Showing posts with label MC5. Show all posts
Showing posts with label MC5. Show all posts

Friday, May 10, 2024


Grande Ballroom photo by Charlie Auringer

John Sinclair, a Motor City hippie activist, founder of the awkwardly named White Panther Party and manager of Detroit band or two in the mid to late 60s, wrote in the liner notes of Kick Out the Jams, the MC5's debut album on Elektra, that the goal of the band 's high-energy rock was drive us out into the streets and drive people "out of their separate shells and into each other's arms." Summarizing his notes for the band and the disc, he ended with what should have become their ultimate slogan, "STAY ALIVE WITH THE MC5". Stay alive we Detroit teens did, infused with jazz, rhythm and blues and the rawboned wail of guitars and hard hammering drums, and here we are today, guided by politics, a memory of raging youth, an understanding that being an adult is more than getting your way when you want it, blessed or cursed with the knowledge that there are more days behind us than ahead of us. And now the last surviving member of the embattled, legendary and indispensable MC5 , drummer Dennis Thompson, has passed on. There is much I can say about the MC5 specifically and in Thompson's drum work in particular, as I was (I think) lucky, blessed , privileged to have seen the band a half dozen times in Detroit teen venues, dances and , of course, at the Grande, before I moved to California in 1969 as the part of the white flight trying to out run the smoke, broken glass and anger that lit up a previous summer's nightscape. In short order, the MC5 , the Stooges and New York's Velvet Underground invented what we understand as both punk and credibly street savvy art rock (not “progressive”, thank you). The MC5 were a “whole thing”, as Sinclair said in his notes, and the indeed they were, a loud phenomenon, a disrupting Event that made rock and roll a dangerous and challenging enterprise again after the West Coast bands and the frippery from the Brits threatened to make the music a tame and predictable tea party, a safe space of sorts. Dennis Thompson managed the impossible, it seems, pushing an ensemble where all the musicians seemed to start and stop in different places, full of feedback and guitar squalling, attacking an audience with the accelerating, weighted inevitability of an avalanche. He was a definitive if under acclaimed rock and roll drummer, a more minimalist Keith Moon if only because Thompson had the soul band emphasis on keeping the throb, the rhythm, the vibe , persistent and insistent, pushing the MC5 into deeper and further out atonal hysterics while keeping it focused on the prize at hand. Dennis Thompson was part of a whole thing. rip

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Show some grit for the MC5

(In the spirit of Lester Bangs, exaggerated even by his standards, I wrote this fever dream as a tirade demanding the induction of the MC5 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It occurs to me that the 5, in their prime, could give a damn about such a corporately bestowed honor. Still, I thought this should have a home on this blog as  well.-tb)

Image result for mc5This is important shit , folks: To this day , the MC5 are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame despite the impressive argument that they have been one of the most influential and , ergo, most important rock and roll bands in history. In any event, here is a choice cut not discussed much even my 5 aficionados , James Brown's "It's a Man's World". Agreed, the song is more than patronizing and winds up placing women on the damnable pedestal and back in the kitchen at the same time, but you have to hand to these guys for their odd choice. They loved black music and their choice of a song only JB could pull off is a classic punk gesture: "Fuck you guys, we're gonna play this goddamned song because WE WANT TO." Vocalist Rob Tyner did not, as has been remarked around a trash can full of burning rubber, give a FLAT FUCK if he sang worse than a horse thief gagging at the end of a dirty rope of justice. Rob Tyner sang like a man who had his head wrapped in a thick sheet of bubble wrap and then had his noggin stuffed into a burlap bag that reeked of diesel stained wagon timber and mildewed hemp. He sounded like he'd swallowed his fist in a freak accident that might have occurred when he he was chewing on his knuckles in machomechanical panic while watching an astroid streak a fiery, smoky path to Cobo Hall. When he wrapped his crackling squawk to  It's A Man's World, satellites stopped broadcasting and Gabriel drove over his trumpet in a huff of overriding despair. His was the voice of percolating whiteness, personified grieving love handles with a microphone. There was a time when an attitude like that would inspire otherwise stoned and clueless teens , all of them too late for the absurd counter-culture vanities of Haight Ashburyand Greenwich Village, to yell "fuck yeah" and babble their rendition of dumb cliches about offing the pigs and serving the people. So yeah, the MC5 were really punks, macho black bad boy wannabes and crazy mofos in their right who were willing to stick it in your eye." Hah. Hit me again." The rest of the guys crammed their guitars into the cones of their amps and ground their strings against the microphone stands.The drummer, Dennis Thompson, rattled on over the snare, performed an encyclopedia's worth of imagined sexual amnesia drills over the head of the snare drum and punched a hole in the base drum with nothing other than a random disease he picked up for kicks at the last Room Temperature Ale House he was located  within. Some one in the middle of what was left of the audience that wasn't yet unconcious, bleeding or deceased hooted. "SUCK MY DICK" countered Tyner, "GAG ON MY GOODNESS, JARHEAD." After that, it started to get weird.

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.

Friday, September 2, 2011

the other Motown

Somewhere I have the original 45 released on A Square records (if I remember). That was made available on the Babes in Arms compilation. Either way, it is a killer jam, a guitar assault on a young man's power of speech as he tries to get across something primal, sexual,something beyond all that book learning. This version is bitchen because the guitars are shaved back to a growling raunch, with the solos being the distillation of piercing precision. The earlier version , though, is Motor City all the way: one imagines this young man, so stumped by his swelling desires, standing in the middle of a demolition derby or a police raid professing his same said desires to a reluctant Juliet who is hesitant to step from the cratered depths of a broken city.

Ted Nugent is a conservative asshole who's politics are more head line hungry than thought provoking; he's been emphasizing his gun toting , quasi-libertarian survivalist side for so long that virtually everyone has forgotten what a good and unique rock and roll guitarist he is. This video, from an Ambouy Dukes reunion of a kind, demonstrates that he can still play that angular, pointilistic style of his with the same back stabbing swagger that he had in the Sixties and the 70s, when he shut his mouth long enough to remind people that he used to be taken seriously as a musician. Here, the hatted one, still smirking like someone who just came back to the party after boinking your girl friend behind the garage in the dank tool shed, next to the rusted lawnmower, unleashes some major E chord damage and continues with a ridiculous flurry and fury of notes that it is like nothing else other than a busy intersection when the traffic lights fail and every piece of metal gets twisted and every driver gets a headache, if they're lucky.

It's amazing that some of the stuff that I used to call lame, ie Grand Funk, starts to sound good to me now that I am a mere year from turning seventy. They were a tedious grind in large part when they first started, and they were no great shakes when I saw their world debut at the Detroit Rock and Roll Revival at the State Fair Grounds in either 67 or 68, but they had that working class grit and conviction going for them, kids from the factory culture who liked their rock and roll hard, distorted, and sincere. All things being what they are, they share a lot in temperament with one of my heroes, Bob Seger. Grand Funk, though, were on the Right Side of Stupid, not an autodidact among the the three of them, cranking out steady neo-metal guitar riffs that , at their best, had the lumbering grace of a giant robot who just took a nuke in the scrotum and was short circuiting hard sparks and gargantuan gears as the collapsed through several empty skyscrapers . In slow, fuzz-tony motion , of course.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Meditation on Loud Rock and Roll

I like loud and distorted guitar the old school way, in the form of jamming power trios,  guitar-bass-drums shootouts where the downbeats started at debated counts, and the length of the improvised middle section was unpredictable. Ad-libbed solos, riffing, vamping, monochromatic chord mongering, the center portions of this species of random noise took a cue from several generations of black American blues geniuses. The young Turks to the clear, elegantly expressed formulations of anger, pain, dread, and joy and tweaked the pentatonic elements to a narrowed strain of white male rage, performed at volume levels beyond endurance levels, with the nimble, simple, eloquent rhythms and solo configurations of guitar, harmonica, banjo being replaced with a wave of distorted notes bent to their furthermost pitch of emotional credibility. It was perfect for the smoky ballrooms I went to in the late '60s, where the likes of Cream, Blue Cheer, Sir Lord Baltimore, T.Rex, and Mountain belched, groaned, and assaulted a beleaguered audience of addled brains with their instrumental abuse; on some nights the commotion and clamor reminded you more of a demolition derby instead of a unique engagement with a fleeting muse. The impact was more important than configuration. There was joy when I came upon the MC5 and the Stooges in Detroit, where I lived. The 5 were every car Detroit had manufactured being tossed off the top of the Penobscot Building, the tallest building in the city at the time. The MC5 had a speed and power only the fury of an accumulating gravity could provide, and half the fun of watching these guys batter, abuse, and flail their instruments while the wiggling and wrenching in hip-thrusting deliriums. This was the guitar version of Demolition Derby. The Stooges were, on the other hand, the guitar that was tossed off with a violent fling at a lousy rehearsal and left on, still plugged into the amp, humming and crackling the whole night. Ron Ashton's guitar work was perfect, imperfect, with a wood-chipper rhythm, an excellent three and two-chord background for Iggy Pop, whose psycho-sexual explorations into teenage impatience would make you think of a zombie severed arm. It still twitches across the blood, the hand is still making grasping motions for your neck, you realize that even death cannot stop this force that requires your attention.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The MC5 in the marketplace

Never toss out your old suits, it's often said. You never know when wide lapels will become again. You also never know which grossly non commercial, limited appeal band will become sanctified in the market place. Guitar Hero introduces "Kick Out the Jams" by the MC5 to the guitar starved:

I saw the MC5s play in Detroit between 1967-69 when they played the Grande Ballroom and teen clubs and free shows around Wayne County, and there was a real dangerous, outlaw method in the way they did their business. They did things their way and the consequences be damned. Everyone in the mainstream press and the rock press hated them, and Elektra Records dumped them after one album after the band took out a full page ad in the local underground paper The Fifth Estate for it's first album, Kick Out The Jams. A local department store chain, Hudson's, wouldn't carry the album because the title song, because the song had the word "motherfucker" exclaimed at the start; the MC5, in a likely combination of integrity and ego, had the ad read

KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKER! And kick out the door of the store that won't sell you the MC5. FUCK HUDSON's
 To the horror Elektra Records executives, the band put the record company logo on the ad, which made it seemed as if they had approved of and paid for the ad themselves. I do paraphrase the exact wording of the ad, but it is faithful to the cadence and , well, spirit of the band's marketing approach. Hudsons' was perhaps the major outlet for new album releases at the time, and the record executive quite likely didn't want to be dropped from the store sales racks. The revolutionary 5 were dropped from the label in quick order.

 I am gratified that the MC5 are getting their due. The irony is that their music has had to be commercialized with things like Guitar Hero, meaning that the 5 have had to become as consumer friendly as the artists after them who cite them as a major influence.