Saturday, December 19, 2015


 •originally published in Paraphilia Magazine, 8.25.11

TRIBUTE TO RON ASHETON WITH IGGY AND THE STOOGES, ANN ARBOR MI 4.19.11: Open Up and Blood, Sweat, Tears and 'Fanecdotes' 

by Heather Harris
all photography © 2011 Heather Harris

 FAQS: April 19, 2011, Ann Arbor, MI, Tribute to Ron Asheton with Iggy and The Stooges and friends Deniz Tek, Henry Rollins MC-ing and hilariously monologuing, young band The Space Age Toasters who opened with Stooge covers, and a small symphonic orchestra that backed the Deniz Tek on guitar portion of Stooge songs after the actual band's set.  The Michigan Theatre, sold out venue capacity: 1,700 rapid all-ages, mobbing, throbbing fans.  The band: co-founders Iggy Pop vocals/subversion + Scott "Rock Action" Asheton drums, James Williamson ("Raw Power" and "Kill City" releases co-writer) on guitar, Mike Watt (the Minutemen, Hypenated-Men, fireHOSE, Hellride, the Secondmen and at least four other bands) bass, Steve MacKay ("Funhouse") saxophone.  Organizer: Kathy Asheton with all proceeds benefiting the Ron Asheton Foundation, ( its mission to fund veterinary care for needy animals, subsidize public school music education plus promote animal welfare and assist all aspiring young musicians. (You see where the young band and orchestra fit in now.) Cinematic documentation: famed American auteur director Jim Jarmusch. Bizarre factoid:  a sturdily built male security guard passed out from the massive body heat of the animated crowd (despite it snowing outside some 24 hours earlier) and had to be revived with ice. Not exaggerated apocrypha at all: he was treated right next to your humble Paraphilia photojournalist.

    More than any prior performance of the reunited after 3 and a 3/4 decades Iggy and The Stooges, this gig celebrated fans as much as musical panegyrics to the beloved, late founding guitarist of The Stooges. You'll meet some of them in a moment.  Both jet-setting Stooge enthusiasts and the locals alike scored an up close and personal concert in this deluxe oldskool, gilded movie palace ("Welcome home Iggy and The Stooges!" spangled on the theatre's marquee.)  These Stooges, hometown once-underdogs-now-Rock and Roll Hall of Famers normally entertain rather larger capacity audiences, usually festivals of 10K to 40,000 strong.

    "This is one of the best photos of Iggy today...very cool and sexy~" "Classic Iggy in-the-crowd shots, like those pictures in Surfing Magazine that they take inside the curl" "This is the baddest Iggy has looked in years!" (Facebook music enthusiasts admiring the few photographs I'd leaked of the gig.) And why not? (not the compliments to me, the ones to the singer.)  For festival band gigs, Iggy Pop rarely encounters neither Stooges purists en masse nor unbarricaded crowd adulation within which to foist his famous contortionist, still shirtless, utterly feral, fearless and buff at 64, mega-physicality. The ritual crowd stage invasion (despised by security everywhere) usually has to suffice in place of his wildly extreme audience interactions of yore. The payoff at this intimate gig was his prolonged crowd surfing and his surprising demeanor.  He grinned often and warmly espying his hometown people cheering on one of their own. Another payoff: no matter how familiar the wondrous music to its cogniscenti who've heard all the new shows on myriad formats, they were still are in for surprises galore live.

   You can read about thoroughbred racing, you can study bloodlines and pedigrees, you can think you know it all as a racing fan. But you don't, not until you experience racing in person and actually hear the thundering hooves louder than you ever thought possible and witness the horses even more magnificent in their extreme and sweaty power than you ever imagined. Same with Top Fuel Drag Racing. Or Iggy and The Stooges.

I'm an advocate of all senses firing on all cylinders, and the Ann Arbor show had it all amongst bizarre happenstances you don't get on the aural stuff-- Iggy crawling into the audience to stare at people, lungs heaving and dripping gallons of sweat on all around him (fun olfactory too I'll bet; a report on touch upcoming,) prolonged crowd surfing by him, constant smiles to the crowd of despite the requisite fearsome expressions donned for such hardcore, kickass material, far more band interaction than one might suspect and of course, that selfsame band making all the complicated, breakneck speed music seem... easy. I've also heard new converts espouse this as the best live reunion band around, bar none.  Gasped another FB proclaimer to me, "I actually was SHOCKED at the intensity of this band."

Testimonial from a fan at the Michigan Theatre (abetted by social network addenda through her whimsical correspondence):

 "Mademoiselle Professoressa" teaches one of the more lyrical Liberal Arts at a university level and had to be there. She indeed has been there for most domestic Iggy and The Stooges shows since her revelatory initiation in 2010.  She'd done the heavy lifting of Serious Illness but didn't know the outcome after post-op recovery. Number One on her bucket list was viewing Iggy and The Stooges live, which she immediately accomplished 5/2/10 at the Hammersmith Apollo in London for the band's first set of all "Raw Power" material since 1974, by three of its four original instigators (abetted by Watt and MacKay.) Unexpected bonus #1: with dozens of others she lept onstage in the ritual stage invasion to dance to "Shake Appeal," and managed to paw Iggy (empirical evidence up on YouTube) with the pronouncement that he may look Florida-tanned wrinkly, but his skin is soft. Bonus #2: life imitated art and mimicked the lyrics as it were: raw power had a healing hand.

When she got home, tests proved she was good to go for a very long time. Mlle. Prof explained, "When my surgery and prognosis turned out so well, I kind of wondered how I was going to fill up the next thirty years of life. Now I know. I'll be a Stooges' fan."
"It's a bit strange turning into a fan as an adult. I feel as if I'm growing up in reverse, having spent my teenaged years studying Latin and doing homework, etc. I had no idea it was coming, but I know that Iggy changed my life."

   She wrote "I'm interested in some high-level discussions of what these kinds of performance 'do' for people."
My own take was that it represented high-octane happiness (as opposed to daily low-grade happinesses) insofar as this was by its very nature fleeting, like having sex. She countered "So one gives oneself over to these moments, knowing they cannot last. The madness can't last forever. Your basic Dionysian cult of the Mysteries!" As for a seemingly reserved university professor embracing the fearsome rep of the world's most pro-active, wild band, she notes "I sometimes tell my students that if no one is pissed off at you, you're not doing your job."

Very first month online, I wanted to research what was the adult version of fandom, to better hone the appeal of my own photo-taking and writing, settling on Alan Rickman (pre-Harry Potter) sites to view what grownups wrote about grownup stars without the kiddie spamming. The actor seemed like an intelligent guy who put a lot into his roles and worked continually, fomenting fan discussions anew. I learned about slash and fanfiction from this foray.  Seguing back to the Stooges, Mlle. Prof embodies the best of this adult version, letting something in the arts be a force for good in her own life.
   Ardent advocate of Flarf (distant cousin to the aforementioned outsider literary pursuits within fandom,) Mlle. Prof alone has been elected Stooge For A Day online by Williamson who commanded "Go forth and have no fun." She countered privately, "I'm blown away by James' level of attention to someone he hadn't met, who it doesn't profit him in any way to cultivate, etc.  I'm even more impressed than I was before. He has an inspired and focused work ethic for things he really cares about." 


 It should be noted (as in Dire McCain's extensive 30 pp. interview with him in Paraphilia # 5) that for the next three and a half decades after Iggy and The Stooges swan song, audience-battery implosion onstage in Michigan circa 1974, Williamson had walked away from the idiots in the music business who couldn't fathom his having changed all hard rock genres forever. (All are based upon his at the time, sui generis style of 1,000 mph guitar-playing while retaining both precision and emotion. Fast songs used to be propelled by its drummers alone.) After a university degree he got in on the ground floor of (according to those in the know) the fun 'Wild West' days of total creativity in the beginning of the computer revolution, which must have reminded him of his former passions in music and paralleled same. Raising his own happy family in Silicon Valley, rising to Vice-President of Technology Standards in the Sony Corporation, taking early retirement to rejoin his old band with his first Stooge gig in 38 years to a throng of 40,000 attractive young Brazilians in Sao Paulo, his Stooges finally garnering induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010 after seven previous rejections, and rediscovering the joy of playing guitar as one of its best practitioners ever, all this has given Williamson's life story a happy-ending piquancy of sorts, rare in the annals of rock.  

 It's rarer still when one considers this all sprang from one of rock's most troubled bands ever. Besides its subversive-but-fun, against the grain of everything else going on music that's now labeled "proto-punk," The Stooges, renamed Iggy and The Stooges after James' arrival, were known for utter corporate and managerial indifference, even well-chronicled antipathy to them from same, "drugs like you wouldn't believe" according to one member, a roller coaster ride of misunderstood/dashed hopes versus fanatic critical acclaim, the pioneers getting all the arrows-syndrome, and what photographer/film director Larry Clark called "the usual betrayals in the music industry."

More FAQs: Famed director Jim Jarmusch was on hand with a skeleton production crew to film the proceedings, all part of a planned magnum opus documentary of the entire span of Iggy Pop's 43-year music career inclusive of The Stooges and Iggy and The Stooges, originals and reunions alike. Said crew survived the trench-warfare of an entire show resembling one big moshpit: after the stage invasion of "Shake Appeal" dislodged patrons from their seats, half the theatre stayed pressed against the stage. ("I told you they were all going to mob the stage and stay there" I warned another young security employee, incredulous after seeing a sea of grey-haired fans among the all-ages types do just this.) The set contained great selections from all three Stooges/Iggy and The Stooges' now legendary releases.

Everyone there was thrilled to see cinematic commemoration of this particular gig. Whether for its homeboy frisson or the poignancy of the occasion of band colleagues dealing publicly with Ron Asheton's untimely demise, according to multiple gig-viewers the Ann Arbor show was their very best yet. The band blazed hard and true with guitarist James Williamson particularly white hot, biting his lips while peeling off killer riff after killer riff, occasionally closing his eyes while "in the zone."  Scott "Rock Action" Asheton's drumming defies categorization, embodying The Right Stuff with similar rocket thrust, deceptively simple, always powerful and surprising. I still can't figure out WTF it is he does on his drum intro to "Raw Power." Saxophonist MacKay is also the go-to multi-instrumentalist providing bonus percussion and keyboards inclusive of that one-note essential on "I Wanna Be Your Dog." His saxophone parts are indeed perfect. Mike Watt remains one of the few bassists on the planet who can keep up joyfully and passionately with the quasi-speed-metal of "Shake Appeal" or "I Got A Right" (sung by Rollins to kick-start the headliners' part of the show and provide Iggy with a separate entrance to ecstatic audience acclaim.) 



And yet... the highlight of the show sprang from an odd new instrument in the Stoogean arsenal with the heretofore unheard acoustic ballad "Ron's Tune" which began:
"This is a requiem
For a heavyweight
Though it is a little late.."

   The lyrics were referencing the two year delay of this tribute show, although Scott "Rock Action" Asheton's teen daughter Leanna had staged her own "Jam for Ron Asheton" at Hollywood's Roxy Club in January 2010 upon the one year anniversary of her uncle's passing
. The duet "Ron's Tune" presented a great visual as well as heartfelt aural catharsis, Iggy and James sitting side by side, friends together once again honoring a third, a fallen soldier of rock and roll.  Athletically giving his all and hyperactive throughout the entire night, Iggy was by now wholly sweat-drenched and self-soaked from assorted bottled waters (necessary to prevent a fate similar to that of the security guard's fainting.) James' acoustic work mirrors that of his hard rock style, replete with myriad memorable riffs per song. He strummed his Tony Francis Style 4 Weissenborn (beautiful rope-marquetry wood, classic/classy acoustic Hawaiian lap steel) plectrum-less but with a sliding bar (called a steel hence the monicker) with such dexterity that it sounded like four hands playing in complete harmony. He agreed that " all sounded great. Singer got a little choked up but what the hell."

"...You were my friend in the end..." concluded the ballad.   

Another testimonial from a fan at the Michigan Theatre:

   "E.R. Joe" works the difficult and ultra-demanding metier of Physicians' Assistant in an emergency trauma center in downtown Detroit, diagnosing/treating and working with the walking wounded ("gun and knife club" on tv,) brain bleeds, dialysis patients, asthma/COPD patients, cancer patients, blood clots, OB/GYN patients, pediatrics, and a seemingly endless list of specialty cases ("We get it all.") He's always been a fan of his area's music specialties, and had to be there at his local Ron Asheton Tribute by Iggy and The Stooges.  Says E.R. Joe, "My life primarily revolves around work, family, reading espionage books, staying under the radar and music. I am a huge Stooges/Iggy fan, also of Jimi Hendrix, Thin Lizzy, Alice Cooper, Social Distortion, the New York Dolls, Mike Watt and a multitude of others. Everyone asks me if I'm related to one of the members of Sonic's Rendezvous Band (because we share a last name, but no,) so he's my 'fake brother.'"

   "I cannot count the number of times I've seen Iggy as a solo artist since 1977, and I've seen the Stooges' reunions seven times in two different countries. This was one of the top five shows I've had the pleasure to witness in my life. James Williamson was ON FIRE. Several of us began hanging out talking about the concert and our experiences. After the official post-gig party for press, band pals and fans at Netco (formerly the Second Chance Ballroom) we returned to the hotel and went to the restaurant/bar continuing to make new acquaintances. I had spoken earlier with several members of the group so my goal was to talk with Steve MacKay, and there he was over in the corner. Cool! We caught up a bit until my reptilian brain began sensing something was wrong."

   "When I looked up I immediately knew, by the 15-20 people around me that A) I was not invited and B) I should not be there. It was Iggy and his wife Nina, James Williamson, Henry Rollins, Jim Jarmusch, Deniz Tek, Hiawatha Bailey etc. sitting together or scattered about the room (ibid. in other words, the real A List of Ron's actual friends.) I asked Steve if I'd screwed up and he said no. I figured, well I'm here so work the tables. I introduced myself while complimenting them all and apologizing at the same time. Everyone that night was very pleasant and cordial to me."

   Then E.R. Joe, the adult version of a fan, talked shop with Deniz Tek (an E.R. surgeon when not being a punk rock legend himself or relishing his days as a genuine Navy Top Gun jet pilot) who was well acquainted with E. R. Joe's hospital. They share the exact same types of patients, and music/medical smalltalk, such as E.R. Joe's Chair of Emergency Medicine and E.R. Joe's own department staffing all the rock shows at Detroit's Ford Field, inclusive of the Rolling Stones (only noting discretely that the doctors and assistants are privy to "the weirdness" backstage.)  Altogether E.R. Joe seems a trifle sheepish about his adventure inadvertently party-crashing Iggy and The Stooges, although his companions waxed triumphant ("Babette" was jubilant to meet Iggy, and a local photographer thrilled to do same with pictorial commemoration resultant. Earlier, E.R. Joe and Babette had held Iggy aloft when he crowd-surfed. More touch-sensory!) However, E.R. Joe rightly summarizes his fanecdote (neologism courtesy of Mlle. Professoressa,) "
It was like the Twilight Zone for me, the huge-est high I have felt in a long time.  Yet all of that was way beyond my initial intentions and wildest dreams." 
    Deniz Tek's portion of the show found him sporting one of Ron Asheton's guitars to play the latter's material from 1969 debut "The Stooges" and 1970's "Funhouse." "Dirt" remained the standout, Tek snaking its slower tempo quite sinuously. Channeling Ron was no mean feat, insofar as the still movie-star handsome Dr. Tek has forged his own strong persona via his Australian band Radio Birdman (the name itself a mishearing of a Stooges' lyric in "1970") during the original '70s punk era, solo work and multiple bands since (including the New Race with Ron Asheton and the MC5's Machine Gun Thompson, both fresh from their prior the New Order collaboration) within his multiple careers.
Yet he served Ron's memory well, as both of these Ann Arbor natives had been close friends. Deniz' written account of onetime couple (and a very odd one at that, despite shared tenure in Destroy All Monsters and Dark Carnival) Ron and Niagara's trip to visit him during his flight training in Hawaii remains a LOL hoot.  Just imagine the effect of these two on a military base.
Last testimonial from the Michigan Theatre:

   "Nicki Picasso" had been sufficiently fortunate to discover the music of the Stooges as it happened in 1970 and how it played out beyond, thanks to an early fling with one of the band's foremost defenders in national print media. From her college art studies she immediately realized that lack of complete embrace by the public or establishment meant nothing at all, as most all innovators in the fine arts meet resistance from the status quo. She also recognized that the then novel and quite extreme in-your-face (and in your lap, on your club table, under your skirt etc.) provocation practiced by the singer as the performance art that it really was. She had photographed all the sound and fury of all that Iggy and The Stooges encompassed live onstage in 1973, amongst her most personally treasured and popular in subsequent sales within her forty years of rock and roll documentation. In her subsequent pro capacity as a studio and live show photographer, she met and worked with Iggy Pop in 1990, Ron Asheton in 1992 and James Williamson in 2009. She found all three men to be charming individuals in their own separate fashions, rare indeed for such intensely creative types.

   Far in her distant past, she'd turned down blitzed-to-the-gills advances from one of them, who was projectile-vomiting profusely as well as repeatedly falling over in the gutter outside the Whisky A Gogo. (Luckily the proverbial moment of clarity to seek help soon occurred for him. She later was ashamed it hadn't for her to help what was obviously a dude in severe distress.) In darkened rooms she had listened over and over to "Kill City" when it finally was unleashed years after the band's breakup. With its languid but forceful musicality reminiscent of The Bigs in the music world, ("Exile on Stooge Street" some termed it,) "Kill City" seemed to mirror the unlikely combo of arrogance and despair in her own quest to get the art out and the love in. Luckily as well, the latter ensued via he
r still ongoing relationship with her better half, a onetime proto-punk lead singer in the early 1970s himself. Once there had been a few very late night phone calls from Ron Asheton (a smart and funny guy but inveterate night owl) that annoyed her better half, who now had to arise at 5 a.m. for work. She genuinely regretted never being able to get the two of them together to talk guns, assorted weaponry and military history knowledgeably from similarly well-informed, warped, witty rock and rollers' P.O.V.sAt the premiere for the dvd documentary accompanying the 2010 re-released box set of "Raw Power," she had met James Williamson's new and longtime friends who had proved delightful and as personable as Williamson himself.

She'd noted with interest the succession of reunions of The Stooges in the 2000s mainly playing the Euro-festival circuit, Williamson's return to the fold after Ron's untimely passing, the band finally getting its due at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and was looking forward to photographing them perhaps in their 2009/10 touring. Then the unimaginable happened with her better half falling grievously ill, requiring veritable Spanish Inquisition treatments for an unknown outcome. The torture ensued for most of an entire year. Upon his recovery from the treatments but with ultimate fate still unknown, he seemed in sufficient fettle for her to travel off alone to Ann Arbor to shoot this once-in-a-lifetime, intimate show of Iggy and The Stooges. 38 years later from the last time she'd photographed them, there they were rampaging onstage even better than before (since no one is wasted this time around.) A previous favorite, "Open Up And Bleed" was performed to perfection, now sung as defiant triumph, much as Paul Robeson turned the relentless resignation of "Ol' Man River" into same.  Four days after her return from the show, her better half's final imaging test scans showed no evidence of tumors from the previous Stage 4.  It was the best week of her life.

Oh heck, drop the facade, c'est moi, it's me.
Last FAQs: Set List (as held by Deniz Tek in the photo): Space Age Toasters perform/Orchestra overture/I Got A Right (Henry Rollins with Scott Asheton, James Williamson, Mike Watt, Steve Mackay)/(Iggy joins for full Iggy and The Stooges set: Raw Power/Search And Destroy/Gimme Danger/Shake Appeal/1970/Night Theme/Beyond The Law/Fun House/Open Up And Bleed/Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell/I Wanna Be Your Dog (with orchestra)/(with Deniz Tek and orchestra) TV Eye/Loose/Dirt/Real Cool Time/Ron's Tune (Iggy Pop, James Williamson alone)/No Fun (everyone back onstage performing all together like oldskool Rock televised extravaganzas.  

Summarily, director Jim Jarmusch's artist's instincts remain dead-on correct -- Iggy Pop, The Stooges, Iggy and The Stooges, their autodidact's singularity and unflagging self-belief in their own abilities from a young age, the once fabled "bad luck of the Stooges" curse, their utter crashes-and-burns, the turnarounds now collectively and affectionately termed "Jesus Loves The Stooges," their genuine eventual triumphs, and of course... their fans always along for the ride with them.  It's a hell of a story..

ADDENDA PHOTO OPS ! !                                    
Go to LINK* for casual photo ops surrounding the event with shots of Deniz Tek, Hiawatha Bailey, Scott Morgan, Rick Ruiner, Kim Retrokimmer Maki and other Ann Arbor/Detroit/Stooges-related luminaries!


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