Stooges Guitarist Ron Asheton, R.I.P.
I don't make a habit of waxing poetic about people I've never met, and I sure as hell won't pretend to know anything about Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton that doesn't involve his music. But I was still shocked when I popped on my computer this morning to discover the 60-year-old was found dead of apparent natural causes at his Michigan home, because his intense playing inspired me--and countless others--to ditch life's safety net in favor of diving into the deep end without first checking to see if the water was warm.
Any mention of the Stooges inevitably leads to singer Iggy Pop, and rightfully so. Iggy's the captain of that unshakable ship, the guy who propelled distorted three-chord blues riffs to something that would later be described as punk. But the p-word doesn't do the Stooges justice--their music has as much avant-garde jazz and electrified blues as it does straight-ahead bashing. Unfortunately for many of those who ape them (and those of us who are forced to listen to those who ape them), bands who follow the Stooges model don't have the musical background to improv or color their phrasing they way Asheton did.
Like an athlete, Iggy's only as good as those he surrounds himself with. Don't believe me? Check out any of the singer's solo work and tell me you don't make a beeline for Fun House after the third song. Or better yet, check out Iggy's previous solo disc, 2003's Skull Ring. The 17-track album has Iggy collaborating with Green Day, Sum 41, Peaches, his band the Trolls and Asheton and Stooges drummer/Ron's brother Scott for four tracks. Helen Keller herself would tell you the Stooges material on that record is head and shoulders above its counterparts. That's how obvious the Ashetons' contribution to Iggy's work is.
The Stooges don't have "hits," but most consider "No Fun," "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and "1969" (all from the band's 1969 self-titled debut) as classics. I won't disagree with those who make that assessment, but if you want to hear a band at the top of its game, check out 1970's Fun House (specifically "Dirt" and the title track) for examples of an absolute perfect fusion of rock, blues and jazz. Somewhere near the 3:25 mark of "Dirt," Asheton kicks into a solo that...shit, I don't know what to say. It's fucking awesome. How about that? Ron Asheton was fucking awesome and there isn't anything I can say to try to convey the importance of his work. In fact, if you're reading this, I'm guessing you already know that. And if you don't, do yourself a favor and go buy the first two Stooges discs right fucking now. You can thank me later.
So maybe he was this or maybe he was that. I don't know. Nor do I care. What matters is the contribution Asheton made to music, and on a personal level, to my development as an artist. By their own admission, the Stooges were hated by nearly everyone who came into contact with them during their initial run and somehow they kept going. For some reason, I have a feeling Asheton's death won't stop the Stooges' legacy from continuing to light fires under a bunch of asses that need a map to the Promised Land. Because in the chaotic world of rock 'n' roll, the Stooges are just that: the Promised Land, Babylon, heaven and hell rolled into one.
I'm bummed Asheton's gone, but I'm listening to Fun House as I type, and Iggy and Scott, if you're reading this, for reasons I can't explain, I too feel alright.