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Stooges Make Old Feeling Feel New

Of the Oakland Press

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Although he is one, Iggy Pop's goal isn't necessarily to be an underground hero or cult favorite. Mass success would suit him just fine, thank you.

It's not that the Ypsilanti-raised rocker and his band, the Stooges, aren't known, mind you. Together and apart they enjoy a certain iconic status and reverence as crucial influences on generations of performers who have come in their wake; you can't attend the Vans Warped Tour, for instance, without hearing copious references to the "Raw Power" sound the Stooges launched from Ann Arbor in the late '60s and early '70s.

And Pop acknowledges that regard is "a big deal for me. I get a big kick out of it. If I was gonna go with this long enough, I'd probably get very emotional about it. It's a very good thing."

But, Pop adds, that was then. Now the Stooges are back together, having reunited in 2003, after three decades apart. They've been touring steadily ever since, and this year the group -- which includes original members Ron Asheton on guitar and his brother, Scott "Rock Action" Asheton on drums -- have a new album, "The Weirdness."

The good news is that "The Weirdness" is the first of the Stooges four studio albums ever to chart. But it peaked at just 130 on the Billboard 200 chart in March and quickly dropped out of sight. Pop isn't fixated on sales, but he was hoping that the legend that the Stooges became in their absence would translate to the marketplace this time.

"Let me get this straight," Pop, 60 -- who was born James Jewell Osterberg, Jr., in Muskegon -- he says with a chuckle. "We started in 1967, and we played for our friends at a party and they didn't like us. And now we've lasted out the turn of the...century and we [i]still[/i] can't be popular? Gee, gimme a break!"

Nevertheless, Ron Asheton says the group is congnizant that it's been "breaking new territory" since its reunion.

"The word spreads, and you get other venues and promoters that want to have you," he explains. "We just did Tel Aviv, which was wonderful, and I did my first Fuji Rocks (in Japan).

"The crowds are liking the shows. The bookings are coming in. We just keep plowing on, making new fans. It doesn't stop."

The key, of course, is the music. Even with a solid body of work already, Pop says he's proud of what he and the Ashetons achieved with "The Weirdness." The Stooges, who recorded four songs for Pop's 2003 solo set "Skull Ring," took their time creating the album, working on songs in the Detroit are and at Pop's home in Florida, carefully crafting what they felt would be a proper comeback.

"We'd been working steadily for three and a half years," Pop explains. "We became a unit. We just kinda shrugged and went through the process we go through until we felt we had a real band and the stuff was the best we could do."

And when the group hit producer Steve Albini's Electrical Audio Studios in Chicago last October, with longtime saxophonist Steve Mackay and touring bassist Mike Watt in tow, it was in fighting form.

"This is a band album the way Led Zeppelin used to make albums or the (Rolling) Stones used to make albums or the Stooges used to make albums," Pop explains. "I suppose if you were gonna quantify it, what you hear would be 85 percent live music. So on a given track usually you're listening to the drummer, the bass player, the rhythm guitar, the main guitar part and the vocal.

"That's like old rock 'n' roll or jazz values. And then the overdubbing was kept to minimal; there'd be one or two guitars over that, usually, and I fixed as many vocals as I (messed) up, but happily it wasn't that many. But mostly it's people playing in real time, and you can't beat that for what I'm looking for."

One result of that, Pop says, is he's not looking to make rock music with anybody but the Stooges. He's willing to put aside his 15-album solo career -- which included the single turned cruise line anthem "Lust For Life" -- in order to keep the Stooges going. "This is what I do in rock 'n' roll, basically," notes Pop, who's also appeared in films such as "Cry-Baby," "The Color of Money" and "The Rugrats Movie.

"I'm threatening to bomb the world with a bossanova album, or maybe 'Christmas with Iggy.' But for rock 'n' roll, (the Stooges) is what I'd like to be doing. I think this is what I do best for this kind of music."

Asheton, 59, says he and his brother are happy to hear that. "After all that time (away from each other) we really get to get back and get our teeth into something again," he says. "I'm glad and relieved to know that I might have a job for awhile."

Asheton says the Stooges will wrap up touring for the year in mid-September -- save for a performance at Las Vegas' Vegoose Festival in October -- and won't hit the road again until next May. The Ashetons plan to start working on new songs for the Stooges this fall, and a return to the studio is tentatively set for late 2008, although he adds "that can always change. They tend to find their own time and place."

Pop, meanwhile, predicts another Stooges album "up the line a couple of years." And if that helps to continue growing the legend, the group may finally get the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction that's eluded it for several years that the Stooges have been on the ballot of finalist -- although Pop cautions that "I wouldn't hold my breath."

"The thought today is that would not happen for us until and unless we were to sell a significantly large number of some sort of CD or record in the U.S. -- at one time, not counting what you sell over 30 years," he says. "I don't think they would consider us seriously without that.

"But you know what -- if we need to get in, we're in pretty sorry shape. And if we don't need to get in, then who (cares). It's not gonna stop us from playing rock 'n' roll, is it?"

Iggy & the Stooges and the Hard Lessons perform 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (August 7th) at Meadow Brook Music Festival, on the campus of Oakland University, Rochester Hills. Tickets are $59.50-$79.50 pavilion, $30 lawn. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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