Friday, November 4, 2016

Iggy and the Stooges – "Gimme Danger" (1973)

Gimme danger
Little stranger

If you’re a fan of Iggy Pop and the Stooges, you’re going to love Gimme Danger, director Jim Jarmusch’s new documentary about the group.  (Gimme Danger was released in New York and Detroit last week, but is hitting theaters in the rest of the country today.)

Here's the Gimme Danger trailer:

Jarmusch has been described as an idiosyncratic filmmaker – which is a polite way of saying he is a really weird dude.

His feature films – Stranger Than Paradise, Down by Law, and Broken Flowers are three of his better-known movies – often move v-e-r-y slowly.  

Jarmusch once said that his goal as a filmmaker was “to approximate real time for the audience”:

Instead of embellishing the pace with quick editing, and moving things along simply because the audience is accustomed to being moved along at a certain “film” pace, I wanted to remove all that.  Minimalize it so that you watch people in almost real time. 

Jim Jarmusch and Iggy Pop
at the Cannes Film Festival
By contrast, Gimme Danger moves right along.  In addition to the usual talking-head interviews and footage of live performances by the Stooges, Jarmusch mixes in all kinds of old movie clips, kinescopes of old black-and-white TV shows, even animation – there’s never a dull moment in Gimme Danger.

One of the many strengths of Gimme Danger is that it’s not just about the group’s infamous lead singer, Iggy Pop – whose real name is James Osterberg.  Gimme Danger also pays attention to the other original Stooges – bassist Dave Alexander, guitarist Ron Asheton, and drummer Scott Asheton – as well as guitarist James Williamson, who joined the group after the first two of the three Stooges albums were recorded.  

Gimme Danger introduces us to Osterberg when he was an Ann Arbor high school student and aspiring blues drummer in the mid-1960s.  

James Osterberg as a high school senior
Osterberg got tired of staring at his bandmates’ butts, so he gave up the drums and became the frontman for a new band he formed – which was initially called the Psychedelic Stooges, and then renamed the Stooges.  (After the Stooges signed a record deal, Osterberg called Moe Howard on the phone to see if he had any objection to the band’s name.  Howard told him that as long as the band wasn’t called the Three Stooges, he couldn’t care less what name they used.)

The group’s eponymous first album was recorded in New York in 1969 – its producer was Velvet Underground member John Cale.  It didn’t sell.  

Neither did their second album, Fun House, which was recorded in Los Angeles the next year.  

Ron Asheton, Williamson,
and Osterberg in 1973
Iggy met David Bowie at Max’s Kansas City in 1971.  Bowie persuaded Iggy to come to London to record a new album, which he produced.  But Raw Power didn’t sell any better than the group’s first two albums.   

The Stooges’ record company cut them loose shortly thereafter, and the group was reduced to playing at some really sketchy venues.  Here's how Iggy described the band's final tour:

We bumbled around America, playing raggedly [and] upsetting people wherever we went.  Some gigs, I could get it together to sing – some I couldn't.

The Stooges performing live
During a 1974 gig at a biker bar, a thrown bottle narrowly missed Iggy Pop’s cabeza, but Iggy was such a degenerate heroin addict by that time that he might not have felt anything if the throw had been more accurate.  (We’re talking the Blues Brothers at Bob’s Country Bunker, boys and girls.)

The Stooges threw in the towel after that biker bar gig.  Iggy – who had moved to West Berlin with his friend and fellow drug addict Bowie – eventually kicked his habit and released several acclaimed solo albums.  Ron Asheton and later his brother Scott joined forces with frontwoman extraordinaire Niagara in Destroy All Monsters and then Dark Carnival.  (Unfortunately, Jarmusch didn't interview Niagara for the Gimme Danger.)  James Williamson said good-bye to rock ’n’ roll and enrolled at Cal Poly Pomona as an electrical engineering major.  

Ron Asheton with Niagara
After a hiatus of almost 30 years, Iggy got back together with the Ashetons and ex-Minutemen bass player Mike Watt in 2003 and reformed the Stooges.  When Ron Asheton died of an apparent heart attack several years later, he was replaced by Williamson.

Gimme Danger closes with the Stooges’ 2010 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.  Iggy flipped the bird to the black-tie-attired crowd with both hands before delivering his acceptance speech, which included a heartfelt tribute to Asheton.  The 63-year-old then stripped off his shirt and led the Stooges in a rousing performance of “Search and Destroy.”  

Don’t you just love a movie with a happy ending?

*     *     *     *     *

The significance of the Stooges is much greater than you might expect given that the group only released three albums, none of which sold worth a damn.  

The band’s best songs were and are almost unbearably intense.  “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “Search and Destroy” in particular stagger you like a body blow from a heavyweight boxer. 

Bob Dylan recently won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature for his song lyrics.  No one will ever mistake the lyrics of a Stooges song for those of the songs of 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature winner Bob Dylan.  (“Blah blah blah blah blah blah” is how Iggy characterizes Dylan’s lyrics.)  

Williamson, Osterberg, and
Scott Asheton in 2010
Dylan’s influences included Woody Guthrie, William Burroughs, William Blake, Arthur Rimbaud, Jack Kerouac, Bertolt Brecht, and many others.  The Stooges lyrics were inspired by  . . . Soupy Sales? 

In Gimme Danger, Osterberg reminisces about watching the children’s TV show, Lunch with Soupy Sales, when he was a kid growing up in Ann Arbor, MI.  The comedian would invite his young viewers to write letters to him, but asked them to keep those letters brief – 25 words or less.

Osterberg says that Soupy’s 25-words-or-less rule inspired him when he began to write songs for the Stooges.  

*     *     *     *     *

“Gimme Danger” was the second track on the Stooges’ third and last studio album, Raw Power, which was released in 1973.

The Stooges recorded Raw Power – which also included “Search and Destroy” – in London.  Iggy Pop produced and mixed the album, but the group’s record company insisted on having David Bowie remix it.

Raw Power was Kurt Cobain’s favorite album – he said it influenced Nirvana’s sound more than any other album.

Here’s “Gimme Danger”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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