Shattered Dreams in Motor City: The Demise of the MC 5
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.”
'This Is Extraordinary': Why The Eras Tour Is Taylor Swift's Greatest Live Triumph Yet.
- Every Night With Us Is Like A Dream