Is it 1969, OK, as the Stooges gear up to play across the USA?
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Sure it's all about puppy love, music-geek boners, and clean-cut strangers offering to be their dog now, but as Iggy Pop declared during a crowded onstage interview at this year's South by Southwest fest in Austin, Texas, back when the once-decried Stooges first burst blown-out, bratty, and oozing monosyllabic menace, bristly distortion, and snotty attitude from Ann Arbor, Mich., "the two things were, 'They can't play.' " He gestured toward the two other surviving original Stooges, guitarist Ron Asheton and his brother, drummer Scott, then nodded almost imperceptibly toward himself. "And 'We hate him!' "
Thirty-four years after the Stooges called it quits the last time around, that animosity was absent the next night as the Stooges packed the dirt expanses of Stubb's in Austin. The Stooges' first two albums, 1968's self-titled debut and 1970's Fun House (both Elektra), left an indelible, grotesque yet groovy, brutal bruise on rock's flower-power posterior with the most proudly primal and corrosive art rock ever generated by smarter-than-they-looked-or-sounded troglodytes enamored of the dirty blues, garage rock, and free jazz. And now it looked like the surprisingly mixed mob at Stubb's of T-shirted record collectors, black-garbed rockers, shaggy hipsters, gray-haired codgers with pasteled wifeys, buttoned-down frat boys, and straightened-haired patrician blonds was all in on the joke and the joy of still-powerful songs such as "1969" and "TV Eye." A deeply tanned, limber Pop undulated above the mass, flailing and bounding like a bronze lizard made of bubble gum and Motor City tire rubber, seemingly swallowed by the crowd, then spat back out while the Ashetons, Mike Watt on bass, and Pacifica resident Steve Mackay on sax punched through bleeding, blighted versions of "No Fun" and "Loose."
Still, you couldn't help tearing your peepers away from arguably the finest rock combo ever to roll off Detroit-area assembly lines to wonder who were all these people? Deeply closeted Stooges fans who wore out the grooves of their gatefold Fun Houses in the dark beside dank jocks and dusty sneaks? Surely there were more Three Stooges Usenet newsgroups than Stooges message boards? If you weren't even born when a band first came around, does the connection you forge with the group and its work still count as nostalgia?
What does someone in the middle of the Stooges reunion storm, such as Ron Asheton, feel about the newbs and the love lavished even as the band fails to gather enough votes to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame despite multiple nominations?
"It's the best time. It's superfine," the 58-year-old Asheton says from Ann Arbor. "Especially since the audiences are more receptive than they've been in the past. They know the songs. It's kind of like the world has caught up with the Stooges."
Between playing with bands such as Destroy All Monsters and acting in low-budget horror flicks such as Mosquito, Asheton a born raconteur given to wicked, basso profundo Pop impersonations and swoopingly dramatic vocal flourishes has been holding down the inherited Asheton family homestead as the only remaining Stooge left in Michigan while Scott and Pop spend most of the year in Florida. He was prepping for the start of the reunited Stooges' first full US tour and looking forward to working on the 30 or so additional songs written during the making of The Weirdness.
SFBG Why do you still live in Michigan?
RON ASHETON I love it. It's a beautiful state. I love the Great Lakes, and I have a place on Lake Heron that I get to go to infrequently. When I was younger, we moved so much that when I finally got to Michigan, I said when I was 14, [miming a pouty teen] 'I'm never moving again!' Though I did live in California for six years when Main Man Management took the Stooges to LA being here was like being in the backwater rather than being close to the action when you're young and stupid!
SFBG How do you feel about The Weirdness?
RA When I listen to it, I can't just listen to it once I really do, it's true! I listen to it twice, and I picture people in the summertime, riding in the cars or sitting by the campfire on the beach or having a backyard party.
It was really fun to do it differently than in the past, where with the first record, we had one week. I never heard the record till it was actually in the stores. The second, Fun House I heard the acetate shortly before it was released, and that only took two weeks. This one took three weeks, and I got to be one of the producers.
SFBG Why weren't you able to listen to The Stooges before it came out?
RA That's the way record companies dealt with things. It was just taken out of our hands after we were done "You kids are dismissed! Leave the room!" The producer [John Cale] and the owner [Jac Holzman] of the record company took the record, and they got a new toy! "Yeah, I paid for it! I can do whatever I want with it!" So it was very smart of Iggy to want to have control of the new record.
SFBG The Stooges always wrote songs based from the start on your guitar riffs. How did you develop the songs this time?
RA We did it on this also. The only difference now was it was concentrated going down to Florida and me walking in the building, plugging in my guitar, and starting to play. Iggy lurking about same thing. Coming up with things just off the top of my head, and Iggy saying, "Hey, I like that!"
SFBG How would you describe the Stooges' dynamic, writing and playing together?
RA I think part of it is we actually grew up together. Being teenagers and deciding to get a band house and getting that first summer sublet and finally getting kicked out of there and moving on and getting another place, that common bond of doing everything together. We literally ate dinner together, went out, cruised the town, went to parties, knowing we were part of the birth of that ugly baby the Stooges! *
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For more from Ron Asheton, go to www.sfbg.com/blogs/music.