Has anyone on this planet aged as beautifully as Iggy Pop? Still rocking in the free world at the age of sixty-nine, Iggy continues to look impossibly good in his natural habitat—onstage, shirtless, wielding the mic like a weapon. His deeply lined face is a road map of hard living, but those crystal blue eyes still sparkle with mischief and mojo. Blur any image of Iggy just a little and it's 1971 all over again.
The estimable Mr. Pop, aka James Osterberg, is the subject of Gimme Danger, director Jim Jarmusch's adoring, impish documentary on Iggy and the Stooges, generally acknowledged as one of the greatest rock 'n' roll bands ever convened. Iggy and Jarmusch are pals (the singer has appeared in several of the director's films) and the movie has the relaxed feel of a mellow evening reminiscence. Relatively mellow, anyway—Iggy tells his stories while sitting on a throne-like chair framed by mounted skulls. But that seems about right, doesn't it?
Anyone likely to seek out Gimme Danger will already be familiar with the Stooges' legacy as Detroit's proto-punk prophets of rage. The most interesting bits of the film address the periods just before and just after the band's initial arc of success in the early 1970s. We learn that, before assembling the band, Iggy was hip to a wide range of musical influences.
"I was the Stooge who knew who John Cage was, or Sun Ra," he says. A cascade of album covers appears onscreen, detailing Iggy's list of heroes: The Wailers, Duane Eddy, Link Wray, the Velvet Underground, John Coltrane, the Ventures. Throughout the film, Jarmusch employs such playful visual devices to illustrate Iggy's storytelling, maintaining an aesthetic that evokes mimeographed fanzines and fuzzy analog television. Toward the end, he parallels that first list with another avalanche of records by the bands the Stooges inspired: The Clash, The Buzzcocks, Bad Brains, Black Flag, Gang of Four.
What's particularly cool about Jarmusch's doc—and "cool" is this filmmaker's métier—is how the focus stays squarely on the Stooges and their glorious flash-and-fade from the late 1960s to the mid 1970s. Iggy's subsequent solo success is largely ignored, and Gimme Danger ultimately celebrates the original band's spirit of collectivist anarchy—all amps and guitars and oil drums and mallets.
"Fast as lightning, kicks like a mule," Iggy says. It's poetry, really.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Fast as Lightning, Kicks Like a Mule."