06 January 2009

No Fun (RIP Ron Asheton)

Ron Asheton's body was found in his Ann Arbor, MI home today. Apparently, it had been there a few days. Details are still pending, but initial reports are saying it was a heart attack. I am filled with great sadness as I write this - needless to say, the Stooges are one of my all-time favorite bands, and Ron Asheton was always my favorite Stooge. I always thought that he never really got his due, considering his role in birthing what became punk rock.

Sure, everybody and their dog jacks off about Iggy and his peanut-butter/heroin antics, and certainly, no disrespect to Mr. Osterberg's 'legend', but come on – you go listen to Fun House and try to tell me that Ron's guitar isn’t the thing on that record that instantly grabs you and slaps you around the room. Look no further than the opening riff on "TV Eye" (even if it WAS eventually used in a fucking Nissan Pathfinder commercial) - that riff inspired just about every other motherfucker who came after.

A whole generation of miscreant thug rockers was born when they first heard that riff struck. A whole generation of malcontents who grew up to hang on every Asheton riff on those first two Stooges records like they were gospel, because to a lot of us, they were. I can still remember the first time I heard it; there was that initial ‘hey-whoa-what-the-fuck-is-THIS?’ moment, because the urgency of Asheton's guitar let you know that this was something you needed to pay attention to.

I wasn’t even born by the time the Stooges came and went, and I still look to those records because they are where it all began. Sure, all due respect to the MC5, the Up, Blue Cheer, and a host of other pioneering heavy bands from that era, but there’s just something about the Stooges that resounds with me. And a large part of that is the guitar of Ron Asheton.

Yeah, fine, you can have Iggy, pretending to be some sort of drugged-out, space-case bluesman. Fine, you can have Scott Asheton, integral as he was to the band's sound as the rock-solid drummer. Great, you can have the token non-entity bass player.

But you KNOW that what made those first two Stooges records so incredible were the riffs of Ronny "Rock Action" Asheton. And I guess that’s what bums me out so much. The guy never got his due. I guess the truly great ones never do.

You know how a certain record, or set of records, can just take you back to a certain place and time? And every time you listen to it, you remember crystal-clear exactly what was going on at that time? When I think of the Stooges, and specifically Fun House, I remember the autumn of 2001 when I finally decided to get the fuck out of Kamloops and finally immerse myself in the mystery of Vancouver. I remember thinking what a huge change this was going to be, and how petrified I was to make the move to a city this big, when I’d only ever lived in small towns in BC. All I was listening to in those first lonely, bizarre months of moving to the city was the Stooges - even the first record, which nobody else seems to like or cite. But it was Fun House that got me through it the most. There’s a certain frenzied desperation to that record. It’s a blues jam like no other before or since. And for that scant period of uncertainty in 2001, it was my soundtrack.

Hearing the Stooges’ records always takes me back to those initial lonely days of walking the streets, trying to get my bearings in a place where I was totally starting over. No job, no home, no girlfriend. Having just left behind the relative comfort of the boring little town I called home, that was my whole world. Reminiscing about all the shit I’d left behind: friends, band, girlfriend (okay, okay- the girlfriend wasn’t that hard to leave). It put me at a further physical distance from my own family, too, who were still in Penticton. Back when I still had “a family”, so to speak. Back when we weren’t just 5 people trying to figure out just what the hell went wrong. But that’s another story.

And for those of you who know me well enough, it’s common knowledge that one of my favorite books is Legs McNeil’s Please Kill Me. And WHO has the best fucking stories in that book? Of course it's Ron Asheton – his tale of getting to hang out with Larry Fine during his last days in a nursing home always warms my heart. Classic, Stooge meets Stooge. Ron Asheton truly was the heart of the Stooges. He helped invent punk rock. He is an iconoclast, and I will miss him.

A couple of years ago, I saw this great documentary called D.I.Y. Or Die: How to Survive as an Independent Artist, and Ron Asheton was one of the more prominent interviews in the film. Again, telling all these great stories about stuggling to live as an independent artist, post-Stooges, and was so inspiring. You can watch the whole thing on YouTube, but here’s the first part:

And here's footage of the Stooges in Cincinatti in 1970, performing "TV Eye":

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