Tuesday, January 6, 2009

R.I.P. Ron Asheton

The Ramones are always labeled as the band that "started punk rock", even though The Stooges did it better a full decade earlier. They were a band before their time. Much like many people now revere Jimi Hendrix only for his wild showmanship, the band is often dismissed as overly tight jeans and smeared peanut butter. But give Fun House a spin today and you'll find that it's an album as fiery and inventive as anything you have in your collection. The Stooges set the table for every punk rock innovation and achievement that would follow. I refuse to list every punk rock band in the history of the world, but that's really the impact we're talking about here. Everything from The New York Dolls to The Sex Pistols to Built to Spill to Rage Against the Machine.

Surely there are people that would dismiss Ron Asheton as someone who was just in the right place at the right time, lucky enough to get hooked up with an entertainer like Iggy Pop. But such thinking is ignorant of the band's impact, let alone its music. When I saw them play at Lollapalooza, of course I couldn't help but focus on Iggy's manic exhortations. But I was also blown away by Asheton's chops, calling him "lightning" and nearly having to step back as his rumbling guitar rattled the high rises lining Grant Park.

Asheton passed away in his Ann Arbor home this week at the age of 60. This was shocking news, to be sure. Not that Asheton seemed the picture of health by any means, but pretty much everyone figured some more touring and maybe another album could be in the works. I find myself disappointed that I won't get to see them again, but more just sad that the man's not with us anymore. With Asheton's death, so goes the band. Iggy Pop can still play, and may even bring Ron's brother Scott as his touring drummer, but The Stooges are no more. They will be missed, even by those who have never heard of them.

Sometimes great bands get another chance. And even more rarely, they get the recognition they deserve. I'm not sure that The Stooges will ever obtain their due credit, but they did manage a victory lap. It was a real cool time.

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