I first met Wayne Kramer when I was
about 19, in 1970
when he was in the MC5 (Motor City 5) "Kick out the
Jams" for anyone who doesn't know.
I rented the band my PA system. I thought I was
the King until I got to the show later and found out they were using my
system strictly for monitors. Boy did I get a letdown.. Oh
Wayne looked completely different in the 70's, He used
to open the show with Ramblin' Rose and then Rob would make his entrance
and Kick Out The Jams!!!!
"Sonic" Smith Mosrite
In the late 60's, the
hard-edged psychedelic sound of Detroit's Motor City 5 was unlike anything
else. Despite only limited success during their relatively short career,
the MC5's sound and attitude influenced everything from punk to metal,
from the Seattle grunge scene to the current trend of modern garage bands
like The Hives and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. David C. Thomas' documentary follows
their entire career from formation to their ultimate break-up, including
the craziness that seemed to follow the band everywhere.
is Spinal Tap forever changed the rock documentary, showing the
humorous aspects of rock music and the music business, and in the last
year, a number of qualities documentaries-the They Might Be Giants film Gigantic, Mayor of Sunset Strip (currently in theatres), and
the upcoming Metallica: Some Kind of Monster--have shown that it's
not all laughs. MC5 * A True Testimonial is an interesting
counterpoint, since it shows how different things were back in the 60's,
particularly with how much easier it was for bands to get attention.
Coming from poor upbringings, the band's origin is like something
out of Fight Club, with guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith challenging
singer Rob Tyner to a fistfight, leading to mutual respect and the
formation of a band. The MC5's fierce music and attitude built them a
hometown fan base, and their regular gig at Detroit's Grande ballroom got
them discovered by 60's political activist, John Sinclair. As their
manager, Sinclair helped them solidify their nihilistic image, while
getting them involved in his radical left wing "White Panther" party.
Their political stance made the band a target for police oppression, as
well as getting them an FBI file as being dangerous subversives. Posing
for publicity pictures with machine guns didn't help matters, although it
did help build their image among those opposed to the burgeoning war in
Vietnam. After being signed to Elektra Records, the band ran afoul of the
censors for using the word "m*therf*ck*r" in their liner notes, but when
the label gets rid of the offending text, the friction ensued gets the
band dropped. From there, everything goes downhill, from disastrous
recording experiences to drug abuse and conflicting band
Although Thomas' documentary takes a serious look at the
band and its music, one can't help but think of Spinal Tap as the camera
follows the surviving members of the band around Detroit, listening to
their philosophies about what made the band so great. Somehow, they've
managed to sustain their attitudes, despite decades of relative obscurity.
It would have been nice to see them interviewed together or to have
testimonials from other artists around at the time, like Iggy Pop. It also
could have been good to hear from acts that have been influenced by the
band, something that could make a great follow-up.
documentary doesn't just focus on the band and its history, also showing
what the Detroit area was like during the legendary "summer of love", a
rather contradictory phrase to the race riots and looting that ensued
during that period.
While it may not be as visually impressive as
other modern documentaries, the information is well compiled and edited.
The archival footage of the band performing on stage and on television is
worth the price of admission. Their onstage antics are entertaining and
impressive when you realize that most of it is over thirty years old,
predating similar theatrics from Kiss and Alice Cooper.
Few but the
band's devout fans will be familiar with all of the band's blues-driven
rock music that makes up the soundtrack; most will only know their battle
cry, "Kick Out the Jams". It's certainly full of many musical surprises
showing that the band's sound was far more multi-faceted than some might
Out of the limelight for many years, the MC5 are rarely
name-checked by younger bands, many of whom have been influenced by second
generation MC5 fans, but the movie does help show the historical
importance of a band that younger rock fans (and bands) should know more
The only real
criticism is that the movie is far too long at two hours, peaking midway
with the band's rise to success. As is often the case, it's not as easy to
surviving members discuss the unfortunate events that led to the band's
ultimate break-up either.
The Bottom Line:
As band documentaries come back
in fashion, it makes sense that the story of one of the great unspoken
rock pioneers is finally revealed. Thomas has done a commendable job
putting together a movie that shows the band's rise and fall in an
interesting and entertaining way, making this one of the stronger rock
documentaries of the last few years. If you truly love rock music, you
absolutely must see this
Kramer was truly a radical dude in 1968. That was about the same time
another great Detroit Rocker recorded "Journey To The Center Of The Mind"
Eddie Kramer, no relation to Wayne recorded the Nuge in the Nude when
that song was being recorded.