It's been a hell of year to be Iggy Pop. The 70-year-old singer, musician and actor is still as active a performer as any Musical.ly tween. Last year, I reviewed Jim Jarmusch's definitive tell-all about the Stooges, Gimme Danger, which delved deep into the band mates' upbringing in Ann Arbor, Michigan (Iggy—born James Newell Osterberg Jr.—recounts growing up in a trailer park with his parents and loving it!), the band's collective struggles making music, drug use, individual career paths after the Stooges and eventual reunion.
Where Gimme Danger traced the early lives of Pop and his Stooges bandmates, the new documentary American Valhalla focuses on Iggy's recent musical collaboration with Queens of the Stone Age front man Joshua Homme. Homme helped Pop write and produce his 2016 studio album, Post Pop Depression, which subsequently led to an American and European tour of the same name. Among the album's session musicians were Homme's band mate Dean Fertita and Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders, both of whom became part of Pop's backing band in the tour.
While Pop and Homme are each extraordinary musicians in his own right, one wouldn't necessarily peg them as obvious musical collaborators. Pop explains in American Valhalla that he contacted Homme by text message about his interest in writing music together, and their conversations led to working in a secretive cabin in Joshua Tree. The film (named after one of the album's songs) includes plenty of behind-the-scenes footage of the recording process, interviews of the musicians with Anthony Bourdain, song outtakes, and the work dynamic between Homme and Pop, as Pop allowed Homme to take the reigns in the album's sonic direction.
As in Gimme Danger, Pop is the strongest presence onscreen, and he speaks candidly here about his life and growing old, revealing his conflicting feelings toward aging and his legacy as a punk pioneer. "I became one of those singers whose career is a slave to his band, so I decided to strike out on my own . . . to see what I was worth," Pop says. Many of the album's songs lyrically convey the singer's own sentiments about this, but his blunt honesty is eye-opening—you wouldn't think someone like Pop would have self-doubts or have hang-ups about his career. For Pop, working with Homme was a way to look forward to his future in music and expand his own horizons.
Homme, just as any modern rock musician, reveals how psyched he was to work with one of the progenitors of punk, but Pop refused to let his past speak for himself. "[Pop] really came with such an open mind, saying, 'Yeah, I know what I've done, but I'm here to look forward,'" Homme says. The two found welcome inspiration from working together and from the California desert and discovered a commonality as front men for two famous rock bands—although the Queens of the Stone Age singer/guitarist was still very intimidated by Pop: "How do you outrock the Stooges?"
American Valhalla was directed by Homme and Andreas Neumann, with most footage of the recording sessions captured in progress. Voice-overs are done by the band working on Post Pop Depression (and strangely, the film includes shots of each person reading off the script as well), and the documentary also features live performances at London's Royal Albert Hall. It's essential viewing for diehard Iggy Pop fans everywhere who delight in seeing the rock provocateur yell cantankerous things on a mic (who doesn't, though?) and an overall joy to see him and Homme, two generations of rock musicianship, produce something transcendent. Pop has said this album would be his last, but as the man continues to perform and collaborate with the likes of Danger Mouse and jazz pianist Jamie Saft, we'll see how long that claim lasts.
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Another Iggy film venture of note, screening days after American Valhalla at the Art Theatre, is Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk. Pop narrates this Green Day-produced documentary about the East Bay punk scene, which came up in the late 1970s with bands Dead Kennedys, Avengers and Flipper, among others, and the long-running Maximum Rocknroll magazine. The scene became more inclusive outside the stage, with DIY spaces and collectives seeking to insulate bands, misfits and stragglers looking for refuge from the world and the punk scene's racist, violent and misogynist tendencies. In addition to tons of unreleased, archival footage, Turn It Around includes plenty of cameos and interviews with now-famous past East Bayers such as Jello Biafra, Billie Joe Armstrong, Miranda July, Michael Franti, Rancid, NOFX and others.
American Valhalla screens at Art Theatre Long Beach, 2025 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 438-5435; www.arttheatrelongbeach.org. Screens Sept. 15, 9 p.m. $8.50-$11.50.
Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk screens Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m. $8.50-$11.50.