Guitar hero Ron Asheton is gone but never forgotten, and his former bandmates honor him in the only way they know how
Published: April 13, 2011
On April 19, Iggy & the Stooges will play a benefit in Ann Arbor for late and loved guitarist Ron Asheton, who died in January 2009 at his Ann Arbor home. The reference to the band as "Iggy & the Stooges" is to differentiate from "The Stooges," a band with a sound defined as much by Ron's distinctive guitar style as by the rock star incarnate Iggy Pop. With James Williamson back on guitar (and Mike Watt continuing on bass and therefore filling the shoes of both Ron Asheton and Dave Alexander), the surviving members of the Raw Power lineup of the band are together.
The benefit promises to be a special occasion: It's the first time that Iggy & the Stooges played the area since the infamous Metallic KO show, but the fact it's a benefit for Ron Asheton in the city that Ronnie loved enough to never leave raises poignancy levels to the sky. It'll be emotional for everyone, sure, though spare a thought for Ron's brother, Stooges drummer Scott Asheton, a man of few words who will speak through his kit on the night.
Iggy Pop rarely struggles for something to say. It's been said many times, but he's charming, incredibly funny, razor-sharp, and blunt. He's playing this benefit, organized by Ron and Scott's sister Kathy Asheton, because it's the right thing to do. He admits that the evening has taken on extra significance, but he's not afraid to also say that it's just a gig. He freely admits that his relationship with Ron was, at times, strained, but he says it with resigned affection, like he's talking about an annoying brother.
One thing's certain. When the Stooges hit the stage, Ronnie won't be visible but his spirit will absolutely be there.
Metro Times: You're bringing the Stooges home, but under the circumstances it must feel a little strange. How did you set about planning the benefit?
Iggy Pop: With benefits like this that I've been involved with in the past, I've been embarrassed by the low level of entertainment value. It's always for the same reason. They become an excuse for a general pile-on. It becomes indulgent for all the musicians involved who have a great party backstage, but the audience dies a death because there are interminable set changes and half the equipment doesn't work. Everybody's got different techs. It goes on and on and on, and you get one guest who you want, and then three want to play that you can't say no to. We just went around that whole thing. This is more about the Stooges, and then some stage associates that we've chosen.
MT: Justly, Ronnie will be the night's focus. But are you excited to be bringing James Williamson back to a home crowd?
Pop: Yes, obviously. You're quite right, it's in Ron's memory but it is a gig. It's just one that we're not taking any money for. That's all. The tickets sold out in an hour or two. That was a surprise. I thought it might just be people who remember me as a kid, when I ran my car into their front yard. That's cool. I am excited. I'm looking forward to playing in that particular venue. It's the kind of venue I love, where there's a low stage, there's no silly crowd barricades (unless Live Nation have changed that in their wisdom). I saw Jack White there in one of his incarnations a few years ago, and it's just you and the peeps. That's really good. I'm still trying to figure it all out. I'm going to be singing with the Stooges, and then I'm going to be singing a couple of numbers with some Stooges and also Deniz Tek from Radio Birdman on guitar. Those songs will probably also be with an orchestra. There are going to be several orchestral elements to this thing, including a kind of symphonically slanted overture based on Ron's works. This was always my idea, but there won't be too much of it because one of the virtues of Stooge music is that we don't make too much of it.
Also, I know that people, myself included, expect us to do what we do, which is to kick in doors. Having said that, I felt more and more as time went on that Ron's big pieces — the riffs from "I Wanna Be Your Dog," "No Fun" and "TV Eye" in particular, those themes are getting around the culture. I wanted to have a little fun expounding those. Those are some of the songs that he put his particularly beautiful touch on.
Just by serendipity, a guy has been reaching out to me by post from a teen center in Ann Arbor called the Neutral Zone. He's been sending me letters to the effect of "What can you do with us or for us?" He mentioned that they have a music program and I saw pictures of kids playing in their music space. I'd been to Ann Arbor a few years ago to rehearse with the guys and I realized that it had grown exponentially since I was there. It had changed a little bit and there was more of the typical American troubled kid thing than had existed before — I was the first [laughs]. The Stooges were the first four troubled youths in the Ann Arbor area, or the first to open our mouths about it. I thought it'd be kind of cool to get them to throw a band together. The guy offered to put together a band with some of the people in their music program. It's going to be the teen openers, and if they haven't got anybody who can sing decently, I may have to sing with them too. Hopefully, there's some little savage there who can totally rip it up, in which case I can stick to my own bit.
So we're doing that. I may do a couple of acoustic numbers, just James and I. There's one we wrote, which is kind of a requiem to Ron. That was something James sent me shortly after Ron passed away. We screwed around with it a little and I wrote words for it. There's also a song called "No Sense of Crime" that we occasionally do acoustic, off of Kill City. It sort of relates to certain things. Those are things that we may do.
The main thing we're gonna do is that we'll play: me, Watt, James, Rock and Steve, and we'll play what we do — songs from Raw Power, Fun House and The Stooges.
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