Years before it was overpopulated by the newly-Instafamous, I traveled to the Coachella music festival in the Palm Desert to review the then-relatively unheard of weekend of madness for a local music magazine. The lineup was absolutely spectacular, featuring desert-friendly, sludge-y acts like Queens of the Stone Age and The Mars Volta at their best, but the act that stood out most for me was the truly mesmerising Iggy Pop.
Pop had recently resurrected his career with a vengeance, and I was lucky enough to watch him play from the side stage. His performance – and his deep Florida tan! – was breathtaking to witness up close, and things really did get close when he raced briefly off stage to throw up what looked like a bucket full of water. Right next to me. It was pure, unadulterated raw energy, up close and very personal.
I was taken right back to that moment when I watched tonight’s documentary, GIMME DANGER, the latest in a series of Rialto Rockumentaries brought to you by The Sound, every Thursday night in December. An in-depth look at Pop’s early efforts as a key member of legendary punk band, The Stooges, it is directed by acclaimed talent (and unabashedly enthusiastic, massive Stooges fan) Jim Jarmusch.
Emerging from Michigan amidst a countercultural revolution, The Stooges' powerful and aggressive style of rock-n-roll literally blew a crater in the pretty lacklustre and predictable musical landscape of the late 1960’s. Assaulting audiences at all angles with a blend of rock, blues, R&B, and free jazz, the band planted the seeds for what would be called punk and alternative rock in the decades that followed. Jarmusch presents the context of the Stooges’ emergence musically, culturally, politically, historically, and relates their adventures and misadventures while charting their inspirations and the reasons behind their initial commercial challenges, as well as their long-lasting legacy.
Jarmusch has long had a connection to popular music. Since his earliest, grainy black and white days his movies have been populated by musicians as actors, with the likes of Tom Waits (1986's Down By Law) and Joe Strummer (1989's Mystery Train) featuring in his films, as well as Pop in 2003's awesome Coffee and Cigarettes. The latter started out as a short in 1993, before being reworked into a feature a decade later. In one of the film’s stand out scenes, the Godfather of Punk goes head-to-head with fellow musician and sometime actor, Tom Waits, and it is a joy to behold. Their admiration for each other is palpable, and they look like they are having a whale of a time. If you haven’t seen it – do.
But back to GIMME DANGER. Despite its charismatic subject matter, the film has been accused of being a surprisingly dry and conventional telling of the band's heady halcyon days, and eventual reformation. Is this true? Perhaps, but I found the subject matter so compelling that I was drawn in anyway. It is dedicated to the four band members who have passed away, including drummer Scott Asheton, who is interviewed in the film (including once alongside Iggy) but died in 2014 before its completion. His brother, fellow bandmate Ron, features heavily in archive interview form only, due to his death in 2009. In a statement following Ron’s death, Pop called him his “best friend”, and acknowledged the influence the musician had on acts like Nirvana and Sonic Youth. Pop is the only remaining Stooge and possibly the most compelling subject at that, but it’s clear that the band’s success and legacy was down to an extraordinary combined effort. With this in mind, Jarmusch could have been tempted to make it all about Iggy as opposed to The Stooges as a unit, but he still delves into the whole band story, which is admirable.
Iggy’s survival means he’s the film’s inevitable anchor, but at the end of the day, GIMME DANGER is an act of fanboy love – and Jarmusch clearly loved them all.
GIMME DANGER premieres Thursday 21 December at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel. Proudly brought to you by The Sound FM.