Don’t be too worried, Stooges fans: They haven’t sold out to the other side.
So proclaims guitarist Ron Asheton, who Monday night joined band mates Iggy Pop, Scott Asheton and Steve MacKay as the Stooges to play a pair of Madonna songs — “Ray of Light” and “Burning Up” — during the latter’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Asheton was reacting to online reports that have described the band’s scheduled performance as a “tribute” to the dance-pop star, whose music is a far cry from the Stooges’ own gritty, primal Detroit rock.
“The Stooges represent everything that’s against what she is,” Asheton told the Free Press from his New York hotel Monday afternoon before the show. “I don’t wish her ill. I don’t hate her or anything. But I’d never even heard of these songs until I had to listen to a tape and figure out what’s going on with them.”
In reality, Asheton said, Madonna asked the Stooges to perform as an act of protest: The group, widely considered a linchpin of early punk, has yet to be inducted by the rock hall, despite six appearances on the nomination ballot. By inviting the group on stage, she sent a message, said Asheton.
Last year’s rock hall ceremony featured a similar demonstration, when the night’s inductees performed the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” during a jam session finale.
“Basically she was upset that we’ve been nominated so many times and never made it, so she asked us to play in protest. And it was under those auspices that I thought we were doing it,” Asheton said. “At first I went, ‘Whaaat?’ Then Iggy said, ‘Why don’t you think about it?’”
It came together quickly: Madonna reached out to Iggy Pop just two weeks ago, Asheton said. The band, which had not performed together since closing out its latest tour in December, worked on the songs long-distance, with the Ashetons in Ann Arbor and Iggy home in Florida.
“Iggy said, ‘We’re gonna rock them up — just play ‘em like Stooges songs,’” Asheton recounted. “They actually sound pretty cool. We just rock ‘em out. You wouldn’t even recognize them as Madonna songs. I never thought I’d say this, but I’ve actually enjoyed playing them.”
On Monday afternoon Asheton had yet to meet Madonna, who was an elementary school student in Rochester Hills when the Stooges started shaking up the Detroit rock scene in the late 1960s. He said if he encounters her during the rock hall’s afterparty action, he’d be sure to be polite.
But he can’t help feeling a little cynicism about the whole ordeal: He probably wouldn’t be in the Stooges without it. With Madonna’s entry into the hall of fame drawing criticism from some diehard rock corners — and with the star’s new album due in April — he figures she may have more than one motivation for handpicking his band.
“I thought that right off the top — that, gee, I just heard she’s got a record coming out, and she’s trying to get a little Stooge shine. She’s a savvy businesswoman,” he said. “I think she actually does like the band. She wouldn’t have asked for us if she didn’t. But she’s also using us for business purposes.”