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Old pals Iggy Pop, Jim Jarmusch bring ‘Danger’ to life

When Iggy Pop decided it was time for a movie about his band the Stooges, he turned to his old friend

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Iggy Pop and Jim Jarmusch enter a suite at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham. They haven’t seen each other in a few weeks, so they immediately get to catching up: Iggy tells Jarmusch about the forthcoming film about Link Wray he heard about, Jarmusch asks Iggy about his just-wrapped tour of South America.

They’re two old friends, swapping stories, tales of life. And their friendship, which dates back 25 years, is how “Gimme Danger” came to be.

“Gimme Danger” is the story of Iggy and the Stooges, Iggy Pop’s iconic Detroit rock outfit that helped shape punk rock in the late 1960s and early ’70s, but whose seismic impact wasn’t felt until decades later. The movie is a celebration of the group and its story, which is also the story of Iggy Pop, the slithering rock and roller born James Osterberg 69 years ago.

Review: Iggy and the Stooges come alive in vivid doc

Iggy says he approached Jarmusch — a lifelong Stooges fan who discovered the group’s music when he was a teenager in Akron, Ohio — in or around 2008 and asked him, point blank, to make a film about the Stooges.

“I saw a unique opportunity, but I didn’t want to bug him about it,” says Iggy, dressed in Gucci sandals, black workout-type pants and a black T-shirt that keeps riding up and exposing his trim belly. “So I said to him” — he mumbles and covers his mouth for effect — “Stooges? Movie? Thing? Blah blah blah? And he agreed to it.”

“My only regret, and it’s not even a regret, is that it took me a long time to do it,” says Jarmusch, his shock of white hair perfectly unkempt atop his head. “When I was nervous about that, and I’d talk to Jim” — Jarmusch refers to Iggy as Jim — “he’d say, ‘It’s not urgent, I’m just happy to know you’re doing it. It’s not something that has to get done at a certain time.’ ”

Iggy didn’t want the movie to be a promotional tool tied to a new album or retrospective or anything in particular, he just wanted the story to be told. And he thought Jarmusch, whose films “Dead Man” and “Coffee and Cigarettes” he had appeared in, was the one to tell it.

“I wanted to take the me out of it,” says the Muskegon-born, Ypsilanti-raised Iggy. “I’ve had a fairly active time making records and shows and I’ve been wrong again and again and again. And you learn in certain situations it’s better to play pick up sticks and just give it over to somebody else who has their own point of view. In the end, it’s going to be fresher than what mine would be.”

Jarmusch’s idea was to keep the story tight and let only those who were there tell it, rather than cutting to artists and musicians outside the bubble who could pontificate on the Stooges’ legacy.

“We don’t need Jack White and Henry Rollins. I love Jack White and I love Henry Rollins, but we know what that would have been,” says Jarmusch, 63.

He considered going after David Bowie and the Velvet Underground’s John Cale, “but I didn’t shoot them because I know I would have used them,” he says. (The farthest outside the band’s inner circle the film reaches is to Kathy Asheton, sister of original Stooges members Scott and Ron Asheton, and the group’s former manager, Danny Fields.)

Jarmusch, who spent $40,000 of his own money on the film before securing financing and a distribution deal, also wasn’t interested in exploring every nook and cranny of the band’s drug-fueled escapades. “It’s not ‘Behind the Music,’ and personally I hate those kinds of films,” says the director, who filmed the Detroit-set “Only Lovers Left Alive” and the forthcoming “Paterson” during breaks from “Gimme Danger.” “I hated (the 2015 Kurt Cobain documentary) ‘Montage of Heck,’ I thought it was really exploiting.”

There were complications in making the film specific to the Stooges, namely the lack of existing archival footage of the band. Ben Blackwell of Jack White’s Third Man Records was instrumental in helping secure old tape of the Stooges performing, and Jarmusch turned to animators to help illustrate some of the band’s wild tales.

Jarmusch staged two long interviews — he calls them “interrogations” — with Iggy, one that took place over a 10-hour period and one that stretched over five, and that oral history forms the backbone of the movie. One of them was filmed in the cluttered quarters of a laundry room inside a cottage “on the edge of the hood” in Miami, Iggy says, a “spirit house” where he frequently retreats to write.

The unassuming setting — similarly, guitarist James Williamson is interviewed in a backstage area sitting next to a sink — adds to the film’s simple, gritty feel. Says Jarmusch, “I don’t like when they have the rock star in some nice hotel.”

Despite a lack of concern over the film’s schedule — Iggy says he’d check in with Jarmusch every six months or so “just to let him know I cared” — timing became critical: Guitarist Ron Asheton died in 2009, shortly after the project began, and drummer Scott “Rock Action” Asheton died in 2015. (The film carries a dedication to those fallen Stooges.)

Iggy has lost others close to him in recent years: His manager in 2005, his father in 2007, Stooges saxophonist Steve Mackay in 2015 and Bowie, who produced his first two solo albums, earlier this year.

“It tightens the screw a little bit,” says Iggy, who turns 70 in April. “I saw this coming when I hit 50. You think about, what do you want to do with your life? You can witness the beauty of life, and that’s pretty nice, but eventually you also want to participate. A guy like me thinks about, well, how many times can I go to the beach? How about making love? How about the right amount of work, the right amount of attention to my health? You think about some of these things, and trying to balance them sensibly. In my case, I realized — with sort of a shrug — there’s a lot of areas where it’s not possible for me to be sensible. So what can I do?”

He mentions having enough money to last him until he’s 92, and Jarmusch jumps in and shares a quote he attributes to George Bernard Shaw: “He who dies with any money left dies a fool.”Iggy brightens up and the two of them share a laugh, just like old friends do.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama