The punk pioneer and sonic provocateur returns to the Michigan town that spawned his band the Stooges to pay tribute to fallen band mate Ron Asheton in an ambitious, eclectic show in Ann Arbor. The Tuesday concert comes on the heels of a surprise appearance April 7 on “American Idol,” where the 63-year-old Pop sang “Real Wild Child,” writhed shirtless among enthusiastic contestants and shimmied up to host Jennifer Lopez.
Despite the differences, the two appearances underscore a career of avoiding the expected.
“On the one hand, it’s good to go into it ... saying, ‘Look, it’s just a gig, it’s what I do,’“ Pop told The Associated Press by phone from his home in Miami. “On the other hand, try to leave room open for whatever you feel on the occasion.”
The decision to appear on “Idol” was at once simple – “they invited me” – and complex: He had little love for the long-running show but even less for people “who lurk in the shadows” and complain.
“I was informed very quickly by people who love me and care about me that if I went on the show, everybody who liked the show was going to hate me and everybody who liked me was going to hate me for doing that show,” he said. “I’m kind of a stubborn person, so that just made me really determined: ‘I’m going to ... do it anyway.’“
For the Michigan show, there’s also determination born of a desire to give his late friend a proper musical send-off. He’s excited to hear and play Stooges’ songs with the band as well as other musicians such as Henry Rollins, and even a classical ensemble.
“(Asheton’s) best themes are particularly really, really good and fun and easy for people to use as get-together songs_ they’re almost like campfire songs,” Pop said of such songs as, “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “No Fun” and “T.V. Eye.” “That’s why so many groups record early Stooges songs as B sides or album tracks, because they’re simple and a hell of a lot of fun to play and they have a certain dynamic.”
Plus, he said, “When you pass away, why not have a trumpet, kettle drum and some string players? That doesn’t sound too bad to me.”
The show is a benefit for the Ron Asheton Foundation. Asheton died in 2009, a year before his band’s long-awaited induction into the Rock and Hall of Fame.
The accolades are a far cry from the late 1960s, when the man born James Osterburg met Asheton and his drummer brother, Scott. Pop, who dropped out of University of Michigan after a semester, nonetheless stuck around the university town near the trailer park where he grew up and played area venues with the Ashetons.
“We really benefited and grew our horns on that campus,” he said.
The university also exposed him to culture that equipped him for a career that’s taken him down paths far beyond bare-bones, riff-heavy rock.
On tap is a solo project, a French-flavored album of “love and angst” ballads that could be out by year’s end and serves a sequel to a 2009 collection called Preliminaires. Working title: Après.
Still, the Stooges, which reformed in 2003 after a three-decade layoff, occupy much of his body and mind. He’s begun working on songs for an eventual Stooges album and has been consulting on a documentary of the band by filmmaker Jim Jarmusch.
Lest anybody be fooled, the eternally wild child says he works hard behind the scenes to prepare for whatever comes on stage. That means sitting down with the old records and singing along with himself “at the top of my range,” and mentally preparing in a way befitting a mature punk.
“You need a real close connection with the words, and you really can’t sort of waltz in there between calls to your broker and expect to stand up there and be able to sing the songs and tell what they mean,” he said.
Still, he adds, “I’m really not looking for a job at the Met, you know?”