Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Ron Asheton (1948-2009)

Ann Arbor, Michigan--Last night, it was announced that Ron Asheton, primary guitarist for the proto-punk group the Stooges, had died. Apparently, Asheton had been dead for a few days of natural causes. He was 60.

Asheton, James Osterberg (Iggy Pop), and Scott Asheton formed the nucleus of the Stooges from 1967-1974 when the band imploded over a lack of interest and the vagaries of heroin-addiction. There's nothing like that first time hearing their three albums from that era, it's a stunning experience, and nobody has sounded quite like them, either before or since.

My own personal favorite album is "Fun House," from 1970, which still sounds like the future. The Stooges were the "sister" group of the politically radical MC5, a band whose ranks have been decimated since 1991 with the death of lead-singer Rob Tyner.

Ron Asheton's place in rock and music history as an influential guitarist is secure. While too many lousy garage bands were spawned from his style (which really, was inimitable), those rare successes were worth it, from Killing Joke, to Minor Threat, to groups like the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and even Joy Division, Asheton's style has and will continue to endure.

He was an unsung-part of punk, one of the true founding fathers of what was once a viable and important musical form, and he sat on the sidelines while others made a fortune copping his style. Asheton was beyond mere punk rock, a cultural form that ossified long ago. That's been over for a long-time, and now it's truly over. In 2007, the Stooges released what will be their final album, "The Weirdness," barring another barrage of "unreleased" material. Anything else will be posthumous, after-the-fact. It's barely known to most, but Ann Arbor and the environs of Detroit produced the earliest forms of what's known today as punk rock. That was forty-years-ago.

Think what you want of the Midwest, but we've produced a lion's share of relevant American culture over the last 100 years. Rest in peace, Ronnie, it should have been Ted Nugent. Three albums that changed the world: "The Stooges" (1969, produced by the Velvet Underground's John Cale), "Funhouse" (1970), and "Raw Power" (1973).

Postscript, 01.08.2009--NPR corrected itself today at the end of a program, noting that they had played a song from "Raw Power," which Asheton only played bass on. The main guitarist at that time was James Williamson, who last reported, was a business executive. So, NPR did an outro of "I Wanna Be Your Dog," which became incredibly subversive with the voiceover of all the contributors (money) to the show. I didn't expect anyone at NPR to know the difference, but they tried, they tried.