Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ron Asheton RIP


It hasn't been a good start to 2009 musically. Just when the Stooges had made a comeback and started to receive some real acclaim, I was sorry to hear of the death of their guitarist, Ron Asheton.

I have had to take a month to digest this news. Ron Asheton's riffs were central to the first 2 Stooges albums. The first album, The Stooges, was some of the most basic rock n roll ever recorded. The songs were basic, childish, bratty, repetitive and downright puerile. Which is what made them great. Mostly using 2 or 3 chords, Ron's chords formed the basis for 3 of the greatest ever songs: 1969, I Wanna Be Your Dog, and No Fun.

From the moment the riff for 1969 kicks in, you are transported to a grimy, rough little setting. Helped in no small way by Iggy Pop's singing. He's not the greatest singer in the world, but he sings with just the right attitude to make these songs REAL classics. Forget the Beatles, the Stones, the bloody Beach Boys and all the other artists from the late 60s / early 70s that form the so-called 'canon' of rock. These songs take rock, screw it up into a little ball and trample on it. This song even coaxed some emotion out of Andrew Eldritch from the Sisters of Mercy in their cover version!

I Wanna Be Your Dog is even better. Possibly the greatest riff of all time, I defy anybody not to completely change their posture, walk or whatever they are doing when they hear it. No Fun, much-loved by the Sex Pistols, is equally basic. To me, it's like a theme tune for a mode of behaviour. I used to walk around with this in my headphones as an antidote to all the blandness out there. Also, these songs are great to sing because the words are equally basic.

They got more ambitious with the 2nd album, Fun House. TV Eye is solid guitar craziness. The guitar riff makes you want to go crazy and shout at the top of your voice. However the moment of genius in that song belongs to Iggy. Right in the middle of the song, he screams so hard that he starts coughing. And they just left it in!

Ron also perfected the quieter, slow release, heavy guitar dynamic on Dirt, which lopes along driven by the bass and beat, with Ron playing perfectly pitched guitar over the top to match Iggy's tension-filled vocals.

However for the 3rd album, Raw Power, due to events recounted elsewhere by better writers than me, Ron played bass. Anybody who's heard that album will tell you that due to the way it was recorded, it's hard to pick out the bass.

Of course it wasn't all good. We Will Fall is 10 minutes of tedium. Guitar-free if I remember rightly, think it was their answer to the Doors. And once you hear it, you won't be in a rush to hear it again.

The comeback album, The Weirdness, was nothing special either, but as a means to an end it got the Stooges to reform. I was lucky to see them play in Dublin in June 2008. The guitar had lost none of its power, even in a large outdoor venue, and Iggy's energy was both infectious and hilarious (in a good way).

Ron Asheton never achieved much else away from the Stooges. But for the first 2 albums alone, he deserves to be remembered as a cool guitarist. Forget the word legend, it's not very-Stooges. He was a cool guitarist.