In an interview on the Dinah Shaw Show in 1977, Iggy Pop offers a pithy assessment of the cultural impact of the Stooges, the iconic and infamous garage rock band Iggy had formed in Ann Arbor, Detroit ten years earlier. “We destroyed the 60s,” Pop says with his typical impish grin.
A critic once said the Rolling Stones were dirty, but The Doors were dread. But compared to the Stooges, The Doors were a contrived psychedelic pop band. The Stooges loitered on the fringe of the mainstream, too pissed off to try and blend in, too lazy to care about changing the world. While Iggy came from a middle-class family, the original Stooges – brothers Ron and Scott Asheton and Dave Alexander were juvenile delinquents, kicking against the pricks of straight society.
Gimme Danger is the story of The Stooges, in all its deviant, drug-addled and deranged glory. Directed by long-time Stooges fan Jim Jarmusch, the film revolves around the surprisingly lucid recollections of Iggy, spliced together with archival footage, interviews with surviving band members, and animated representations of significant events.
Scott Asheton, in his last interviews before his death in 2014, pieces together what remains of his hazy memory of the era. Scott’s elder brother Ron is represented through footage shot during in the two decades before his death in 2009, Kathy Asheton provides familial assessment of her brothers’ musical activities. The sometimes-maligned James Williamson – whose metamorphosis from heroin-shooting reform school drop out to high-flying corporate executive must surely be the most amazing career trajectory in rock’n’roll – looks back soberly on his errant youth. Dave Alexander, who was kicked out of the band in 1970 and died not long after the Stooges’ implosion, is remembered fondly.
Significantly, Gimme Danger ignores the temptation to load the film up with testimonies from contemporaries and sycophantic followers – there’s no Bono, Eddie Vedder or Dave Grohl to be seen. Save for the initial Iggy interview footage, in which Jarmusch introduces his subject as if Iggy was being interrogated by the establishment police for crimes against social order, the director’s presence is subliminal at best. Jarmusch creates a largely linear narrative, save for prefacing the Stooges’ evolution by describing the violent catastrophe of its decline, to the soundtrack of broken bottles at the Michigan Palace in 1974.
While Stooges aficionados will have enough to grumble about – the scant attention paid to the lost five-piece, two-guitar Stooges era of 1971, the ambivalent representation of the Raw Power period and the omission of Zeke Zettner and Billy Cheatham from the list of fallen Stooges – Gimme Danger is a passionate, faithful and enthralling portrayal of arguably rock’n’roll’s most significant band. As the graffiti says, Play Some Fucking Stooges.
BY PATRICK EMERY