Friday, November 02, 2007

MC5 & John Sinclair

MC5 (short for Motor City 5) "kicked out the jams" from their founding in 1964 through their dissolution in 1972. The band came out of Detroit and was known for its energetic live performances and their attachment to left-wing politics. Members of the band - Wayne Kramer and Fred "Sonic" Smith (guitars) Michael Davis (bass), Rob Tyner (vocals), and Dennis Thompson (drums) - were heavily influenced by r&b, blues, Chuck Berry, Dick Dale, the Ventures, what came to be known as garage rock, and the free jazz of Archie Shepp, John Coltrane, Sun Ra and others. Their music is now considered a precursor of punk, heavy metal and hard-edged fusion. According to John Sinclair, who became the band's manager, "When I first saw them, I thought they were incredible. Just totally fucking great. They were trying to extend rock and roll into something that had more space for creativity and improvisation. They called themselves avant-rock at the time." MC5 was heavily influenced by Sinclair's political affiliations as well as the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party (led by revolutionary martyr Fred Hampton).

MC5 crashed onto the scene with their first album, an unheardof live set, titled "Kick Out the Jams." The band gained some noteriety through controversy for the title track's battle cry, "Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!" and John Sinclair's incendiary liner notes. When Detroit Department Store, Hudson's, refused to stock the album, the band took out a full-page ad in the newspaper stating, "Fuck Hudson's!" MC5 played an epic 8 hour set outside the turbulent 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago until club-wielding cops waded into the crowd. By the early-70s, MC5 had fallen out with Sinclair, who himself was now in prison on a marijuana rap, and parted ways as a group in 1972. Over time, their influence has only grown, particularly in the punk and hardrock scenes.

Here is a great clip of MC5 doing "Lookin' at You" live in 1970:

During the 60s and 70s, John Sinclair was a colorful radical left-wing poet, political activist and MC5 manager from Detroit. Early on, Sinclair helped reorganize and publish Fifth Estate, an underground newspaper in the Detroit area that still publishes today. In 1968, Sinclair, along with his wife Leni and Lawrence Plamandon established the White Panther Party. The group, which sprung out of an interview with Black Panther Party founder Huey Newton, was dedicated to "cultural revolution." The group's platform intiailly included, "fighting for a clean planet and the freeing of political prisoners," but later expanded to include "rock 'n roll, dope, sex in the streets and the abolishing of capitalism." In 1968, Fifth Estate published the group's manifesto, which was heavily influenced by the Black Panther's "Ten Point program":

- Full endorsement and support of Black Panther Party's 10-Point Program
- Total assault on the culture by any means necessary
- Free exchange of energy and materials
- Free food, clothes, housing, dope, music, bodies, medical care
- Free access to information media
- Free time and space for all humans
- Free all schools and all structures from corporate rule
- Free all prisoners everywhere
- Free all soldiers at once
- Free the people from their "leaders"

In 1969, Sinclair was sentenced to 9 years in prison for serially breaking Michigan's anti-dope laws. Sinclair and Plamondon were also indicted as co-cospirator in connection with the bombing of a CIA office in Ann Arbor, Michigan. That charge ultimately landed Plamondon in prison, too. The headquarters of the White Panthers in Portland, Oregon, was raided in 1970 after two members of the group were accused of throwing a molotov cocktail at a Selective Service office. In 1971, John Lennon headlined the "Free John Sinclair" concert in Ann Arbor, which was attended by 15,000 people and also included music by Stevie Wonder, Archie Shepp and Phil Ochs, and speeches by Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale Allen Ginsberg, Jonnie Lee Tillmon and Fr. James Groppi. Surprisingly, two days later, Sinclair was released from prison on appeal!,

Here are two rants worth reading by Sinclair:

John Sinclair, "Rock and Roll is a Weapon of Cultural Revolution"
This piece famously begins, "'The duty of the revolutionary is to make the revolution.' The duty of the musician is to make the music. But there is an equation that must not be missed: MUSIC IS REVOLUTION. Rock and roll music is one of the most vital revolutionary forces in the West-it blows people all the way back to their senses and makes them feel good, like they're alive again in the middle of this monstrous funeral parlor of western civilization. And that's what the revolution is all about-we have to establish a situation on this planet where all people can feel good all the time. And we 'I not stop until that situation exists.'"

John Sinclair, "Marijuana Revolution"
In this essay, written from prison, Sinclair argues, "Marijuana makes people aware of alternatives to the machine life of American industrialism — it demonstrates in a very specific term that there are other and more exciting possibilities for life in this day and age than whiskey and football games and ulcers and a lifetime on the assembly line or in the office, and it makes people wonder why this old-time shit is still going on. Instead of deadening people’s consciousness, marijuana brings people back to life and expands their awareness of the world and their own possibilities for life in that world, and it leads them to questions that otherwise wouldn’t have been asked: why are we at war in Indochina? Why is racism so rampant in every area of American life? Why can’t people love each other? Why are our politicians and businessmen and generals such liars and hypocrites? Why is everything so fucked up?"

Here is a short film (4 minutes) on John Sinclair:

Here are two more interesting segments on John Sinclair, for those who might be interested:

Ten for Two - The John Sinclair Benefit (pt. 1)
Ten for Two - The John Sinclair Benefit (pt. 2)


  1. Anyone interested in this post should also check out John Sinclair's blog.

    Also, connecting back to our earlier discussion, the Art Ensemble of Chicago album Bap-tizum was recorded at the inaugural Ann Arbor Blues Festival (1972), in the establishment of which Sinclair played a major role.

  2. Looking a little further, I found the lineup for the inaugural festival; Patrick, I bet you would have enjoyed it...

    Otis Spann Memorial Field
    Friday Night
    Howlin' Wolf
    Jr. Walker & the All-Stars
    Sun Ra & his Arkestra
    Contemporary Jazz Quintet
    Seigal-Schwall Blues Band

    Saturday Afternoon
    Muddy Waters
    Art Ensemble of Chicago - (Roscoe Mitchell - Joseph Jarman)
    Hound Dog Taylor & the House Rockers
    Mighty Joe Young with Lucille Spann

    Saturday Night
    Bobby "Blue" Bland
    Pharoah Sanders
    Dr. John
    Little Sonny

    Sunday Afternoon
    Archie Shepp
    Freddie King
    Sippi Wallace with Bonnie Raitt
    Luther Allison & His Band
    Mojo Boogie Band

    Sunday Night
    Miles Davis
    Otis Rush
    Leo Smith with Marion Brown
    Lightnin' Slim
    Boogie Woogie Red with the Boogie Brothers

  3. Holy Smokes! That is quite a line-up. Dag! Thanks for the further tips, Joe...

    By the way, since Fr. Groppi was a part of the Free John Sinclair show in '71 (which suprised me quite a bit), I had the opportunity to exchange several emails with Sinclair a couple of years back. He was extremely nice and helpful. He even sent me a VHS of the show!

  4. there's a kick out the jams motherfuckers live version on a tape that is in the basement where i do all my screen printing. whenever that song comes on, the ink goes on extra nice.

  5. One time at a (late-'80s?) Beatles convention in MI, I was walking around with a Sun Ra t-shirt on and this guy walked up and said he knew Sun Ra. I was skeptical for a moment until he introduced himself as John Sinclair, and that's where and how I first met him.

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