On April 19, Iggy & the Stooges will play a benefit in Ann Arbor for late and loved guitarist Ron Asheton, who died in January 2009 at his Ann Arbor home. The reference to the band as "Iggy & the Stooges" is to differentiate from "The Stooges," a band with a sound defined as much by Ron's distinctive guitar style as by the rock star incarnate Iggy Pop. With James Williamson back on guitar (and Mike Watt continuing on bass and therefore filling the shoes of both Ron Asheton and Dave Alexander), the surviving members of the Raw Power lineup of the band are together.
The benefit promises to be a special occasion: It's the first time that Iggy & the Stooges played the area since the infamous Metallic KO show, but the fact it's a benefit for Ron Asheton in the city that Ronnie loved enough to never leave raises poignancy levels to the sky. It'll be emotional for everyone, sure, though spare a thought for Ron's brother, Stooges drummer Scott Asheton, a man of few words who will speak through his kit on the night.
Iggy Pop rarely struggles for something to say. It's been said many times, but he's charming, incredibly funny, razor-sharp, and blunt. He's playing this benefit, organized by Ron and Scott's sister Kathy Asheton, because it's the right thing to do. He admits that the evening has taken on extra significance, but he's not afraid to also say that it's just a gig. He freely admits that his relationship with Ron was, at times, strained, but he says it with resigned affection, like he's talking about an annoying brother.
One thing's certain. When the Stooges hit the stage, Ronnie won't be visible but his spirit will absolutely be there.
Metro Times: You're bringing the Stooges home, but under the circumstances it must feel a little strange. How did you set about planning the benefit?
Iggy Pop: With benefits like this that I've been involved with in the past, I've been embarrassed by the low level of entertainment value. It's always for the same reason. They become an excuse for a general pile-on. It becomes indulgent for all the musicians involved who have a great party backstage, but the audience dies a death because there are interminable set changes and half the equipment doesn't work. Everybody's got different techs. It goes on and on and on, and you get one guest who you want, and then three want to play that you can't say no to. We just went around that whole thing. This is more about the Stooges, and then some stage associates that we've chosen.
MT: Justly, Ronnie will be the night's focus. But are you excited to be bringing James Williamson back to a home crowd?
Pop: Yes, obviously. You're quite right, it's in Ron's memory but it is a gig. It's just one that we're not taking any money for. That's all. The tickets sold out in an hour or two. That was a surprise. I thought it might just be people who remember me as a kid, when I ran my car into their front yard. That's cool. I am excited. I'm looking forward to playing in that particular venue. It's the kind of venue I love, where there's a low stage, there's no silly crowd barricades (unless Live Nation have changed that in their wisdom). I saw Jack White there in one of his incarnations a few years ago, and it's just you and the peeps. That's really good. I'm still trying to figure it all out. I'm going to be singing with the Stooges, and then I'm going to be singing a couple of numbers with some Stooges and also Deniz Tek from Radio Birdman on guitar. Those songs will probably also be with an orchestra. There are going to be several orchestral elements to this thing, including a kind of symphonically slanted overture based on Ron's works. This was always my idea, but there won't be too much of it because one of the virtues of Stooge music is that we don't make too much of it.
Also, I know that people, myself included, expect us to do what we do, which is to kick in doors. Having said that, I felt more and more as time went on that Ron's big pieces — the riffs from "I Wanna Be Your Dog," "No Fun" and "TV Eye" in particular, those themes are getting around the culture. I wanted to have a little fun expounding those. Those are some of the songs that he put his particularly beautiful touch on.
Just by serendipity, a guy has been reaching out to me by post from a teen center in Ann Arbor called the Neutral Zone. He's been sending me letters to the effect of "What can you do with us or for us?" He mentioned that they have a music program and I saw pictures of kids playing in their music space. I'd been to Ann Arbor a few years ago to rehearse with the guys and I realized that it had grown exponentially since I was there. It had changed a little bit and there was more of the typical American troubled kid thing than had existed before — I was the first [laughs]. The Stooges were the first four troubled youths in the Ann Arbor area, or the first to open our mouths about it. I thought it'd be kind of cool to get them to throw a band together. The guy offered to put together a band with some of the people in their music program. It's going to be the teen openers, and if they haven't got anybody who can sing decently, I may have to sing with them too. Hopefully, there's some little savage there who can totally rip it up, in which case I can stick to my own bit.
So we're doing that. I may do a couple of acoustic numbers, just James and I. There's one we wrote, which is kind of a requiem to Ron. That was something James sent me shortly after Ron passed away. We screwed around with it a little and I wrote words for it. There's also a song called "No Sense of Crime" that we occasionally do acoustic, off of Kill City. It sort of relates to certain things. Those are things that we may do.
The main thing we're gonna do is that we'll play: me, Watt, James, Rock and Steve, and we'll play what we do — songs from Raw Power, Fun House and The Stooges.
MT: Was the decision to play in Ann Arbor rather than Detroit deliberate?
Pop: It was deliberate only in the way that it developed. It came from Kathy Asheton, who was one of three siblings with whom I grew pretty close at a certain time. She is behind this, and she was just the Asheton that didn't play. At the time it was like, "You can't play — you're a chick." If we were starting the group now, I probably would never have sang. We probably would have recruited her. Basically, she was one of the gang, although we weren't spending as much time with her. We go back. It was her idea to do this, and she kept at it and kept at it. It was her idea to do it in Ann Arbor. I raised my eyebrows but the more I thought about it the more sense it made. I wouldn't say it was deliberate to keep it out of Detroit and it wasn't my idea, it was Kathy's. As it developed, it made more sense to do it in Ann Arbor. I didn't see any sense in thrusting it into the city of Detroit or the suburbs. Where are you gonna do it? Bloomfield Hills? [laughs] I'd have all these mid-level tech executives in Bloomfield Hills high-fiving me. I get that a lot from the tech executives. "IGGY — HIGH FIVE!" That's fine. Right on, techy.
No, I thought that was a cool idea. All the seats are sold out so it must have worked out.
MT: It will obviously be an emotional occasion. Is it still weird playing without Ronnie?
Pop: It's weird for Scott, mostly on the songs Ron played. It'll noticeably point itself out on that particular night, but most nights we just get on with it. I do notice that James does a real good job with the numbers that Ron played on. There's nobody else in the world who could do them justice like he does. They all go back. He and Ron went through the Chosen Few, which was the high school band of Scott Richardson from the SRC. James was another troubled youth that I worked with. I was the only one that bothered to go through high school and all of that. I always was very aware that this is a different guy playing the songs when he does those numbers. He does them as himself without injecting himself into them. I love his playing. So, no, it's not weird. But I imagine that the presence will be strong on that particular evening.
MT: People here are excited to see you with James again, but Ronnie was so beloved in Detroit and Ann Arbor; he'll never be forgotten.
Pop: Ron was a person of great charm and wit. He was a very, very funny guy and a very charming guy, and I just don't know anyone who didn't love him. Having said that, he drove me fucking nuts. It was mutual. He'd be like "Oh fuck, not Pop again. I'm not going to pick up [the phone]." That's different. We had a lot of feelings for each other. But he was one of those people. Some people say "gentle giant." I saw that somewhere and it's not far off.
MT: What would he have made of all this fuss?
Pop: Oh, Jesus, I don't know. That's a tough one. If you ask me if I'd want this, I'd say no. God, no, please let me be allowed to pass away in private. The Stooges subdivision, the subdivision that the whole band came from except me, it was a planned community including and immediately adjacent to its own cemetery. The cemetery abuts onto the house where Ron was living, and was found on the night of his death. I'm sure that's where Dave [Alexander] is and that's where Ron is. As far as what would he have thought, I think I covered it at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If he was looking down, I think he'd be throwing lit cigarettes down on us all, and making sly comments to Dave while they watch TV in heaven and have another beer. I don't know if it's any different for this one. He was a huge, huge lover of the state of Michigan. Fiercely pro-Michigan. Very pro-Ann Arbor and pro his subdivision. So I think he'd feel this was right on. Put it that way.
MT: Talking of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Alice Cooper got in ...
Pop: I think he is a good choice. I remember more the Alice Cooper Group. They trod great ground and then Alice went on to have great success. He's shown everybody that he's one hell of a pro, and a gentleman. He's kept it up and kept it alive, and he deserves a lot of credit for that.
MT: You've chosen Henry Rollins to emcee the benefit ...
Pop: Ron got a big kick out of Henry. He liked Henry very much, and there was a group of people that were supportive of Ron's career at a key time, that culminated in the band reuniting. That was Thurston Moore [Sonic Youth], Henry, Mike Watt and J Mascis [Dinosaur Jr]. Henry's always been a champ, he's always been accessible ... There's nobody quite like him. Since there's more than just a straight-band show to this, I wanted to bring in a talented, smooth pro to run the thing along. I've talked to him briefly, but he can tell jokes, and do what he does. Also, he does a skit about doing gigs with me and trying to blow me down. I always thought that was pretty funny, so he's going to front the Stooges for one song. I think that's cool because he's always liked the band. That's that. If there are things to be articulated, and of course there are, he has a lot of wisdom in that direction. Plus, he volunteered. He's free.
MT: So can you remember the last time you played Detroit or Ann Arbor with James in the band?
Pop: That would have been the Michigan Palace. The infamous Metallic KO gig.
MT: I imagine this one will be less eventful ...
Pop: [laughs]. You never know. We'll see what we can do.
Iggy & the Stooges play a sold-out show on Tuesday, April 19, at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-668-8397.