MC5 2005

by Dorian Cope, 28/07/2005ce

Iconic Elektra promo shot: see text for my thoughts on this particular image of Wayne!

Brothers and Sisters…

…I’ve removed my old MC5 page from the Unsung Features archives. It was about time for a reassessment in any case because there has been a lot of MC5 action in the last few years, but this update is written first and foremost as an act of solidarity for Wayne Kramer. When I last wrote for Head Heritage about the MC5, it was with the giddiest excitement because of the news of an impending feature film about our heroes. The MC5 * A True Testimonial was completed three years ago but it has only managed to screen at a few film festivals before inexplicably snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, stalled by a most unrighteous legal battle. Rather than attempt to summarise what it’s all about, I’ll direct you instead to Wayne’s honest and eloquent assessment of the situation: -


So in a nutshell, MC5 member gets burned again. Obviously, as with any contentious matter, there is another side to the story – but whatever their take is, it is my wholehearted belief that somewhere along the way the producers have forgotten why and how they’d come to be working with Brotherrr Wayne Kramer in the first place. Even if Wayne was being unreasonable (which he totally is not), they should acquiesce…they should hand Wayne whatever he wants on a plate along with a hefty tip to thank him not only for being the absolute Superstar of their film, but for services and dues paid above and beyond the call of duty to rock’n’roll. The MC5’s legendary inability to ever reconcile their pioneering trip with the music industry is one of the most fundamental features of their story; fans shake their heads in disbelief at the unjustness, subsequent generations of musicians have taken careful note and so cautionary is the tale that Fred Goodman devoted an entire chapter to it in his epic book about the head-on collision of rock and commerce, The Mansion on the Hill. And of course, it is what lies at the very heart of A True Testimonial, which only serves to boggle the mind further… how could the producers have so comprehensively lost the plot?!? Anyone who has read Please Kill Me (and, as one of my buds says, we all have at least twice, right?) cannot have failed to have been deeply moved by Wayne’s summation of his MC5 experience, and this is once again heartbreakingly repeated in A True Testimonial – the most tragic thing of all was that the Five lost each other. So it seems particularly mocking that one of the most unfortunate consequences of this dispute has been the division between Rob and Fred’s families and Wayne. Rob Tyner was one of the greatest men to ever hold a microphone, and Fred is my ultimate Rock God – but as much as it grieves me, they are no longer here with us. Wayne, Dennis and Michael are alive – they are working musicians, entitled to their legacy and any overdue glory that might finally be coming their way. It’s somewhat ironic that the Five aspired to be their generation’s antidote to the Vietnam War …they were a different kind of soldier – and yet, rather like the Nam veterans, their lives have been forever scarred by their efforts. And for all his underappreciated contributions, the final insult and indignation for Wayne is being made to feel guilty for expecting, and denied yet again, what is rightfully his. Fuck that shit. To the producers of The MC5 * A True Testimonial: I’ve seen your film and I applaud your colossal achievement. With the help of Wayne, Michael and Dennis, you have done a sterling job in documenting evidence capable of inspiring and empowering new generations of rock fans for years to come. This film deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. And you of all people should know that it takes five seconds of decision…five seconds to realise that it’s time to move, it’s time to get down with it. It is my sincere hope that you will wake up soon to the Bigger Picture and Do the Right Thing.

On a happier note…

One of the most haunting moments of A True Testimonial comes from Dennis, when he tells the camera that every night he dreams about “his band”. All that he had. All that he lost. But the interviews for A True Testimonial were conducted before the redeployment of the Five as the MC5-DKT. Although I was thrilled to hear this news, I initially decided against going to see them for myself because I wasn’t sure I could handle it. They’d held a mythical place in my imagination for so long…always on stage at the Grande, sweat pouring off them, when the sea of possibilities was still real and not merely an ideal, when the audience left the Ballroom genuinely believing that they were party to and part of a new and revolutionary way of thinking. The MC5 are not simply my favourite band. They embody all the hopes and dreams of rock’n’roll; they are everything it could have and should have been. So it was by no means a casual decision to not go to London when they played the 100 Club in 2003. However, I’d already made plans to go to the Reading Festival in August 2004 on the Saturday to see the White Stripes and so when the MC5-DKT were added to the bill, I accepted the invitation fate had dealt me and made my way to the Radio 1 stage at the appointed time with my heart pounding so hard I could see it through my shirt. I can’t even remember how I felt when they walked out on to the stage because I was too overwhelmed by the moment – so much so that I had a real problem getting into it. With hindsight, I was clearly way too inhibited by my 20-year all-consuming love for them and so I spent the first half of their set virtually paralyzed by my own personal agenda. By the time I snapped out of it, I was delighted to find that the friends I was with were totally into it – in fact, everyone was having a great time and I was the last person in the audience to surrender to their totally dignified new take on their old songs. Mark Arm and Lisa Kekaula shared lead vocals (Julian has always asserted that Rob sounded most like a black female), and the Hellacopters’ Nick Royale deputised for Sonic – they all passed the test of their formidable task with flying colours, but impressive as they were, for me it was all about the Three from the Five. Dennis is still the Machine Gun and Michael still makes that bass do insane things – together, they remain one of the most inventive and underrated rhythm sections. And then there was Wayne. Now, what red-blooded female (or male!) MC5 fan has never had a massive crush on Wayne Kramer? If John Sinclair had been really smart, he would have financed his revolution by marketing a pin-up poster of Wayne, preferably from that MC5 Elektra promo where he is shirtless, crazy-haired and half smiling/half sneering stoned and black-eyed directly into the camera. It would have been an all-time bestseller to rival Farrah. Anyway, so there he was dressed all in white, obviously still inspired by Live at the Apollo-era James Brown – still the showman, still dancing, still shaking his still-fine ass, raising his fist and leading us all through a mammoth call & answer sing-a-long to “Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa”. I felt emotionally and physically drained by the time they left the stage, and it would be several days before I was able to properly absorb and fully appreciate the experience.

It was a very High Time

The MC5-DKT: still mad, bad and dangerous to know.

Earlier this year at the Royal Festival Hall, Julian had a meeting of the minds with Wayne, Dennis and Michael. I had to stay home and hold the fort but I couldn’t have been more thrilled when Julian reported that they were everything and more that we always knew they would be. Delighted as I was for Julian, you know that I would be a liar if I didn’t admit to being more than a little envious. But the good news for mercenary me was that the meeting had clearly been so successful that it wouldn’t be the last.

June 2005 was a stellar month. I got to see the secret Black Sabbath gig at Aylesbury Civic Centre, then the family went to Ozzfest at the Download Festival so the girls could get their GN’R ya ya’s out with SlashN’Duff and Velvet Revolver and we could see the Sabs again. And then it was June 14th, and the MC5-DKT were on at the Zodiac in Oxford. I knew I was gonna get to meet them before we set off – Julian and Wayne spoke on the phone beforehand to make arrangements (while I danced around the living room like a lunatic, mouthing furiously to the girls “It’s Wayne Kramer. IT’S WAYNE KRAMER!!!”). I spent the drive pondering what on earth do you say when you meet your heroes? We arrived and waited a bit in the dressing room, hung out with Handsome Dick Manitoba who is an ultra-cool New York Dude (and who I remember well and with much respect from my own NY days, having seen him several times with The Dictators). Then in walked Wayne. He and Julian embraced and I went kind of shy, which, though unusual for me, was just as well as I’d been terrified my Greek side would let me down and I’d start crying, or something. Wayne was so great that I soon relaxed and what struck me most about him is the genuine excitement he gets from music. His quest to evolve as a musician, to discover new sounds, his absolute need to create, is passionate and infectious. He is powerfully intelligent, guru-like, soft-spoken, humble yet quietly confident. I loved him. The first support band came on, Oxford’s Suitable Case for Treatment. They sounded like The Pop Group via Captain Beefheart via Ska, and Wayne immediately pricked up his ears. Soon after they’d finished their set, Wayne began to hatch a plan for a freak-out finale to the evening and that’s when things started moving very fast. Dennis arrived…he and Julian bear-hugged and started talking a mile a minute. I noticed Gilby Clarke drying his hair; we’ve been on such a huge Guns N’ Roses kick in this house and under normal circumstances I’d have been clamouring for an audience with him, but I was too aware of not yet having been introduced to Dennis. That’s cos, by now, Julian was very, very bonced. Wayne sidled over and asked Julian if he’d like to join them onstage to encore with “Starship”. How could he have said no? I was finally introduced to Dennis, who is so effervescent that he physically emanates. He’s writing a book and I for one can’t wait. Michael arrived just before the band was due on stage – I managed to get a quick hug from him before Julian and I edged our way to the front. And then it began, just like it did on KOTJ in 1968, with “Ramblin’ Rose”. Handsome Dick came on to “Call Me Animal”, and he was a great choice for guest vocalist; like Mark Arm and Lisa Kekaula, he didn’t try to emulate Rob but brought his own New York groove thang to the party. Gilby kicked serious ass – he looks monumentally cool and is a fucking great guitarist. As a stand-in for my beloved Sonic one, what more can you ask? An unexpected but delightful surprise was the High Time-heavy set list. “Miss X”, “Sister Anne” and a very mighty “Over and Over”. And then, in what must rate as one of the most surreal moments of my life, I watched my (very wrecked) husband rise to the occasion to share the vocals with Handsome Dick for a totally freaked-out 20-minute version of “Starship”. With Suitable Case for Treatment joining the ensemble, there had to have been around 15 people on the stage and every one of them was giving it their all. Afterwards and back in the dressing room, the musicians vibed on the inspired chaos they’d created and I was at last able to snatch some time with Michael. All too soon it was time for goodbyes...I’m sure they must meet a lot of people who tell them how wholly essential they’ve been to their lives, but I’d like to think that when I said an emotional ‘thank you’ to Wayne, he understood how genuinely I meant it.

It took me a couple of weeks to come back down to earth, and in my personal pantheon of great moments in rock – and I’m blessed to have many – June 14th 2005 ranks in my Top 3.

Keep on kicking out those motherfucking jams

I scored this poster of Ebay last month. Yee-ha!

Every few years, the same thing happens. I discover the MC5 all over again and it’s like I’m getting into them for the very first time. I’ll always ask Julian the same thing: did I ever really love them before now? Did I get it? He’ll assure me, yes, I did. But it recently occurred to me how a band that I have loved so completely for so long can still manage to sound Brand New. The Five’s fans are so steeped in the tragic side of our heroes’ story that we’ll forget that where it matters most, they entirely succeeded. They won. Their music was genuinely revolutionary – they were the first hybrid of heavy and punk, combined with an intellectual, avant-garde and outrageously idealistic, aspirational and inspirational approach. They are the benchmark by which I measure everyone else and my only grievance as an MC5 fan is that they make everyone else seem so limp. More than 35 years later, they still sound raw and alive, and their title as Pioneers and Godfathers of all that Rocks True and Hard remains unchallenged.

It seems nothing short of a rock’n’roll miracle that Wayne, Michael and Dennis are doing what they’re doing – not only are they still alive and not cabbaged, but they have managed to remain dignified and defiant and undefeated by everything they’ve been through, and are taking their almighty legacy on the road for us all to bear witness to the high-energy power and glory that is theirs and theirs alone. As I write this (28th July 2005), I am painfully aware that the MC5-DKT with their very special guests will be performing Kick out the Jams in its entirety this weekend in New York. What I wouldn’t give to be there! Wayne, Michael and Dennis: kick ‘em out, my friends – may you continue to do so for years to come. And from the bottom of my lovesick heart, thank you for it all.

Dorian Cope

(Disclaimer: The opinions above are mine all mine, are not necessarily shared by Julian or anyone else associated with Head Heritage and they’d better not cause any more hassle to Wayne.)

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