Death of a Stooge (Ron Asheton, 1948-2009)January 7, 2009
“In many ways Ron was the heart of The Stooges, and The Stooges were the creators of punk rock. If you don’t understand Ron, you don’t understand The Stooges, and if you don’t understand The Stooges, you don’t understand punk rock.” – Paul Trynka, author of the 2007 biography Iggy Pop: Open Up and Bleed
In the early 1970s in Los Angeles, when his doomed, addiction-addled band was lurching the last tortured miles of its perversely majestic self-destruction, Ron Asheton met Chris Lamont, granddaughter of Larry Fine. Lamont introduced Stooge to Stooge at Fine’s cramped room in the Motion Picture Rest Home. Asheton told the story in the great oral history Please Kill Me, which I perused for Ron Asheton passages last night over a couple stiff drinks after hearing that Asheton was just found dead at his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
He had had a few strokes, and when I first met him, I could hardly understand a thing he said, but I wanted to keep going back, and Chris didn’t want to go back as much as me, so I finally called him up and said, “Hey, Larry, can I come by?”Larry said, “Oh, yeah.”
I used to go and sit with him all afternoon, swap tales. He let me smoke cigarettes and he’s going, “Oh, that smells good, man. I wish I could have a cigarette . . .”
He told me all the Stooges stories—Moe was the business guy, and Curly was the party guy—all the great Stooges stories. And I did all this fan mail—I licked and addressed the envelopes. He had a form letter. He’d sign them and I’d send them out. I paid for the postage with my own money. I helped him decorate his place, which is cinder block walls painted white. The kids would send him so much mail. I’d say, “Well, let’s see what we got here, man.” The kids would draw Three Stooges stuff, so we plastered the walls with all the drawings the kids sent him. It was great.
I wound up talking to him so much that his speech improved, but I didn’t really notice it because I’d been with him so much. One time I was leaving, and the doctor comes up to me and goes, “Oh, I’ve really got to thank you, you’ve so improved Larry’s speech. He’s so much better. I’d really like to thank you for spending time with him.” (p. 441)
That passage was the first in Please Kill Me that I revisited last night, because I’ve always found it funny and touching, especially considering that while Ron Asheton was pulling Larry Fine back into the land of the living his bandmates were gazing with stony apathy at their drug-addled leader Iggy as he dabbled in his mostly involuntary hobby of nodding off face down in a swimming pool. As I worked my way backwards through the Ron Asheton passages in the book, I noticed that Asheton had a habit of positioning himself at the edge of chaotic situations, and of pulling something valuable and alive from the chaos.
I’d been to New York with Iggy a few times before we went to record the first album. The first time we went, before we got signed to Elektra, was when Iggy took STP for the first time. He didn’t know it was a three-day trip, so guess who got to watch him? Me.I tied a rope around his waist and led him around town. Iggy kept saying, “Wow, I can see through buildings, man.”
Iggy kept having to get up and do stuff and I said, “Oh, man, I’m tired.” So when I wanted to go to sleep, I tied the rope around his waist to my wrist, so every time he moved he would wake me up.
That was our first trip to New York. When we showed up to do the record, Jac Holzman had asked me, “You guys got enough material to do an album, right?””
We said, “Oh, sure.”
We only had three songs. So I went back to the hotel and in an hour came up with the riffs for “Little Doll,” “Not Right,” and “Real Cool Time.” (p. 54)
Iggy has always gotten a lot of the credit for the Stooges, as he should, but as the above passage suggests, without Ron Asheton Iggy might have been just another unleashed madman wandering aimlessly through the night with pupils the size of nickels. In the passage below, describing a moment from before the Stooges ever existed, when Asheton and future Stooges bassist Dave Alexander took a trip to to England, reveals that Asheton may have been the first Stooge to get a vision of the uncharted territory the band would one day explore.
We went to see the Who at the Cavern. It was wall to fucking wall of people. We muscled through to about ten feet from the stage, and Townshend started smashing his twelve-string Rickenbacker.It was my first experience of total pandemonium. It was like a dog pile of people, just trying to grab Townshend’s guitar, and people were scrambling to dive onstage and he’d swing the guitar at their heads. The audience wasn’t cheering; it was more like animal noises, howling. The whole room turned really primitive—like a pack of starving animals that hadn’t eaten in a week and somebody throws out a piece of meat. I was afraid. For me, it wasn’t fun, but it was mesmerizing. It was like, “The plane’s burning, the ship’s sinking, so let’s crush each other.” Never had I seen people driven so nuts—that music could drive people to such dangerous extremes.
That’s when I realized, This is definitely what I wanna do. (p. 34)
You’re lucky if you hear the life you’re supposed to be leading calling to you, even luckier if you’ve got the courage to follow that call. Ron Asheton heard and followed all the way until the end, as evidenced by this recent clip of the reunited Stooges. Asheton’s the guy using a guitar to light a fire…