Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton is something of a renowned rock god and raconteur of note - the 5-foot-11, blue-eyed Cancer certainly knows how to roll with the punches and spin a tale, even briefly, when not in the shadow of the still great, astonishingly limber Iggy Pop.
The original model of the Stooges, circa 1969: Scott Asheton (from left), Ron Asheton, Dave Alexander, and Iggy Pop.
Me and Duncan Scott Davidson went off on our fave band in print this week; here's more of an interview with him, on the phone from the family home he once shared with his bro, Stooges drummer Scott Asheton, in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The last three standing Stooges these days: Ron Asheton (from left), Iggy Pop, and Scott Asheton.
Guardian: How does it feel to be on the road now with the fully reunited Stooges?
Ron Asheton: We played in the states before, but only spotty jobs here and there -- Jones Beach and some benefit in Manhattan and Roseland. We did All Tomorrow's Parties in Long Beach but this is the frist time we're going out here. I know that the Europeans are great -- I always say that "I wanna Be Your Dog" is the NEW French national anthem. Because the French love the Stooges so much. We go there so much.
It's been a great experience, and for me, what I also really enjoy since we've gotten together is that I get to see my brother more often. It's been weird in the past: he's got a family and I'd only see him maybe a couple times in the summer. He'd come here in the summertime to visit and then at Christmas time I'd see him maybe one day during the two weeks of the Christmas holiday, Christmas and New Year's. This time I get to see him more often. That's fun and I really enjoy hanging out with everyone. I enjoy hanging out with the crew guys and people I've brought in the band as crew people and Iggy's faithful crew that he's had for many years, so it really is like a fun big family when we go on the road. That's what I really enjoy, that's an important part for me that I really like right now.
G: What about the new Stooges album, The Weirdness. What did you guys want to do with the record - make summer party jams?
RA: Not really. We had 42 songs and it was just about going in there and doing it and having a really good time. We didn't worry about trying to recreate anything from the past. It was what it was. It is what it is. We just went in there and had a good time and played.
Iggy handed us each, with his own hand, a little calendar of October: "These songs are going to be made on this day and this day, these songs, and these days are off because [producer] Steve Albini is going to a wedding. This day is your day to do whatever you want. These are mixing days. These days are days press and film are coming in," and we stuck to that schedule and it was really fun! I got what I wanted out of it., as far as nobody looking over our shoulders or making it seem like work or putting any pressure on about hurrying up or "that's not what I want" situation. I had fun doing all the records, but this one was the most fun because of the way it was ran and being that I've been in the studio a bunch and I'm more relaxed...
The first one [The Stooges], was my first time in the studio -- for me and my brother. It was sort of like having sex for the first time: very exciting but a little awkward!
The second one [Fun House], we were more prepared and that was fun. It was in LA and I'd never been to Hollywood and that was cool. We all knew our instruments a little bit better and were well versed in the material. This one, the same, the material was fresh, we only practiced it in August for six days, and it wound up being five days, only a couple hours a day, before we went in, so it was new but we knew the songs and it had that fresh feeling. So when you played it, you were excited about playing it because we'd been on the road constantly all that year, also we were playing the older songs.
G: How did you end up writing the songs?
RA: I was doing in beginning maybe two, three songs a day and [chuckles] then at the end, I'm going [deep voice], "My goal is six a day." Just to see if I could do it -- and I did. That's how we wound up with so much stuff and then we just moved on to the next piece. So I'd get it out of my head. Take a little break and start playing again. Sometimes I wouldn't stop. It was coming out me, and I just wanted to keep rolling.
In that way, we did write the same as we've always. It was just that this time it did not take perhaps a week or more. This time everyone was waiting in the wings ready to jump in there and get something done.
When we get together now it's like when we first even saw each to start the Skull Ring project -- everything, all the time in between, went away. And there was that really great feeling. Once you start saying, "Hey, remember, the time you did that..." and start laughing...that's why when we get together things start happening. Iggy said to me when we first got together, "Well, you know I've always played. I know you've always played. You've written songs for other people, but y'know I guess these would kinda be Stooges songs." Well, yeaaah, dummm-ay! [Laughs]
G: When did the Stooges first start living together?
RA: It was the summer of '68, I believe, or was it '67? It's been a while. It's the classic story of Iggy finding a place. It was actually four college guys, rented it from an older couple. So the finalists were down to two people: it was the girls who could have moved in and it was us. When Iggy went to meet the guys he actually cut his hair, put on his pinstriped shirt, and looked the part of a college guy himself. It was funny because Iggy said, the guy goes, "Oh, we don't want a bunch of girls living here!" Well, they should have let the girls live there because we literally... I'm serious, the place totally trashed! We were young and stupid.
I would be the only one who'd want to do housework, and the dishes piled up so hugely I was overwhelmed. The guys started going down to the basement and found that there were new dishes in boxes to be used. So new dishes. And literally a path to the sink, a path to the refrigerator, a path to the stove, and a path to the backyard -- through all the bags of garbage. They had no garbage pickup -- you had to take it somewhere or something.
Then we got a stray cat and we didn't have a litterbox! [Laughs] I know, it's terrible but it's funny now. So the cat just went wherever it wanted to go, and the last thing is Dave Alexander coming down the stairs... there was a beautiful, big window in the middle of the staircase, at the landing -- he was half asleep because we were scrambling to get out of there because we didn't want to get busted, so the suitcase smashed into the window and broke it. What a trip but that was the start. That was the first house and then we moved on to the farm house, which was called the Fun House, hence the album name. All that hanging out -- it paid off! [Laughs]
G: Did you have an advantage, being young and stupid?
RA: Well, everyone was young and stupid, because when you're young, you just live for the day, and it was just y'know, like anybody else back then, imagine the '60s with that whole new freedom and that whole different outlook on life. I knew right then I was off the hook. Didn't have to go to college! Didn't have to get married! Didn't have to have a family! Didn't have to get a job! It was a whole, new bright world. I meant that more by young and stupid, meaning you live for the day, and you don't really think about the consequences of the future.
They really were interesting and enjoyable times. You can only imagine how it was, with that us against them. their badge and our badge being our appearance, the hair. We were young but we weren't stupid people. You can imagine -- it's like I'm talking about the Civil War! It was a great place to create this band, a great atmosphere -- and that lent itself to really what we are.
G: You haven't mentioned Raw Power -- you don't consider that a real Stooges album?
RA: That was Iggy's solo album, and I was only a hired employee. I was hired and signed a paper to Main Man Management to be an employee of theirs to play with Iggy Pop. So I played bass, but Iggy never treated us that way. We all did live in the same place and hung out, but this time everyone did separate things because we were older. I'd go to museums and stuff, and Iggy would go wherever he went, and this all went down in England and then in LA, it was the same. We did kind of live together at first, and then people drifted apart to move in with girlfriends and leave the Main Man house. But I had a really good time and I played bass in my high school rock 'n' roll band on weekends. I got to play bass and I'm grateful for that and I got to play bass on a record that was actually put out and I had a good time.
Those memories of stepping down from playing guitar on first two records and being known as a guitar player, it was weird, but the thought was that eventually I would play guitar again. It didn't turn out that way, it wasn't what especially James Williamson wanted. He wanted it to be a Mick Jagger/Keith Richards trip, so I felt a little shut out but once again it didn't last very long. There's just the memories of management firing Iggy and then us just constantly on the road.
It's not a glamorous job most of the time to tell you the truth: you enjoy playing but when you have to go out, serious, five to seven days a week for months on end and play, it makes you crazy. It just totally drags you down -- with no prospect or no future around the corner and working for $15 a day, which was our per diem. We got no pay. All we lived for was $15 a day. This was after the Raw Power record, and the different people we hooked up with, it was their philosophy, "Let's just keep 'em on the road working, making money so we can get some money." And nothing ever happened. It just got to the point where Iggy said, "Hey, I'm mentally and physically exhausted." As we all were. At least I get to hide behind a piece of wood. He has to be out there in people's faces, so it was a lot harder for him, and mercifully, that was the end.
G: You sound so pragmatic about getting rehired to be in the Stooges and being moved from bass to guitar.
RA: Well, at the time I wasn't doing anything so Iggy called up and said, "Hey, I've auditioned 150 bass players and drummers and we don't like any of 'em, so would you and your brother like to come over." Being he knew I played bass and he heard me -- in the very first Stooges when we were making up instruments I did still play the bass -- so I said, "Yeah, I got nothing to do." What was kind of unspoken -- and quietly spoken -- was, "well, maybe you'll get back on guitar some day." So I thought maybe this is a start, maybe it will wind up, and I'll get to go back to guitar and I took my guitars and I still played guitar on my own when I wasn't rehearsing with that band or when we were recording. When we got there, we rehearsed, seriously, six days a week. It wasn't frolicking around London. It was a lot of hard work for a long time to get ready to do that record, so, no, it was just, like I said, the worst part was when you knew hope was gone and playing those shows over and over. It was frustrating because I could have done stuff. I did come up with some nice bass lines, and later on I did get to write a couple songs, which were never recorded but were incorporated into the show.
So yeah, I have weird feelings about that time period, but mostly now, it's just good stuff because getting to live in England for 10 months and befriending people like Angie Bowie and her being the wise woman that she is. I got to go around London with her, she showed me all the cool stores, and we spent some of her husband's money at fine restaurants!
G: You must feel vindicated these days because the Stooges have only grown in renown over the years.
RA: I always felt like they would. When the band did break up those the two times no one ever said, "Hey, I hate this. Your'e a prick. I quit," or "I don't like what we're doing. I quit." No one ever quit. It was just some weird natural process like salmon spawning or whales going to warm water to mate or whatever that Iggy just bailed. He never said, [deep voice] "I quit." He just took a giant hiatus to go on solo career!
But I never felt like it was over. I know my brother worked really hard, actually pestering Iggy's management and even Iggy. They did get together and played in New York City for a little bit when Iggy lived in New York. Just to do a 20-year reunion. My brother wasn't asking for the band to reform -- he just thought, gee, at least we get one more thing out of this, and he wanted a 20-year reunion. It was his dream. And I always thought maybe it will happen and always had the hope that it would.
Then it just came to be, once I went out with my brother and J Mascis and Mike Watt and doing the whole Stooges set. It was J's idea to go out and play Stooges songs, and that was kinda cool, and that got people going, "Hey, I wanna see Iggy, wanna see the band." It sort of took on new life, sort of like a Frankenstein monster! [Laughs] Just going out there and breathing some life into the carcass of the Stooges. And that got Iggy interested and he started listening in and it went from the Skull Ring project right up to playing Coachella and right up to Iggy saying , "Hey, would you like to play more shows." It worked out great, a bizarre natural process. Some weird mutation. It took that long just for the thing to naturally fall back in place.
G: Speaking of Frankenstein, you've acted in some horror films?
RA: There was nothing shaking for music, and I auditioned for a movie and I made all the cuts. They had thousands of people, and I was one of 10 principals, and that was cool, and I was like, "This is fun." I met people on the production end of the picture and we became friends and we got together and made pictures. I made nine pictures but only one you can still see, Mosquito -- they still show it on the Sci Fi channel. Also Troma bought Frostbiter: Wrath of the Wendigo -- they put that out and that's for sale on DVD. But Mosquito...that's how I got to meet my buddy Gunnar Hansen, Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. We love cigars and fine wine and scotch. If you met him you'd think he was a college literature professor -- he's not the hulking monster he is on screen. We just talk about all kinds of stuff, other movies, books -- he bought a $120 bottle of scotch, and we do a little bit every time he shows up, so I got about three fingers left in that bottle.
It was fun, then I realized, hey, I'm trying to crack a harder nut what I'm already doing, time to get back to music. And I did so here I am.
G: So what's coming up?
RA: Playing on the road, getting all the shows up and running, just keep on keeping on. Iggy's talking about a new record at the end of 2008, going back in the studio, which would be great. We got the tunes -- we might as well do it. We're even making plans for 2009.
Like any musician -- Elvin Jones did a show the day before he died. I had tickets to see Alice Coltrane here, but I was on the road and she died a month after she played here. You just play right up -- John Coltrane, too, played up till his liver totally gave out.
G: You do come from a vaudevillian family!
RA: Yes! Johnny Cash made a video one month before he died. You just take it right up to the bitter end.