In the late 1960s, a lot of popular music was about peace, love, and harmony — but at the same time, an altogether different sound was emanating from a house on State Street in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It came from The Stooges, a proto-punk quartet made up of two brothers, Ron and Scott Asheton, their friend Dave Alexander and, of course, Jim Osterberg, better known as Iggy Pop. That incarnation of the band was short-lived, but its impact lives on.
The Stooges are the subject of a new documentary called Gimme Danger. Iggy Pop and the film’s director Jim Jarmusch joined NPR’s Scott Simon to talk about the film and the band’s legacy. Hear their full conversation at the audio link, and read an edited transcript below.
Scott Simon: Mr. Pop — is that what I call you? Thank you very much for being with us.
Iggy Pop: Yeah, you can call me that. That’s very nice, thanks.
Scott Simon: Why a documentary on Iggy and the Stooges now?
Pop: The brothers who formed the real foundation of the group with me have both passed away, in 2009 and 2014 respectively, so I thought it would just be great for the legacy of the group if we could get Jim Jarmusch to have a look at us and share his view.
Simon: And Jim Jarmusch, I guess you were already a fan.
Jim Jarmusch: Oh yeah, I’ve been a big fan since my late teens when I first discovered The Stooges — when I lived in Akron, Ohio, a suburb of Akron. When we heard the MC5 and we heard the Stooges from Detroit, from Ann Arbor, this became our music, you know. This was industrial, working-class, ass-kicking rock ‘n’ roll. And it was also very innovative, you know? It combined a lot of things into something new and strong and primitive and wild. It really spoke to us.
Simon: Iggy Pop, talk about your stage presence if you can. Nothing quite like it, is there?
Pop: Well, there’s nothing quite like the music, most of it, that I’ve been privileged to inhabit. And I try to bring it to the people. I try to get in the music like it was a Halloween suit.
Jarmusch: One of the most important things to me and Stooges fans is that Iggy Pop breaks down the wall between the audience and the band. He dives into the crowd. He was the first person to do that, to merge the two things. He invites people up on the stage. And that breaking down of things is a big thing for all Stooges fans because he joyously involved us, you know. He’s up there for us and he is embodying us in a way. And there’s something incredibly joyful about seeing the Stooges, or Iggy in any incarnation, playing live. But the Stooges, that was the first time, really, that happened.
Simon: How do you gauge the appeal of The Stooges in this day and age? The revival of interest in them?
Jarmusch: Well, you know, good stuff stays good. And sometimes it takes the world a while to catch up. You know, The Stooges are, in a way, a kind of avant-rock band when they started in the ’60s. In fact, they started as The Psychedelic Stooges, as a kind of experimental noise group. But I know in my life, by the late ’70s, which is only five years after the Stooges’ kind of demise, the first incarnation, they were incredibly influential. So for me, it’s not like they didn’t get their due ’til now or until 10 years ago, because five years after they were kind of gone, they were hugely important.
Simon: Iggy Pop — at the age of 69, you look terrific and I want to know your secret! Because it doesn’t seem like you’ve done a lot to take care of yourself, or am I wrong?
Pop: Well, that’s deceptive. I started to try to turn a corner in life in 1984 and gradually, over the next seven years after ’84, I completely put down drug use unless you count coffee and beer and wine, and I started doing things that my mother always told me to do. You know, she said, “Jimmy, early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” So I do a lot of that, except when I’m out working, but otherwise I go to bed early, try to get enough rest, try to get a normal amount of exercise without being goofy about it. And except for this year, I try not to work too hard. But this year I’ve been real fortunate, and I can’t say no.