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 - END TIMES - a fanzine from Grand Rapids MI [relocated in Boulder, Colorado around 85-86]
In this issue : interviews with Michael Davis , Ian Mackaye , Happy World , Glenn O'Brien , Dr Richard Zare , records reviews , comics. Editors: Craig and Jane Taatjes  no.8 99¢
This interview is reprinted here by permission of the author ©1986-2007 by Eric Lorey
END TIMES fanzine

Interview by Eric Lorey

   From the mid-60's to the early 70's, the Motor City 5 rampaged through the musical world like a locomotive gone wild. Their blistering assault of ideas and music, their freshness, substance, and drive have never been equalled. Throughout the 60's, the MC5 carried a pure momentum, a mix of jazz and primal screams, of soul and intensity, of the blues and of guns going off. The 5 were, quite simply, THE rock band of their generation. Refusing presuppositions and limitations, they took rock & roll to its limit -- they embodied the toughness of industrial Detroit and the rage of the '67 riots which burned it down. But their music was also a celebration. The cry of the 5 was one of a magical mass-understanding of the times, archetypical noises revealed through kids in the city, all over America, in the middle of a time when America was staring itself straight in the face. Michael Davis, behind the bass guitar, stood in the center of all this as it happened. A likeable man with strong ideas, Mike has seen a lot since those years. END TIMES was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with Mike over a few beers, to hear some of his thoughts about the MC5 and about music today.

What do you think is the biggest difference between kids that go to see shows now and the kids who went to see your shows in the late sixties, early seventies?

The biggest difference is that the kids now know everything, and back then no one knew anything, nothing had ever been done. No one knew what was going to happen, but now kids are jaded, I think.

Well, what kinds of kids were they, like, hippies or what?

No, no. Just like a kid today, any kid, an idiot, that doesn't know what he or she is going to do, no difference there. The difference is that all that stuff has been done already, and they've seen all these things....

Do you think those kids had more dreams, or optimism...

They had no dreams. They were just as ignorant yesterday as they are today, the same level of vulnerability. And if we talk about them as a mass, show-biz rules them. We were show-biz, but our show-biz was more than anyone expected from humans...

ROLLING STONE had you listed as one of the loudest bands ever.

Oh, I don't think that shit matters, do you? The amount of amplifiers you have on stage doesn't matter, we were loud, Ron Asheton (Stooges) played loud, ... it's not loudness, it's brilliance, like, obnoxious brilliance. We had two guitar players that were obnoxious; with Ron Asheton there was only one. And these two were like the cutting edge. Think, in 1967 or whatever, how many guitar players came down the road, and played everything, as compared to how many guitar players came down the road in 1985? We're talking about thousands of guitar players, that didn't  just master the techniques, but took them into some new limit of sound, I mean that stuff was just raw.

Do you think that what the 5 or the Stooges were trying to do back then is any different from what underground bands today, or lets say five years ago. ... like when the bands around here started, like the Necros and stuff, they really drew on you guys as a big influence... you were tied in with the Weathermen or something, is there any difference, or is it the same thing?

Well, it was always just rock & roll to me, but yeah, we were tied in with all that, from Weathermen to the Necros. When we first started we were all kids. I wasn't a kid, I was the old person in the band, but they were kids, so I was a kid with them. But we were trying to be a success, we had our bands that we liked, our heroes, but we were less encumbered. Now so many people have come along, its like, who cares what anyone is doing? I've heard everything. I've got all these records here, and I'm sick of it all, but at one time it represented something raw. But now we're talking about 1986, there's nothing raw but here now. No new ideas, nobody saying there's something you haven't seen before....

What was the shows like then, were they similar to shows that you and I have seen over the past ten years? What were they like?

Pitch and energy. We didn't even know what was going to happen, but we knew it was going to be good. We couldn't wait to go out there. When we first came on we had this whole bank of tunes that we did where we knew these tunes went this way, we each had these parts, it started here, and ended here; but that was only 25% of what we did. And all the rest of it we made up right there. So we knew, whatever happened, even if it sucked, to the people watching it would be something they'd never seen before. we knew that we were making this stuff up, so when we went out there, here's the audience, and they're like a bunch of play-doh. They came out here with five bucks in their pocket and they had no idea what was going to happen. Like, "what's the MC5? We're gonna see this band and cavort with our friends," but they didnt know that when we came onstage we had something planned for them, and it wasn't anything they knew about beforehand. Not only were we going to make everything up on the spot, but we might have a scene, a happening. We may have prerecorded a tape, like "GO TO YOUR SHELTERS NOW," seriously, like the bombs were on their way or the riot's happening... we'd play with them. They came here to get a show, so we give them a show, plus some added thing, some blood pressure, some shock value. And we'd make up music on the spot. That's actually why John Sinclair liked us, because we made things up all the time, and he was a jazz guy. So when he saw that we weren't bullshit, that we were just coming out of our heads with it, he said, "you guys are alright."

Ian Mackaye and Michael Davis
Ian Mackaye and Michael Davis
Photo by Mark Wakabayashi

Dennis Thompson

above : Dennis Thompson,1969
right :  Wayne Kramer,1969
Photos by Jon Hildebrandt

Wayne Kramer

Did you guys play with the Stooges, were you pals with them? What about your memorable shows?

Yeah, I remember the Stooges' first gig, at the Grande Ballroom. Iggy was in whiteface, which was outrageous at the time. They took the stage, and they were natural as a band, had a natural sound. They sounded jungle-good. Iggy fit perfectly as a lead singer....
The first big show we ever did was the Masonic Temple with Hendrix, and that blew me away because of the sound onstage. The amps were twenty feet behind us, and the audience was way out there; the spacial differences just blew me away. Like, at the Grande your amps are six feet behind you and the sound just hits you in the back of the head. But at the Masonic it was like the amps were in a different room, and the people were way out there so you'd wonder how could they hear this. This was before there was P.A. phantasmagoria and stuff. And the sound comes to your ears instead of smacking you in the back.
We were really disappointed with Jimi, tough. We thought before Hendrix that no one was doing what we were doing. And then when Hendrix came out we thought, like "he's onto it." But we saw him play and it seemed like just so much pomp, and not a lot of what we regarded as true great guitar playing.

I was in France last year, and the record stores there have all your albums and all kinds of weird MC5 stuff. Like, there's this legend surrounding the 5 and the Stooges that's really alive today in France and Germany, from what i've seen. .... Do you think the five deserve all this recognition, the cult status?

Yes, and the way I would like it to be remembered is exactly the way it's going, that's fine with me. I like it. Even tough no one was there, and the real worth of the thing will never be known, unless you talk to someone who was there and can say, "I never saw anything like that before or since." Otherwise there's only the people who actually saw it, it was almost a magical thing. Because the band itself, we were not a polished, professional type of band, obviously. In our recording career we started with just ragged playing... and by the third album we sounded like we were a band. But before all that was when all the really good things were. A lot of the things we considered our good original songs we made up every time we played because we possibly couldn't decide the way it was supposed to be anyway. And that was a lot of what the magic was, that we just took off. And as it turned out, there was enough good things there that people went crazy watching the band. I can remember a few shows that I could have dug being in the audience.
Like, what I thought you'd ask me, Eric, is what the fuck is music, anyway. I'm so, not distraught I just don't care anymore. I just go to the library and get classical tapes. Because whatever is happening in music today, there is no genuine raw, gut-level ANYTHING musically. When I was a kid I could be pleased so easily. Del Shannon could please me. And now, there isn't even anything up to that or Gene Pitney's level. And even back then he was a jerk. But what do you have now? You've got nothing but varnish. I can't believe it, everything is just prescription music.

What's the real story with the "motherfucker" version of "Kick Out The Jams"? I've heard so many stories.

The deal was that we had a verbal agreement that saying "motherfucker" really wasn't a consequential part of our message at all -- I mean, we could have said anything, "motherfucker" or "dogs and cats" -- but that was what we wanted to say. And it was like, "Ok, no problem." But as soon as it looked like we could be commercially successful, they yanked it. The actual story is that it would be "motherfucker" on the album, but the single would go out -- this was the plan -- as "brothers and sisters." And we recorded these versions of it, and all the sudden the guy who controlled the RKO stations in the country knew, or discovered, that we had this obscene version of the song. So then he said "single -- off the charts!" We were on the RKO playlist for "Kick Out The Jams," which would have made us really big-time, and the guy, I can't remember his name, found out about it and black-balled us. And Elektra chickened out. That's what got John Sinclair all huffed up, and then the whole Hudson's thing happened, with John saying to kick down the doors of Hudson's if they won't carry the record. But he was incensed, and didn't have his strategy together.

When you look back at the sixties, like the revolution, Viet Nam, the ideals, do you think it was worthwhile?

I wish everything that was happening then was happening now.

So you think the future of music is pretty dim.

I think "dim" is a pretty optimistic assessment. I think everyone now is trying to do what the MC5 was trying to do, but they just can't do it. We had the best chance, I think it was because of who we were as five individuals. Because I loved every one of those guys. I don't think anyone's got that much now.

©1986-2007 by Eric Lorey

MC5 Gateway 2007
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