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MC5 in turmoil yet again

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  • Jason Gross
    The Detroit News Wednesday, March 31, 2004 MC5 in turmoil yet again Long-awaited film on Detroit
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 31, 2004
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      <http://www.detnews.com/2004/events/0403/31/d01-108227.htm>

      The Detroit News
      Wednesday, March 31, 2004

      MC5 in turmoil yet again
      Long-awaited film on Detroit band halted on eve of its release
      By Susan Whitall / The Detroit News


      On Halloween night 2003 ‹ Zenta New Year to Detroit hippies ‹ Chicago
      filmmakers David Thomas and Laurel Legler screened their
      years-in-the-making
      documentary ³MC5: A True Testimonial² at the Detroit Institute of
      Arts.
      It had been 35 years ago to the day that the legendary Detroit band
      had
      recorded its anthem ³Kick Out the Jams² in a live concert at the
      Grande
      Ballroom on Detroit¹s near west side.
      At the screening, young fans who¹d never seen the MC5 live but
      idolized
      them
      were mixed in with graying boomers who openly sobbed at scenes of the
      Grande
      then, with a thousand kids milling around and the Five in full
      throttle;
      and
      the Grande now, empty and derelict.
      But after RCA/BMG was set to release the film on DVD on May 4, with a
      short
      theatrical run immediately before that, suddenly last week the film
      was
      abruptly stopped by the MC5¹s publishing company, Warner Chappell, on
      behalf
      of Wayne Kramer, a surviving member of the group.
      For those close to the MC5, it¹s a haunting reminder of the band¹s
      traumatic
      breakup in 1972, when Rolling Stone ran a story on them called
      ³Shattered
      Dreams in the Motor City.²
      How did a 35-year-old dream of peace, love and eternal rock stardom
      shatter
      yet again? In patchouli-scented, all for one and one for all ¹60s
      mode,
      all
      five members of the MC5 were given writing credit for all of their
      songs.
      Thus any one of them can refuse permission for a license.
      The history of the MC5 was a tumultuous one, from the first fistfight
      in
      Lincoln Park between lead singer Rob Tyner and guitarist Fred ³Sonic²
      Smith
      to the last brawl, at Tyner¹s home, when he refused to accompany the
      group
      on a 1972 tour of England. The drama is what makes the MC5¹s story
      such
      a
      compelling film.
      Back in the mid-¹60s, the young MC5 wore matching shirts and played
      VFW
      halls like any other Beatles-era band.
      It was only after they became the house band at Russ Gibb¹s Grande
      Ballroom
      in 1968 that the MC5 careened into the hearts of Detroit youth with
      music
      and a persona that was loud, funny and inspirational on a level mere
      party
      bands weren¹t.
      Their appeal is something Detroit-area baby boomers struggle to
      explain,
      which is why ³MC5: A True Testimonial² resonates with audiences. It
      manages
      to tell the band¹s story and simultaneously explain the ¹60s to those
      who
      either don¹t remember, or who weren¹t there.
      Kramer says he doesn¹t like the term ³legend,² but the MC5 long ago
      passed
      into that realm. In 1968, they took a macho, hometown pride in blowing
      supergroups such as Cream off the Grande¹s stage, and developed such a
      strong following that Elektra Records snapped them up that year.
      It was their song ³Kick Out the Jams,² with its profane language, and
      their
      links with ¹60s revolutionary politics, John Sinclair and the White
      Panthers, that helped the group become infamous.
      That Kramer has blocked the film¹s release hasn¹t pleased the
      survivors
      of
      the two MC5 members who¹ve died: lead singer Rob Tyner and guitarist
      Fred
      ³Sonic² Smith.
      ³I said to Laurel and David all along, their journey has so
      paralleled
      that
      of the MC5,² says Tyner¹s widow Becky. ³Now we¹re at the breakup of
      the
      MC5.
      The bully tactics, the pressure. It¹s almost cosmic.²
      That is the one thing that Kramer and Tyner agree on. ³Trouble seems
      to
      follow the MC5,² Kramer said by phone from his Los Angeles office. He
      and
      his manager wife Margaret are making plans for a July release of his
      own
      film, ³Sonic Revolution,² which documents the London reunion of the
      surviving members of the MC5.
      Kramer also plans a tour with his surviving MC5 mates Dennis Thompson
      and
      Michael Davis, as ³DKT/MC5.²
      The use of the name ³MC5,² with two of the ³5² dead, has family
      members
      unhappy.
      Jackson Smith, the Detroit-based musician son of Fred and Patti
      Smith,
      is
      also disappointed that release of ³A True Testimonial² is being held
      up.
      ³It¹s a travesty that it would be blocked,² Smith says. ³It¹s a great
      document of the band, it¹s a great document of life, and it¹s a great
      document of things ... far and beyond the band.²
      Smith, who is in the Detroit band Back in Spades, is also irritated
      that
      the
      DKT/MC5 Web site makes no mention of his father, Fred Smith, or Rob
      Tyner.
      When a fan posted on waynekramer.com hoping that Back in Spades would
      open
      for the DKT/MC5 tour, Smith felt that was his chance to speak out.
      ³I posted to make it clear that there was no chance Back in Spades
      would
      be
      involved,² Smith says. He also alluded vaguely to bad blood between
      his
      family and Kramer. His post was deleted by Margaret Kramer, who
      posted
      that
      she would allow no ³personal attacks² on the forum.
      Famed Grande Ballroom poster artist Gary Grimshaw, who recently moved
      back
      to Detroit from San Francisco, is ³disturbed² by Kramer¹s opposition
      to
      the
      film. Grimshaw did the cover graphics for the ³True Testimonial²
      film,
      as
      well as for Kramer¹s film.
      ³I had no idea when I did that for him that there was going to be any
      problem, that Wayne would set it up as the only authorized MC5 movie
      as
      opposed to ŒA True Testimonial.¹ If I¹d known, I don¹t think I would
      have
      done the cover for him.²
      For their part, after a six-year odyssey, filmmakers Thomas and
      Legler
      are
      upset at having to cancel the April showings and May DVD release of
      their
      film, which would have included a Detroit premiere late in the month.
      The two had painstakingly accumulated old footage of the MC5 playing
      live.
      The clips came from many sources, including the attics of fans, and
      show
      the
      band playing at the Grande, at Wayne State¹s Tartar Field, a Belle
      Isle
      Love-In and many other places, including government surveillance
      film,
      in
      brilliant color, of the MC5 playing a protest rally at the Democratic
      Convention in Chicago in 1968.
      Asked on Tuesday about the film¹s status, Thomas and Legler were only
      able
      to issue a lawyer-vetted statement: ³Exhibition and distribution of
      the
      film
      is currently on hold. Negotiations are delicate and we cannot comment
      further.²
      But in an earlier conversation Legler sobbed when she spoke to a
      reporter.
      As for Warner-Chappell Publishing, which technically has not issued a
      license for the film to use the MC5¹s songs, Pat Woods, senior
      director
      of
      licensing, did not return a reporter¹s call.
      Although he now calls the film ³unlicensed² and a ³bootleg,² Kramer is
      virtually the narrator of ³A True Testimonial,² driving a gold
      Pontiac
      GTO
      through the streets of downtown Detroit in the beginning of the
      movie,
      and
      around Lincoln Park as he describes how the band was formed in the
      parking
      lot of the Route 66 restaurant.
      But Kramer prefers to talk about ³Sonic Revolution² and the proposed
      tour of
      DKT/MC5, which would use a rotating series of lead singers, including
      Marshall Crenshaw and Evan Dando of the Lemonheads.
      Asked about the ³True Testimonial² documentary, he says, ³I don¹t
      comment
      about unlicensed, bootleg films.²
      One of the group¹s most appealing qualities is that they always had a
      sort
      of irreverence about their politics.
      In ³A True Testimonial,² Kramer talks about having a romantic
      encounter,
      then looking outside a window at the group¹s Wayne State-area house
      to
      see
      the MC5 van being firebombed.
      ³Now that was fun,² Kramer exults, in the film.
      Among the most disappointed fans of the ³True Testimonial² film are
      younger
      people who have heard all the legends about the MC5.
      Brian Bowe, 31, the Michigan-based editor of Creem magazine,
      sometimes
      posts
      on Internet forums as ³MC5rules.²
      ³The fact that it¹s not coming out is disappointing for people like
      me,
      who
      are huge fans but never got to see the MC5 play live,² says Bowe.
      ³Their
      showmanship and the way the band moved was such an important part of
      the
      presentation, and that¹s a part of the story you don¹t get from
      listening to
      records.² Guitarist Kramer often mentions ³the message of the MC5²
      and
      how
      he wants it to get out to younger generations. Will the younger
      generations
      think the MC5¹s message one of peace, love and raw power through high
      decibel rock, or is it that ultimately, nobody can get along?
      ³I don¹t know what the younger generation would say,² Kramer says. ³I
      don¹t
      have all the answers. I don¹t have any answers.²
      As for the legal wrangling over the film going away: ³I can¹t predict
      the
      future,² Kramer says. ³If I could, we¹d both go out to Hollywood Park
      (race
      track) and we¹d clean up.²

      You can reach Susan Whitall at (313) 222-2156 or at
      swhitall@...

      Associated Press
      Surviving members of the MC5 are, from left, Wayne Kramer, Dennis
      Thompson
      and Michael Davis. Press copies of "MC5 A True Testimonial," right,
      were
      sent out before distribution of the film was stopped.



      About the MC5
      Members: The MC5, first known as the Motor City Five in the mid-'60's,
      featured lead singer Robin Tyner, guitarists Fred "Sonic" Smith and
      Wayne
      Kramer, bassist Michael Davis and drummer Dennis Thompson.
      Career: Started out playing teen dances and VFW halls in and around
      their
      native Lincoln Park. Segued from playing cover tunes and dance music
      to
      a
      raucous, fuel-injected sound that came to epitomize the high energy
      Detroit
      rock 'n' roll sound of the '60s.
      Scene: The MC5 were the house band at the legendary Grande Ballroom
      on
      Grand
      River Avenue, and honed their live act there. It began with emcee J.C.
      Crawford whipping the crowd into a frenzy with his call of "Are you
      ready to
      testify?" after which the band would open up with Kramer singing
      "Rambling
      Rose."
      Signature song: "Kick Out the Jams," with its use of a common
      expletive,
      got
      the group banned from Hudson's, innumerable radio stations and high
      school
      dances.
      Politics: After joining forces with manager John Sinclair, the MC5 got
      caught up in the revolutionary mix of music and leftist politics that
      permeated the Bohemian Cass Corridor scene at the time. The band lived
      communally with the White Panthers for a long time but eventually
      moved
      away
      so it could concentrate more on music and less on politics.
      Breakup: The band splintered after a contentious Grande Ballroom show
      on
      New
      Year's Eve 1972. Smith went on to found Sonic's Rendezvous Band in
      Detroit;
      Kramer, Davis and Thompson also pursued music separately, Thompson
      with
      the
      Detroit-based Motor City Bad Boys.
    • katahdin62@comcast.net
      Not to excuse what appears to be Kramer s last-second effort to squeeze some extra cash out of the filmmaker, but does it strike anyone as weird that
      Message 2 of 2 , Mar 31, 2004
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        Not to excuse what appears to be Kramer's last-second effort to squeeze some extra cash out of the filmmaker, but does it strike anyone as weird that filming/editing/etc happened without nailing down the licensing stuff beforehand? It may be the lawyer in me speaking, but that seems whacky.

        Steve
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