Magazine Feature

Iggy Pop & Jim Jarmusch Talk Creating a 'Love Letter' to The Stooges With New Rock Doc

EPA/Julien Warnand

Jim Jarmusch and Iggy Pop give photographers the finger as they pose during the photocall for 'Gimme Danger' at the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival in Cannes on May 19, 2016. 

In the living room of a two-story suite on the 29th floor of a Manhattan hotel, two of film and music’s most prolific punks sip cups of green tea. Iggy Pop’s bare feet momentarily rest on the coffee table; Jim Jarmusch, with his iconic high brush of gray hair, is dressed in head-to-toe black. The two have been friends since the early 1990s, when Pop acted (as a cross-dressing, Bible-reading fur trader) in Jarmusch’s 1995 darkly comic western Dead Man, and played himself opposite Tom Waits in a vignette from 2003’s Coffee and Cigarettes. With the new film Gimme Danger (Oct. 28, Amazon Studios/Magnolia Pictures), Jarmusch pays homage to The Stooges, one of punk rock’s most unhinged and venerated founding groups. The film, Jarmusch’s 14th, isn’t so much a documentary as a love story “starring Jim Osterberg” — the Stooges frontman’s government name — created by a fan and friend who just happens to be a celebrated auteur. Pop, 69, and Jarmusch, 63, discuss their enduring punk ethos, and why there always is room for “F— that.”

Iggy, you asked Jim to make this film. Why him?

Jim Jarmusch: That’s what I keep asking him!

Iggy Pop:  If I could get him to do it, he was going to bring out important and beautiful things about us that we in the group wouldn’t have ever thought of — we have the wrong perspective. We needed someone with intelligence and skill who also knew the group and came to the shows — that’s who Jim is. He’s a final-cut director, he controls his own work, and that’s now really rare. My tactic was ask him once, not try to convince him. I wasn’t going to write an email with “10 reasons why.” (Laughs.)

Jim, you first heard The Stooges while in high school. Was there one song that drew you to them?

Jarmusch: Not really, because I love all Stooges songs. [1970’s] Fun House as an entire record is probably the greatest rock’n’roll record ever made. The lyrics to “Gimme Danger,” the song, are incredibly beautiful, dark and fantastic. I never got to see the band live until the reunion [in 2003]. They didn’t tour massively, and I don’t remember if you guys came through Ohio...

Pop: We came once and played Delaware, Ohio. There was a college there and we played the student center, and at least 20 people came to this 1,500-seat theater. (Laughs.) I married one of them, actually. Briefly.

Do you consider Gimme Danger a collaboration?

Pop: No! He made a movie. There’s so much to making a movie that I didn’t even think about. When I asked him, I didn’t even think it was going to cost money.

Jarmusch: That’s good, you shouldn’t have.

Pop: He put together a little proposal, eight to 10 pages, that he gave to people to get some money to help make the film. It said, “This is about this band, their singer has some Harpo Marx in him, and they did this and that.” But he really made it something with a lot of weight and detail. I had something within me, a deep urge for someone to actually hear me. (To Jarmusch.) I don’t really understand it. In life you talk to a lot of people, but they just don’t hear you.

Jarmusch:  When I was first financing it, we had these wonderful agents who brought the project to the BBC. They wanted to put money in, but they said, “We do adjust the edit for our broadcast,” to which we replied, “F— that.” We make a film and you show it. So that was a problem, and we had to stop for a while.

United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection
From left: GZA, RZA and Bill Murray in Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes.  

Jim, would you call this a documentary?

Jarmusch: I call it an essay, a love letter. I call it a blatant celebration of The Stooges. I’ve read a few things where they’re like, “Well, this is just a fan movie celebrating The Stooges.” I’m like, “What the hell — we have that stripper girl hitting a gong that says ‘Stooges Forever’ throughout the entire film. Duh, yes.” It’s pretty much telling you right there what it is. We’re not trying to hide anything. 

Jim Jarmusch Reflects on Working With Neil Young, Tom Waits & RZA

Jim Jarmusch has made music integral to his work onscreen since helping score his 1981 debut, Permanent Vacation — but soundtracks have gotten considerably more star-studded since. He recalls a few of the legends he has encountered from behind the camera.

Tom Waits in Down By Law (1986)

“We had fights over the video editing ... I was working with Tom and once I locked him in a garage, and he pounded on the door and threatened, ‘I’m going to glue your hair to the wall.’ Tom and I go way back. He’s fantastic.”

Neil Young in Year of the Horse (1997)

“I made a music video for Crazy Horse using Super 8 and Neil said, ‘Wow, man, it looks so cool. Do you think we could make a longer film that looks like that?’ I made the mistake of asking, ‘Well, how long of a film, Neil?’ There was a long pause on the phone and he says, ‘Man, when I start writing a song, I don’t think about how long it’s going to be. We’re going on tour, you can come, start filming, see what we get.’ It was more of a concert film than a documentary, although we did a little looking back. I love Neil Young, but Crazy Horse is the part of Neil’s music that speaks to me the most.”

Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA and GZA in Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)

“I’m a big Wu-Tang fan; they’re a collective of unrefined, intellectual geniuses. I love RZA’s stuttering and his particular approach to backing music. That’s something [Iggy] has too, because he’s an intellectual who has not been shaped academically. He has been shaped by his own voracious interest in the world.” 

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 12 issue of Billboard.