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Ron Asheton

Posted: January 6th, 2009, by Chris Summerlin

Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events which are causally unrelated occurring together in a meaningful manner. In order to count as synchronicity, the events should be unlikely to occur together by chance

A post-Xmas browse of charity shops turned up a copy of Gimme Danger by Joe Ambrose, the biography of Iggy Pop, for a pound. I bought it and set about reading it. The introduction details how the author was present at the J Mascis & The Fog show in Shepherd’s Bush in 2001 where the band encored with Stooges covers joined by Stooges founder Ron Asheton. It led to an unfortunate incident where Bobby Gillespie brained some kid for (rightfully) vocally slagging his onstage Iggy impression.

I was at that show too. It was something of a pivotal night for me. Through a weird series of events I ended up breaking up with my long term girlfriend as a result of going to the show. I met someone else there and then got some bizarre life advice from none other than Mike Watt who mentions the incident in his tour diary from the time.  I saw the Fog 3 times on that tour (once with Asheton) and they played Stooges songs for the encore every time and completely blew me away and re-introduced me to the Stooges back catalogue with vigour.

A short while afterwards I went to see Asheton Asheton Mascis Watt – the Stooges reformation Pt I (Iggyless) at the LA2, a show notable mainly for being awesome but also for sowing the seeds of the Dinosaur Jr reunion when Lou Barlow got up unannounced to sing I Wanna Be Your Dog.

Never one to miss the chance to make a buck, Iggy finally reformed The Stooges (with Mike Watt replacing the late Dave Alexander who Iggy had fired in 1970 and who died in 1975) in 2003 and I was lucky enough to catch them play Funhouse in it’s entirety at the Odeon in Hammersmith in 2005. I still think that’s the best gig I have ever seen. They absolutely killed it. I gushed about it on Diskant back then: http://www.diskant.net/blog/2005/10/10/the-stooges-hammersmith-odeon-30805/

It looked a bit like this:

I’m on the left somewhere. Probably laying on the ground.

The Iggy biog has made it something of a Stooges Xmas period for me. Even before I bought the book, at the first proper practise with a new band we did a little bit of TV Eye for fun.

Then last night on the way to the supermarket, my housemate and I were chatting about how awesome the Thurston Moore ATP ( http://www.diskant.net/features/atp-2006/ ) was and how we snuck in to both Stooges shows by waving the wrong wristbands at the security accompanied by some Ben Kenobi mental force that made them see them as the right colour. Getting a bonus Stooges show (on the cusp of my birthday) somehow made us all go mental. The first Stooges show was hardly sedate though, I’d dislocated my knee on the first day of being there and was in huge amounts of pain trying to stay upright in the front when Iggy stagedived on my head and it popped out again. I loved it. At the end of the second show, covered in beer and sweat, I managed to get this like a total fanboy:

I was so stoked. Then to top it all off I got to see the MC5 straight afterwards.

After getting back from the supermarket last night, my friend Lucinda texted me out of the blue to say

“Iggy Pop is advertising car insurance! X”

This seemed in keeping with Joe Ambrose’s book. I’ve long suspected that despite his claims and reputation to the contrary, Jim Osterberg is a regular American who sees his counter cultural standing as a marketable tool like any other. Ambrose is a man after my own heart when it comes to the Stooges (with the glaring exception of calling Raw Power their “undisputed best” LP). Despite the book being about Iggy, it’s a must read for fans of the other other Stooges, specifically Ron.

Iggy went out of his way to discredit Ron and his brother Scott and their input into the band. He used his superior public position to slowly whittle away his former bandmates’ reputations, saying at one point that they “couldn’t put together a home aquarium” (much less an album of the power of Funhouse) without his involvement. This is despite quotes to the contrary that credit the music on Funhouse and their self-titled LP to Ron. He took to berating Ron for living with his mother and seemed to delight in throwing an occasional carrot the brothers way only to turn his back on them again when something more lucrative showed up.

I thought it might be fun to write an Iggy de-bunking article for Diskant and I started planning it in the bath last night as I read about the dissolving of the Stooges in the 70s amid disinterest and crippling drug addictions. Iggy interests me immensely. He’s probably the greatest performer ever and is (was) a concise and brilliant lyricist. However, he is also a careerist and a schemer who would sell his own mother’s feet to get a break, who only turned to his former bandmates after it became apparent that the general public was more interested in a Stooges revival than in Iggy performing with Sum41 or Green Day – yet more choices made by Iggy to cling hold of a ‘career’ in the ‘biz’. As a constant reader of Mike Watt’s journals (I even got sacked for it once) it is very easy to read between the lines and see Osterberg as a diva, travelling to gigs on his own in a limo (while the band get the van), separate dressing rooms, fine wines, efficient de-briefings – anything to maintain the brand of Iggy Pop.

I wrote on Diskant once of my excitement that The Stooges were going to make another record. I regret my excitement. The Weirdness couldn’t be more aptly named. It is absolutely awful in every respect. We think of The Stooges as counter cultural figures in the terms of today, but really these guys are old school pro rockers, no matter how outrageous their reputation. The underground back then was far from it. Even the furthest reaches of strangeness were on major labels and made their music as part of the industry and hustled for money to maintain that. To expect these guys to have come through 30 years selling their trade to make a buck with their good taste intact was asking too much. I wanted to love it though. It seems to me like they recorded it in the style of Funhouse with a credible no-nonsense engineer (Steve Albini) and then dealt with the results and the subsequent mixing in the same way as Iggy might have dealt with a stab at commercialism in the 1980s. So they record everything live, warts-and-all and then mix it according to a hierachy of ego, so the vocals have to be up front and loud even if they weren’t recorded with that in mind. And let’s not mention the bass. Or lack of. Or the lyrics, or lack of. It seems popular to blame Albini for the way the record sounds but I’ve never heard him mix something like this before. The stench of Iggy Pop’s ego is all over the thing. I don’t blame Ron. His riffs are pretty good in fact.

However, even with the new songs in tow they remained an absolutely devastating live act. Iggy may have had some of the finest backing musicians around throughout his career (I recommend checking out the 4 piece Stooges-style line-up with Eric Schermerhorn on guitar from the 90s) but somehow the Stooges songs never sound as good as when the Asheton brothers are playing them. And that’s with or without Iggy as the Mascis shows proved.

With all this Stooge-thought in my head it was absolutely bizarre and upsetting to hear the news today that Ron Asheton had been found dead (of a suspected heart attack) at his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan aged 60.

When you consider that Ron was always the (relatively) clean-living Stooge, it’s ironic that he should bow out before his brother, Iggy or latter-era Stooge James Williamson.

Ambrose’s incorrect (IMO) assertion that the Stooges’ finest moment was Raw Power does at least include great praise for Ron’s bass playing after Iggy and Williamson unceremoniously demoted Ron to the bass role. Even then they only did so after moving to England on David Bowie’s coin and failing to find any natives to do the job (or take their shit for long enough). But where Ron was a great bassist, he was an unbelievable guitar player. Ron Asheton was no Jimi Hendrix (and you can often hear moments on record where his hand overtakes his brain) but by stripping down the playing of Hendrix and the first wave of British bands in the US (like Cream or The Who) but keeping the raw sonic element he was the bridge between the far out rock of the 60s and underground rock music as we know it today. He understood, whether by instinct or design, that regardless of technical ability the sound of the electric guitar alone was a political statement in itself. It’s worth remembering that whilst Jimi Hendrix opened doors to every noodling pub blues band you’ve ever heard, there were some people who were just as excited by the noises between the notes as the notes themselves and that’s where Ron (and Hendrix too I suspect) fitted in.

Whereas his peers littered their playing with tell-tale signs of the era, Ron’s two-footed gung-ho approach and truly revolutionary ways of broadening the band’s sound with drone-based riffs and overdriven two-fingered chords still sound contemporary.

As mentioned, his story is one of frustrating under-achievement that (despite his ‘underground’ credentials) is mirrored across the genres of music. Post-Stooges he played in New Order (not the UK band) and Destroy All Monsters before coming full circle and involving himself in Stooges-related projects with J Mascis and Wylde Rattz who provided the modern Stooges re-recordings heard on Todd Haynes’ film Velvet Goldmine. He even acted in some low budget trashy horror movies that you can read more about on the IMDB.

Meanwhile, Iggy toured the world as the Godfather Of Punk with a succession of guitar players playing Ron’s riffs but somehow not quite as good. Ron’s dry wit and cynicism is his saving grace. Embittered though he undoubtedly was, he was never short of a sharp quip about his former bandmate or his current comparable predicament. It must have been very satisfying to be able to re-emerge and command so much attention for playing Stooges songs without Iggy himself at the start of the millenium and even more gratifying that the public wanted a Stooges reunion infinitely more than another Iggy solo record.

Two of my favourite experiences in my life were the aforementioned Funhouse London show and also getting the chance to ‘be’ Ron in a Stooges tribute band a few years back in Nottingham. We played a Xmas show and a wedding as The Sneinton Stooges. I got to dress in aviator shades and a Nazi hat and play through 2 amp stacks on 10. It was the best. It also improved my guitar playing endlessly. Ron might have sounded simple and to the point but simple and to the point is often the hardest to do.

So, January 6 2009 sees the end of the greatest rock band of all time. The Stooges are no more. I hope Jim Osterberg thought the same thing when he found out the news and not “I wonder what James Williamson is doing?”.

That’s harsh on Iggy though. I figure the reason he dissed Ron so much is the same reason he reunited with him: he knows Ron is the greatest.

 

  Ron Asheton, Detroit Grande Ballroom, 1970

 



Chris Summerlin

Chris lives for the rock and can often be seen stumbling drunkenly on (and off) stages far and wide. Other hobbies include wearing jumpers, arsing about with Photoshop and trying to beat the world record for the number of offensive comments made in any 24 hour period. He has been married twice but his heart really belongs to his guitars. All 436 of them.

http://www.honeyisfunny.com

1 Response to Ron Asheton

  1. Fred Robinson

    Very well said !
    I hung out with Ron at The Masonic Temple (Detroit) in 2005. He was guesting with “Grinder”.. My all time fave guitar player.
    A really nice guy.. and humble, as his playing always suggested..

    Cheers
    Fred