by / January 7th, 2009 /

Interview: The Stooges

Ron Asheton of The Stooges was found dead at his house in Michigan this week. He was one of the founding members and guitarist of the band . Police say he may have been dead for a number of days before he was found. The cause is said to be a heart attack. Iggy Pop left the following personal statement: “I am in shock. He was my best friend.”

In honour of Ron and The Stooges legacy, we are republishing the cover interview with the band from State’s July 2008 issue by Paul Byrne which charts the tumultuous relationship that existed between Ron and Iggy.

Nazi S&M photo shoots. Covering Madonna songs. Iggy Pop and lead Stooge Ron Asheton discuss their long strange trip to the top and their often strained relationship.

Ron Asheton has got to be one of the most patient people in the world. Otherwise, Iggy Pop would be dead. Long ago. Today, with The Stooges finally getting the critical acclaim, and even enjoying monetary reward, the band’s two leading lights get on like a house on fire. It’s certainly a far cry from their early troubled history, when the man Rolling Stone voted the 29th Greatest Guitarist Of All Time was banished to bass by his old school friend just as the band released their second album, 1970’s Fun House.

Being the kind of guy he is, Ron accepted his new role and the fact that another old school buddy, James Williamson, was now playing his riffs when The Stooges went out on stage. What Ron Asheton couldn’t accept, however, was what Iggy had to tell him when they ran into one another at a late night party back in Ann Arbor, Michigan. ‘It was my worst moment with the band,’ he says ruefully. ‘I met some friends up-city, and they said they were heading down to the Morgan Sound Studios. Iggy was there with James, and he came up to me and said, -Hey, by the way, James and I are going to England. I got a record deal’. He never told me any of this, and I wasn’t invited or considered. So, for me, that was the worst time. It was more like super-sadness than betrayal. ‘I know that I actually went out to where there were some trees and I just hugged a tree and cried. Then I just walked home in a daze: a serious 10 miles or more walk home, at night. That was the worst time for me.’

It was only last year, when the band were in Dublin to play their headlining gig at The Electric Picnic festival, that Iggy Pop finally got around to apologising to his friend for the pain he had caused, 35 years after the event. ‘We were just talking about stuff,’ continues Asheton. ‘We have our meetings every now and then, and the subject of me being demoted from guitar to bass came up – although, I didn’t see it like that – and Iggy said, -You know, I never thought of it in that way: I’m really sorry’. And he was really sincere. He had never said anything. ‘This was just last summer, in Ireland. He actually apologised. He never understood what it would have been like’¦’

Not that Iggy Pop is about to get all sentimental today over such things. He knows that he’s spent pretty much all of his life looking after number one. Even his son, Eric Benson, grew up seeing his Pop about as frequently as the rest of us. ‘Being in a band is tricky, you know,’ smiles the now-proud grandfather (having visited Eric, and his wife and child, just recently). ‘I always think of that great Young Ones episode about the heavy metal band’¦’ He’s actually referring to the Comic Strip’s Spinal Tap-esque Bad News outings, from the early -80s, featuring many of the Young Ones cast.

‘The bass player gets out of the van on the side of the road, and he says he won’t get back in until they say that they’re a heavy metal band. That’s my favourite rock’n’roll comedy moment.’ Iggy adopts a mockney accent. ”Say we’re a metal band, or I’m not getting back in!’. Well, that’s what being in a band is like. For me, anyway’¦’ Iggy and Ron let out a laugh, and give each other a look. There’s no need for hugs or sharing anything with the group, not when you go this far back. ‘I never hated him,’ is how Asheton decides to wrap this particular subject up. ‘There are no fights between us. We never exchanged angry words or blows. It was never like that. It was just tossed around in life, until it was time to come back and do what we’re doing now.’

The paths of Iggy Pop and Ron Asheton rarely crossed, from The Stooges bloodied and bowed break-up in 1974 to the band’s first tentative reunion for the former’s 2003 solo album Skull Ring. The drug-free Ron played with a series of bands (including The New Order, Destroy All Monsters and The Powertrane) while, due to an almost-constant lack of funds, regularly moving back in with his mum in Ann Arbor. Iggy, meanwhile, headed off on his hedonistic adventures, sleeping on couches, cardboard and silk sheets, whilst constantly looking for new ways to step over the edge. That he managed to give us the mighty fine Bowie-produced albums The Idiot and Lust For Life in 1977 meant Iggy was also capable of creating the odd masterpiece too. During all that time, the legend of the gone-but-not forgotten Stooges just grew and grew. Punk’s two pivotal bands, The Ramones in the US and The Sex Pistols in the UK, included Stooges songs in their sets. And they weren’t the only ones inspired by Detroit’s short-lived wonder. So, how does it feel, to have designed this roaring, magnificent engine, and then see so many other bands shoot across the finishing line with it? ‘It’s kinda hard to keep track of them all,’ says Pop. ‘They tend to come in waves, and sometimes I can see the influence, absolutely, and with others, it’s kinda like, -Eh, okay’¦ great!’.’

Then comes Iggy’s laugh, a demonic chuckle which peppers our conversation frequently. ‘Personally, I always loved it when people came up to me and told me about how we were the inspiration for their band,’ says Asheton. ‘It was flattering, of course, but also, I felt that these bands cheering us on would be a good thing for getting us back together. And it was.’

Having first met up in the Ann Arbor school choir (yep, Iggy was once angelic), it wasn’t until Ron and his brother, Scott – the duo having moved to the Michigan city from Davenport, along with their mum, Ann, and their sister, Kathy, after the death of their father, Ronald – took to hanging outside the local Discount Records store on Liberty Street that the seeds for The Stooges were sown. Inside, the young Jim Osterberg had an after-school job. It was a meeting that Iggy would later immortalise in Dum Dum Boys.

‘There was no great masterplan about the band,’ offers Iggy. ‘We started a group because we thought that would be really cool. And it would be really cool if we got to make a record – wow! And it would be really cool if we could play on a stage, and get girls, and live in a house, and smoke joints, and have enough money to live! And that’s still what we do. ‘That purer attitude probably resides more with the rest of the group than me, though, because I’ve been through 30 years of trickery. So, I kinda know’¦’

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  • Patrick Conboy

    RIP Ron 🙁