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Interview:
Iggy Pop brings Stooges back to Ann Arbor for Ron Asheton tribute
 

By GARY GRAFF
of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

There is a certain amount of machismo associated with Iggy Pop. The guy has been know to bleed for his art, after all — literally, as anybody who’s seen his physical, MMA Extreme Cage Fight-worthy live performances can attest.

But on Tuesday (April 19), when Pop and his band, the Stooges, return to their home state to pay tribute to late founding member Ron Asheton, a softer side may well prevail.

“I don’t know what to expect from my inner self that night,” says Pop, who was born James Osterberg in Muskegon and founded the Stooges during 1967 in Ann Arbor with Asheton — who passed away in January of 2009 at age 60 — and his brother, drummer Scott “Rock Action” Asheton. “I’m thankful that’s the one part of me that has not be rehearsed, formatted and interviewed to death — and, hence, is less predictable.”

Pop says that being in the center of Ann Arbor will also strike a sentimental nerve. The Michigan Theater, where the show takes place, is “the same movie house I saw ‘Bambi’ with my mom.” He remembers seeing the Jimi Hendrix Experience play at a bowling alley near the U-M campus and, of course, the early days of the Stooges before the punk rock progenitors signed a recording contract in 1968.

“And, y’know, Ron passed away in the house where he lived when he went to Ann Arbor High,” Pop adds. “I used to go to the house to throw stones at their window and try to wake him up and do some rehearsals in the basement before their mom came home and screamed at us.

“So there’s all that, which I’m sure will cross my mind when we’re doing the show.”

It will be more than a Stooges show as well, with “a couple extra things you don’t normally see, basically, at a Stooges gig” according to Pop. That said, the current version of the band -- Pop, Asheton, longtime saxophonist Steve Mackay, latter-day guitarist James Williamson and Mike Watt, who’s been playing bass since the group’s 2003 reunion — plans to kick out the proverbial jams and continuing the celebration it began in 2009 of its landmark 1973 “Raw Power” album (which was released in a special Legacy Edition last year) as well as the Stooges’ 2010 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.

The extras, however, will make for a truly special kind of night. Stooges devotee Henry Rollins will join the band for “I Got a Right,” while Deniz Tek, the Ann Arbor-born member of Australia’s Radio Birdman and a close friend of Asheton’s, will play an encore set of early Stooges material. Williamson and Pop have crafted an acoustic piece called “Ron’s Tune,” and a group of teen musicians from Ann Arbor’s Neutral Zone teen center will open the show.

And Pop plans to pay homage to another aspect of Asheton’s musicality that’s far different from “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “No Fun” or “Down on the Street.”

“Some of his best themes always reminded me a lot of ... classical music in the 17th century,” Pop explains, “particularly the music that came out of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Russia, the Ukraine, Poland ... which is probably no accident because the (Asheton) family’s blood is half Unkranian. So his stuff always reminded me of the basic themes that inform Bartok or Dvorak.

“So we’ve got an orchestra of Ann Arbor musicians and an Ann Arbor writer and arranger composing on overture of (Asheton’s) themes, and then they’re going to play along with the Stooges on a couple numbers, and also with me.”

Pop credits Asheton’s sister Kathy with keeping the idea of the tribute alive. Some hastily organized shows were put together shortly after Asheton’s death, but while Pop always wanted to do his part he says it was also “something that I didn’t want to do badly. I didn’t want to do a crappy or offhand...some sort of a punk rock wake with a bunch of people competing to see how drunk, outrageous or dirty they could be on a given night.

“So, consequently, it took us awhile.”

The interim allowed the Asheton family to establish the Ron Asheton Foundation, which donates money to charitable causes — particularly music and animal rights and care organizations, since the guitarist was “a grade triple-A animal nut,” according to Pop. “He loved animals, and he fed feral cats, skunks and raccoons all through the winters in Michigan.”

The Stooges did, of course, get to pay tribute to Asheton — who was ranked No. 29 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time — at the Rock Hall induction in March of 2010, where his presence was both felt and missed, according to Pop.

“I think it would have meant a lot to him,” Pop says. “If he was alive, I think he would have really enjoyed the gesture, and I think it would have given him a lot of peace. He was a social, convivial person; he probably would have enjoyed sitting and having a martini after it happened with everyone else.”

The Stooges, meanwhile, have been carrying on in Asheton’s wake. The “Raw Power” reunion put a spotlight on not only one of rock’s most acclaimed album but also a crucial moment in the group’s history, which saw it return from a drug- and ego-induced breakup in 1971 to record again, with Pop eschewing record company requests for him to “get rid of the group” and become a solo artist.

But the Stooges new world order at the time put Williamson — who had played with the Ashetons in a pre-Stooges band called the Chosen Few — on guitar and shifted Ron Asheton to bass, which has long been a source of controversy. “There were some sour grapes later on, I think,” says Williamson, 61. “He always had that feeling he got demoted or something, and that really wasn’t the case. It certainly wasn’t intended that way. He was a fantastic bass player.”

Pop adds that “people underestimate (Asheton’s) contribution on bass on ‘Raw Power. What he had to say on our first two albums is continued on ‘Raw Power,’ and he said it through is bass. It’s just updated and used more subtly.”

While the initial Stooges reunion featured only music from the group’s first two albums, with Asheton on guitar, the current lineup plays songs from all three albums. And there may be new material to play as well; Pop reports that he and Williamson have “about eight things right now that are...sort of complete songs. Maybe some of them need to be more complete or some of them need to be forgotten. And then some of them...just flow right along.” But he doesn’t think the group will record them until next year, when he anticipates having enough material that will be up to the Stooges’ standard.

“It’s really not about the time right now,” he explains. “It’s about the stuff and about the group.”

The Stooges’ September 2010 show at the All Tomorrow’s Party Festival was recently released as “Raw Power Live: In the Hands of the Fans,” while an archival Pop box set “Roadkill Rising: The Bootleg Collection 1977-2009” is due out May 17. Pop, meanwhile, is working on a new solo album, another bilingual project following up 2009’s “Preliminaires” that will feature “no rock songs...just American and French songs, mostly ballads,” including the Beatles “Michelle,” Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’ “ and songs by Serge Gainsbourg and Henri Salvadore.

“I’ve recorded most but not all of it” for a release later this year or in early 2012, says Pop, who, after some concentrated Stooges time, is happy for the musical change of pace.

“Honestly, each one is a great relief,” he explains. “There’s just nothing that feels better to me than to go sing, like, ‘What is This Thing Called Love’ by Cole Porter after I’ve been rehearsing ‘Raw Power’ and ‘Search and Destroy’ and ‘Shake Appel’ over and over with the Stooges.

“I mean, the Stooges is some sort of strange, hard-headed youthful energy; it has a kind of bounce to it that’s really nice, but a steady diet of anything is just no good. So, yeah, they really do feed off each other.”



Iggy & the Stooges, with special guests Henry Rollins and Deniz Tek, perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor. Tickets are sold out. Proceeds from the concert will go to the Ron Asheton Foundation. Call 734-668-8463 or visit www.michtheater.org.



IGGY ON IDOL

Iggy Pop says it was “just a gig.” But his guest appearance on the April 13 episode of “American Idol” was a surprise that still has rock fans’ tongues wagging.

“I don’t know what to say about it except that I didn’t know what to expect,” says the Michigan native, who performed Johnny O’Keefe’s “Real Wild Child (Wild One),” which was popularized by Jerry Lee Lewis and was a single for Pop in 1986. I went and did my thing. I enjoyed the band they put together for me and I actually enjoyed singing the song and enjoyed the audience.”

Pop isn’t exactly an “Idol” fan, mind you; “When it first came out, I really, really hated it,” he says. But his opinion “changed over time and I came to respect certain things about it, bit by bit. I began to see if not the good in the format at least the good in the contestants, especially some of the final contestants,” particularly Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson.

And it turns out that Pop was actually contacted by “Idol” executives about possibly being one of the show’s judges for its 10th season.

“It didn’t go very far,” he recalls. “There were two phone calls...I wasn’t sure I was interested or available. They called me...I was curious and we spoke a couple times, and that was as far as that went.

“I don’t think I could’ve done the right job for them on that particular show. I think Steven (Tyler) does a really, really good job of it.”



Web Site: www.michtheater.org

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