- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2007

They quit Detroit for the Sun Belt.

And they’ve got a page on — gasp — MySpace.com

Other than that, not much has changed in the 30-plus years since punk godfathers the Stooges flamed out, weary from drugs and an unfriendly listening public that would swoon for more sanitary bands like the Eagles.

“We’re still pretty much a naked kind of band,” says drummer Scott Asheton in a phone interview shortly before the reunited Stooges left for a quick trek through France and Switzerland. (They kick off their U.S. tour next month.)

Iconic frontman Iggy Pop now lives in Miami, where Mr. Asheton and guitarist brother Ron Asheton cut rough demos of about 35 new original songs. Mr. Pop whittled the batch down to 17 tracks, which the core trio recorded with bassist (and Stooges fanatic) Mike Watt at alt-rock producer Steve Albini’s studio in Chicago.

The result was “The Weirdness,” the first Stooges album since 1973’s “Raw Power.” (Or since 1970’s “Fun House,” to be persnickety about original personnel: Ron Asheton, shunted over to bass, was replaced by guitarist James Williamson for the David Bowie-produced “Raw Power.”)

“Everything felt good when we got back together. It felt like being home,” says Scott Asheton, who lives part time in Florida with his daughter until the Michigan winter relents.

Mr. Asheton is 57; his brother, 58. Mr. Pop will turn 60 in April. Questions of age dog every middle-aged rock band. Yet the Stooges are, shall we say, sui generis. Everything about them — their explosively primitive sound, their anarchic behavior — seems tethered to the past. Mr. Pop, who lacerated himself onstage with broken glass, was the original shock rocker, prefiguring the far less talented Marilyn Mason.

The “punk” genre, for which bands like the Stooges, MC5 and the New York Dolls were laying the sonic groundwork, had yet to crystallize in the early ‘70s. It was commercial poison even then. So what could it mean in 2007?

“I’ve thought about it before myself — the age thing,” says Mr. Asheton, who spent part of his childhood in College Park. “But when I’m up there playing, I could be 27. I could be 18. It’s a weird thing.”

“When we’re onstage, you wouldn’t know that Iggy is his age,” he continues. “He still has a lot of energy. He hits the stage and he’s go, go, go the whole time. The crowd gives us energy, and takes us along with it.”

The Stooges’ reunion — of which “The Weirdness” is the culmination — was a fits-and-starts affair; the spark came in 2001, when the Asheton brothers joined Mr. Watt and Dinosaur Jr.’s Jay Mascis (another rabid Stooges devotee) for a tour.

Says Mr. Asheton: “We were doing a Stooges set and the response was really good. I think Jim” — he means Mr. Pop, who went by the considerably less cool “James Osterberg” when they were high school classmates in Ann Arbor, Mich.— “got word of that and decided that, well, maybe it is the time to do it.”

Not quite, but getting closer: Mr. Pop summoned the Asheton brothers to play on a few tracks for his solo album “Skull Ring,” still resistant to a full-on reunion. The Asheton brothers, here, were merely part of a roster of featured artists that included pop-punk bands such as Green Day and Sum 41.

Then came the proper reunion at 2003’s Coachella Music Festival in California, followed by another performance at Jones Beach Amphitheater on Long Island, N.Y.

From there, the songwriting sessions began in earnest. “We would go to Jim’s in Miami. Sit down with a small recorder and a small amp. I had a toy drum set. We’d knock out 10 or 15 songs a day,” Mr. Asheton says.

“The Weirdness” is uneven; Mr. Pop, in particular, whose minatory charisma sold Stooges classics such as “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “Search and Destroy,” sounds somewhat defanged (although, on “You Can’t Have Friends,” he extends a wonderful, cry-me-a-river middle finger to celebrities who bemoan the burdens of fame).

The Asheton brothers, however, sound as though they’ve cryogenically preserved the sludgy grandeur of the early-‘70s — which became a template for bands like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. If anything, the Ashetons now play with a more disciplined ferocity.

That’s no mistake, according to Mr. Asheton. He says the Stooges took a “business-minded” approach when making “The Weirdness.” Bassist Mr. Watt (of Minutemen and Firehose renown), who replaced the late Dave Alexander, was asked during the recording sessions to streamline his playing. And nowhere to be found are 10-minute filler tracks such as “We Will Fall” (from the Stooges’ eponymous 1969 debut).

The resurgent Stooges aren’t out to invent a new sound; they already did that, unwittingly. What they’ve never truly done is succeed. And while the cash is more plentiful this time around — they’re on a major label, Virgin, and touring offers have been generous — the band still may not expand beyond its core audience.

So be it, says Scott Asheton, who admits “it would be nice to be inducted” into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (The Stooges were passed over for the sixth time last year.)

“You’re a musician. It’s something you want to do, and you want to do it forever,” he says. “If I wasn’t in the Stooges right now, I’d still be playing — if it was only by myself. I’ll keep rockin’ until my wheels fall off.”

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