‘Gimme Danger’ immortalizes The Stooges, Ann Arbor’s musical giants

Sunday, February 23, 2020 - 5:34pm

NOSELL

Amazon Studios, Magnolia Pictures

A defining scene in “Gimme Danger,” Jim Jarmush’s (“The Dead Don’t Die”) documentary about the Stooges, is when a 1970s talk show host asks Iggy Pop, the band’s lead singer, if the Stooges influenced other artists. “I think I helped wipe out the Sixties,” Pop replies, cracking a smile. Next to him on the couch, David Bowie laughs hysterically into his cup of coffee. 

It’s an insane statement that’s appropriate for the most insane band of all time. Made up of singer Iggy Pop, guitarist Ron Asheton, drummer Scott Asheton and bassist Dave Alexander, the Stooges blasted their way into the Ann Arbor music scene in 1968. While Ann Arbor was a counter-cultural hotbed accustomed to strange political ideologies, strange drugs and even stranger bands, the Stooges were something completely new. Iggy Pop, aka James Osterburg, brought a ferocity to the stage that had never been seen before, and will likely never be seen again. He stalked and bounced around like an animal, tore all his clothes off, did unspeakable things to the microphone, broke glass to mutilate himself and invented the stage dive. Needless to say, music was never the same again. 

The Stooges released three classic albums starting in 1969 with “The Stooges,” then continuing with 1970’s “Fun House” and 1973’s “Raw Power.” As insanely innovative and powerful as these albums are considered to be in 2020, they were mostly ignored by mainstream America upon release. The record companies refused to promote their albums, leading to low sales and little public recognition. Now that Jarmush has given the world “Gimme Danger,” though, this ignorance will never be acceptable again.

The film chronicles the creation of this incredible piece of music history with input from every band member and those on the periphery of the Stooges’ musical atomic blast, be it managers, fans or family members. There are the typical “Rock Doc” moments of studio time, excessive drug use, money squabbling and fights with the crowd, but there’s also something more. The Stooges were always on the margins, never acquiescing to commercial tastes. No matter how desperate they were for money, they always stayed true to themselves. In a world where even Iggy himself couldn’t escape capitalism (just look at Blah-Blah-Blah), this is no small feat. 

“Gimme Danger” uses interviews, Ken Burns style photo montages, movie clips, cartoon animations and all sorts of psychedelic editorial tricks to immortalize this iconic band. The styles blend seamlessly to give the film a rollicking, rebellious sense of fun that never lets up. 

The highlight is Iggy’s side of the story, where he reveals everything in its ear-piercing, sweaty and blood-soaked musical glory. His narrative has both the expected amount of insanity but frequently veers to some surprising moments of pathos. Pop can detail both growing up in an impoverished Ann Arbor trailer park with loving parents and doing something that he thought was coke onstage, while shirtless and wearing a dog collar, with the same amount of honesty, insightfulness and wit. 

For the Michigan Theater’s particular crowd, though, the best moments were the Stooges’ early days when they roamed Ann Arbor, performing in student houses and venues like The Blind Pig and the Michigan Union. When a photo flashed onscreen of a young Iggy standing in front of the Michigan Theater itself, staring into the camera, the entire room cheered. It felt like we were reliving history, walking in the footsteps of one of rock’s greatest bands. Leaving the theater, the dark buildings practically echoed with crunching guitar, booming drums and the bombastic shrieks of Iggy Pop.

Long live the Stooges.