Posted March 23, 2003
Amended March 26, 2003

The Barman's Rant
Occasional thoughts on Real Rock Action


The recent gig by surviving members of the MC5 at London's 100 Club caused more than slight controversy. More like a major firestorm. Central to the noise was the fact that the gig appeared to be sponsored by a major corporation, Levi's, and it was largely an invitation-only affair, with most fans excluded by the small size of the venue and nature of the guest list (media, close friends and fashion industry).

The I-94 Bar waded into the issue, defending the band members' rights to earn a dollar but pointing out the questions the event raised. Your Barman eventually decided that the circumstances of the "reunion" sucked and we said as much in a comment piece.

We said there are sponsorships and there are sponsorships. But the exclusive nature of the show made us uncomfortable, as did the apparent licensing of band images to appear on $US55 T-shirts placed by PR flacks on the torsos of pop stars who probably couldn't give a shit about the Five, their fans or their legacy. After days of consideration, we decided the business deal had come ahead of the music. The Five had made a tactical error.

Anyway, we're very fond of an expression used by Sydney guitarist John Spittles of Asteroid B612 (who in spite of their name are NOT a Sonics Rendezvous Band rip, by the way) that "opinions are like arseholes - everybody has one". To be honest we don't think ours (opinion, that is) counts more than anyone elses. But we're entitled to have an opinion - and so are you. E-mails from various people streamed in and, on the whole, were pretty balanced. A poll we put up elicted a verdict of 96 against and 49 for the sponsorship, but that's not an unexpected outcome from an online survey. (You can see the outcome and read the comments posted here).

From the reaction from one quarter you'd think we'd committed mass murder. Wayne Kramer's management wanted to know why we'd never canvassed the issues directly with Brother Wayne - the answer being that two e-mails to his manager in the preceeding week had gone un-answered, for good old technical reasons.

(By the way, we're not the only people to bring in a negative verdict. Notably, the Damned's singer, Dave Vanian, participated as a guest vocalist, and his band's own official web site described the sponsorsed, invitation-only nature of the show as "strange".)

Under a barrage of criticism to the message board on his own website - and it's fair to say that this event generated more traffic to it than any other in its history - Wayne put together an elequoent response to in his all-to-infrequent Kramer Report.

At his manager's invitation, we put our own questions to Wayne, who responded, with some input from Michael Davis. Some follow-up questions were sent but apparerently the shutters have gone up and no responses have been forthcoming. Here's the result.

Who's in the right? Is anyone? You be the judge.

Q I'll preface this by saying that I don't object to corporate sponsorship of music, per se, but I do object to deals that put the corporate machine's interests ahead of fans or the music. So why wasn't this deal one of those?

WAYNE KRAMER: Levi's didn't sponsor us. They were MuscleTone's partners in this event. We control every single facet of the entire production.

MICHAEL DAVIS: Craig, who's to say who's interests are ahead of who's? Levi's is thinking Levi's, we are thinking of us, and the fans want to see the band. So who wins? EVERYONE.

Let me say this; to you guys, all you see is a logo, but I met PEOPLE. Real people. And guess what? They were also "fans". And by the time we left, not only were they fans, they had become our good friends, and some of the best people I have ever met.

Q Are you surprised at the level of reaction to this sponsorship? How carefully did all three surviving band members think about this before committing?

W: I knew with 35 years of experience in this game that you would have to ask me that question and i'm getting bored answering it. Again, it wasn't a sponsorship, so your question is moot.

M: (We are) not at all (susprised). We are the sort that is damned if you do and damned if you don't. Why it's practically no different than it was 30 years ago. Fact is, we all expected the boo birds to come out. BRING IT, this time I'll meet you head on.

Q I don't agree with some who say that you guys set the bar too high when you dabbled in revolutionary (or anti-corporate) politics in the '60s. It's not as clear-cut as that and I think you1ve explained it well in your statement. But again I have to ask that surely you expected a backlash, as in "revolutionaries sell out"?

W: Yes and you're fulfilling that expectation right now. Thank you. We didn't set the bar too high. There's no such thing. You always shoot for the highest that you can achieve. We were anti-war and anti-military industrial complex and anti-corporations that destroy and don't create anything useful, but being anti-trade is a ridiculous idea. A corporation is only a manifestation of human beings' efforts. A corporation, in and of itself, does not have a moral value. It's what the people do with it that assigns it a positive or negative effect. These people were positive people. The end result is positive. If you want to be negative, that's your prerogative.

M: Revolution? Re- Evolution is what I have in mind.

Q Just out of interest, what would the MC5 of 1968 have said if they'd been offered a corporate endorsement deal like this? Would the band's reaction have been different, say, in 1971?

W: The same thing we DID say: "We'll take the recording contract." We were offered a corporate endorsement from Elektra Records and Atlantic Records. We took them immediately. I said I'd do it again in an instant and I did, but this time I was on a level playing field. This was a BETTER deal than our recording contracts.

M: We've looked after OUR interests this time around as far as use of our "name". We didn't really have a manager 30 years ago. We had a guru.

Q You've said this definitely wasn't an MC5 reunion. So how much control did the band members have over the sponsor's use of their name? Why then has Levi's billed it as "the MC5 getting together" on their European web site?

W: I haven't seen the web site, but at no point was this to be referred to as a reunion of any sort.

M: And as far as how to call it, what else would you say? MC3?

Q The MC5 graphic adopted by Levi's omits the dope leaf. What is your opinion of this change?

W: This artwork was completed and licensed before I was involved. You'd have to take that question up with the artist Gary Grimshaw. Personally, I don't have an opinion on it either way. If folks want to advertise a marijuana leaf, that's ok with me. If they don't, that's OK with me too.

M: Levi's doesn't sell dope. Neither do we. It's not my business, and personally, I don't care for the stuff.

Q I don't want to dwell on very old ground as it's probably a moot point, but weren't you (Wayne) opposed to Rob Tyner using the band name in the 1970s?

W: Yes, I did object to it, but I, then, in fact, used the name myself. We were very confused and young and hurt and we were only human. We didn't know any better. We also didn't know how to communicate with one another. It was also 30 years ago.

M: You know, ever since the band disintegrated for any single member to continue with that name would be rather tacky. I was so out of it at that point, I didn't care.

Q You've said in your statement on your own web site: "The MC5 or any artist has a right to enter into any business relationship of their choosing". But isn't there a danger, in this instance, that it could actually alienate a section of your fan-base?

W: No. I give the MC5 fans more credit than that. Look at this way, I give you and a handful of writers a bunch of stuff to squawk about.

M: Let's get to the bigger picture. I have been relatively obsure for the most part. I have to work for a living like we all do. No one is jumping out of the woodwork to promote a band that has a relatively small notoriety from decades ago. Nothing is without cost. These people, who happen to be in the garment business, who happen to be based in the UK, or Europe, because Europeans are of different tastes than U.S., have a job to do, and saw a link in the MC5 "style" that meshed with the aura of the clothing that they had designed.

Man, it's just business. But the important thing for me is that I like what they got. It's cool stuff. And Grimshaws' artwork is beautiful. There you have it. Right time, right on time. Like a Godsend.

The most killer thing being that we - Wayne , Dennis , and Mike - get to carry on the torch. No one plays like we do, and we get to share the music once more with a whole lot of new people, as well as those that already get it.

Q Why did it happen in London and not the USA? Was this the sponsor's choice or yours?

W: I covered that in the Kramer Report.

Q Will there be any further shows?

W: I can't predict the future.

Q How crucial, really, was the Levi's sponsorship in making it happen? This is the nub of the issue, isn't it? You're saying there wasn't a promoter somewhere who wouldn't have killed to put on this show?

W: If it had been possible to do this production on the level that we did (four-camera shoot, 32-track recording, one week of rehearsals, guest artists, trans-Atlantic travel, hotels, crew) then we would have done it by now. In 30 years, no one has offered to do it right until now. If you find someone willing to do it again, have them call me.

Q Surely, an un-sponsored gig that was open to more fans would have been a simpler and less traumatic way of doing it? All the band members would have received a payday, you would have had a show in the can for DVD or CD release and a lot more people would have been able to see you. Anyone want to comment?

W: Surely the moon is made of green cheese and it would taste good if we could get there to eat it.

Q How many "real fans" got in anyway? One punter on Wayne's message board estimates 15 at best, I know people who phoned the venue and weren't given any information, and the event was conspicuously missing from the 100 Club's web site.

W: Two African-Americans, two gays, one dwarf, and a deaf dumb and blind kid who sure played a mean pinball. All others were excluded from the gig for being exposed as "untrue MC5 fans." We also let in 1 nurse from the local VD clinic just in case. And all our ex-wives. Now we're getting somewhere.

Q Can you understand with only a few hundred punters in attendance (many of them rag trade or music industry people) that people would think the event was staged for the benefit of a few journalists and Levi1s employees?

W: Yes, I understand.

Q You've already defended the decision not to use a bigger venue by citing the fire-trap issue. Isn't this a little disingenuous, given that every medium-sized venue is not automatically dangerous?

W: I'm not defending anything. Are we on trial?

Q You've said the use of the band's logo by Levi1s was initially "inadvertent" and your management says it1s a nice story involving artists Gary Grimshaw and Becky Tyner. It wasn't fully explained in the statement on your web site, so can you set the record straight?

W: It came to my manager's attention that the MC5 logo and the band's image had been licensed from Gary Grimshaw and Leni Sinclair's photo with Becky and Dennis' blessing. There was no malice intended, but the problem was that the band controls the mark together. If there were going to be two different shirts designed and a vest with our pictures on it, then we wanted to have some say in the final decision. We began talking to Levi's and learned that the clothing had been made and if we asked them to stop, then Leni and Gary would have had to pay back their license fee. We all decided it would be better to sign-off on the license and move toward new business. That's what we did and this event is a result of that communicating like grown-ups. It's been a good relationship with extraordinary individuals at Levi's and with their team in the UK.

Q You said you didn't want to sue Levi's. Why?

W: Because I don't want to sue anybody. Lawsuits are a big waste of time, energy and money. They're also bad for your health.

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.

Q I don't want to get hung up on this because the information probably comes from a pressure group with an axe to grind. You said you investigated Levi's as a fitting company to be involved with. Did you see this and now that you have, have you changed your view?

W: I didn't know this before. I haven't found a company that's perfect? Companies are people and people rarely make perfect decisions. Real life is messy. You keep prattling on and on about some perfect reality that doesn't exist. What universe do you live in?

Q Will the Levi's logo appear on packaging for the DVD and CD? How far away are both and will they appear on your label, MuscleTone?

W: Don't know. Don't know.

Q Wayne, your manager seemed to take most exception to the following part of the column at the I-94 Bar:

A very good source outlined how this whole deal came together: Levi's approached Gary Grimshaw, who gave permission to use his artwork for T-shirts. Levi started the corporate wheels in motion, gearing up for production, including MC5 product in catalogues for their "Sonic Revolution" spring line. Brother Wayne allegedly tried to "shake down" Levi's for cash. They suggested a reunion. The surviving band members said "show us the money". Levi's did.

For the record, what do we have wrong in this sequence of events?

W: This quote reflects a real viciousness that I find hard to comprehend. It's all completely wrong. I can't control what people say about me, but they can't be malicious, they can't lie, without me calling them on it.

Q From the feedback your manager gave, I suspect the following line from Bar colleague John McPharlin has ruffled feathers too:

Let's face it, Levis are not aiming at the band's fans, they're aiming at all the potential Levis wearers who have never bought an MC5 record, but would buy dog shit on a stick if Rolling Stone told them it was cool and assured them that everybody else was buying it too. Levis are just another large, faceless corporation pretending to be hip and thinking they can buy some cred off the peg like, well, a pair of jeans. One size fits all? No, I don't think so. Shame on the band for playing along with it.

Would you care to comment?

W: No. This guy has a right to say whatever he wants to say. You can all say anything you want to say. It doesn't affect me, my life, my business and my music. If what you and all the other critics and pundits say mattered, I would have crawled into a hole and died by now.

M: The writings of one, John McPhartlin, are particularly offensive to me. His comments are not merely condescending, but meanly view our society as brainless dweebs. He casts a blanket shadow over the public as if he were fed up with the human race. Shame on him for even feeling so fucking hip. That he has the gall to generalize anything is just ignorant.

Finally, when I first read the diatribe against me on your website two days ago, I was angry, then sad, then disappointed. The bottom line is, I care more about my fans than I care about criticisms. I know what we've got, and it'd be wrong to to forget it. For some reason we have been brought to the doorway again. This time the freedom bell will chime. HA!

Q I can appreciate the irony in Justin Timberlake being seen in an MC5 t-shirt. But was it coincidence that an English talent quest pop star Darius appeared on Top of the Pops in the UK within a day of the 100 Club event, wearing the MC5/Levi1s T-shirt? Are you happy with Levi1s recruiting lame teenybopper idols to wear your colours, considering the risk of this pissing off the MC5's core fans?

W: Who is Darius? Who is recruiting? What are you talking about?

Q What do you think about the Stooges getting back together and the inevitable claims that it's an Iggy career move?

W: God bless them all.

Q I want to talk about the music (at last!) and ask you about the highlights of the 100 Club show. Who's Kate O'Brien and how did you hear about her?

W: See my Kramer Report.

Q What feedback did Ian Astbury give you, if any, of his experiences filling the Lizard King's shoes in front of two of the surviving Doors?

W: He said it was hard work.

Q What did you think of "The MC - A True Testimonial"? If you're releasing a DVD of the 100 Club show, is MuscleTone also a prospective outlet for the movie as well?

W: It's a fine film. We keep an open mind here at MuscleTone.

Q How's "Adult World" been selling and what1s next in the studio and touring schedules?

W: "Adult World" has not reached the multi-platinum status that we'd hoped it would, but we're not unsatisfied.

Working on the next Wayne solo album now. Mixing the 100 Club recordings now for release later this year. Writing songs with the BellRays, producing Mother Superior's next album and doing music for

Q I like the album and the way you1re still stretching your own boundaries, but I did notice a critical comment about it from a "Dennis Tomich" on your website's bulletin board. Was it from the real one? (If the latter, it was mighty amusing to see a reply to the effect that he was just a "nostalgic
baby boomer"!) Anyway, what do your MC5 band-mates think of your recent stuff?

W: Ask them. Don't know about that posting on the web site, especially since Dennis never heard the record until I gave him one in London last week.

Q In what direction do you think your solo material will move on the next release?

W: Wait and see.

Q: How far is the Dodge Main live disc from seeing the light of day?

W: 3,865 miles.

(we'll print a selection in a couple of weeks)