Saturday, September 3, 2011


I lived in Detroit during the MC5's heyday, and I am grateful in that we had many teen clubs that had no age limits; this allowed me to witness local bands like the 5, Bob Seger The Rationals and the Stooges perform their brand of major chord guitar insanity against a complacent culture of hippiedom. Detroit was an uptight, racially tense factory town that had little truck with those either coastline who wanted to ease through the 60s and beyond in a stoned either. The MC5 were, as John Sinclair wrote, a "whole thing", and their task, for art, for music, for the Revolution everyone with sideburns and wire frame glasses claimed to support, was to drive people out of their homes, out of their workplaces, out of their clothes and into each other's arms. There was love in Detroit rock and roll, but it was hard, brutal, arrogant in a fashion that mirrored the worst undertakings of The Man. It was a kick in the nuts to a privileged  Bohemia.

This was the Politics of Ecstasy with a tangible, violent edge, and the 5 wanted to put us in touch with the most primal and alive parts of our animal selves There is nothing particularly revolutionary about this thinking, as there of been an endless line of bright thinkers and florid writers , from Rousseau, DH Lawrence to Norman Mailer who've foretold, in varying degrees and levels of conviction and practice, that if we embraced our instinctual side and did away with the intellectual superstructure that has cauterized our lives and potential, all falseness would cease and only then can we realize joy, creativity, the results of a good toss in the hay. To many, the 5 seemed an antidote to the groovy and lazy vibe that had robbed rock and roll of vitality,  but it bears saying that many considered their cure to be nearly as awful as the malaise it was meant to cure.

The 5, though, were punks, unhampered by book learning; their counter culture was composed of absolutes, black and white extremes, and almost comically effective resistance to new ideas.  They were opportunists under it all, like the punks who harassed us during lunch period, and they embraced this extreme ideology chiefly as a means of getting their drugs, their money, their groupies. As punks who basically became the standard from which punk bands that emerged in the late 70s were judged, the MC5 dumped John Sinclair and his White Panthers when they had the chance. Sinclair wanted them to be bigger than Chairman Mao. The MC5 wanted to be bigger than the Beatles.

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