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the mc5: a true testimonial

Posted on 30 April 2004 by Caryn Rose (4)

I wish I could remember the exact moment I discovered the MC5, or how it even happened; probably some random comment somewhere in a rock magazine or book, and it was authoritative enough to make me dutifully go off and try to find out more about them.

I had heard them and I had heard bootlegs but I had never SEEN them, you know? it wasn’t anything I ever tracked down, never struck me as that elusive IT that you must see, unlike the Dolls or the Stooges, those you could find if you wanted to, easily enough, hell, that footage of Iggy smearing peanut butter on his chest got broadcast on ABC prime time in the 70s… so this was the first time i ever really SAW the mc5.

it was astounding. and astonishing. and it broke my heart because i was not old enough to have been there, to have SEEN that, because it was so truly huge and wonderful and perfect in its rawness and fuck-you-ness. none of us, really, can appreciate what it meant to get up on a stage in the MIDWEST in the 60s and scream the word ‘motherfucker’ (on the other hand there is no way that any of us can truly feel the liberation and danger that rob tyner likely felt every time he got to call on us to ‘kick out the jams, motherfucker!” i mean, talk about the shot heard round the world. it really, truly was a CALL TO ARMS.

when i was younger i always felt left out. missed the who with moon. missed the stones when they were ‘good’. should have been a warhol superstar getting my 15 minutes hanging out at the factory. should have been at woodstock. but as i got older and i found my own bands to love in real time, that lessened to an extent.

today it was back with a vengance. oh my god. i MISSED that. and yeah, i know, i’ve read about how women were treated in the 60s and how john sinclair especially, it’s not like the trans-love energies house was exactly a hotbed of feminism, i didn’t even care, i wanted the rock and roll.

so, jesus.. fuck! i missed that. i missed it. and i can’t see the 5 without rob tyner’s gentle spirit, or without fred sonic smith.

i don’t understand 1/10th of what all the infighting is between the surviving members of the MC5, the surviving spouses of the deceased members, and the documentary filmmakers. i’ve even had a friend who is an expert at bankruptcy proceedings go through some of this crap in his copious free time and while i am slightly smarter, i am certainly no wiser as to what the real problem is.

but what i am is a fan. i am a fan of this band. and without a doubt, they influenced me profoundly. and as a fan, this documentary is important. it’s not perfect, there are things that are hokey that are in when i would have rather seen other things (where were the interviews with the fans? or even dave marsh and the creem gang from detroit?) but as a fan, this film moved me. it moved me not because of the actual filmmaking, but because of the story, and of the music, and the energy. that is what moved me.

i loved the story about how the five, once they became the house band at the grande ballroom, and once the grande ballroom became part of the circuit and attracted name bands from england and elsewhere, how the five would taunt them. we’re the mc5 and we are going to wipe the floor with you, just so you know. how fucking PERFECT that is. why doesn’t anyone do that any more? are there any opening bands these days that come out to fucking search and destroy? anyone who gets an opening band gig and goes out there with the sole intent to blow the headliner off the stage?

attitude. what we are missing is attitude. attitude and insolence and obnoxiousness. this is probably why part of me likes courtney. at least she pisses people off.

i learned things i did not know about the MC5 (the ending, their stint in the UK and Europe, for example).
I got to see the final resting places of Rob Tyner (gravestone resplendent with gary grimshaw-like script) and Fred Smith (who has two stones, one of which simply reads ‘Sonic’).
I got to see final interview footage with Rob Tyner.
I got to see kickass footage of the MC5, at the Grande Ballroom, at the 1968 Democratic Convention (and just when I’m thinking, god, i never knew this existed, this footage is amazing, the title at the bottom of the screen helpfully shares: “FBI Surveillance Footage”. Well, damn.)
And I came away with a rekindled appreciation for the MC5, a greater love and understanding, a broader comprehension of who they were and what they were and what they were and weren’t trying to do. I know Dennis Thompson thinks he came across badly and is embarassed by his appearance in it. As a fan, as an outsider, that wasn’t how I saw it.
Maybe the parties involved are too close to it. Because the end was painful. The end of the band was painful, and the end of the movie is painful because it shows the truth. And the truth is not grand or pretty or triumphant. The end is sad. The end is about drugs and desperation and falling apart.

But it is what happened. And there is a certain dignity in letting the truth be what it is and telling the past simply, without embellishment.

While watching the movie, I thought to myself: no matter where any of you guys are now, you can look at yourself in the mirror every single day and say, “I was in the MC5. I made history. I changed rock and roll.” End of story. No matter what you wanted to hvae happened, no matter if the band crashed and burned before its time, no matter if you didn’t achieve what you thought the band had the potential of achieving. You were still the fucking MC5 and YOU CHANGED THE WORLD. I realize that doesn’t solve arguments or doesn’t pay the bills, but I wish it could provide them with some kind of inner peace or tranquility or resolve or at least smug satisfaction.

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4 Responses to “the mc5: a true testimonial”

  1. rlv says:

    thanks for this – makes my having missed it a bit easier!

  2. Dave Marsh says:

    Caryn–
    You nailed this.

    I *was* there and although this is but the shadow of its greatness, it comes through all right.

    You got the feeling about the new “breakup” right too. Unfortunatley, the people in the midst of it don’t have the luxury of just responding to fan feelings.

    BTW, there’s two simple reasons why local bands don’t taunt headliners anymore:
    a) local bands aren’t on the same bill with headliners;
    b) they ain’t that good to be sure they can kick superstar ass.

    My brothers were.

  3. t says:

    great post…..well written….I WAS there and it captured it all well…..particularily the Tarter Field footage…..during Looking At You….as the five break back into the song and Wayne does that spin and drop kick…..NO EVER CAME CLOSE to what the MC5 did….and frankly….never will…..and Dave….you are so right….no one is good enough to do it to it Like That Again

  4. Keith Weisenburg says:

    The MC5 didn’t change THE world, but they changed MY world. Infighting? I thought that was
    part of the Detroit rock scene formula, wasn’t it? Who was badder, who was better? Fuck you you’re kicked out of the band. Iggy doesn’t need The Stooges anymore. People giving Rob gas for just wanting to earn a buck with “the New MC5”. Where the hell was the OLD MC5 then? I mostly regret not appreciating them more when it was all going down…and I LOVED them! ..but we were swimming in music and rock greatness. The expected norm was to be blown away in awe. And so many bands delivered the goods night after night. SRC, The UP, Third Power,The Pack, Frost, Sky, Teegarden Van Winkle for goodness sakes. Many individuals who truly did eventually become international forces to be reckoned with and rewarded accordingly. But the MC5, with all of their great songs. Kick out the Jams, Starship, I want you right now, The Motor City’s burning, Ramma Lamma Fa Fa Fa, eventually said it all with “The American Ruse”. Timeless politico rock aka trouble lookin’ for a place to happen. The Grande or Grant Park. Bring it on!