MC5 Vet Wayne Kramer Still Kickin’ Out the Jams
Call him what you want, but Wayne Kramer is still among the coolest rock icons of the late-Sixties and early-Seventies. That’s why the politically minded proto-punk can get away with releasing a brutally raw live album during the light ‘n’ festive holiday season.
Recorded at Los Angeles’ Mint on three consecutive Tuesday night gigs, LLMF (which stands for “Live Like a Motherfucker”) is a sort of field documentary of Kramer’s work for Epitaph Records, the label that’s been releasing his solo material since ’95. The new album was produced by David Was [Was (Not Was)] and Jason Roberts (Cypress Hill), both of whom also worked with Wayne on his ’97 disc, Citizen Wayne. Explaining the idea behind the disc, he says, “I think rock & roll needs a few live albums every now and then to return it to its central experience.” Oh yeah, it also contains a cover of “Kick Out the Jams,” the trademark tune by Kramer’s original band, the MC5.
As lead guitarist for the live music powerhouse that was the MC5, Kramer has a leg to stand on. But he’s not merely a product of his past peccadilloes, which also include a hard-won battle with heroin addiction and jail terms in the Seventies for White Panther-related activities and dealing cocaine. These days, the intelligent and ingratiating rocker’s life has more to do with work and business than destruction or anarchy. So, one must wonder, does a life filled with responsibility bore a former hardcore nihilist like Kramer? “My life back then wasn’t boring, and my life now isn’t either,” he asserts.
“I’m motivated by the sheer terror of being an old person with no money and no health insurance, and finding myself homeless and sick,” he continues. “That’s what gets me out of bed and motivates me to go write new songs and get going. This is not all fun and games — this is serious. This is my life’s work, and this is a very pernicious business to try to survive in. I see bands come, and I see ’em go … mostly, I see ’em go. Business is the priority, and it has nothing to do with art, culture, love or science; it has to do with making money and selling records. And I accept that in front, you know, I’m not complaining about it. I enjoy this work, it’s an honorable vocation.”
And so Kramer’s getting ready to go out on tour to bring his particular brand of Detroit punk rock to the masses. “My U.S. tour is going to be kind of like a commando raid through all my strongest areas here, then we’re going to Europe early next year,” he reveals. And besides his classics, there’s going to be some new tunes thrown in his repertoire as well. “The last thing I want to do,” he says, “is go out there and be a Wayne Kramer cover band.”
So, what kind of material has Kramer been writing lately? “Recently, I find myself writing about adult themes,” he says. “I’ve heard what people who have hit records are writing about lately and, you know, none of it interests me. So I just have to follow my own heart and my own thoughts and my own ideas. I’ve got a song about the porno business, I’ve got a song about love letters from Fidel Castro to his bourgeois mistress … I hope that young people appreciate what I do, and I trust that they’ll find something in there they like, but I’m not really writing for teenagers. I’m writing for grown-ups — I’m writing for people like me. People that still rock, that still have passion, that still care and are trying to find some meaning in all of this silliness. But it’s just rock & roll. I mean, everybody’s record is just business, man!
“I gotta tell ya, my album is not gonna cure cancer,” Kramer says with a robust laugh. “You put it on, smoke some joints, groove a little bit, disturb the neighbors and that’s it.”
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