Iggy Pop and Josh Homme Meet In American Valhalla

by Jeff Suwak

Iggy Pop and Josh Homme may be the main characters in American Valhalla, but time is the presence felt most powerfully throughout the documentary, out March 9. This is by design, as the film sidesteps the usual glorification of celebrity in favor of something more artful. The result of this decision is a surprisingly revealing and vulnerable story (particularly for two musicians whose reputations were built on blood and guts) that nevertheless manages to showcase some great hard-driving music.

American Valhalla recounts the making of, and touring for, Post Pop Depression, Iggy's 2016 album, which was produced by Homme. The movie's events find two prominent musical figures at reflective moments in their careers. Pop is getting long in the tooth, so much so that even the man known for an endless lust for life has to admit that he prefers recording by day now because he can't function well staying up all night on a regular basis.

Homme, meanwhile, is still in his early 40s, but already painfully aware of time's maddeningly mercurial flow. Near the start of the film, he reflects back upon his first big show, which was at the Roseland Ballroom for an audience of 4,000. On that night he left the stage to raucous applause, showered, and came back out to find the place empty.

"I realized there was nothing different," Homme says. "All the screaming turned to nothing in the blink of an eye. That's why you better enjoy the moment."

That driving need to grab firm hold of the "moment" seems to haunt Homme throughout the film. Playing with Pop is the fulfillment of a childhood dream and the pinnacle of his career, and he wants to immerse himself deeply in the moment. The effort is doomed, of course. The more he tries to grab hold of time, the more conscious he becomes of it, and the more the moment slips away. The sincerity of his struggle is poignant.

As Homme's own mortality plays out on screen, Pop is disarmingly open about his own aging. In one truly surreal scene, we see Pop in his bathrobe making morning coffee. He picks his nose and eats it to remind us who we're dealing with, but other than that he looks like just about any older gentleman puttering around the house.

Pop openly confesses that "China Girl" was somebody else's wife that he "got to know." Pop doesn't brag about this, but he also doesn't feign shame or embarrassment. He just lays it out there, just as he admits that he's a selfish person while discussing "Break Into Your Heart," which is about his tendency to woo his way into women's lives and then bail out on his obligations. As frustrating as his character flaws can sometimes be, his refusal to lie about them or himself is hard to disrespect.

In a moment of self-reflection, Pop acknowledges that he's a "diffuse" person, having leapt into the professional-musician's lifestyle right after high school. He could have wound up anywhere, he says. In jail, in the flophouse, or in the cemetery. He never uses the words "lucky" or "charmed," but they seem implied. "I was always all over the place, and I think I'm trying to come together."

The Pop that we see here is a continuation of the one we heard back in Avenue B, his 1999 album full of meditations on age, death, and integrity. "I wanted to find a balance between joy and dignity," he said while reflecting on his 50th birthday in the song "No Shit." Just to remind us he's not gotten too soft, though, he finishes the thought with, "Above all, I didn't want to take any more shit. Not from anybody."

Joshua Homme, Dean Fertita, Matt Helders, Iggy PopJoshua Homme, Dean Fertita, Matt Helders, Iggy Pop
Pop's anger and seemingly paradoxical (for a man who snatches wives and abandons women) fixation on integrity also play out in American Valhalla. In one interview, Homme recalls being almost unsettled by the vitriol in Pop's rant at the end of "Paraguay," where he threatens to take a laptop and shove down his victim's "shit-eating gizzard."

American Valhalla opens and closes with near-identical Homme monologues in which he expresses the fears and frustrations he feels in the face of time's indifference. This interesting artistic choice on the part of the filmmakers seems to be a comment on the circuitous, recurring nature of time in its most all-encompassing – a circuitous nature that does absolutely nothing for the people living within it. That former mediation may seem overly philosophical for a rock documentary, but it's fitting in this case.

The title is taken from the Post Pop Depression song of the same name where Iggy sings as a battered soldier returned from war, looking for a place in the American Valhalla. If such a place exists, we can be certain it's not for fakes, even if they are celebrities.

The fact of the matter is that the landscape of time swallows up even rock stars. What's most interesting in this film is that Pop and Homme have no interest in pretending otherwise. In that way, they remain dedicated to their art more than to their myths, and that dedication, if anything, will be the thing to earn each their place in the American Valhalla.

March 7, 2018
More info, including where to see the film, at americanvalhallamovie.com
Photos: Andreas Neumann

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