"I'm a businessman now," John
Sinclair would say in his hawking farmer's baritone, and we'd all
Ex-convict, three-time loser, beatnik days poet and jazz critic, Sinclair
had taken to hanging around with Rob Tyner and his grizzly Motor
City Five. Coming home late at night from the Fifth Estate
office back in '68, i could hear the Five blasting the primitive atonality
into the glass-littered streets outside what was then their home, the
Artist's Workshop. Their only fans were greasy bike outlaws and
fugitive dope addicts.
They couldn't get hired then - even as Bill Graham refuses to hire
them now - because of their reputation as rabblerousers. Their organ was
the much busted SUN newspaper. They played at benefits in the streets
with black jazz innovators like the Pig Fuckers and the Joseph
Jarman trio: the Five's music was born with, rather than "influenced
by", the revolutionary jazz associated with Detroiters like Elvin
Jones, Yusef Lateef, Barry Harris.
During the second civil war in Detroit, while me and my buddies roared
up 8 mile in our channeled Harley-Davidsons, lights out, swigging contraband
liquor, whites and blacks together were fighting the 101st airborne (from
Vietnam) in our streets and alleys. Machine gun fire crackled through
the burning nights, and the MC5 were exposed to the kind of violence
which made Chicago of last summer look like a student protest: where "hard"
groups like the Fugs and Country Joe withered, the Five
were kickin out the jams in Lincoln Park, and Norman
Mailer gasped for breath, describing them as "the beast in
After the insurrection, no one ever really put the lid back on Detroit.
There were late at night echoes of sniper fire in the ghetto. Anarchy
fomented in the 8 to 5 armpit of the Mechanical Bride. Dynamite and guns
could be had from the Renegades and Outlaws, when they weren't bashin'
each others' toothless brains in at the 400 bar on John R.
The Five were perpetually at war, this time with the Mafia of Plum
Street, now with the West Virginia rednecks who sopped up beer at
the C&W saloons of Third Street, and always with the cops: the history
of the Five's commune, Trans Love Energies, is the history
of midnight firebombings, extradition, police-infiltration, weird alliances
with motorcycle gangs and block revolutionaries.
In the city which the Guardian in a five page story last week described
as having "the most important revolutionary action in the country",
Sinclair formed the White Panthers, the underground arm of the
Five's philosophy. Not long afterward began a series of draft board
and CIA office bombings. The "mad bomber", running down the
Panther line, gave interviews to the Fifth Estate in which he lectured
to his next victims.
Motor City Madness is what they call it. It was around before "revolution"
became vogue to talk (and sing) about: our fathers used to open their
shirts and show us their scars from the epochal '43 race riot.
The Five, who have a total of one and a half of higher education
between them , are raw alienation. When i heard them a the Straight
last week, half the audience was paralyzed and the other half were groping
themselves. As the Village Voice noted, no other group does the
Little Richard split, the Chuck Berry Cakewalk, the James
Brown kneedrop, the Jackie Wilson leap with the mastery of
As Sinclair describes it, "We're a total thing, a working model of
the paleocybernetic culture in action". They bombard your sensed
from every angle; the drawback with their album (Elektra 74042)
is that it's like buying a souvenir program to a Maximilian circus.
"People into progressive rock," says Tyner, "have
trouble relating to us. We have evolved beyond the key and the beat. It's
based on energy. A song, like everything else - including our lives -
is viewed as an energy force".
"We don't play Hollywoodshit", adds lead guitar Wayne Kramer,
"Our music is rock and roll, dope and fucking in the streets."
"Kick Out The Jams" is the most revolutionary - in form
and content - album to ever hit the streets. Sinclair, in his capacity
as Minister of Information of the White Panthers, says in the liner notes,
"The MC5 are totally committed to revolution, just as revolution
is totally committed to driving people out of their separate shells and
into each other's arms... We are a lonely desperate people, pulled apart
by the killer forces of capitalism and competition, and we need the music
to hold us together... Go wild! The world is your! Take it and be one
One ad the Five were running (till Elektra spotted it) ran: "Kick
out the jams, motherfucker, and if the store won't sell you the MC5 kick
the doors down. Fuck Hudson's."
Like most record stores, Hudson's in Detroit won't carry the album.
A few stores have been busted for selling it.
Says Sinclair: "Jac Holzman (of Elektra) got fucked over by
the industry, the distributors, the d.j.'s and the police for backing
us. According to an article i read today, Elektra is changing the
liner notes. They're scared. They don't know what's goin' on. Holzman
came crying on my shoulder, and i told him we knew people would get up-tight."
When Janis Joplin is playing Carnegie Hall, brothers, the Five will still
be jamming free in the streets.