MARSH ON THE MC5 - INTERVIEW
Q/A was conducted via email someday in 2000. "Ultraveteran rock
critic/journalist/biographer" Dave Marsh was patient and
kind enough to enlighten some points of history as the MC5
Gateway was about to tell the story of the MC5 - still an
untold story at that time - and the questions to Mr Marsh are as they
: When did you see the M.C.Five for the first time on stage? Do you
remember this first time?
Dave Marsh : The first one was, I think, with the Fugs
at the Grande
'67--I remember "Empty Heart" and/or "C.C.Rider." It does get a little
blurry after all this time. Something Rob played harp on for like 20
minutes. Then there was that New Year's Eve--'67 turning into '68
(unless that was the same show, which I doubt), quite an amazing
performance and that one I'm SURE had "C.C.Rider," which is one of the
great lost MC5 renditions, if you ask me.
I remember it well enough to tell you about the light
show and what the
joint smelled like.
them before that? Did you make their acquintance at
Wayne State University?
I was a freshman in college the next autumn--'68, right after the
Democratic National Convention in D.C., right before the album
recording (which I didn't get to go to). I met a guy named Ken Dabish
whose brother had been in the Detroit House of Correction with Sinclair.
We started showing up at a lot of Five shows and met the
band, John, and most important for me, Bob Rudnick, who became a great
friend and mentor for the rest of his life.
were a student at WSU for two months in 1969 just before you met
J.Sinclair, the M.C.Five etc. and you were living above the 5th Estate
office, right? What would you say about the popularity of the M.C.Five
in this area in '69?
They were the Beatles.
you remember the exact date of release of the album "Kick Out The
No. I remember buying it early in '69 or something. I don't remember
the exact date.
Spring/Summer 69 were the radios playing that record a lot? The
uncensored version too?
WABX was. I never heard the uncensored version on the
you discuss the 'Fuck
Hudson's ad' affair,
right before Atlantic
Records and J.Wexler became part of the story through Danny Fields.
I wasn't part of that. The person you want to find is
Robin Sommer, in
Detroit. He designed the
ad. He's a
hostile motherfucker (but a
terrific artist) but if he figures out you are serious, he can be very
you in relations with the other journalists (Peter Werbe/5th
Estate ; Ken Kelley/Ann Arbor Argus i believe, etc.) and with
of the Detroit radios?
I knew from even years before that, when I was an aspiring high school
journalist--I met him and Frank Joyce and Harvey Ovshinsky as early
as maybe spring '66--certainly not any later than the next spring.
And I did little bits of writing for the Fifth Estate.
Rudnick and his partner Dennis Frawley had their Kokaine Karma radio show
on WABX (it was originally on WFMU
in New Jersey,
which is basically,
NYC). So through them I met a lot of disc jockeys; Dan Carlisle of
etc later lived in the Creem house. Jerry Lubin was around;
a few more--a guy called Mike Shannon at WRIF? Everyone knew anyone,
a little bit, by late '69 or early '70, I guess. Before Rudnick and
Sinclair and I basically talked my way into Creem, I
didn't know anyone
but them, really.
have you heard of a prime F.Smith's and J.Sinclair's trial in Pontiac?
I attended it. It was about a mile from my parents house. We went there
for lunch one day but nobody was home. The neighbors thought that the
thugs had invaded for real.
sort of a crowd
was attending the concert of the M.C.Five? Was there a circle of fans
was kids--some of them were in high school or college, some of them
had jobs, some of them couldn't find jobs for all I know. But it was
kids--under 25, probably mostly under 21 you know. The local hipsters
liked the band, if they liked rock'n'roll at all, but it was 1200 kids
or whatever at the Grande--there weren't enough hipsters to fill a
good-sized two story house, I don't think.
are some names that seemed to be important in the M.C.Five's circle -
who were they and what were they doing for the band : Steve Harnadek,
Ron Levine, Jerry Younkins, Robin Sommers.
Robin (also Creem's first
art director) was the art director for the Ann Arbor Sun, the White
Panther paper. Jerry Younkins I never knew; he was I think one of the
leading lights of the Artists
Workshop, which was Sinclair's
publishing/artistic jazz'n'poetry outlet pre-Five and WPP. Steve was
the main MC5 roadie. Ron Levine I do not remember.
you know J.Crawford and Panther White?
(J.C.) I knew very well at that time; Panther I knew, not as well.
Jesse would let me intro the band--imitating him imitating Jimmy
Swaggart--a time or two.
April 5, 1969 a
review (L.Bangs' one) of the album 'Kick Out The
Jams' is published in Creem magazine. Do you believe it had a
impact on the group's spirit - bad impact or else...?
No, not on the spirit--everybody was already pissed
know-nothing hippies who didn't like high energy rock'n'roll. I know
for a fact it had a lot of impact on Elektra's spirit, esp. because
there were scumbags like Bill Harvey who already wanted the band gone.
March 1969 the M.C.Five are badly received on the West Coast. What can
you say about it?
I don't know enough about it to say anything.
role Danny Fields (just before he drops out of
Elektra to find a job at Atlantic) played when the negociations have
begun between Atlantic/Jerry Wexler and the M.C.Five.
You should ask Danny.
John Sinclair involved in the negociations too?
the atmosphere was it like during the Back
In The USA recording
Things were both the highest they'd ever been--the
band had sold some
records, they had a slightly different lifestyle, they had cars and a
house for just themselves not the 2 billion othe people who lived at
the White Panther houses on Hill Street in Ann Arbor; they were out in
Hamburg, which is NW of Ann Arbor (or NE, I can't remember and I just
drove through there a week ago--NE, probably). There was turmoil
because of John's legal situation, because the band was so
controversial, because Landau's production approach stripped the band
down and rebuilt for the purpose of that album, I think. And because
the social revolution of the previous decade and a half was spiralling
into dissolution, of course.
in July 1969, Sinclair is condemned to prison while
the M.C.Five are finishing the rehearsals for 'Back In The USA.' In the
end of the summer they play together with the Stooges in New York City.
Can you discuss the coexistence of those (great) 2 bands in the same
Well, they coexisted the same way that the MC5 and the
co-existed; the way that the Five coexisted with Nugent or Seger or
P-Funk. There were MANY more than 2 great bands in town. The Five and
the Stooges had high energy noise in common; they all lived around Ann
Arbor (although so did the Rats and Seger); they were booked by the
same people. Aside from that, as I look back on it, they did NOT have
that much in common that they didn't have in common with five or ten
other bands. Maybe Ron Asheton's guitar style had a lot to do with
Wayne's (not Fred's so much). That'd be about it.
this time Gary
Grimshaw is on the run and Pun Plamondon
becomes the leader of the
White Panther Party. Did you know P.Plamondon well? What sort of an
individual he was?
I knew Pun the way a kid knows someone he kind of
somebody who is intently serious, very gentle and powerful at the same
time, wild and angry at the same time, wide open to such a kid. He
was--and I presume, is--a great human spirit. He meant what he said
politically, and paid the price. I think of all of the White Panthers,
in a funny way, he had the least charisma and the most burning
intensity. He was Che, not Fidel.
Pun Plamondon - John Sinclair - Wayne Kramer
Photo by Leni Sinclair - used with permission
acquintance with the M.C.Five in '69, right? Here are some names among
the people who were close to the band : Emil Bacilla,
Steve Harnadek, Jesse Crawford, John and Leni Sinclair,
Pun and Genie
Plamondon, Bob Rudnick, Dennis Frawley, Robin Sommers, Ron Levine, Russ
Gibb, Jeep Holland... Where they all close friends to the band?
I doubt if the band considered Russ Gibb, a nefarious
a friend. Maybe. And like I say, I don't remember Ron Levine--I
probably should, but I don't. Emil I never knew although I know I met
him at a couple of points. Others? Barry Kramer at Creem, I guess, was
in that circle. Some artists. Werbe and Joyce and Ovshinsky, probably.
Ken Kelley for sure. Skip Taube. The Up and esp. Frank Bach. A lot of
the other musicians, but you'd have to ask Wayne or someone.
Fall of 1969 Peter
Cavanaugh produces an M.C.Five
concert in Davison
(See his book
'Local DJ' wherein some chapters are relating to this event).
also a DJ at WTAC. Were the radios a major impact on the Michigan scene?
The radio stations is why there WAS a scene. People like
above all -- played records by local bands and Pete particularly loved
high energy rock'n'roll, which is why stuff like the Who's "I Can't
Explain" and "My Generation" became local hits. Later, the FM rock
stations took it a step further and got involved with the growing
rock'n'roll community, helping promote the bands and espousing some of
the political issues we wanted to talk about.
Panthers Party or the M.C.Five themselves connected with any of the
radios of Detroit? Where they connected with any newspapers?
Everything was connected; like I say, there weren't that
Rudnick and Frawley lived at Hill Street and had the radio show on
'ABX. They were connected closely to the Argus and the Fifth
Estate--John used to write a column for the FE, I think Kelley might
up living at Hill Street. I did a kind of news show onn 'KNR when I was
J.C.Crawford is still 'MCeing' and the M.C.Five are playing the 'Free
John Sinclair Fund' concert altough someone warned the band to separate
from their former political entourage. But was it the own will of the
M.C.Five to separate from its political image?
Ask them. I don't think they did that, so I can't tell
you. I think
they CHANGED their political image but I don't think they separated
from politics, ever. I think Wayne would tell you the same thing. I
don't know about Dennis or Michael. Rob would have agreed in part--he
would have defined some of what he did away from politics, but he
always had a vision that centered in social change so what IS the
difference? Fred, well, Fred hooked up with Patti Smith and
"People Have the Power." How political is THAT?
the release of 'Back In The USA' someone said that the M.C.Five were
less a political band and that they became just another rock'n'roll
band. Could you feel a changing in their 'live acts' and through the
crowd attending their live performances?
Yes, but I don't think that's the reason. I think the
reason is that
the place they lived, the people they lived with, were torn apart,
largely by the intervention of the government but also by the band's
failure to be the Beatles out side Detroit, if you know what I mean.
The sound changed quite a lot, although I would say they shifted back
toward the original sound within six months or so after Landau left.
would also say that drugs had a lot to do with this--hard drugs.
About the crowd, I'm less sure, or have less definite
had exploded; lots of people who would have found it unacceptable to go
to some hippie rock place 18 months earlier were going now. It wasn't
the same crowd, at all.
1970 sees the release of 'Back In The USA' (#137 in the charts), then
the band is recording the album 'High Time' in the summer. What is your
feeling with regards to the M.C.Five at this time?
I was not in touch with them much after Back In The USA.
1970 : the M.C.Five go to Europe to play some shows and they even
record 'Sister Anne' in London; soon after that they begin the
recording of 'High
Time.' What can you say about this period in the
life of the M.C.Five?
Nothing. I never ran into them over there; we were out
about their European management and Ronan O'Rahilly in particular?
Rolling Stone mag (Oct.70) Peter Andrews notices that the M.C.Five
popularity is declining in the area. Did you share that same point of
view in the Fall of 1970?
I think everything was declining for the local scene by
M.C.Five spent most of the year '72 in Europe. Were they as popular as
they used to be in the Detroit area / in the USA?
Probably not in Detroit. They were never very popular in
the USA as a
left Creem magazine in July '73 when the M.C.Five just broke up; what
goes down in history from this period?
You want me to write a book? Not an answerable question
in less space
the M.C.Five have any impact on the next generation of rock'n'roll
bands in the 70s. And what about present bands?
Obviously, huge effect on Dolls and Sex Pistols. Maybe
Possibly Ramones. Present bands too numerous to mention.
M.C.Five had to deal with the problem of dope. Do you think it had
something to do with their disbandment?
No, it had everything to do with it. It was THE reason.
was wondering if back in those days the (underground or national)
magazines were regularly announcing the concert dates. Which ones?
an article C.Stigliano (Black to Comm magazine) says : "Creem's roots
were about as rockism correct as a magazine could have as well. Coming
out of the late-60's John Sinclair fueled White Panther rabble-rousing
days in Detroit, Creem was the local equiv. of all of those other rock
publications that've sprung up around the time people began to look at
rock as a "serious" music." What would you say about that?
If the guy thinks that Creem wasn't really much
different than other
rock magazines, he's a really weird reader.
guess you knew the M.C.Five well enough to say of they really looked at
their music as a 'serious' music, don't you?
It has never occured to me that that would even come up
as a question.
What do you think, they went though all that shit but would have been
just as happy sounding like the Eagles or the Doobie Brothers or
Emerson Lake and Palmer? Hell yes they were serious. Still are. Me
not manage to get the official date of release of both yet, but anyway,
the single was out in january 1969 and the album in february 1969,
true that Elektra records put the album (intentionally) too shortly
after the single (which was well received altough Billboard critized it
severely) because the heads of Elektra would have seen an opportunity
to make money quickly through the (premature) release of the album?
months later (march/april?) as the original album version had sold over
100,000 copies (according to D.Fields in Rolling Stone May 17, 1969)
Elektra decided to repackage the album in dropping the liner notes and
the 'motherfucker' word. But i guess it took time to remove the
original version from the stores and to release the softened version.
So it seems like Elektra would have put the whole things to death. I
mean they slowed the sales, didn't they?
There are lots better ways to sabotage an album's
than what you mention. Elektra had a large investment in the band. I
don't think that everyone at the company wanted to sabotage the band or
the album. I think there were people who hated them; I think there were
people who loved them; there were probably a whole lot who didn't care
and just wanted to get back to Judy Collins. I'm not aware of what
There is never, in my experience of 30 plus years, a
a record "too shortly" after a single--there might be a problem with
releasing it too late, or with releasing the single too early or too
late, but not the album.
So, I have never heard of any this before, but I don't
see how it could
be true. But ask Danny.
I think the censored version of the album was done to
INCREASE sales--there were lots of radio stations and stores where the album was simply
out the question in its uncensored version. Your reading of this is
quite bizarre, or at least naive as to the circumstances. I don't mean
that the album should have been censored, or that the band wasn't
furious that it was censored, or that the band wasn't right to be
furious. But the idea that Elektra needed to do anything so elaborate
to sabotage it is just plain incorrect. Albums die quite easily from
just a little neglect--ask anyone who was involved with Back In The
biographical information on many of the personalities cited above
Area Musical Personalities