Friday, October 12, 2018

STAY ALIVE WITH THE MC5

To this day, the MC5 are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame despite the impressive argument that they have been one of the most influential and, ergo, most important rock and roll bands in history. In any event, here is a choice cut not discussed many even my 5 aficionados, James Brown's "It's a Man's World".  Agreed, the song is more than patronizing and winds up placing women on the damnable pedestal and back in the kitchen at the same time, but you must hand to these guys for their odd choice. They loved black music and their choice of a song only JB could pull off is a classic punk gesture: "Fuck you guys, we're gonna play this goddamned song because WE WANT TO."  Vocalist Rob Tyner did not, as has been remarked around a trash can full of burning rubber, give a FLAT FUCK if he sang worse than a horse thief gagging at the end of a dirty rope of justice. Rob Tyner sang like a man who had his head wrapped in a thick sheet of bubble wrap and then had his noggin stuffed into a burlap bag that reeked of diesel stained wagon timber and mildewed hemp. He sounded like he'd swallowed his fist in a freak accident that might have occurred when he was chewing on his knuckles in macho-mechanical panic while watching an asteroid streak a fiery, smoky path to Cobo Hall. 
Related imageWhen he crooned/croaked/coughed a rendition of  It's A Man's World, satellites stopped broadcasting and Gabriel drove over his trumpet in a huff of overriding despair. His was the voice of percolating whiteness, personified grieving love handles with a microphone. There was a time when an attitude like that would inspire otherwise stoned and clueless teens, all of them too late for the absurd counter-culture vanities of Haight Ashbery and Greenwich Village, to yell "fuck yeah" and babble their rendition of dumb cliches about offing the pigs and serving the people. So yeah, the MC5 were real punks, macho black bad boy wannabes and crazy mofos in their right who were willing to stick it in your eye. Hah. Hit me again.  The rest of the guys crammed their guitars into the cones of their amps and ground their strings against the microphone stands.The drummer, Dennis Thompson, rattled on over the snare, performed an encyclopedia's worth of imagined sexual amnesia drills over the head of the snare drum and punched a hole in the bass drum with nothing other than a random disease he picked up for kicks at the last Room Temperature Ale House he was located  within. Someone in the middle of what was left of the audience that wasn't yet unconscious, bleeding or deceased hooted. "SUCK MY DICK" countered Tyner, "GAG ON MY GOODNESS, JARHEAD." After that, it started to get weird. I lived in Detroit during the MC5's heyday, and I am grateful in that we had many teen clubs that had no age limits; this allowed me to witness local bands like the 5, Bob Seger The Rationals and the Stooges perform their brand of major chord guitar insanity against a complacent culture of hippiedom. Detroit was an uptight, racially tense factory town that had little truck with those either coastline who wanted to ease through the 60s and beyond in a stoned either. The MC5 were, as John Sinclair wrote, a "whole thing", and their task, for art, for music, for the Revolution everyone with sideburns and wire frame glasses claimed to support, was to drive people out of their homes, out of their workplaces, out of their clothes and into each other's arms. There was love in Detroit rock and roll, but it was hard, brutal, arrogant in a fashion that mirrored the worst undertakings of The Man. It was a kick in the nuts to a privileged  Bohemia. This was the Politics of Ecstasy with a tangible, violent edge, and the 5 wanted to put us in touch with the most primal and alive parts of our animal selves There is nothing particularly revolutionary about this thinking, as there of been an endless line of bright thinkers and florid writers , from Rousseau, DH Lawrence to Norman Mailer who've foretold, in varying degrees and levels of conviction and practice, that if we embraced our instinctual side and did away with the intellectual superstructure that has cauterized our lives and potential, all falseness would cease and only then can we realize joy, creativity, the results of a good toss in the hay. To many, the 5 seemed an antidote to the groovy and lazy vibe that had robbed rock and roll of vitality,  but it bears saying that many considered their cure to be nearly as awful as the malaise it was meant to cure. The 5, though, were punks, unhampered by book learning; their counter culture was composed of absolutes, black and white extremes, and almost comically effective resistance to new ideas.  They were opportunists under it all, like the punks who harassed us during lunch period, and they embraced this extreme ideology chiefly as a means of getting their drugs, their money, their groupies. As punks who basically became the standard from which punk bands that emerged in the late 70s were judged, the MC5 dumped John Sinclair and his White Panthers when they had the chance. Sinclair wanted them to be bigger than Chairman Mao. The MC5 wanted to be bigger than the Beatles.


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