Perfect Sound Forever

Ron Asheton- Stooges interview

Dark Carnival

by Jason Gross

PSF: What about the recent Raw Power re-issue? What did you think of that?

Don Fleming said to me "When you heard that remix that they did, you're gonna say that you love that original David Bowie mix of Raw Power!" When I finally hear it, I call up Don and say "I really love that original David Bowie mix of Raw Power!" It's the gospel truth. All Iggy did was take the smoothness off James' guitar and made it sound jerky and horrible. He put EVERY FUCKING MOAN AND GROAN AND WORD he said back in the tracks and that's his mix. I went "HUH? Oh, man..."

Other people were saying "If they could only remix that record." Now, when they all hear it, they say the same thing. "I really love that original David Bowie mix of Raw Power!" I swear to God it's true.

PSF: What did you think of the songs there?

I always loved "Search and Destroy" and "Penetration." Iggy took out some of my "baby, baby" vocals on his mix, which I was pissed off 'cause I did all the high things. I learned to hate those songs so incredibly much. I had to play them over and over after we got dropped by Main Man. There was a couple of other songs like "Head On" and "Joanna." We played those goddamn songs over and over so many times that when I hear them, it almost makes me physically ill. "Gimme Danger," they wanted us to do it for Velvet Goldmine. That was one thing Todd requested and I said no way. "You gotta play it!" I refused. I told Don and Thurston they could play it. They said that if I wasn't going to play, they weren't either. Everyone copped my attitude so they hired some other guys to come in and do that for the movie.

If you play that song a million times when you're whole world is falling apart and crumbing around you... To me, I didn't write that song and I'm not playing it. It just brings back HORRIBLE memories. So, they go these other guys to do but the Rats stuck with me. So Fleming goes "I'll play it so bad that they won't want to put it in the movie." But Todd wanted it so they had to hire someone else.

PSF: You were talking about things falling apart after Raw Power. What happened?

After the whole Main Man trip, we were living in luxury. Once they got David Bowie flying, the whole idea was that he was supposed to make Iggy a STAR. Once they made Bowie a star, it kind of kicked Iggy out of the picture. They actually used some of Iggy's money to break David and they got busted for it- you can't use Columbia money to break an RCA artist. Once Bowie had really broken, they just dumped Iggy.

It was the exact opposite Hollywood story. At the top of San Fernando Valley, with a swimming pool full of naked girls, a Cadillac car and total luxury- even then, we did rehearse the same thing every FUCKING night, six hours a day. From that, we went down to the Rivera Hotel for 75 bucks a week with the drunken women at the desk trying to fuck me every night. From that whole fall back, to going back on the road, getting different managers, all we did was play. There was no time to do laundry so I would just stay in my costume up in the corner every night. The clothes stunk so back, you had to put them on hangers and everyone's moral is just totally gone. It was just terrible.

Then Iggy went through the same thing. He got into drugs again, this time downers, and he totally exhausted himself. He had to stop. We played that last show in Detroit at the Michigan Palace which became Metallic K.O.I was waiting to get back to my apartment and I had no money. So Iggy just says "I can't take it, I quit." I'm wondering how I'm supposed to get home 'cause we have a bunch of jobs. He just says "I dunno, I'll see you later." SHIT. I had to hang out for a month to beg for money to pick up the pieces again.

So that's just that whole time. It was fun being in England and it was a good experience. It's totally understandable that they would want Iggy but to see the progression of show business... We were a band, a group of four guys, always playing together. Then one person because he's the front person is taken on a possible trip to stardom. Guys who were just as much a part of making the sound or writing the tunes were treated like shit. You hear the same thing from Michael Bruce of Alice Cooper. It's not an exclusive story. It's the front guys who get a chance to run away with the shit. Iggy's taken himself many falls, up and down, and he's still doing his thing. I congratulate and commend him but I feel sad that he doesn't think that much of me and my brother. He's taken every opportunity to say something back about us. Putting on the remix of Raw Power, "The Asheton brothers? Ha, ha, ha. They couldn't put a home aquarium together." "Thanks a lot, pal!"

He gets it though. Because EVERY SINGLE STOOGES FAN I KNOW, and I know plenty of them, they like us too and they're disappointed in Iggy. So he's getting his own weird little backlash.

PSF: After all was said and done, outside of Iggy's onstage persona, how did you see him behind all of that?

Well, in high school, he was a popular guy. He was a cashmere sweater dude. An influence on him was Dave Alexander, who was with a group of hoodlums. I think he was fascinated by their attitude. They actually had run-in's with the police in their teens. They were pretty advanced in their values by the time I hooked him up with them. He was always a good guy and we always had a lot of fun together. But I think after the strain of drugs, the road and especially people telling him, like in the industry "Hey, YOU'RE the star so why don't you dump those guys and put a real band together?", he bought into Iggy. Iggy was his persona. He always Jim and he just became Iggy and then he didn't care about us anymore. We weren't even his friends. To me, that was bad. I guess that's not terribly unusual in show business. When people tell you so much that you're great and this is shit, then even you might believe it sometimes.

I'm still sad because I still remember all the good times we had. I don't hold bad feelings about him but he just seems to want to say bad things about... especially me. I don't understand because I've never said any bad things about him in the press. I've told the truth. I've never slagged him and where credit's due, I've always given him credit. I don't know. I don't quite understand. I know it agitates him to hear "STOOGES" and people still want the Stooges stuff. I know that when he comes to Detroit, kids are still saying "ASHETONS!" and I'm sure that pisses him off.

He's done well for himself because people love the Stooges. Just recently, someone saw him and told me "God, his guitarists are terrible and almost his whole set is Stooges stuff." His new records haven't really done that well. There were a couple of good records- the first two when he was on his own (Lust For Life and The Idiot). I thought then, he was on a good track. And then all of a sudden, he went "huh?" I mean, at least he's keeping on. (But) he's got a bad attitude about his bands, like when he gets a player who gets some recognition. He wants everyone, all the musicians to be invisible and him to just take all the glory.

PSF: So you don't really like his solo work after those first two records?

No, I don't. I don't listen to it. I don't even bother anymore. Sometimes a writer will say to me "You know, I love the Stooges but this is crap and I'm going to have to say something bad about it. I have nothing good to say. Could you listen to it and see what you think?" I do and I'll say "Let your heart be your guide." For some people, it's really hard for them to do that 'cause they love the Stooges and they know what Iggy was capable of or might still be.

Now, we don't really communicate. I wish him well and I say "Keep on hangin' in there, dude." He's got a place and he seems to have management and a good machine. He's playing right now with Mark Arm (Mudhoney). He's always on the road, always flying.

PSF: So you haven't been in a contact with him for a while?

No. The last time I talked to him, ironically, I was gone and there were messages for me while I was camping out in the woods. My mother says "There's a call from this guy named Iggy but he didn't sound like Iggy!" He calls and says "OH, IS THIS RON'S MOTHER?" He loves to lord that over me. Then there was a message and I listened to it and it didn't sound like him. I called his number in New York and heard his phone message and it WAS Jim. This was last April (1997).

About 1AM, I get a call from him. He was just at a party at the Sony studios for the release of the Raw Power remix. He just wanted to find out "What's with this Velvet Goldmine movie?" We had kind of a nice little chat. But unbeknownst to me, he slagged me big time in the liner notes. I mean, why even say that? That sort of backlashed on him because everyone who bought it were mad at him that he would say something bad about me and my brother. "Why did he say that? It makes him look really bad."

So we talked and he was gonna catch a flight to visit his father in Mertle Beach. So we had a nice chat and that was the last I heard of him. Then his manager sent me an early copy of the Raw Power remix and I went "Ah, fuck." Then I got the real one in the mail. I didn't even open it. So then our drummer in Dark Carnival bought it and called me. "Are you sittin' down? Something bad happened. Lemme read you something." When I heard it, I couldn't believe it. I ripped open my own copy and read it, thinking "Oh, thanks a lot! THANKS JIM!" Whatever. He's doing well. He's got a right to do what he's doing.

PSF: So you don't think a reunion is possible?

Well, he had called me up two years ago and said "Well, I know your brother's been trying to get a reunion together and I really don't wanna do it. I don't like the idea of bringing back the old stuff. But Rick Rubin called me and asked if I wanted to make a record with the original guys. I don't think that's such a bad idea, I think we can do this." That was October so it's been three years now since he said that. So I told him that I could do it that year. He said "Oh no, this year's filled up, maybe next year." Then he never called back and he never brought it up again.

My feeling is that it'll never happen because he doesn't want it to happen. I do understand. I wouldn't be opposed to doing it. But it would kind of usurp what he's doing now. People might be able to see us and my brother and I would be recognized and applauded, with the accolades not going to him. That's not what he wants. I don't think he wants any limelight taken away from him. To tell you the truth, IT AIN'T GONNA HAPPEN. I just know it's never gonna happen. I might be wrong but I don't think Jim's gonna wanna do it. I mean, we've had offers to go and play and it's been decent money but he's always turned it down. They always go through him first because they don't know where I am and he's accessible.

But I don't think it'll happen. I know my brother's very disappointed because my brother worked to do a 20-year reunion. Maybe when we're 70. "Here they are, ladies and gentlemen!" And he's busy and he's going to pursue his own career. He fancies himself an actor, getting little parts in movies and TV shows. He's pretty much self-focused and self-centered. That's OK 'cause that's his career and that's what he wants to do. He doesn't want to share anything. That's why he has five men in his band. Do you know their names? Do you ever see their names in a magazine? He likes it like that. There's nothing wrong with that at all though. It might suffer because for him, he can't have players that are going to be a foundation for some legitimate music that he's capable of doing.

PSF: What did you think of the way that the punk movement picked up on what the Stooges had done?

For me, it's business as usual. Ahead of my time, bad timing. Wrong place at the wrong time. Never a groom, always a best man.

What did happen was that I still was playing. I had New Order (ED NOTE: not the post-Joy Division band) out in L.A. in '75. That fell apart 'cause they weren't into that hard-rock, Stooges type of stuff. I came back here (Detroit) and joined Destroy All Monsters and turned it into an actual playing band instead of clowns and noise-people. I basically fired everybody except for Niagra. We kept rockin' on but it was the same thing. We started kinda late and missed the boat. We didn't really have access to the bigger cities. We were a little ignorant and didn't have money to make demo tapes. Now, all of a sudden, they're discovering Destroy All Monsters. It's like the world's always playing catch-up.

PSF: What did you think of the punk bands at that time?

I liked some of the stuff, like the Damned. I said "Hey, I found a niche." But it kinda blew out quickly. Once again, because we didn't have the machinery to get a manager and get in a position of being a contender for a musical contract or getting our names known, that meant we were stuck. But we always played.

PSF: Did you hear a lot of the Stooges in punk?

Oh yeah. Then, it was even harder that some of the people who came from that and other bands from later like Pearl Jam would say "My favorite guitar player is Ron Asheton." The guy's maybe ten years younger than me. So he's a millionaire and I've got 100 dollars in the bank. So, it's great for the recognition but damn, I mean, I play better in the same style. I PLAY BETTER THAN YOU, MAN! But I didn't have the opportunities.

Back in the days when I found the blues, back in the Prime Movers days, you listen to this GREAT music. Then along comes the Claptons and those guys starting to talk about these great blues artists. I was going "Man, I feel sorry for those guys. They're old men and now, something's just starting to happen for them. They're being discovered." So, not that I'm MUCH older than Thurston Moore and those guys, I'm thinking "I guess I'm the new nigger. Now, I know who those poor old black dudes felt. Now, you guys are helpin' this ol' black man." So that's my joke when I see these guys in the Wild Rats. I say to them "THE NEGRO HAS LANDED."

But I understand that now. I felt sorry as a young person about this GREAT talent that the world doesn't know about and those people helped bring them up. Now, it's all documented and they got to make some money, after playing for YEARS. Now, I kind of feel like I'm in the same boat.

PSF: So do you feel vindicated then?

Yeah, I really do. I thank Todd Haynes for liking the Stooges and wanting them to be part of his little vision. It's a very good movie and I think people are going to be surprised. It does have homosexual overtones, it's totally not offensive for me. I don't care if you're gay, you can be anything you want as long as you don't hurt anybody else. But that movie's great and he's helped me along. So has Thurston Moore, Mike Watt and Mark Arm who have all said great things about me in the press. They're not that much younger than me but they've got a board in that grunge and post-punk kind of thing. But those guys are in their forties.

But I'll start feeling a whole lot better when the checks start rollin' in! Things have always been good. It's been a struggle but I think I've finally turned a corner. That's why I went into motion pictures. I wanted to be an actor before I wanted to be a musician. Now, I've had the opportunity.

As a matter of fact, if you look in the TV Guide today, I'm in there because they showed Mosquito on USA (Network). I got second bill in there. I was watching the Space Shuttle launch and I was flippin' around and "Wow, I'm on TV!" That's why I jumped into my first love. So I'm going "Oh great, now I've chosen something even harder."

We're plugging along though so things are good. I think this year's going to be a good year for music. We've got some scripts in the pipeline and there's a good chance that we'll get a 30 million dollar picture made. I didn't write it but I think I'll get a part in it. My partner is producing it. I'd like to also get into doing that character acting, like being THE CRAZY DOCTOR, THE SERIAL KILLER, THE INSANE PROFESSOR, THE NEO-NAZI PEDOPHILE. Any time of weird part, I just love to do. Acting's always fun and I always enjoy the shit out of acting.

PSF: It's a nasty business. Real dog-eat-dog.

My problem is that I'm kind of a purist. It's for the art but I've learned that I have to participate in the business. I can't get any money otherwise. You gotta have something, you always gotta keep your dick in reality. That's been my big problem, to get in the trenches and get on the phone and do the bullshit. I hate dealing with those people. But getting back in and being in New York, it's nice being in a good hotel rather than being in the Econo-Lodge in Jersey with pubic hairs in the bed. But to see how the machine runs, those guys are constantly hustling on the phone. That's not me. That's why every weekend for the last nine week, I drive three hours out to my trailer in the woods and listen to music and sit by the fire, feed the animals. That's what I really like.

I mostly watch films 'cause I'm a film maker. I tell my girlfriend "Dear, you don't understand, I'm looking at it a whole different way. You go back and you see things and how you do things." Or you think "I would have done that scene differently." I'm not gonna ever give up music but I'm working really hard on films. I've got four completed scripts and I've got five other things that I've already started writing. To sit down and come up with a story and characters, I just love it. So that's cool, things be happenin'.

After sending out millions of tapes and letters, it was only in 1993 when I did the Mosquito picture, I did the credit-roll song at the end. I just said fuck it and I just concentrated on the movie stuff and I decided to see where that goes. "REALLY SMART IDEA- YOU ISOLATED YOURSELF EVEN MORE." So after about a couple of years and nine pictures, I saw that it was fun and it was tough but I knew I had to get back to what I was supposed to do, which was to play music. I'm doing the two things I love the most- music and motion pictures.

See some of Ron Asheton's favorite music

Plus... also see our Stooges feature and our story on Funhouse producer Don Gallucci

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER