Shattered Dreams in Motor City: The Demise of the MC 5 - Rolling Stone
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Shattered Dreams in Motor City: The Demise of the MC 5

They wanted to be bigger than the Beatles. Manager John Sinclair wanted them to be bigger than Mao. How a revolution fizzled

MC 5

The rock group MC5 (Fred 'Sonic' Smith, Dennis 'Machine Gun' Thompson, Rob Tyner, Wayne Kramer and Michael Davis) pose for a photo in front of an American flag in Detroit, Michigan, in 1967.

Leni Sinclair/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty

DETROIT—”When we started playing in groups, we were 12 and 13 years old and that age I think what we were interested in was screwing girls and … let’s see … we wanted to be rich. And maybe bigger than that, there was one type of music—rock and roll music—the type Chuck Berry played—and we wanted to play that because we loved it. But we did have fantasies about being rich and driving gold-plated sports cars and screwing all kinds of girls. And I think that was a fine goal for a 13-year-old kid.”

Fred “Sonic” Smith was talking and three of the other four members of MC 5 were sitting around the room, laughing along.

In the middle of a living room of a very ordinary house in Detroit, hemmed in by steady blankets of early 1972 snow, the MC 5 had gathered to talk about their ideals—the dreams of everyday teenagers, about how those dreams were realized, and how they were shattered.

Not that the MC 5 are dead, of course. Even though everyone else—old record company, old producer, old manager—says so; even though they’ve been effectively ostracized, if not boycotted, by the energetic Detroit/Ann Arbor rock community that had embraced them for so long; even though they’ve had to give up their rambling farm in Hamburg and their expensive sports cars; even though one of them was making ends meet by taking a part-time job in a tool and die shop.

“I feel like we’re starting all over in a lot of ways,” says Wayne Kramer, looking pachuko in a floppy white cap, dark turtleneck and white blazer. Fred Smith, tall and lean and sounding quite sure, backed him up: “You’d have to say that the group might appear to be dead, and actually it might be dead, but I don’t know if you can approach it like that. But we manage ourselves—we’re not involved now with New York characters like Dee Anthony. We are not even with Atlantic Records any more, as you know. Since all this has happened, at first it’s a thing like, you are losing your record company and it makes you feel bad … it was something of a security … but today I feel that the group is in a state of finding their own identity, musically and otherwise. And I feel it’s much more pure and I think the group at this time is ready to be … uh … whatever they want to be. They are ready to make music and to, to play and make musical statements.”

The question today, though, is: Is anybody listening?

“In Detroit everyone knows the 5, whether they like the band or not,” said Creem, the local rock paper, in spring of 1969. “The 5 is more a religion than just a band anyway, and the people who are behind them are behind them all the way. They’ve watched the 5 come up the hard way, and they won’t ever forget the incredible magic moments the MC 5 has brought them over the years. And if there’s anything to be said for them at all, it has to start with the fact that they aren’t at all easy to forget, no mater how brief your contact with the band might have been. The MC 5 stay with you, because that’s where they want to be. Right there.”

MC 5 struck in 1968, dope in their heads, jazz, they declared, in their roots, and something called revolution in both their raucous music and in their swaggering media-flash posture. They were the rock and roll froth on a head of energy—killer energy swelling up in this destroy industrial center, this noisy nowhere land in midwest America. What could a poor boy do? … You know the MC 5 story: Pushed by manager John Sinclair into national prominence: Newsweek and Time, Village Voice and Rolling Stone; Kick out the jams, motherfucker. Kicked off Elektra records for “unprofessionalism,” for saying “Fuck You” to a record shop in a newspaper ad, signing Elektra on the ad and sending the bill to Elektra. Right on! Split from Sinclair and his Trans-Love Energies commune, his White Panther Party. Kicked off Atlantic after two money-losing albums.

And Creem stood by, remembering MC 5’s role in the encouragement of the white rock scene in Detroit and Ann Arbor. “Very simply,” the magazine said in early 1970, “the Five are the most important band to come out of Detroit. They set the pace for our rock and roll explosion, they formed the model of the people’s band, they made high energy the byword of our music. They epitomize all our best and worst points…. We haven’t really fallen on our faces, but we haven’t seen the jihad either, and now some people are saying that the 5 have forgotten their roots. But all things being equal, the MC 5 are still the best rock and roll band in the country.” Dave Marsh, a Creem editor, discussing the first Atlantic album, Back in the USA, added: “No matter what anyone says about them to me, like a lot of things that John Sinclair said in his article … the MC 5 is still one of the killer groups performing now.” But, he would concede a moment later: “The magic’s gone.”

The snow had covered just about everything here in wintry Detroit, except the Olympic swimpool–sized replica of a Uniroyal tire, propped up proudly to greet you into this city; except the office buildings and, here and there, the proud electric scoreboards keeping count of automobile production. You know Detroit: snow and smoke make grey.

I cannot remember whose house I was at. It was that kind of a place. There was a woman named Adelle, a three-year-old she called Little Adelle, a scattering of Little Archie and Mr. Natural comics around the little toy piano, Coltrane on the stereo drawing the attention of drummer Dennis Thompson and bass player Mike Davis, and Howard Cosell on the TV attracting guitarists Fred Smith and Wayne Kramer. Adelle would break in twice—to call John Sinclair a sexist pig and to confirm what the MC 5 had done for Sinclair in his time of need—but she’d keep busy behind a copy of Movie Life or tending to Little Adelle.

Seven weeks after the event, Wayne Kramer was reading an article about the Free John Sinclair benefit in Ann Arbor, with 15,000 people out for an evening with John and Yoko and Stevie Wonder and Archie Shepp and Jerry Rubin and Bobby Seale and Allen Ginsberg, and Detroit’s own Up and the DC 4 and Bob Seger with Teegarden and Van Winkle. Two days later, Sinclair was free, released from jail on an appeal bond after three years for two joints (his third possession charge).

Wayne grumbled: “Did they think we were out of that whole trip? Well, we’ve got a surprise for them.” Then he dropped to the floor, to join Jack LaLanne’s TV exercise class.

“I don’t feel hurt,” he says now, “that we are not involved in all their activities. But I do resent the fact that we weren’t asked to play on that thing. We’ve contributed thousands and thousands of dollars to his defense, benefit after benefit despite all the shit that they’ve said about us. And we’ll do all that stuff, you know? We’ll play for the cat. But like we did all the dirty work, all these benefits at the Grande Ballroom and we made all this money and when something happens that’s big, that could have really helped us—we could have got over to a lot of people—you know. And we tried, from the minute we heard that the thing was even happening, which was about two weeks before it happened, you know, when we got the first flash that anything like that was going to happen, we knew it was going to be cool and we tried to get in touch with him. Every day we tried to call him and every day we got, ‘Well, Dave can’t talk to you right now, he’s busy.’ You know, we never got a call returned, we never even got to talk to anyone about it.

“We didn’t have no other gigs that night—we were all there, you know? We all went to the thing.”

Mike Davis, dark, brooding, dark hair out of kempt, morning style. “Wasn’t Seger added at the last minute or something?”

Kramer: “Yeah. Yeah. At the last minute somebody canceled and they put on Bob Seger and Teegarden and Van Winkle, and we’d been trying to get in touch for two weeks.”

In what seemed to be one great rush in the summer of 1969, John Sinclair got slapped for 30 days on a police assault charge from July 1968, got his aureole of hair shorn to job-seeker’s length, got hustled in to begin serving 9 1/2 years on his third dope bust, and became a martyr.

The MC 5 had wanted a new manager, a new direction, perhaps a reversal, back towards that gold-plated sports car, for some time now. And perhaps—not to be sacrilegious about it, but—maybe the timing was right …

“I think we were just underdeveloped and we were mouthing, reiterating all. of John’s ideas,” says Kramer. “We just did things because of feelings. We played because it felt good. We lived in that house (the Trans-Love commune on Hill Street in Ann Arbor) because it was fun and we didn’t have to find—we didn’t have a philosophy, you know? As we went along, as we started experiencing more, we started to develop our own attitudes and feelings, our own political ideas and our own philosophies. They differed with John’s, you know?”

“Like rock and roll and dope and fucking in the streets,” says Mike Davis, recounting the White Panther Party’s first declaration of goals. “Fine. But our point of view about that was much more flippant, crazy, light-hearted. Not so serious, not so—you know, ‘We have to have this fucking in the streets or goddamn we are going to tear down downtown Detroit!’ We looked at it in an idealistic sense and would rather have kept it in an idealistic sense, instead of taking these ideas which couldn’t be put into realistic terms, you know.”

Wayne: “I could dig John living in the commune, you know. But he couldn’t dig me not living in one.”

The MC 5 met Sinclair in the fall of 1967—they’d wanted the association because of his reputation as Detroit’s foremost beatnik poet; a writer on jazz and rock for Downbeat and Jazz magazine and, locally, for the Fifth Estate. They joined forces and began the assault, culminating in a move to Ann Arbor in the summer of 1968. At Trans-Love, the MC 5 were to live and rehearse; 20 members of Trans-Love Energies would act as MC 5’s production company. The MC 5 never saw it that way.

“The way it was set up,” said Fred Smith, “was that John Sinclair was the manager and what this meant was John would go to the gigs with us and he would take all of the money. He would have total control over all the money, he would spend it on what he saw fit. We did get some of it; I don’t know what the figures would be, but I’d say a large part of it went into supporting his program at the same time.”

“We got living wages,” Kramer said. “We lived in a house with 20 other people and everything was paid for. We paid for everything. We could go down there and there’d be food to eat, you know, and we could buy some clothes because we had set up these accounts everywhere, but everybody else in the house did that, too.”

What did the people do?

Wayne: “Nothing, nothing.”

Dennis Thompson: “That’s not true. They worked on John’s paper. A couple of them wrote stories and did little errands for John, but basically none of them really did that much. They’d come to our shows and things like we paid, out of that money that came in, our equipment was paid for, the rent was paid for, food was bought for 20 people, and people would come drifting through, too.”

Also, Wayne said, “there was a basic difference in lifestyle between the five of us and our people … First we’d be working at night, and we wanted to rehearse when we were awake—when they’d all be asleep. So that was always a conflict, not to mention things like the kind of music we liked to listen to and, uh, we liked to get drunk, and they wouldn’t like us to get drunk and stuff like that.

“One night we came home after a gig to find out that Chris had gotten in a fist fight with one of their chicks, man. It was really low-level. She kicked Rob’s wife in the stomach who was pregnant and Rob smacked her in the head …”

Fred: “The situation just deteriorated into a low-level scene where no one was happy and we felt that we were bringing in all the money and the things we were doing were necessary to keep the house and us functioning, but it was impossible to stay there.”

The band moved to a country house in Hamburg, a farm town 15 miles west of Ann Arbor. “A psychedelic place in the woods,” as Mike Davis put it.

John Sinclair is now back at the Rainbow Party house on Hill Street. He has just begun to manage Detroit, the band led by Mitch Ryder.

“All the people in our organization loved the band,” he says. “We did the posters, the light shows, sold newspapers, had a little store. We put all we had behind them. But their chicks hated living communally, and the guys tried to deny that we ever did anything, but that’s bullshit. Genie Plamondon used to be secretary in their fan club! Leni [Sinclair’s wife] took photographs of them everywhere!”

In Hamburg, the band was joined by rock critic Jon Landau, who would produce their first album on Atlantic, Back in the USA.

“This is why the MC 5 had a discussion of whether their money should go to John directly—through his attorney when he was in jail—or the White Panthers,” Landau said. “At the house, the group paid the rent, the food, and the phone bills for all those exorbitant hippies. They had this ten-phone system set up, and one month the bill was $1,000. It became Ann Arbor Central. Anybody who wanted to make a call would drop in.”

“They’re a little out of touch with reality,” Sinclair said about the band’s being left off the John & Yoko benefit. “There wouldn’t have been a need for those feelings if they’d didn’t desert us when we needed them. People now would boo. They knew what had happened; we were open; everybody knew about it.”

“We’ve had nothing to do with the MC 5 since August 1969,” he said. “As soon as I got locked up, they denounced our ideas. They split and left us up-jacked with their debts.”

Atlantic Records, in 1969, laid out a $50,000 advance to sign the band immediately after their split from Elektra, gave them another $20,000 when they ran out of money again, and finally released them at option time a year later. The reason, from Jerry Wexler: “No sales and enormous debit. The situation was they had run up $128,000 that we’ll never see back.”

It was bad timing for Atlantic, signing them just as Sinclair was headed up the river. “When they broke up with John Sinclair,” as Wexler put it, “they lost their fuckin’ audience; they lost their street people.”

“They’re like a lot of people,” said Sinclair. “They get an idea of how things should be, and interpret everything in terms of that idea instead of what really happened. But we stand on our practice. It’s on-going; we’ve got an eight-year history back to me and the Artist’s Workshop. Things can be said, but there are things we’ve done and continue to do, and they … When we finally got the money, we were gonna do what we wanted; what they did is clear: they bought sports cars and a lot of heroin. Not any more equipment. They blew their house. It’s so clear we don’t say nothin’ about it.”

In reality, said Landau, they bought the sports cars with “money they borrowed from their parents.” Why? “Those guys had been together a long, long time. They were very hungry for recognition and success. They had been put down in every magazine as a fake, and they were deeply hurt. When Back in the USA came out and didn’t live up to our expectations in terms of success, they got the sports cars—almost as a fantasy. Even if they weren’t a success they’d act like successes. I probably misled them. I expected too much and built up the importance of that album.”

Landau thought the album, a turn back from avant-jazz-raucous-roll to revolution-as-high-school-music, may have sold 60,000. The MC 5 guessed 100,000. According to Wexler’s figures (which he asked to remain secret), all of them expected too much.

Sinclair, in telling his side of the money story, invariably begins with a recap of the old days, how they all struggled together through $5 DJ hops, $125 house-band rates at the Grande, how all the money went back to the band, how he never made any money and wound up in debt. The MC 5 begin their story the same way.

“We were making about $100 a job, $125,” said Wayne, “and we all lived in a two-room apartment. We decided to leave Detroit because we had nine guitars stolen in two weeks and our girls were getting raped by mad rapers, you know, so we moved up to Ann Arbor. We wanted to get our own place, but John had room in his house and we figured we’d move in temporarily and we ended up staying there for a year. But the money we never really discussed. We tried to have meetings with John, and not just once. We’d get together and start talking … ‘We just want to know, we just want to find out man,’ and so the word would get back to John that the band wanted to talk about their money and see what’s happening with it, where it’s going, and John would start avoiding us, you know….”

“We got a couple of advances from Elektra,” said Smith, “but more important, I guess, would be our advance from Atlantic. That was $50,000 and we got a check for it. And each guy in the group got $1,000. They gave Danny Fields [who brought them to Atlantic] $5,000 which I think he deserved—and we gave Sinclair $5,000 up front and Sinclair got all the rest of it. And to this day, I know some of the money was spent on equipment for us, but there’s a large part of that $50,000 that I have no idea where it went.”

Sinclair: “I put $10,000 down on their house, and the rest of it … I took the money and wiped the slate clean. Loans, phone bills, all the credit cards they had.” Previous advances, he said, went to pay off equipment loans on a $20,000 PA system built for the MC 5.

But if the slate was clean, what debts did the MC 5 “desert” the Panthers with?

“There were a lot of bills. They never paid any attention to any of their business.”

“John always maintained that the money wasn’t the most important thing,” said Wayne. “That’s fine. Money isn’t the most important thing. If I wasn’t making any money I’d still be playing rock and roll music. But John has just said an incredible amount of bad things that have really hurt my feelings … one of the things he said before he went to jail was that we tried to cut him out of everything, that we sold him out. And what we were trying to do was finally get together and say, ‘John, how is this going to be handled? Now, you might be going to jail, what are we going to do?’ And he said, ‘Look, money ain’t the most important thing and you guys are trying to rob me of everything and I did all this work for you guys and now you guys are trying to shaft me.’ “

Sinclair was being harassed by the courts now, in the spring of 1969, and Landau had moved out to Hamburg to prepare the band for their first Atlantic album. “I knew by this time,” Sinclair wrote from prison, “that the band was alienated, from what we were doing organizationally with the White Panthers, but I kept hoping that they would wake up one day and realize what was going down. They never did … As the band got more national exposure, the Industry, people started getting to them more and more in trying to convince the band that they would have to give up their ‘political’ revolutionary stance altogether if they planned to make it big in the Biz. This fit right in with their own fears—that they had worked this long and this hard only to be denied their rightful position as a S*T*A*R band because their manager misled them and had them do the wrong things—and they started plotting ways to break their ties with me, Trans-Love, and the Panthers.”

“Let’s talk about exactly what happened.” Fred Smith speaking. “John Sinclair, J.C. Crawford [the red-blooded “preacher” who did the “kick out the jams” introduction and conducted Panther business before each show], the five of us and our accountant, and Landau, got together in our house in Hamburg. Sinclair felt he was going to jail soon and wanted to make some kind of arrangement so he would have some money coming in while he was gone. We made an offer to Sinclair of five percent of all the money that we make for an unlimited period of time, which might be ten years, and John Sinclair said that wasn’t enough. He asked J.C. what he thought and J.C. said, ‘I think you should have ten.’ At that time the group was going to kick 15 percent for another manager; we were spending 15 percent for a booking agency and to give John Sinclair ten percent would already be 40 percent of the money gone off the top. And we felt five percent was, uh, a very good offer.”

Sinclair says that prior to that summit, the band had agreed to give 20 percent of all earnings to Trans-Love as a management fee, with the band finally setting up its own bank account. Sinclair was agreeable: “I knew it meant more money for us, even though the 5 thought they would be getting more,” he wrote. “They had come to feel it seemed that all their equipment and other expenses just got paid by magic and that I was misusing the bulk of their money for ‘political’ purposes that they didn’t want to support.” Then, he said, Landau and accountant David Newman entered the scene, and when they all met, the offer was 15 percent to Sinclair of earnings from performances, 20 percent of Elektra royalties—if any—and nothing from Atlantic royalties, since he had nothing to do with getting the Atlantic contract. It was then, he said, that the five percent offer was made. Sinclair left and went to jail the next month.

The group says they had an allegiance, still, to Sinclair; the man had a right to be thinking about his family—whether wife and child or 25 White Panthers—on the eve of imprisonment.

“I wrote him this big long personal letter,” Kramer said. “I really felt bad about everything that had happened, you know. I wrote him to explain my feelings a little bit, and we had to make some kind of arrangements for the future. Like our worst fears had been realized and we had to deal with it. I told him what I thought we should do and he wrote me back a rant; just a paranoid rant … He says, ‘You guys wanted to be bigger than the Beatles, and I wanted you to be bigger than Chairman Mao.’ And I’m trying to talk to him about some important shit, you know, and that’s what I get back.” Kramer let out a short, but clear, snort.

Kramer, Sinclair said, only repeated the Hamburg offer of 15 percent on their gross earnings. Six months into jail, he said he’d received $215, and today he says: “I never did get any of it. In reality we got nothing.”

Sinclair and the MC 5 seem no closer on the issue of reality than they are now on politics. The MC 5 claim to have given him “thousands of dollars,” most of it paid directly to his attorneys for his legal defense and court costs. The night before Sinclair’s incarceration, they said, they headlined a benefit and handed over $1,500 cash to the fund. “And most of it never went for his defense,” said Dennis Thompson, “it went for his party, to support his people. And a couple of times it was a couple thousand dollars at a crack, and the money was dispersed and we had no account of where that money went.”

Landau backs up the band’s word, listing numerous benefits the band played. “And when the group got their second advance from Atlantic, Bob Rudnick [the Kokaine Karma radio personality who joined the Panthers as Minister of Information] came out to the house and implored us for money for a previous Sinclair case. I was skeptical and we had a discussion, and I said, ‘If it’s for Sinclair, you got it, but if it’s for the White Panther party …’ He said it was for lawyers, and he got $1,000, maybe $1,500. All together the MC 5 gave Sinclair somewhere between $5,000 and $7,500. And if John Sinclair didn’t get it, someone wasn’t telling him.”

Landau joined the group, he said, after seeing several of their shows in Detroit and in his hometown, Boston, and after several talks. “I responded to criticisms they voiced about John,” he said. “They felt they were not progressing under his direction. They wanted to be a successful rock and roll band—musically, politically, culturally.

“Sinclair was an amateurish manager,” he said. “He didn’t take their money or anything like that, but it wasn’t handled in an orderly way. He didn’t provide them with the services normally provided by a manager.”

But that, of course, was the kind of person the MC 5 had wanted, had loved and idolized from the beginning.

“He’s an incredibly persuasive and charismatic person,” said Wayne Kramer. “He’s this great big cat and he’s got all this energy, you know, and he just turns it on you. There is something to John’s father-figure effect on the group. I had just left home, and here was this older cat who could explain all these things that I didn’t understand about the world. And he did have a strong effect on everyone else, philosophically strong spiritual attitudes that he instilled in us.”

When John the father was taken away, the group was left with Jon the older brother, the analyst, the rock critic who says: “I relate to rock and roll a lot more than I relate to a political thing as such. I think that rock and roll in a lot of ways is bigger than that.” He was taking them back to the basics; “trimming off the excess,” Kramer called it. Or, as Rob Tyner put it: “In the past we’d go out on the stage and put out just as much meat energy as we could, but sometimes this energy wouldn’t be applied. It would be like a blast. We want to harness some of that power. I mean, you can drop the bomb, but you can also use atomic energy within a context so that it’s essentially productive. It’s kind of difficult to relate to someone smacking you in the mouth.”

The MC 5 always allied themselves with Sun Ra and Coltrane; there were bits of evidence in their first and most successful album (Kick Out the Jams; 100,000 sold). But it was more Motor City factory-driven white noise than black-rippled space sounds. These were the sounds of smartassed punks who must’ve “gotten into” Coleman and Coltrane the way they’d gotten into the White Panthers’ ten-point program: Free self-determination! Free world economy! No more corporate rule! No more unnatural boundaries! Free land! Food! Shelter! Clothing! Music! Medical care! School! Time! Space! Energy!

So Fred Smith discusses music: “Well, I feel ‘High Time’ is—well, I really like it.

“We like to play all kinds of music, especially like high energy music … uh, jazz-oriented music from the influence we’ve had over the years with jazz people, and we look towards the next album as having no restrictions. It’s going to be a live album, it’s going to have as few restrictions as possible as far as language, as far as subject matter and as far as pointing out some of the problems that we’ve gone through over the years.

“One of the songs that I wrote for the new album is called, ‘The Music Business Stinks and the Music Has a Big Nose.’ And that’s one of the songs which might give you an idea.

And Wayne Kramer speaks on politics: “Politics is obviously where the power to change the country is, but I don’t mean John Sinclair politics, youth politics. Sinclair was talking about all this alternative shit, and one of his big schemes was the tribal system where there would be little tribes in each city and then all the tribes from the different cities would get together for a youth-council-tribal-powwow, and that’s just a whole bunch of hokey shit to me, man. Because politics is where the power is, man, and if you want to change this shit, man, you’ve got to put somebody in office that’s got the ideas and the philosophy that you entertain, you know. And that’s the way the shit will be changed, you know, if, if the world makes it very far, which I really don’t think it will. But if there is a solution, that’s where it will lie, you know? We’ve already got the set-up where we’ve got the little tribal things and the representatives from each tribe and that’s called Congress and that’s called Senate, you know. That’s where all the representatives are. Of course, it’s all corrupt as a motherfucker, you know, and it’s so out of touch with the American people and life in America that it is even ridiculous to mention, but that’s where the power is.”

As the MC 5 began to shape their own thoughts, a split with Sinclair became inevitable. “He was just getting his ideas over through us, and we were getting tired of that. We started thinking John should pursue his own ideas, write a book expounding his ideas, which we thought were good ideas, and make a record and go on tour speaking and forget about his toy political party the White Penguins or whatever they are and get serious about it. Run for Congress, run for President,”—anything, he seemed to be saying, but run the MC 5.

Sinclair, of course, has been pals with John and Yoko Lennon and the New York Village radicals, and he is still hoping to do a Guitar Army tour with them—pending the Lennons’ fight to avoid deportation. “I was flipped out from talking to them,” he said. “We’re agreed on what we want to do, to tour and try and turn the business around. We won’t merge, but I want to unite with them as much as possible. We believe they’re really sincere, the government knows they’re sincere, and that’s why they’re trying to get rid of them.”

The MC 5, Kramer thinks, could do that, too—but not Sinclair/free/formless style.

“I think he’s speaking in terms of the overall scope of change, of trying to make the world a better place to live, and I don’t think … that’s all fine, you know …”

The change also includes the music industry—the structure of the record business, booking …

“To what?”

To free.

“That’s impossible. All right, so how are the musicians going to get to the jobs? How are they going to pay for amplifiers? If that’s his premise then all money is going to have to go. And that’s his concept, too.”

“Another funny thing”—Fred Smith talking now—”is that John put us down because of the cars we drove, and as soon as he gets out of jail he drives home in a Bentley.” It was the Lennons’.

Sinclair, of course, is banking on a Beatle to pay the Army’s bills. And he doesn’t declare money out of style: “The breakthroughs,” he said, “are going to have to be made by groups with money. Not groups who go and buy Aston-Martins, but groups who buy radio stations. I’m not anti-money; but it’s what you do with the money you make.”

Sinclair has always been a feeling man. Today, he says, talking about the sad state of the MC 5 and the Detroit rock and roll scene, “The feeling in the community is–they really want them to get it together. They feel bad about them being fucked up. We don’t really have any rancor.”

“We didn’t want to be antagonistic to the guy,” said Wayne Kramer. The group had held itself to a lukewarm response, on local radio, when the Sinclair/Creem letter appeared. “But now he is out, and we are not pulling any punches. Whatever he wants us to deal with, man, we’ll deal with it.”

We leave the MC 5 fairly sputtering. This is the style of the white kids in Detroit—where Ford plants and rubber monuments reach the highest into the sky, where industry rules and culture, and intellect, hit almost by accident. “The lifestyle, like the music, is naive, crude, adolescent, simple and simplistic,” Creem observed in March, 1970, when the Detroit scene had sunk into its first ebb. Before the MC 5 began to credit themselves with original political thoughts, it was streetgang thinking. “Politics hit home to the MC 5,” Landau said, “when they brought in $20,000 one month and saw a large percentage of it supporting the others. ‘What kind of politics is this?’ ‘We’re being used!’ They’re not thinkers and book-readers. Their political judgments are the result of just what they see.”

John Sinclair, with John and Yoko and Mitch Ryder and Up (MC 5’s less-than-adequate replacement in the heart and home of the Rainbow Party), is hoping to reconstruct a music scene. Today there is no ballroom. The only show in town is staged at Cobo Hall. Big-ticket, non-local shows. Russ Gibb, who used to have a piece of MC 5 and a large part of the Grande, is back to his old line—radio work. He’s a talk show host on AM radio.

As for the MC 5: The week before I saw them, in February, they were still picking up jobs here and there—the week before, in fact, in Saginaw, up north past Flint, where they were second-billed to their idol, Chuck Berry. And early in the conversation, Mike Davis, the bass player, was talking about the band’s upcoming short tour of England, where “We just exist as sort of a legendary kind of thing, you know,” and how the visit was just “a part of our musical career. What we’re working on all the time, you know, is our music. It’s our life. Our career doesn’t end.”

We called Fred Smith’s and Mike Davis’ homes last week to be sure we had the story right, to see how the tour had gone, to check on the progress of their deal with Roulette Records, to see if Dennis had taken up his part-time job at the tool and die shop.

Both phones were disconnected, and the only thing Sinclair could tell us was that the MC 5 are now four. Mike Davis, he’d heard, had been left behind in Europe.

In This Article: Coverwall, MC5


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