanna Be Your Dog." Although maybe they will actually, I've got a guy at NASA I'm talking to. I'm working on that!

You've been going through so much of your history in recent years, a lot of looking back. What kind of perspective has it given you on your career and just where you are in the world?
Iggy: Well, mostly that very little of my life is my own. And that's the big thing that's kept me from writing one of those you know aged autobiographies, because what right do I have to tell other people's stories? I'm all mixed up with everybody. That's probably the part that interests me the most, is it's all mixed up.

Jim: And Gimme Danger, being a Stooges film, although Iggy's oral history is the kind of guide to the structure of it, it was very important to us to acknowledge and celebrate the other members and have them represented, give our respect to them and our celebration of them too.

It must have been incredibly emotional to finish this film and then to not be able to share it with the other members at the end.
Iggy:
Yes. It's the first thing I ever did, so you need to do it correctly. I was just one of the guys in the group. So I feel good about the coverage. I really like the way the story's told visually.

Jim in your Neil Young doc Year of the Horse you ended up shooting some of the interviews in the laundry room and then again in this doc you've got Iggy in his laundry room. What's up with that?
Jim: It's because I don't like seeing musicians always in an elegant hotel suite, because where they are is where they are. For example in the James Williamson [The Stooges guitarist from 1970] interview, that was a backstage dressing room and there was a sink in there and it looked like a bathroom. Year of the Horse too, it was backstage in Glasgow and that's where they were. It wasn't me saying, let's look for the most downtrodden place I can find it's, 'Where is Poncho hanging out from Crazy Horse?' Oh he's backstage. And that's where James was, in Ann Arbor, backstage. Iggy suggested to shoot in his laundry room.

Iggy: I'd seen another laundry room shot of him and though that was cool. Like, hey I've got a cool laundry room!

Jim: It has nice windows, nice light. They're not new machines. Vintage!

Jim you've cast Iggy in a couple of your films and you've known each other forever, but what did you learn about Iggy the person through this process of working with him on this huge project that you perhaps didn't know about him before?
Jim: I've been amazed by his mind and his memory astounded me. I've always respected his intelligence. I love intellectuals who are not formed academically, but formed by their own desire to learn things. I love that still to this day is he's not someone that wants to tell the world everything he knows, he seems to wake up every morning with, 'What is it I don't know, that'll learn that would turn me on?' That's just the most valuable kind of intellect. But I knew these things about him. I don't know, I don't know what I learned. I'm continually impressed though by his mind, you know. I like to know, what are you reading now? He's reading some history of the Roman Empire. He's always like interesting stuff. New music he's just discovered. Historical facts. He's just pretty astounding.

Sounds like a great guy. Jim's like your publicist.
Jim: Well you know he's someone I really truly respect as a friend. I'm honored to be friends, with him. But I learn from his work, all he's given, I learn from him as a person, so, what can I say? Don't tell him any of this. I don't want him to know!

Gimme Danger is out now.

​Illustration by Efi Chaliko.

Kim Taylor Bennett is an editor at Noisey. Follow her on Twitter. ​