This 7” cover sums up the first part of today’s show, as John Coltrane is looking at you, MC5. Heavily influenced by Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Pharaoh Sanders, Marion Brown, Sun Ra, Amiri Baraka, and later, the Black Panthers, MC5 manager John Sinclair tried to graft the politics of black power across the borderline to the white counterculture of SE Michigan. Today’s show starts by exploring some of Sinclair’s jazz favorites before getting into the MC5’s efforts to put his revolutionary politics into practice. “The MC5 is a whole thing,” Sinclair wrote. “There is no way to get at the music without taking in the whole context of the music too - there is no separation.”
If rock music was to be revolutionary, too, revolutionaries needed to control the means of cultural dissemination, especially after Elektra began censoring the MC5. ”Radio should be done as a conscious educational tool, a weapon of cultural revolution, to turn people on and charge them with energy and information so they can change their world. Don’t settle for a hip 24-hour-a-day jukebox like so many stations try to be. Every program should be an educational experience for all listeners, and if they aren’t giving you that then you give them some hell until they start meeting their responsibilities to the community.”
It feels fitting (and somewhat humbling) to do this show from the studio at WCBN FM in Ann Arbor, where Sinclair did a jazz radio show in the 1970s, where Wayne Kramer and Ron Asheton signed the desk, and where there’s still a radio show called Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa. There’s something jarring about seeing footage of live outdoor shows at West Park and Gallup Park (jump to 54:00 or so), and knowing that this Ann Arbor is long gone. But it’s also important to recognize the ways that Sinclair and the MC5 left their mark here.
After going into more of Ann Arbor’s musical history, including some tracks related to Sinclair’s imprisonment on marijuana charges, the show finishes with the MC5’s attempt to return to rock roots (listen for the loop of Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti…) and the aftermath of the band’s breakup. Sonic’s Rendezvous Band performs at the Second Chance in 1978 Ann Arbor and Sinclair ends things off with a recent recording that tells us that it’s all good.
- LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Blues People: Negro Music in White America (New York: Harper Collins, 1999 ), final pages, 230-236.
- John Sinclair, Guitar Army: Rock & Revolution With MC5 and the White Panther Party (Los Angeles: Process, 2007), selections: “White Panthers on the Move” (1968), “Rock & Roll Is a Weapon of Cultural Revolution” (1968), and “Community Radio,” (1969) (93-101, 109-113)
Playlist Part 1
Playlist Part 2
Sounding Out America - Week 11 pt 1 by Exquisitecorpse on Mixcloud
Sounding Out America - Week 11 pt 2 by Exquisitecorpse on Mixcloud