Thursday, January 08, 2009

Ron Asheton, 1948-2009 (?)

Ron Asheton died at New Year’s (Eve or Day they think) of an apparent heart attack. His body wasn’t discovered for several days, and so the news broke on Tuesday the 6th. It’s a sad and unexpected end for one of the world’s greatest rock guitarists. Without Ron, the Stooges are over too. I’m finding it hard to capture the enormity of all this. For those who don’t know or care about the Stooges or rock’n’roll, it probably doesn’t matter. For those who know, I guess they know.

While Iggy Pop’s vocals, lyrics, and personality were the focal point of the Stooges, Ron’s guitar playing was both amazingly intense and amazingly beautiful, and really defined the band’s sound. While even now some critics and obituary writers are calling him “rudimentary,” Ron was actually one of the most advanced players I can think of. Of course, rock’n’roll is supposed to be basic, and the Stooges’ song structures are basic. But on top of this primal simplicity — two or three chords — an approach brilliant in itself — Ron produced some of the most amazing sounds ever to grace vinyl and later cd.

All of the three original Stooges albums are great, but Fun House is the greatest album of all time, ever. I mean that. And much of this is down to Ron’s mind-blowing guitar work. His sound on Fun House is expansive, gritty, metallic (by which I don’t really mean “metal,” but like the real sound of metal guitar strings heard through loud amplifiers), and in places approaches free jazz in the spirit of later John Coltrane or Archie Shepp (though obviously completely different at the same time). As tremendous as the first album The Stooges was, Ron evolved so far beyond it for Fun House, in the space of just a year (1969 to 1970), that it’s hard to comprehend. But right now I’d rather put the record on, instead of trying to describe in words what is so much better in music.

I met Ron in 1992 at an in-store appearance at Aron’s Records in Hollywood. Only a handful of people showed up, so I had the chance to talk to him for a while. He was extremely forthcoming, personable, and generally a real nice guy. At that time the Stooges had been long over, and the chances of a reunion seemed slim, though you got the feeling that he was always holding out hope. His show that night was fantastic.

More recently, the Stooges finally did re-form, and aside from the shows and the music itself, I was glad that Ron had the chance to continue on with what was clearly the most important thing in his life (I base this mostly on things I’ve read and heard, not simply on my relatively short meeting with him). More recent in-store appearances had a better turnout, to say the least. I guess people have started to catch up with the Stooges, which is good for them, but at the same time a bit odd since I’m used to nobody really knowing what I’m talking about when I say they’re my favorite band. While I was ambivalent about their new album The Weirdness (some songs good, some so-so), I was hoping that they would continue to record further and even better albums. I was just thinking about it the other day. But that will not happen now.

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