Review Summary: The World's Forgotten Boy.
The fundamental problem with Gimme Danger
, Jim Jarmusch’s safe, borderline clinical and historical re-tread of The Stooges' later, James Williamson-led period, is that, contrary to everything Jarmusch brings to cinema, and contrary to everything The Stooges brought to pop music, it is a film that sees The Stooges' career in a straight line. Writing for the Village Voice
, Melissa Anderson succinctly rattles off a list of errors, including;
'The corny hyperbole … cute animation, drearily obvious era-setting archival footage. Band members come and go (and die); Pop's fruitful association with David Bowie in the Seventies gets discussed too cursorily.' (para. 1)
Particularly, the man who directed ‘Stranger than Paradise,’ an inversion of idiocy and comedy, and ‘Permanent Vacation,’ the meaning of life in New York, should be capable of detailing the minute intricacies of The Stooges more lovingly, and especially in his own voice. The three-chord riff of “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” forever cementing the cliché of the three-chord punk rock song. The nightmarish calamity and lyrical desperation of “Fun House.” The scathing indictment of the Vietnam War through the (at the time) unbearably grating mixing job of “Search and Destroy.” The Stooges are much bigger than any one story that sees them as a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Their career is a micro study for all forms of aggression and rebellion in music, post-everything. Jim Jarmusch chief among them.
Of course, the period of The Stooges' career that Gimme Danger
so often refers to, is
a different entity than the one that preceded it. That particular iteration of The Stooges was engrossed with its own weirdness as a form of rebellion, utilising droning passages and saxophone squalls in supplement of rock music that was distinctly drained of any recognisable rhythm or blues. The two albums produced under that moniker- The Stooges
and Fun House
- are masterpieces, certifying a commanding influence over all music slightly left-of-centre; alternative, if you will. The influence of these album's cannot be understated.
And then, there is Raw Power
Released in 1973, three years after Fun House
, shifting line-ups saw perennially bass-y Ron Asheton pushed from guitar to bass, complimenting a rhythm section which already had his brother Scott on drums, along with James Williamson- another beast entirely- on lead guitar. Recording sessions were tense: Williamson, unlike his fellow freaks, was not as deeply indebted to freakiness, and played within distinctly traditional styles, to say nothing of his own uniqueness. In Johnny Marr’s estimations, he had, ‘the technique of Jimmy Page … with the irreverence and attitude of Keith Richards.
’ It meant that the music had a newfound swing, moving away from stilted droning into the sort of music that would quite easily be accepted in the popular mainstay; that is, were it not for the pointed irreverence of Iggy Pop.
Besides that, though, Raw Power
proved the most accessible and successful syntheses of alternative and pop. Its impressively filthy lead-off track, “Search and Destroy,” tumbles around with such abandon that, in the course of three-and-a-half minutes, noise starts swelling around the edges of the recording, whilst Williamson plays more frantically and Pop wails more incoherently. Nominally, the story of the, ‘Runaway son of the nuclear A-Bomb
,’ the song acts an articulation of American aggression, specifically the sort that saw Kissinger launch indiscriminate bombing campaigns over Cambodia in the name of democracy. Making sense of such senseless destruction, The Stooges brutalise the listener into a sense of maddened fury, riffing in a way that, nay, neither Led Zeppelin nor The Rolling Stones were capable of. It wasn’t the easiest listen at the time but it’s sense of fury has come to pervade everything about good rock music, some forty-plus years later.
Elsewhere, Raw Power
simmers with the sound of LA: sex, drugs, and rock and roll. “Hard to Beat,” a song about brawling, is as violent as the title suggests. “Penetration” makes few qualms about its double entendre of a title, featuring Pop wailing and moaning the title to one of Williamson’s aptly swaggering guitar licks. “Raw Power?” It’s about raw power, funnily enough. Even at the behest of Columbia, intent to ensure at least a quarter of the album would be accessible, the token ballads, “Gimme Danger” and “I Need Somebody,” are closer to the vile ramblings of narcotic-addled junky than they are love songs. True enough, they sing about desire, but not in any conventional manner. In “Gimme Danger,” Pop delivers a sickeningly defeatist line, exclaiming that,
‘There's nothing in my dreams
Just some ugly memories
Kiss me like the ocean breeze.’
is riddled with these moments, partly as a result of Iggy Pop’s many years spent abusing heroin (years that would continue well past The Stooges' implosion and into Pop's successful solo career.) LA was- and to an extent, still is- a place where people go to realise their dreams, only to realise themselves that dreams are often built off of the broken hopes of others. Literature and film has dealt with this topic extensively, especially as it relates to topics concerning the American Dream; music at this stage however had made little reference to it. If it were Led Zeppelin, the music concerned Tolkien mythology. If it were The Rolling Stones, it concerned being Parisian tax exiles. Nobody in pop music was even considering the furious nature by which metropolitan areas were churning out success stories, only to lie to its fanatics and perpetuate a cycle of constant malaise.
Nowadays, this strain of hopelessness occupies the centre-stage of music, with albums as diverse as Appetite for Destruction
and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
contemplating what it means to have no hope in the land of opportunity. Fortunately enough, The Stooges' did it first and they did it best. Fusing a literary flare with an opaque musical setting, Iggy Pop redefined and rendered pop music in his own image; a junky and a loser, without any dreams and nothing left to show for his ambitions. Raw Power
is the ultimate quantification of that, though it is also, as the title suggests, the sound of unadulterated aggression; clipped guitars, tightly-wound rhythms, and rallying cries of injustice and frustration. Jim Jarmusch certainly felt as much; why he didn’t articulate it well enough is anybody’s guess.