RIP: Ron Asheton (1948-2009)

Death trip
By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  January 19, 2009

THE WEIRDNESS: We owe the vortex of sonic mayhem that is Fun House to Ron Asheton.

Ron Asheton's off-and-on relationship with James "Iggy Pop" Osterberg Jr. was both a blessing and a curse. Without Mr. Pop and his crucial proto-punk antics, Asheton could never have become what he'll be remembered as: a pivotal figure in the development of electric-guitar-based rock and roll. On the other hand, the wacky high jinks of his out-of-control vocalist were always going to overshadow the sonic revolution taking place behind the mic stand. As the Stooges became Iggy & the Stooges, Asheton would find himself muscled out of the spotlight, until Iggy went solo, Bowie-style, and Asheton was left to fend for himself in the wasteland of mid-'70s rock.

Asheton died alone last week, and his body lay undiscovered for days after his death in his Ann Arbor home. There are some grim parallels between the expanse of time during which his corpse went unnoticed and the decades after the disbandment of the Stooges during which his guitar genius went unrecognized. He could claim prime involvement in three of rock's most seminal LPs: 1969's The Stooges, 1970's Fun House, and 1973's Raw Power. Each record is a world unto itself, and the way that Asheton pushed the Stooges from their origins as a cabal of talentless volume-addicted cretins into a primal musical machine that combined drone, funk, psychedelic sludge, and oddly touching light-and-dark melody is astonishing. Consider that there was once a world where the endless vortex of sonic mayhem that is Fun House did not exist — someone had to create it. For this achievement alone, we should take a silent moment to thank Ron Asheton.

He was by all accounts a level-headed guy who held together the drug-addled psychotic mania that was late-'60s/early '70s Iggy Pop. And even when Pop ditched the band, hooked up with guitarist James Williamson, went to England, auditioned a soccer stadium's worth of talentless punters, and came sniveling back to Motown to beg the Asheton brothers (Ron and drummer Scott) to rejoin the band they'd been summarily laid off from, Ron (now relegated to bass!) took it in stride. I'd like to think that it wasn't just because he was broke and this was a paying gig. Asheton knew the value of true rock alchemy, and he must have known that he could create another monolith of rock awesomeness with Pop. Which he did, with the breathtaking Raw Power, a record that will forever define, in song, what being a rebellious teenager in Western society in the late 20th century sounded like. Full of sex, drugs, and speaker-cone-shredding solos, Raw Power is the pinnacle of perfection of the now-fading rock-LP format.

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