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Interview:
Iggy Pop comes home with film, book, album in hand
 

By GARY GRAFF
Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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When Iggy Pop started the Stooges with brothers Ron and Scott Asheton nearly 50 years ago in Ann Arbor, he had a pretty good idea what it would take to make a mark in the music world.

"I wanted to start something," Pop, 69, explained by phone from his home in Florida. "I didn't think I was gonna be the cute guy that did great cover songs and got a record deal 'cause all the girls down the block were screaming.

"I thought I was gonna have to do something pretty creative and fresh and kind of swing for the fences."

He did, and the Stooges connected -- though it would be awhile before the ball actually cleared the fences. As reviled in some quarters as they were revered by others, initially, the Stooges now rank as one of the most influential and impactful rock bands of all time. The group's three albums and an aggressive sound aptly described by the title of the third, "Raw Power," are cited as progenitors of punk, grunge, alternative rock and much of what else came in their wake, leading to the Stooges' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, where an exultant Pop -- born James Osterberg, Jr. in Muskegon and raised in Ypsilanti -- proclaimed "We won!"

The group's history and legacy is now celebrated in "Gimme Danger," a fast-paced and good-humored but also poignant film by award-winning director Jim Jarmusch that opens this week at the Detroit Film Theatre in the Detroit Institute of Arts -- including a special screening Tuesday, Oct. 25, where Pop and Jarmusch will hold a Q&A session.

"Why the Stooges? Because they are maybe the greatest rock 'n' roll band for me, ever," the Akron-raised Jarmusch, 63, said at this year's Cannes Film Festival, where "Gimme Danger" premiered. "For me, the biggest, most important bands that broke my mind open in rock 'n' roll were the MC5, the Stooges and the Velvet Underground. The Stooges is primal rock 'n' roll. It's influenced everyone."

"Gimme Shelter," he added, is "not a documentary. It's more a kind of essay..I've been calling it a love letter to the Stooges."

And Pop can relate to that love. "Something about a group has struck a chord with different people," said the singer, whose book "Total Chaos: The Story of the Stooges/As Told by Iggy Pop," publishes Nov. 15. "It was a forward-looking band. it never was a bar band wtih cute melodies on top. The Stooges was a different animal.

"You get 12-year-olds who just found us and like us, and so do their parents and grandparents, even. "So something happened. I'm not sure what, but people seem to like us, and that's OK."

Pop and Jarmusch have a lengthy association, and Pop has appeared in the director's films "Coffee and Cigarettes" and "Dead Man." "Gimme Danger," meanwhile, was borne out of a conversation between the two had -- seven or eight years ago, by both of their recollections -- about books and other films that were coming out about the Stooges.

""My memory is he, in a sort of offhanded way, said, 'I wish someone would make a real good movie about the Stooges, and I wish it was you,' or something like that," Jarmusch said. "The next day I was like, 'OK, how do I prepare for this film."

Pop confirmed at Cannes that he did, in effect, ask Jarmusch to do the film. "It was a big deal for me when he said he would do something. I didn't ask him to make a documentary. I didn't ask him to do anything specific...My idea was to start with a good policy, so the policy is you get this guy who had bothered to show up at our gigs again and again and again for no reason other than he wanted to come to the gigs and hear the music and hang.

"I knew him and I knew that he was capable of doing something from his own point of view that would be way, way better than if a record company or a manager or a band leader said, 'Now make a film.' He's the last auteur who hasn't sold out; He has complete control of what he does."

"Gimme Danger" did take awhile to get together "for various reasons," according to Jarmusch, including films he made during the interim. It benefited from the time, however, allowing Jarmusch and his team to assemble archival materials -- which was its own tricky task. Pop, by his own admission, is "a throwaway guy" who hasn't save much over the years -- save for a photo of his parents which appears in the film. But he knew where the bodies were buried, as it were.

"I knew a lot of people who would (have materials), so I contacted them on behalf of the film and Jim and said, y'know, 'Give this guy what you got. Find more stuff,'" recalled Pop, whose corps included fellow musicians Jack White and Ivan Kral and Third Man Records executive Ben Blackwell. "So fans and old drug dealers and bootleggers, strange followers...That was the idea."

Jarmusch noted that "there is a limited amount of Stooges film footage, and all of it, really, Stooges fans have seen. What we were able to do...was track down quite a bit of stuff that no one's seen before. We've got some stuff nobody has ever seen...so we were proud to have some stuff for the hardcore Stooges fans. There's a lot of things even hardcore Stooges fans will not have known about -- certain inspirations, certain stories, certain little details...some amazing things."

Jarmusch also deliberately kept "Gimme Danger's" "cast" small. Pop appears extensively, of course, along with both of the Ashetons -- guitarist Ron, who died in 2009, via archival footage though the filmmaker was able to talk to drummer Scott Asheton before his death in 2014 as well as saxophonist Steve Mackay before he died in during 2015. "Raw Power" guitarist James Williamson, latter day bassist Mike Watt, Danny Fields -- the Elektra Records staffer who signed the Stooges in 1968 and the Ashetons' younger sister Kathy also participated in the project.

"We just wanted the group and the family," Jarmusch explained. "We didn't want to interview other rock musicians, like, 'What do the Stooges mean to you?' We wanted to keep it kind of intimate, again like a kind of love letter." But through footage from period TV shows, specially created animations and other cinematic asides, "Gimme Shelter" also captures the unhinged spirit that was part of the Stooges' music and culture.

"The film itself in its style is kind of a collage," Jarmusch said. "Our intention was to make something somehow close to the Stooges music, which is not easy to do with film. But that means let it be wild and messy and fun and heartfelt, emotional and strong. And we did our best."

The consensus is they did well. "Gimme Danger" played to raves at Cannes and at festivals in Toronto and New York. And Jarmusch is going to great pains to make sure the world understands it's a film about the Stooges, not just Pop.

"Both of us get a bit annoyed when we were reading...it being called an Iggy Pop documentary," Jarmusch said. "This is the Stooges. This is Iggy and the Stooges...They're not here, so they're here certainly in (Pop) and they're in my soul. And I hope our film just adds a little to the recognition of how important they are to the history of this kind of music, and to me so deeply."

Pop -- who in addition to the "Total Chaos" book is releasing "Post Pop Depression: Live at the Royal Albert Hall," a CD and home video from his tour this year -- seconded the nation.. "This is where I started and where I'm coming from, and where my heart is," he said. "It's very important."

If You Go

It's a busy week for Iggy Pop. To wit...

* Pop and Don Was take part in a moderated Living Histories Live presentation by the Grammy Foundation at 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23, at the Majestic Theatre, 4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are sold out. Call 313-833-9700 or visit majesticdetroit.com.

* Pop and director Jim Jarmusch will do a Q&A following a screening of the film "Gimme Danger" on Tuesday night, Oct. 25, at the Detroit Film Theatre in the Detroit Institute of Arts. Tickets are sold out.

* Following the screening on Tuesday, Pop and co-author Jeff Gold will discuss their new book "Total Chaos: The Story of the Stooges/As Told by Iggy Pop" at Third Man Records, 441 Canfield St. Admission is free and open to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis. Call 313-285-8162 or visit thirdmanrecords.com.

* "Gimme Danger" opens Friday, Oct. 28, at the Detroit Film Theatre in the Detroit Institute of Arts. It screens nine times over the two weekends. Call 313-833-4005 or visit dia.org.

* Also on Oct. 28 Pop releases "Post Pop Depression: Live at the Royal Albert Hall," a CD and home video from his tour this year.



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