Peter Hook, best known as the bassist for Joy Division and New Order, once confided that he has avoided meeting Iggy Pop. “‘What if I meet him and he’s an asshole? I’ll never be able to play his records again!’,” he explained in an interview. “Never meet your heroes. You should never meet your heroes.”
I can totally sympathize, I probably would have experienced some sort of traumatic splitting of my own if Iggy Pop, one of last night’s guests of honor at TimesTalks, had turned out to be a jerk. Thankfully, there are just a few inches separating this Jim Osterberg guy in a suit from last night and the Iggy Pop I know and love– the lanky, snake-like creature whose bare-chested, torso-twisting bodily contortions are as essential to his wildman stage persona as the raw, barbaric noise rock was to the Stooges. Turns out, Mr. Pop is kind of a tiny guy. Well, he’s about my height. But I kept thinking, “Where’s Iggy?” as Jim Jaramusch– director of the new Stooges doc, Gimme Danger, out today— and some other people I couldn’t quite make out, made their way to the stage at the DGA Theater. It wasn’t until the stage lights hit Iggy’s surprisingly shimmery, healthy-looking, damn-girl hair (very Pantene commercial), that I realized he’d been there all along.
Both Jim Jarmusch and Jim Osterberg were almost aggressively down to earth, and they’d probably agree that it’s just a part of their Midwestern disposition, something that’s often misunderstood as naiveté or worse, niceness. But those who really know Midwesterners–or better yet, are from the cold-ass flyover states themselves– understand that the temperament combines self-aware humor, conflict avoidance, and a basic respect for human decency. Maybe meeting your heroes isn’t the worst thing in the world after all.
1. The Midwest is the best.
Jarmusch: “I was a Stooges fan starting when I was 16, when the first record came out, and at first I was, you know, ‘Oh my god, that’s Iggy Pop.’ And that went away very fast because, you know, we’re Midwesterners and you don’t need to bother with that kind of thing for very long.”
Iggy: “I’d seen his films, so you know, ‘Wow.’ It was like that, it wasn’t really, like, cozy schmozy.”
2. For Jarmusch, the film was “a celebration of the Stooges.”
“My job, I wanted to celebrate the Stooges. The Stooges [and the MC5] were the first rock n’ roll thing that really spoke to me and a small group of friends, because, yeah, we liked the Buffalo Springfield and the Jefferson Airplane […] but then there was this ass-kicking music from Detroit, from Michigan that was industrial, working class, and very adventurous too. And it was wild, so we were like, ‘Ok, we get this. This is ours.'”
3. As a filmmaker, Jarmusch tabled his own style to a certain extent and stepped back to make way for the Stooges.
“I had a little trepidation about how to approach it and how much my signature [would be there], because film is my chosen form of expression, but it’s a bit different when I write something. At first I wanted to make a film where there were just little subjects about the Stooges that I’d sort of string together.”
4. In hindsight, Iggy doesn’t see the Stooges as an ideal band.
“I never liked, and none of the other people in that band, ever liked the sensible music that was being turned out and pushed at us through the music industry when we were kids. We don’t really like that stuff. It lacked childhood. But childhood is difficult to maintain when you grow the Serapis that helps you get by in the world, but if that Serapis becomes all there is why bother to live or do anything? I think that’s one of the problems of the group. And the film kind of plays with that.”
“I had a certain idealism about the music and I believed if we like it, people are gonna like it. I knew I was right. I didn’t know it would take 39 to 45 years or several generations or whatever, you know? But I knew.”
5. Jarmusch has a problem with Iggy Pop and the Stooges being labeled “punk.”
“They [the media] always put the label ’progenitors of punk,’ it’s so easy to put ‘punk’ there. What you have to realize, and the film does discuss, is they started as very experimental noise rock, without vocals, with invented instruments. They were influenced, whether they knew if or not, by the experimental music festivals in Ann Arbor. [There was] the Ones Festival where Morton Feldman and John Cage were presenting music that by osmosis seeped into them.”
6. In the film, Iggy talks about his love for advertising jingles as a kid, but he named another surprising influence on his songwriting.
“I used repetition a lot, from advertising, but also from Bo Diddley. I learned this from the debate team in high school: ‘Tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em, and tell ’em, and tell ’em what you told ’em.'”
7. Though he’s sometimes portrayed as sort of a plebe, or the stereotypical burnout ex-junkie rocker, Iggy knows his shit when it comes to music. And while his time in Ann Arbor, Michigan might seem like a cute, down-home kind of upbringing before he became a sparkly, world-traveling rock star, it was actually a wellspring of creative inspiration.
“I was what you would call a stock boy. […] They would call me, ‘Iguana! Two light [coffees with sugar]!”
“There was a guy working on his PhD in modern musical composition there, there was an Italian classical exchange pianist, there was a rock n’ roll expert there who managed area groups, and a guy who really knew the blues.”
“They also stocked a lot of, there’s a wonderful label out of New York called Verve Folkways, run by a guy name Moses Ash. So I was 19 years old in 1966 and listen to Bedouin Music of the Southern Sinai and Tuareg Medicine Chants. I was listening to Nonesuch, that was Elektra Records everyman classical and folk record label, they had a wonderful Gamelan record […] the gong music from Java and Bali.”
“So wow, what a place to be! And I sorta absorbed all of this stuff. College campus is a theater, isn’t it? And it’s good for a lot of things besides getting an A through F or a sensible job.”
8. Iggy realized early on that he had a special way with audiences, and picked up on other performers’ tactics too.
“After high school I worked a teen club all summer called the Ponytail Club, Northern Michigan, with The Iguanas. We played five sets a night, six nights a week in a cold water cabin with mattresses on the floor, 55 bucks a week for each guy. A group like the Four Tops would come through to plug their record, and I’d play drums behind them. They had one musician and I was the pickup guy, that [show] was, wow a beautifully choreographed, confident show and it would stun them even though there was a cultural gap, cause these were just little spud kids with their parents money.
“I also saw Bobby Goldsboro who was a performer from the South. He had a suit with studs and the tie and everything and his big stage move was he could imitate a frog croaking and the kids didn’t go for it, so there’s a difference. Stage craft mattered, I was always trying to get over to the audience– I think that’s fun, and maybe also essential.”
9. But Iggy had some major flops with his stage theatrics, as well.
“We were second bill to the Mothers of Invention at the Grande– a psychedelic ballroom in Detroit […]and it was an achievement to get people […] to come to the stage and get close to you, but a few started and were interested […]. The Mothers of Invention […] they had a sort of wit that left an impression, so I wanted us to make an impression too.
“There were two young women on their backs laying on the stage […] and I thought maybe I’ll just kid dive on top of them, sounds like a good idea, I thought, and they were quicker than I imagined.
“So I lost a big hunk of my front tooth, there was blood everywhere, it went through my lip. But you know, little by little, the group made an impression. That was the first time. After that, I got a little cooler about it.”
10. Iggy’s stage presence made a real impression on Jarmusch.
“It’s not a scary thing. When I saw the Stooges–I never saw the original Stooges but the reformed Stooges–it was an incredibly joyful thing of him breaking down that wall and representing us in the audience, and him bringing us up there.
“I don’t know if you know who GG Allin was, but [Iggy’s act] wasn’t like a scary thing, like, ‘Oh shit! He’s coming out, I’m gonna get fucked up.'”
“You feel so good, I used to feel so high after seeing the Stooges, for several days. […] There’s something very beautiful about him coming out into the audience and making us all feel together, representing us.”
11. Iggy said he never wanted to be famous.
“I [used to say], there should be 50,000 people who should be interested in this— I had that figure in my mind right from the get-go. I didn’t really understand that in the Big Bang theory of capitalist expansion, that’s really not enough. But then again, enough is never enough, is it? I thought, with that, you could eat, you could have fun, we could go around and play music. That was the hazy idea in my mind, it didn’t go farther than that.”
12. Jarmusch expressed a similar ethos.
“I’m not looking for the big Steven Spielberg-type of profile here. […] The auteur theory is nonsense, you collaborate with people, and from the start we were making a film that we, who were making the film, would like to see– that we would appreciate. We’re not doing demographic analysis. I’m more into the Bill Hicks thing of the ‘anti-marketing market.'”
13. Iggy and Jarmusch are both sober as a cucumber these days.
Iggy: “I don’t do anything but wine, coffee, that’s it. You know, senior pills. No kicks there.”
Jarmusch: “Yeah me too, the same. I find out some years ago I was allergic to red wine. So now my only thing is caffeine, dry white wine, very dry champagne. I’m not a big alcohol guy. For a while now, I don’t even smoke the sacred herb. It’s not permanent, I will smoke weed again some day.”