Saturday, February 04, 2012

MC5 Sonically Speaking - a Tale of Revolution and Rock'n'Roll by Brett Callwood

Anyone who knows me knows that I consider the MC5 to be the ultimate in what a rock'n'roll band should be - loud guitars, flashy clothes, phenomenal stage performance that often teetered on the edge of collapse (and sometimes fell over that edge), wonderful songs and true talent. They made more than their share of mistakes, and others may be more virtuosic, but at their best, no one has ever surpassed them as the spirit of r'n'r.

This book attempts to tell the full tale of the MC5, from its beginnings as a local, Detroit garage band through the members solo works and the eventually reforming by the 3 surviving members as DKT/MC5 (Davis, Kramer, Thompson/MC5). Unfortunately, it doesn't really succeed as a high-energy biography. I'm sure that part of the issue is that the author is a Brit who had never heard of the band until 1990 (!) and that was via a collaboration of Bad Brain & Henry Rollins covering "Kick Out the Jams"! High props to the young man for hearing the majesty within that (I've never heard the version he is referring to, but just the concept sounds horrific to me) and searching out the originators of this masterpiece, but that does show how far removed he is from the place of time that created this fantastic rock'n'roll.

That said, he is obviously a true fan who did his best and did manage to interview Kramer, Davis and Thompson (Tyner & Smith passed away before Callwood became aware of the band) and many people associated with the guys, from members of the White Panther party to fans to musicians who have worked with these cats throughout the years. This book is definitely Kramer-centric and was written as Kramer pursued a lawsuit against Future/Now Films and their amazing documentary (that he fully endorsed as it was being made), The MC5 - A True Testimonial, in order to get money from this labor of love movie. Fortunately, Kramer lost but I am not sure if the movie ever got a proper release (I have a copy, but I'm not sure how "legit" it is), which is a shame but it really is an inspiring tale of the band. The author does rave on several occasions about the terrible rip-off DVD simply titled Kick out the Jams that, while making some money for the Sinclairs, was a travesty - but Kramer's company, Muscletone, was involved with it, which shows that Callwood was certainly siding with Wayne.

The book does include numerous anecdotes from all of the interviewees and does look into some of the reasons for the group's initial disintegration and collapse - mostly from their own actions. He does his best to detail the members solo works and goes on at length about the recent reunion of the DKT.

Far from a comprehensive story of this phenomenal group and its times and influence on the world of music (which the author does not claim to be), and filled with typos and errors, it is not a bad book, but is not what it could have been. A True Testimonial is a more exciting and well rounded tale (of course, being a audio & visual medium, it can actually show the band in all of its glory) but this book does its best and is a good effort, but not great.

PS - the cover in the image above is completely different than the one on the book that I received - much nicer, too, I think!