Posted April 13, 2003

The Barman's Rant
Occasional thoughts on Real Rock Action


BLUE DENIM BLUES AND THE MC5:
THE FINAL WORD

A week's a long time in politics but a fortnight's even more substantial when you're on an international trip. More about that in a future column (it was far from a drag) but that absence from the country is why things have been quiet around the Bar of late.

While I was away, comments were invited about the last Barman's Rant, centred as it was on reactions to the Levi's-sponsored "reunion" of surviving members of the MC5 in London. (You'll find here if you missed it, while the reaction from band members Wayne Kramer and Mike Davis appear here).

Times are weird. In the intervening time between that piece and now, Jennifer Aniston - of mundane yuppie TV froth "Friends" - appeared on screen in a (Levi's) MC5 T-shirt. Meanwhile, your comments on the Kick Out the Jeans issue streamed in steadily and, as promised. The most interesting will be posted here.

First off is Chris G, a regular on the Wayne Kramer message board and a committed Fan of the Five. He's also a veteran of the Michigan scene, judging by some of the stories he has to tell. He weighed in early:

It does seem I was outvoted in your poll. Briefly summarized this whole Levi's involvement certainly could be seen as a godsend for the band and also the filmakers of a True Testimonial. Holding the MC5 or MC3 and heirs/former associates to naive left-wing politics that were a product of the times,somewhat tongue in cheek,and which they themselves outgrew about 1969-70 when some of the contradictions became clear 30 years ago is a bit much.

Is Levi's a perfect company.?...Hey I wish everything were still manufactured in the USA(or Australia) but Levi's has been getting their brains beaten out by competition for many years and kept American production facilities open for years more then their competitors who long since outsourced manufacturing. As far as "shaking down" Levi's...getting compensated for their use of the name seems reasonable to me and the deal they worked out does seem to benefit all concerned.Life is a highly ironic experience.

P.J. Peanutz, on the other hand, takes a similar line to your Barman:

Just gotta say thanks for an excellent article there. Mike says everyone wins but surely all the fans who couldn't see the show LOST. Looking forward to the DVD and CD though.

Like you P.J., I will be looking forward to hearing the album, if and when it surfaces.

This came from a Wayne Kramer co-conspirator, Deviants mainman and L.A.-based author Mick Farren:

Yeah well, I guess it was a few years ago. Wayne and I were working on the songs for one of the Epitaph records, maybe the "Hard Stuff", maybe "Dangerous Madness", and Tom Waits had just remarked somewhere how he wished musicians wouldn't sell their music for TV commercials because the he "wouldn't have to spend so much time pissing on their graves after they're dead."

And Wayne looked at me, and I looked at Wayne, and we shrugged. "Who the fuck knows? We're all whores if they flash enough cash."

Would I do a deal like that? Would I do the same? No, of course not, but that's easy for me to say. No one is ever going to make me or the Deviants that kind of offer. We're too fucking unacceptable and proud of it.

What worries me is that the selling of one's cultural history, as opposed to merely selling oneself, is steering very close to an Orwellian rewrite of that history, Forever on, the MC5 will be associated with bloody Levis, rather than the deep shit and tarnished glory we all went through in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Even so, a man has a right to survive. I guess what I really found hard to handle was the snippy and defensive interview responses. Surely a simple, "Hey, we needed the fucking money", would have been a tad more honest, my brothers?

Like I said, we're all whores when the devil drives, but at least have the good grace to wear the high heels.

Another occasional Kramer musical collaborator, Radio Birdman's Deniz Tek, took a different view:

For the record I think this whole debate is a little bit precious. These guys got a right. To sing their song. Any time they want. Any old time....

People and times change. Before throwing rocks, critics should look at things they themselves said and did 30 years ago and decide whether they would care to be held to that as some kind of standard in 2003.

In 1975 Levi's sponsored a Battle of the Bands in Sydney. Radio Birdman won. Our prizes were a new pair of jeans , a jacket, and a small amount of cash which we happily accepted, being extremely poor people at the time. We also gladly took the opportunity to play to whoever showed up since we were banned from everywhere else.

Last but not least, this led to our partnership with another "corporation", Trafalgar, which allowed us to eventually get a record out. We may not have liked Trafalgar's other products, but starting from nothing in a relatively free trade society, you use whatever resources you can get your hands on and you do deals that hopefully benefit all parties. And the people behind Trafalgar turned out to be, (as Wayne says about the Levi's execs), very good people who we became friends with.

My point is that there are many paths and many choices in this life, and sometimes the best things come unexpectedly from strange beginnings.

I was there in 1968 when the MC5 was sponsored by a political movement that, while well intentioned, proved to be counterproductive and ultimately useless. At least people still have a use for jeans. If the MC3 have found in their new sponsor a way to get together and play in 2003 then I'm open to the possibilities. They got a right.

The Barman actually hooked up with this next correspondent in Ann Arbor a week ago, although his e-mail arrived in the inbox before that meeting. Chris "Box" Taylor is the Scott Morgan's Powertrane bass player, Mazinga guitar player and an Ann Arbor, Michigan, local (from where the Stooges and for a while the Five hailed):

Rock is Dead! Long live Rock...

I just wish the MC3 and the Stooges would play here in Michigan, Detroit/Ann Arbor area for the real fans who have been carrying the torch for the last 30 years. Even if some stupid young hip fake ass band like the White Tripes would probably open for them.

Detroit is killing itself just like Seattle in the early 90's.

The MC5 and Stooges reunions are the result of retarded rock journalists not having any other bands to reference when describing the "new" rock dumb-olution. There are no modern bands that even come close to the political fire and musical energy that the 60's era MC5 had. If we ever needed a political bad ass rock band to bring the kids together, the time is now! What do we get instead? Dumbed down pre packaged safe fashion rock with NO interesting lyrical content or intrinsic value whatsoever! 90 percent of the "new" rawk is just rehashed crap! The same damn riff, look and lyric you've heard for years! Only now some fuck at MTV2 and Rolling Stone says: 'Look it's the new hip thing' or 'band to watch for in 2003!' Sell it at the Mall.

Anyway... The MC3 have really let me down. I'm about 100 percent sure none of my friends or I could even afford the fucking MC5 limited addition clothes and we wouldn't wear the motherfuckers anyway. Trend sucking shit!

We used to make our own MC5 shirts with magic markers and stencils. I think Wayne and to some extent Mike were rude toward you in their responses to your questions. I find this to be VERY lame since it's people like you who have been spreading the word about them and their music for years before they became suddenly fashionable.

At some points [of the interview] it almost sounded like the Levis guy was standing over their shoulders while Wayne was typing. And if it wasn't sponsored then why was the Levis guy sitting in on interviews telling them what topics they could discuss and why no public ticket sales? It's sad that they didn't even seem to know just how much they were being exploited by Levis and the media. England SUCKS! Not much worse then the USA I guess...

This is all a bunch of BULLSHIT! Power to the people? It doesn't seem to mean anything now. Music for ALL the people not just the ones the Man says can come. ALL MUSIC FOR ALL PEOPLE not just the groups & sounds the MAN tells you are cool. It makes me wonder if the MC5 really ever meant any of the political bullshit they talked about back in the day or were they really just trying to buy into all the 60's crap.

I'm still really bummed out by all of this. My one friend said he would never play the MC5 on his radio show ever again. The MC5 deserve all the respect and money, but why like this? My only hope is a Birdman U.S. tour!

Jim Marshall is a New York City correspondent with a distinctly pragmatic point of view:

So what's so godmann evil about advertising unless the product itself is evil or bad? I've worn Levis all my life and the MC5 taking their money doesn't change anything in terms of the legitimacy of their music.

Jimmy Reed did a commercial for Gypsy Rose Wine, Howlin' Wolf did one for C.V. Wine, Little Richard and Bo Diddley both did commercials for Royal Crown Hair Dressing. The Rolling Stones did a Rice Krispies (breakfast cereal) commercial as far back as 1963! Does that mean they weren't great? Would you rather listen to Pat Boone because he didn't do a commercial? It's godamn hard to make a buck in music!

So now the MC5 and the Stooges are heard on TV commercials, big fuckin' deal, they never got played on radio so it might just turn a few kids onto their music, but that's not the point. Music either stands on its own merits or not, anyone who thinks there's such a thing as "clean" and "dirty" money is naive to the point of stupidity..

There's not a penny in the world that doesn't have some poor asshole's blood on it. We all do what we gotta do to get by. If you want holier than thou self righteousness you can hang around Bruce Springsteen (and his dingleberry Dave Marsh) and listen to his shitty show tunes.

Another e-mailer, George Rasmussen, summed up what a lot of people think:

I totally understand why people are upset about this but here is something to think about. Gary Grimshaw really left them in "Damned if you do, Damned If you don't" position.They could have sued, but Levi's has much deeper pockets than Wayne, Dennis, and Mike and if Gary owns the artwork, they probably would have lost anyway. If they did nothing, Levis uses the MC5 iconography to push any position and product they want to, spread any idea about what that stuff means and they're powerless to do anything.

This from my examination of the situation was the only way they could have gained any control of this situation. Plus after 35 years of not getting the recognition and money they deserve, Let them get this one pay day. At the end of the day I think this was the only way the guys could have made it so that people would realize that the MC5 was more than just some crap printed on Justin Timberlake's t-shirt.

The situation sucks, but given the circumstances, I think Wayne,Mike and Dennis did what they had to do and after staying fairly true to themselves for 35 years (something not many people can say) we can cut them a little slack.

The closed shop nature of the gig is what left a sour feeling in the mouths of many. One was ex-Lemonheads, New Christs and The Eastern Dark member, Bill Gibson, who says Levi's have form on the board:

I faced the same situation when I was in the Lemonheads - arrived to play our only gig in San Francisco, at the Great American Music Hall, which I was hugely looking forward to, only to discover that it was a closed shop affair, put on by Levi's and Spin magazine, and no tickets were available to the public. And whether or not Evan knew about it in advance, his management never bothered to tell the rest of the band that we'd be sucking corporate cock that night. Of course, none of the industry fuckers that attended gave a pinch of shit about the band, while there were genuine fans desperately trying to get in at any price.

I wasn't in any position to say 'fuck you, I'm not doing the show', but believe me, if I had been, I would have. Needless to say, I was in a foul mood all night, put absolutely no effort into playing the show, and made damn sure every one of those cunts knew how pissed off I was about it. Then they expected us to schmooze and pose for happy snaps after the show - I told 'em all to get fucked. And I've since been told that that night was the beginning of the end of my tenure with the band, since I obviously didn't have the attitude required to play the game.

Fuck that for a game of soldiers! If the 'required attitude' doesn't involve doing the right thing by the people who've supported you and got you to where you are, I don't want any part of it, thanks! Same deal when Evan started fucking up and doing lousy shows - when I got on his case about it, nobody bothered to say 'well, actually, you do have a point...', they just sacked me and found someone who was prepared to suck'n'swallow. Sorry, guess I'm ranting a bit...it's got me mad again just thinking about it.

I mean, I could care less about sponsorship; hell, we got freebies from Levi's, Converse, even fuckin' bong makers, and no way would I have said no to that stuff - I ain't stupid!

Hey, [Sydney band] the High Society even had a Levi's sponsorship, and all they had to do was wear the stuff on stage. But none of us have ever held out pretensions of being anti-capitalist the way the 5 did; and regardless of that, to do a (virtually) once in a lifetime show like this and not make it open to the fans shames Wayne and the boys beyond belief. To hell with politics, that's just poor form by any standards. I'll get off my soapbox now....

I thought long and hard about whether to air this one, given that the comments within are more about issues between two of the principal parties (Bro. Wayne and the Smith family) than the actual Levi's gig. But I decided to post it for two reasons.

The writer deserves to be heard as much as anyone - arguably more than most. And Wayne did invite me to "ask Patti" - and by inference the Smith family. His name is Jackson Smith and he is, of course, Sonic's son and a musician in his own right, now playing guitar in Detroit. He began by quoting a slab from the Q & A with Wayne:

Q I was wondering what Fred's widow Patti Smith thought about the show and sponsorship? Is it true you (Wayne) and the Smith family aren't talking in light of comments you made when interviewed by Victor Bockris for his Patti biography?

W: Feel free to ask Patti. No, not true. I will always talk to Patti and her family.

Jackson went on:

I must preface this by saying that though I can not speak for my whole family, I can make a pretty sure bet that they share my feelings.

Isn't it funny to watch the weasel cover his tracks? "Brother" Wayne has had a lot of "nice" things about my father as of late now that all this attention is being drawn to the MC5. Really its nothing more than some text book crap. The fact is that the things Mr. Kramer said or "alleged" about my father in Victor Bockris' book are inexcusable. What little contact with my family Mr. Kramer had, at least since I've been on this earth, was not enough for Mr. Kramer to make any informed statement or suggestion about the Smith family life, good or bad.

My father made his mistakes in life as do we all. I just hope that people will remember my father for who he truly was, a father, a son, a brother, a musician, a pilot, an intellect, and a great man. To Mr Kramer, you have needlessly put a blemish on my father's memory that as far as I am concerned can not be forgiven. I don't know what your motivation was. Money? Your name in print? We may never know the real reason. But one thing I do know is that those who knew him best will remember him as the man that I described.

You say Mr. Kramer that "I will always talk to Patti and her family". Well Mr. Kramer, I will never talk to you. I do not see you as a person that deserves my time. And as I said before, I can't speak for my whole family, but I'm pretty sure they feel about the way I do.

Do with this statement what you will. I enjoy your site and I do not intend this as an act of hatred or anger toward the people at i94bar.com. I saw this as an opportunity to make my opinion on this subject known for the first and only time...

As to the MC3 show, I have no real opinion. I wasn't around to kick out the jams/jeans. But I will leave you with this. From the ILLINOIS ENTERTAINER, June 1977:

"Fred "Sonic" Smith, whose Sonic's Rendezvous band has come to be known as the Cadillac of the new Motor City groups, recently spotted his surly mug twice on a poster for a Detroit nightspot. The first came as no surprise - Sonic's Rendezvous was slated to appear at the Red Carpet Club in Detroit in May. But right below their name was a notation that the MC5 would perform the following week.

This was curious indeed seeing as how he had manned the guitar for this lineup for eight years, encompassing three classic rock'n'roll albums. But the MC5 parted ways in 1971. Or so he thought.

While the Detroit rock'n'roll scene has kicked out its radical dues and moved into a new decade with a swagger, former MC5 vocalist Rob Tyner has assembled a quintet of stage neophytes who now play Michigan venues as the MC5. Wayne Kramer, who phased his short-lied Kramer's Kreamers into "The New MC5," created a brief stir prior to his imprisonment for possession of cocaine last year.

"They're imposters, " comments Sonic, "It's as if they're each taking turns being the MC5. I was as much the MC5 as they were, and I'm much more concerned now with moving Detroit rock into its next phase. It's just a cheap shot."

Speaking of moving things into their next phase, that's what we'll be doing. - The Barman

 

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