The MC5 was more than a band to me. They were unapologetic, stoned political radicals in the late 60’s-early 70’s. So was I. (They also got strung on white powders, got arrested, and I did too.) They were part of my soundtrack for that insane era of huge protests when cities burned and leaders were murdered. They were also astonishingly good, and took rock and roll where it hadn’t been before.
Wayne Kramer was their guitarist. Their first album “Kick Out The Jams” was a benchmark for pissed off politics, ferocious rock and roll, and definitely influenced punk and metal to come. Kramer is doing a 50th anniversary tour now with a seriously good lineup. He also just wrote a memoir, “The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities.” (PS. He survived all the madness and so did I.)
The parts about the late 1960’s will probably seem a strange planet to those who weren’t there. I was there (and do remember some of it, ha!) So when he talks about how the MC5 got poleaxed by those he thought were allies, like the Motherfuckers and SDS, I know who they were and what he means.
Yeah, circular firing squads AKA I’m More Leftie Than Thou. This was poison on the left then and still is. Some of it is due to ideology taking precedence over organizing and rationality. We Must Follow The Correct Line. No, start organizing, work with others, then what you need to do will become apparent. And of course any radical group then and now has informers in it who deliberately cause problems. That’s not paranoia.
One fascinating thing I didn’t know. Three of their allies in the White Panther Party were arrested for blowing up a building. At the trial, the government said they had the right to use wiretaps with no warrant because national security. The judge disagreed. The government appealed it to the Supreme Court, and lost. This had a major impact on government cases going forward.
From the book:
“Our White Panther illegal wiretapping case was the spark that led directly to the resignation of Richard M. Nixon and prison terms for most of his gang. Rather than reveal the scope and details of their illegal operations, the government decided to withdraw cases grounded in illegal wiretaps against the Black Panther Party, the Weathermen, and various antiwar, civil rights, and other organizations across the country that were caught up in Operation COINTELPRO.”
From a Billboard interview:
MC5’s Wayne Kramer talks ‘The Problem With Revolutions on the Left’ In candid memoir.
The greatest revelations, he feels, are in the MC5’s relationship with the counterculture and political left during the ’60s; Initially embraced as the musical arm of Michigan’s White Panther party, Kramer says the group was ultimately let down by those he and his bandmates felt firmly in league with.
“We expected pushback from the authorities and from Nixon and the police and parents and prosecutors,” Kramer says, “but we didn’t expect to be clobbered by the SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] and hardline Marxists and our colleagues and comrades on the left. They were merciless on us. Some of them viewed us as the enemy. We weren’t the enemy. We weren’t running a war in Vietnam. We weren’t polluting the planet. We were a band that shared the same ideas they did, and we were trying to tell the world about it.
“It’s the typical problem with revolutions on the left. It’s the circular firing squad, and they end up playing right into the hands of the people they’re fighting or revolting against. That was very disappointing.”