By Bill Adams
If there is anything that could be taken as a given in this life, it is that there are no givens in this life. As smoothly as something might be running or as set as a course might be, the wise man knows that there is always the possibility of events suddenly turning south toward disaster. Such was the case on January 6, 2009 when, out of the clear blue, Ron Asheton was discovered dead in his home of a heart attack. Asheton’s passing was tragic – there’s no arguing or downplaying that – but it also threw The Stooges into total upheaval; the band had been enjoying a rousing return as, with several very well-received tours already until its’ belt, they released The Weirdness in 2007 which re-established the band – with Asheton on guitar, singer Iggy Pop, drummer Scott Asheton and bassist Mike Watt – as both a touring AND recording act. The band was riding high – but Asheton’s untimely passing promised to stop the band’s progress irreparably.
With all of that in mind, that The Stooges are appearing on any stage at all now, in 2010, is nothing short of miraculous. Certainly, those familiar with the band’s history are aware that, after the band released their self-titled debut and Funhouse in 1969 and 1970 respectively, The Stooges effectively broke up only to be reformed in 1973 with a then-new album, Raw Power, and a line-up change that found Ron Asheton switching from guitar to bass in order to accommodate new guitarist James Williamson. Now, in 2010, history seems to have at least partially repeated itself as, after several years of enduring hard feelings were finally resolved, Williamson is back in the band, once again. “I’m not exactly sure how that worked out,” says bassist Mike Watt, remembering the uncertain times of early 2009. “I know that Ig and James Williamson hadn’t talked in a while but I guess they did after Ronnie passed away. To me it’s pretty legitimate because James Williamson WAS the Raw Power guitarist; it’s not like some guy just coming on to replace Ronnie. We do a couple of the older songs – “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “1970” and “Funhouse” – but they’re still his style; Williamson was telling me that he never used effects back in the old days although he uses a wah pedal now to give tribute to Ronnie, and a lot of the stuff we’re doing now is from that later incarnation of The Stooges. Now in 2010, it really is a further evolution of the band; [[keyboarist] Steve MacKay is back – he did about six months with the band before in 1970 for the Funhouse album – and he’s out on stage the whole time now. He used to come out for a short part of the set back in 1970, but he starts with us now and he plays through the whole thing on harmonica and keyboard.
“Ig has said this before – and I agree with him – that this is not a tribute band,” continues the bassist, firmly. “Even though they’re from the old days and they regrouped with a large separation of years in between where they didn’t even speak, they’re not trying to relive that, it’s just guys from the old days putting together a band that does have material from those days. It’s not like we’re just walking through the motions of it either – we’re playing the songs a bit differently from how they were recorded and we are playing it like a working band. We’re still working on new material too; James has been writing. He gave Ig two new musics to write lyrics to so the material may become more contemporary in the future too.”
Such statements beg the question of what audiences can expect to see when Iggy and The Stooges take the stage as part of North By Northeast Music Conference on Saturday, June 19 at Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto and Watt most certainly has the answer. “I remember when The Stooges got back together and we first started doing shows, we got asked a lot about what this band was going to be,” remembers Watt. “We got asked a lot if it was supposed to be a tribute show or something; you couldn’t blame the writers for asking that, because it does happen that some dudes package up an old deal like a shtick. That’s not the case here; the way they play these new songs, they don’t do ‘em like the old days, they don’t dress up like the old days, nothing’s like the old days – except the songs were written in the old days when they were younger men. That’s the difference; it’s not a Disneyland time warp ride; not at at all. I mean, yeah, the band is from the older days and the music was written then, but they perform it with an urgency that’s really ‘now.’”
“Mind you, it must look pretty trippy that these older cats [laughing] – especially Ig – are pulling this off,” says Watt, digressing. “Ig’s stage diving and shit! Sixty-three years old and he’s launching himself off the stage! If you heard our live versions and then went back and listened to the records, these new versions are much faster because Iggy is not slowing down; he’s sixty-three but he has an urgent need to express himself. The other thing we’ve noticed is that we’re not playing for old people! The first four gigs of this year were in France and there were some VERY young people in those crowds. London had some older people, but I wouldn’t say there were a lot around The Stooges’ age; maybe some from my age – the first wave of punk – but France was really really young people as a majority.”