Jim Jarmusch on the Years-Long Genesis of His Stooges Rock Doc & What's on the Companion Soundtrack

© Byron Newman/Amazon Studios/Magnolia Pictures
Iggy Pop in Gimme Danger, a Magnolia Pictures release.

Jim Jarmusch’s The Stooges documentary Gimme Danger, which opens in theaters nationwide on Friday (Nov. 4), isn't just about Iggy Pop. The Ohio-born indie auteur -- a musician himself who first heard the Stooges as a teenager when the band released its 1969 eponymous debut -- gives equal due to all the original members: Late brothers Ron (guitar; d. 2009) and Scott Asheton (drums; d. 2014) and Dave Alexander (bass; d. 1975) get equal billing, along with integral member James Williamson (guitar).

Jarmusch respectfully, and coolly -- the film is punctuated with animation and humorous “corresponding” TV and film clips -- chronicles the formation of the Michigan band, digging back into Iggy’s childhood (including some wisdom from Soupy Sales that influenced his songwriting, and details about Pop's parents giving up their bedroom in the trailer so their son could set up his drums) to what the singer calls the Stooges’ “sputtering demise” to its resurrection, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, and profound legacy.

Jarmusch spoke to Billboard at Toronto International Film Festival about how the movie got started (Iggy Pop pitched it to him), what's on the accompanying soundtrack and why James Osterberg didn't need college to be an intellectual. 

Long before you met Iggy, you were a fan of The Stooges. Did you see them live? 

No, I never got to see them live. I went to Ann Arbor once as a teenager, hitchhiking, in hopes to see the MC5, and then their show was canceled. I never got to see them or The Stooges, but they spoke to me, for sure, 'cause I'm from Akron, and that whole post-industrial thing. I loved those bands, even then. Teenagers and rock 'n roll — that was our only escape in Ohio, like cars and music.

Did you meet Iggy before you put him in Coffee and Cigarettes with Tom [Waits]?

I met him before that. We knew each other. I don't remember what year that was, but I've known him for 25 years.  So I don't remember when we did the Coffee and Cigarettes, but I definitely knew him already.

He asked you to do this film, as I understand it.

Yes, he did.

What did he say to you? 

Well, this was eight years ago, I think. He said, "Listen, things are going to start coming out about me and about my life and work. It's getting a lot of requests, or people talking about books or films." He said, "I know you love The Stooges so much, and I would love it, if anyone makes a film about The Stooges, I would like it if it were you." I was like, "Okay, I'll start tomorrow.”

How do you start? He's such a great storyteller.

Well, that's how I started. I filmed him, interrogated him. I'd done it once before. I went down to Florida and I interrogated him on film for another thing someone asked me to do. I can't remember what it was, but I'd only interviewed him for four hours. So this time I went down with our little crew, and we interviewed him for two-and-a-half days. We had, wow, I forget how many hours and we're friends, so he trusts me. So I could ask him anything. He could say, "Let's not use that, or blah blah blah." But he's very unguarded, and he's very relaxed, so I'd just get him to go. The initial part of the film was, let's get this oral history from him, and then let's get the family -- the band. We don't want one of those talking heads, “Here's Henry Rollins, blah blah blah.” No offense to Henry Rollins, he's great. But you know what I mean? I just wanted to get the band, and then, of course, Kathy Asheton 'cause she really instigated -- that's one thing in the film that could've been a little more clear, is how instrumental she was in convincing them to make a band as teenagers. She's the young sister. I love her; she's fantastic. And Danny Fields, of course. He's the family. He's the man, you know; I love him. There's a film about him, Danny Says ‘cause of The Ramones song, "Danny says we gotta go, gotta go to Idaho,” 'cause he managed The Ramones, of course.

In that press conference during TIFF with you and Iggy, he just goes off on these tangents with these amazing stories. I can imagine you wanting to put everything in because every story is great. 

It's in his memory. I love how imitative he is. When we put out the DVD, we cut together all the little noises he makes throughout the whole interviews. 

Like when he talks about Clarabell the Clown?

Oh, man. Yeah, there's so many. Clangs and imitating music. He's so funny. 

Does that slow you down? As a fan, with all the great footage and stories, did you find yourself just poring over that and spending too much time on it? 

It took a lot of time. You know, there isn't that much footage of The Stooges that people haven't seen. We found some. The thing about it was that there was no time pressure, and it wasn't being financed at first by anyone but myself. And so, after I realized that I'd spent, like, 40 grand, I had to stop for a while. Like, "Oh shit, I don't have any more money." And then I made Only Lovers Left Alive, and then I started on it again, and then I made Paterson. You know, we made it over years, but Iggy kept saying, "Yeah, there’s no time limit; don't worry,” 'cause I kept saying, "Yeah, it's going to be delayed again," and he's like, "Yeah, that's fine." And then it took over one year just to clear everything. I mean, people working full-time, pretty much, finding who are these photographers; where did this come from? Some of it, okay, we can't use, now we have to replace it. Now we've got to hunt for stuff to replace it. We have the shape of the film.

What year did you start it?

I don't keep track of years. Eight years ago, seven years ago.

Scott passed away during?

Ron was already gone. Scott passed away toward the end, then we lost Steve Mackay, too, he died. Shocked. 

It's definitely balanced. There’s an equal-ness for all the players.  People get a sense of their importance to The Stooges.

It was hard to get Scott. We tried to get Scott in Ann Arbor. We said we'd go get Scott after shows, could we come see him? We went to Ron's memorial that Kathy organized in Ann Arbor, and they all played, and we tried to get Scott there, but he was very emotional, and he's very guarded. And he's not big on talking. So finally, Jim, Iggy, knew that Scott was sick. He told me confidentially, "Listen, Scott's not doing well, but I think if I offer to bring him down to Florida and you can send a camera crew, I think I can get him to talk because he kinda knows he's going to go." So Scott, he didn't have much time when we did finally get him and it was really 'cause Jim, Iggy, got him to do it. Also, it didn't hurt that Tom Kruger, our cameraperson, brought his very stunning girlfriend to cheer Scott up (laughs) as the assistant camera, and she was lovely. Anyway, so we did get Scott.   

The other level to the film that’s interesting is seeing Iggy's knowledge of music. He’s extremely well-versed in jazz, experimental music and blues. Some people might think, “oh, he’s a punk guy.”

Well, he's one of those people -- I've known a few in my lifetime, that are super intellectuals, but not refined by academics. They're intellectuals that have developed their minds on their own terms, not through school. Some members of the Wu-Tang Clan are incredibly intellectual, like, so pointy-headed, amazing minds, but they were in Staten Island on the street, you know? And, he's like that. He's got a voracious mind, and yet he's down to earth, and he's not academically instructed, in a way. There's nothing wrong with that, but like Mark Twain said, "Don't let school get in the way of your education." And some people are just super brilliant people, like some of the Wu-Tang and Jim, and some other people I've met too. 

Is there going to be a soundtrack to this being released?

Yes, Rhino Records.

Is it only Stooges material, or will you have the other “musical influences” tracks? 

There's a few other tracks. I don't have the list, although I'm sort of producing it with Iggy. We'll have one Velvet Underground track. We'll have tracks from The Chosen Few, The Iguanas, those earlier bands. But it's mostly Stooges. It'll be a few configurations — a short version that you can stream, then a long version that you can stream and get on a CD. And then a vinyl version, but I don't know yet if it's going to be two records with a long version, or one.  We're still working on it. 

You say at the beginning of the film, “We are interrogating Jim Osterberg about the Stooges, the greatest rock band ever.” Then at the end of the film, you back it up by showing all those album covers of bands who were influenced by The Stooges.

Well, that's just subjective. I'm allowed to have my opinion, as everyone else is.