Raw Power: The Stooges' Ron Asheton on Iggy, Dope and Self-Mutilation

It might have taken the Stooges 25 years to get the recognition they deserved. But guitarist Ron Asheton, who died in 2009, revealed in this archive interview that he wouldn't change anything for the world.
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It might have taken the Stooges 25 years to get the recognition they deserved. But guitarist Ron Asheton, who died in 2009, revealed in this archive interview that he wouldn't change anything for the world.

Your guitar sound with the Stooges is now acknowledged as the blueprint for punk guitar, what were listening to in your formative stage?

Of course I always liked any of the old greats, and I gotta say Jimi Hendrix first. The guy reinvented guitar playing! But before that, I still liked the classics, like Keith Richards for his rock'n'roll and Chuck Berry. And I liked the blues players too, like BB and Albert King, I really liked that music, because Iggy was in a blues band called the Prime Movers and they did just blues and I was in that band for a short time, before I was replaced by someone who really was a better player. But I loved the early Stones, Brian Jones was one of my heroes, and of course I loved The Byrds, I liked the Fifth Dimension album. a lot of that, and also something I got turned onto, John Coltrane, I love John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders.

Yeah, 'cause that freeform jazz element was present in the Stooges to some extent...

Yeah, that's basically how we started out, we didn't have songs, we sort of took that lead from that type of jazz music, 'ok, we got this riff, let's just take it wherever it will go, and drive it to hell'.  Plus, we'd sit around and listen to Ravi Shankar, and Harry Parch, who actually invented his own instrument and a whole musical scale. Stuff like that, we listened to all kinds of music, 'cause we wanted to do something out of the norm. Especially what The Who were talking about at that time, like 'Happy Jack', and their plans for doing a rock'n'roll opera. We thought that was really cool, because Iggy had played in his high school cover band, and a blues band, and I'd had my high school cover band. We had all really wanted to do something totally different, so we did start out with all those long jams and just a lot of feedback, and coming up with whatever, and slowly developing into those Stooges songs.

Were you a reaction to that peace-and-love hippy vibe that was prevalent at the time?

Well, we never considered ourselves hippies really. At least in our minds, we were really into music, rock'n'roll, and of course hippies, music was part of their lifestyle, but we didn't walk around without shoes, we bathed frequently, we wore stylish clothes, we never considered ourselves hippy. But it was that time when music was the main drug, music WAS the drug.

It took another generation of musicians, like Kurt Cobain, the guys from Pearl Jam and other bands, to say 'We love The Stooges', people like Thurston Moore, Mike Watt, they grew up on The Stooges and would do a couple of tunes in the set. They would say things in the press when they were asked their influences, so it made more people look at it.

Well you must have been a bit of an affront to those Woodstock-type people..

It was really weird, you either loved us or hated us, there wasn't much in between. And we did have a very small hardcore following. Obviously you're aware of this, we were never really critically popular, we didn't sell a lot of records, and it’s only in the last 10 years we've really caught on. But the fun of it was just the shock on people's faces, like 'what just happened, what just happened to me, man? What is that??' I used to have so much fun, watching the crowd when we played, as we developed, just for the things Iggy would do. They'd all just be open-mouthed. He'd go in there and hassle them, he'd get in their face, or he'd kiss them, or whatever, and people would come to the show to see, 'what the hell's gonna happen next'. So it was fun, once again we never really had a huge following, but even people who didn't care for us musically were entertained by it, because they wanted to come to see the crazy stuff that would go on at the show.

Did you have any idea as to how important Stooges would turn out to be, or was it a question of you just reacting to events?

You know, being that young and caught up in the business, really being uninitiated to the music business, to us it was just fun. It was just something we always wanted to do. I remember thinking when I saw all the old bluesmen, BB king and all the old greats, they were just becoming popular and getting recognition, because of all the English bands who acknowledged them as favourites, things they'd learned from them. I always went 'Gee I hope that doesn't happen to me, that I'm going to have to wait to be an old blues man' and now that's exactly what I am, the old punk blues man! They were slugging it out and finally getting a bit of recognition - the whims of showbusiness! I thought 'we're a cool band, everyone thinks we're cool', but, all the problems Iggy went through with drugs and stuff, the band always being...  our progress retarded.

So you're not hacked off at having to wait so long for some acknowledgment?

No, better late than never! Not at all actually, to tell the truth I slugged it out in the trenches with all my other bands, I went back, I was thinking about it the other day - gee after The Stooges I went out and made just a just little bit more playing music than I did in my high school band! We used to make $150-$200 a night man, I was out playing for $250 a night. That's insane!! But I traveled, and I guess the most miraculous thing is I kept at it. Now, people are finding interest in The Stooges and the recognition for what we did. It took another generation of musicians, like Kurt Cobain, the guys from Pearl Jam and other bands, to say 'We love The Stooges'. People like Thurston Moore, Mike Watt, they grew up on The Stooges and would do a couple of tunes in the set. They would say things in the press when they were asked their influences, so it made more people look at it.

I wasn’t a square, but I never really went for being out of control, I'd rather read and study, I loved world history, and of course many people know I used to collect Third Reich regalia. And it's not that I was a Nazi; maybe that was my shock thing, to wear that stuff!

The debauchery that surrounded The Stooges has become a bit of a legend, were you as bad as the others or did you hold back a bit more?

Oh yeah, I never got involved in any kind of heavy drugs. I wasn’t a square, but I never really went for being out of control, I'd rather read and study, I loved world history, and of course many people know I used to collect Third Reich regalia. And it's not that I was a Nazi; maybe that was my shock thing, to wear that stuff.

So your wearing that Nazi gear was part of the confrontation tactics?

Oh yeah, I had things thrown at me. Or Jewish bands crying, 'We love The Stooges man, why are you always...' - it's for shock value, man! It's a costume! Probably the worst scenario was we played in New York, new year's eve, it was with Blue Oyster Cult and us, opening up with Kiss. And a Jewish friend calls up, goes 'I just saved your ass. I found out the Jewish Defence League was coming down there, they were gonna drag you offstage somehow, and beat the shit out of you tonight. I donated a couple of hundred bucks in your name, you owe it to me'. I went 'Ohhh fuck!!!' So he explained away, luckily, it was Danny Sugarman, whose uncle was Bert Sugarman, the powerful Midnight Special TV executive, he saved my butt. Other than that, bikers wanting my medals. 'Give me that!! Give it to me, I'll kill you!!'

Did you ever get any insight into what Iggy's problem was, with the self-mutilation and everything, what was behind that?

Well, just, probably for him. I think mostly he was so fucked up on drugs, and so mentally and physically exhausted, of trying to 'top' himself, I mean it's hard to be Iggy every night. And I think he started feeling 'My god, five nights, so many people', he kept trying to 'top' himself and he'd hurt himself accidentally. That show at Max's Kansas City, in New York, where a glass got broken, and he did pick up that beer glass, and I don't think he realised he was cut as deeply as he was, and that was just out of, 'what do they expect next from me now? What, do you want me to bleed??' So he did it. Because it's hard to try to 'top' yourself. I think a lot of people might have been actually turned off by it because it was like 'What did you do to yourself?!?'  After the show, we went to Alice Cooper's apartment, and I went 'Let me check this out', and  Alice Cooper was 'We gotta have a look at this, you need stitches'. It was like two or three in the morning he called a doctor and the doctor actually gave him stitches. Four or five cuts that needed stitches, and after that I think he learned the fine art, just to do enough, but by then we were just about finished, I think him getting into that was getting near the end of the Stooges.

They were great times when you look back, and even the worst times, you chuckle, look back on it and laugh at some of the times 'Yeah, remember the time Iggy took 75 valiums and missed three airplanes??' things like that, you know!

How did you feel about The Stooges ending, was it a relief by that point?

Believe it or not it was, the only weird thing was, it ended up in Detroit, with no money and no plane ticket home, and I lived in LA. My apartment was there, my cat was there, and I thought 'Oh no, I've got no money and no ticket to get home, and the band's broken up', it got to be such a drag to continually - we were on the road, non-stop, all the time, it was so bad that it got the point where you were just happy after the show, you didn't want to party or anything, you'd be satisfied with finding a dark corner in the Holiday Inn bar, or having a pint of gin or something in your room and just watch tv, just being so burned out from the road, not caring about picking up a different girl in every city. It got weird, and actually it was finally like putting an animal to sleep that you loved. It didnt just die - well, it actually died of natural causes now I think of it. Like all of us, there was no talk of it, I just got a phone call from Iggy, 'I can't do it anymore', 'Of course, yeah, great for you, you're in Arkansas. I'm in fucking Detroit!' So yeah, I was actually relieved. And then of course, they were great times when you look back, and even the worst times, you chuckle, look back on it and laugh at some of the times 'Yeah, remember the time Iggy took 75 valiums and missed three airplanes??' things like that, you know!

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