Wednesday, January 7, 2009
It's a strange turn of the New Year when we first say adieu to arguably the greatest jazz trumpeter of the second half of the 20th century, Freddie Hubbard, and then this week discover that another musical pioneer with qualities opposite those of Hubbard's has died as well, guitarist Ron Asheton of The Stooges. Hubbard was a virtuoso force of nature, to engage in an abrupt use of cliche, a technical wizard who had, additionally, the great gift of melodic invention that put his untouchable skills in the service of riveting improvisation. In the company of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Hubbard coaxed an infinite number of dialogues and moods from his instrument, and he could place in the center of the emotional core of extemporized outings--the virtuosity made you feel alive , with emotions you forgot you had.It might sound too high hat, but metaphor aside, the Stooges were an alternative all the same to the pat bohemianism of the counter-culture;Rolling Stone and other hip capitalist media convinced America that there was a consensus among those of us in the "youth culture" and that all of us rock and roll fans were docile and enlightened, ergo harmless. The Stooges , along with the MC5 , showed everyone what was under the rock, a festering mess of violence, irrationality, youthful impatience. Sooner or later the lie had to be given to the hype about the Sixties and it was fitting that Ron Ashton's guitar work, a cranky machine of attitude, served as the battering ram against the edifice.
Ron Asheton, though, was of a different sort, a merely adequate electric guitarist who harnessed a narrower array of moods, attitudes, those being, I think, anger, diffidence, defiance, indifference to authority, characterized by a grainy, fuzzy, brashly fumbled yet heavily set of major and minor guitar chords. If Dave Davies of the Kinks invented the power chord with "You Really Got Me", Asheton reduced the formula to an even more primeval essence, his guitar work droning, groaning, distorting , aggravating and lumbering a set of teenage attitudes that crystallized the state of being inarticulate with a mind flooded with sensations and drives that had no experience nor wisdom to grant the spectre of coherence. He was the perfect foil for Iggy Pop, rock and roll's master of the throwaway lyric and the over driven ego; Asheton's primitivism had the gravity of a great boulder teetering precariously on a high cliff, finally sliding off with a crash, gaining momentum and mass as the huge rock approaches the bottom of the canyon; whatever was at the canyon floor was about to be smashed. Asheton made it clear on Stooges tune "No Fun", "1969" , "Search and Destroy", "Gimmee Danger" that whatever bad mood and impatient being lay at the center lay at the heart of Pop's lyrics wound up in the barbed wire snarl of his bleeding fuzztone and wah-wah pedal. Ron Asheton, an American rock and roll genius, one of the most influential fretsters of our time. Thank you, sir, and rock on.