It is a typical small town story.
You leave home for the big city where you go to school, pursue your dreams, start making a mark on life. Then life marks you back and you find yourself out of work and a bit adrift. Then the family calls and you find yourself back home, helping out with the business, reconnecting with old friends.
It is all good for a while, until you start to realize most people just know you as the second shift restaurant manager or the guy who is super-committed to improving the local mountain bike trail.
Dan Kauppi knows all about this, because it is one way to sketch the outline of his life thus far.
Dan’s upbringing took place mainly in Las Vegas with his mom, but he spent summers with his dad in Copper Harbor, on the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, which is on the tip of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Lake Superior waters comprised a three-quarters view from the motel and restaurant his father operated.
That’s where young Dan met James Osterberg, Jr., who by then was widely known as Iggy Pop.
Yes, Iggy Pop, the long haired, usually shirtless punk rock star who started a band called the Stooges – now members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – and who entered the music scene on an international scale in 1970, the year Dan was born. Born and raised in the southern part of Michigan, Iggy Pop is closer to Dan’s dad’s age than to Dan’s. For young Dan, seeing Iggy Pop around town in Copper Harbor was no bigger deal than being enveloped on three sides by a 31,700 square mile lake.
After college and grad school, Dan went to work and didn’t return to spend summers in Copper Harbor. From 1997 to 2005, he was a production manager assistant for ABC Sports, working football games and other live sporting events. Then ABC dropped football coverage. For Dan, that meant returning full-time to Copper Harbor, where his dad needed help with the business. He was happy to do it, but it was the end of traveling around to work production on live programs; the end of hanging out with people in the world of video editing and screen writing. It meant fewer contacts from his days earning an MFA from Chapman University or with his screenwriting professors at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
So after several years of staying busy with work and being active in the community, Dan got a little itchy. He didn’t mind looking at water six months of the year, and snow the other six. He had the companionship of about a hundred people who call Copper Harbor home in the summer, though far fewer in winter. It’s still enough during busy snowmobile season, but in those off months of November and April, it gets rough, he says.
Then one day Dan got a phone call from one of those UNLV profs who encouraged him to get back into the game and see what it might take to get a teaching job. After all, he had the experience and the academic credentials. He had plenty of scripts and screen plays. But one thing he still needed was a reel, a short film that would demonstrate his abilities in writing, directing and producing a movie. But it needed to be something he could make there in Copper Harbor that he could do quickly, and without a lot of expense.
Then he remembered how Iggy Pop stayed at his family’s motel on many occasions over the course of 25 years, how he hung out with Dan’s dad and others in town, how he drank Stroh’s beer by the case and chatted about Berlin and other European cities with Dan’s grandfather, a World War II veteran who knew the terrain.
But Dan couldn’t just make a straight informative piece. To have a good story he needed a hook. Served to Dan like a lake trout on a platter was the fact that although Iggy Pop often stayed in Copper Harbor, for a time he owned a home in Eagle Harbor, a community about 15 miles to the southwest. So which town could really claim to be the more permanent of his temporary residences?
One night at an Eagle Harbor bar, Dan says he was part of a conversation where Eagle Harbor folks were explaining how Iggy Pop “belonged” to them and behaved as if Copper Harbor had no part in the rock star’s past. Dan tried to explain he grew up knowing the guy but they wouldn’t hear it. “Why are they arguing with me,” he wondered.
That question inspired the title for the film: “Claiming Iggy.” Dan’s approach to this comedy/documentary was to interview people telling their own Iggy sighting stories, and then film those same people in the “re-enactments” of these sightings. One rule: If people weren’t willing to be in the re-enactment of their Iggy Pop recollection, their stories wouldn’t be in the film. That rule led to some intentionally comic moments, not the least of which is 45-year-old Dan playing his nine-year-old self, and Dan’s father playing himself as a middle aged man. Two actors play Iggy, one a young man, and one a bit older.
Dan raised more than $4,000 through a Kickstarter campaign got started. Since he envisioned including an Iggy Pop soundtrack, Dan thought it would be a good idea to connect with the man himself. That turned out to be more than just a few phone calls, since Iggy Pop is still very busy touring and working on other projects. Now Iggy Pop’s agent is ferrying messages back and forth, and Dan is sending film excerpts for Iggy’s review. He’s hearing: “Of course he remembers you; he loves what he’s seeing; keep doing what you’re doing.”
Dan is still working on getting Iggy Pop himself on camera for an interview. A tentative plan to meet up after a gig in Chicago didn’t pan out, but Dan is fine waiting. He can see his personal goal get closer even as he has enormous fun getting back to what it is he loves.
“The film is counter to everything you learn about film making,” he said. Along with a local nature photographer-turned cameraman Steve Brimm, “we shoot really fast.” For example, in one quick scene a man named Horton keeps telling Dan he doesn’t want to give an interview, while Dan insists he do so. “But Dan, I never met the man,” Horton protests.
Never mind. Horton is in the movie. And that quote is on a promotional T-shirt for Claiming Iggy. Dan also made up a bumper sticker that quotes an Iggy Pop lyric, a poster that conjures an Iggy Pop album cover, and an 18 by 84-inch green road sign that says Home Of Iggy Pop. Dan taped the sign to a highway post in Eagle Harbor while shooting scenes there. Now it is taped to a post in Copper Harbor, attracting stares and sign-selfies.
Lots of people notice the sign when they come into town and say, “Who the hell is Iggy Pop?” At least, that’s what the fellow at the Copper Harbor General Store told me. He knows: he lives right across the street from the sign. Dan is well aware that Iggy Pop isn’t a widely known figure. However, his popularity runs deep among people who follow his music.
“Everybody who knows who Iggy Pop is loves the guy,” Dan said. “Nobody hates him.”
Iggy Pop has lived, visited and likely slept in lots of places throughout his life. Yet there don’t seem to be films “claiming” him as a Berliner or New Yorker or Miamian. In those places, he’s just another offbeat guy with talent who is loved by fans, but inhabits the vast background for most everyone else, just like the rest of us do.
Of course, this film isn’t really about Iggy Pop. It is about the two towns, their “rivalry” of claiming Iggy Pop as their own, their willingness to go along with zaniness to recreate and reflect an interesting footnote of their local history, and their fondness for Dan.
This film might well lead to the next phase of Dan’s life. He’s thinking of writing a book about how to produce a community-based comedy/documentary on a shoestring. Maybe one day a kid who lives there now will use it as a guide in making a film called Claiming Kauppi.
As I said, a typical small town story.