By 1973 Iggy and the Stooges had imploded, leaving behind three commercially unsuccessful records and a slug trail of decadence and unfulfilled expectations across two continents. “Gimme Danger,” Jim Jarmusch’s grotty documentary about the life, death and influence of The Stooges is a first hand account of what the director calls “the greatest rock and roll band ever.”
The Stooges’s story is the stuff of rock and roll legend. Jim Osterberg a.k.a. Iggy Pop started his musical career as a drummer in Ann Arbor garage rock bands like The Iguanas and The Prime Movers but switched from drums to front man when he got tired of looking at people’s bums. As a singer he formed an avant garde rock band originally known as the Psychedelic Stooges. Early experiments with homemade instruments like rigged-up vacuum cleaners and oil drums, lead to a more streamlined, although not commercial sound, that is now seen as the noise that birthed punk rock.
Three albums—a self-titled debut produced by former Velvet Underground bassist John Cale, “Fun House,” and “Raw Power”—and a handful of now classic songs like “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “No Fun” established their legend, even if the band almost drowned in a sea of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll clichés.
“Gimme Danger” is an affectionate look at a band of rebels. A tour through 70s rock and roll landmarks and legends like the Chelsea Hotel, Elektra Records, Nico and Andy Warhol, who asked Iggy, “Why don’t you just sing what’s in the newspaper,” it paints a picture of a band on the outside of the mainstream looking in. They wanted to make hit records but guitarist James Williamson says, “We were delusional. We really only liked the things we liked.”
Along the way we learn that John Wayne almost ran Iggy over in Los Angeles, that his “25 words or less” lyrical style was inspired by Soupy Sales and that one time manager Tony DeFries wanted Iggy to play Peter Pan on Broadway. DeFries suggested it, Iggy rejected it. He thought he should play Charles Manson.
Iggy Pop tells the tale, a rock and roll survivor who surprisingly outlived most of his band. He’s eloquent, funny and has a surprisingly good memory for a sixty-nine-year-old who lived on the edge for most of his life. The doc is perhaps a little too slickly made to really flaunt it’s garage rock ethos but Pop is an engaging storytelling who has always walked his own path, and that is the stuff of legend.
“I don’t want to belong to the glam people,” he says at the end of the film. “I don’t want to belong to the hip hop people. I don’t want to belong to any of it. I don’t want to belong to the TV people, alternative people. I don’t want to be punk. I just want to be.” Amen.