Wayne Kramer never expected to be on tour 50 years later
MC5 founder's band full of musicians he influenced
It’d be fair to think, just maybe, that at the age of 70 punk pioneer Wayne Kramer may have mellowed in terms of his political activism. Or at least that the daily drumbeat of outrage stoked by cable news, talk radio and social media would have numbed him to the point where it’s tough to get fired up or outraged.
Except that Kramer, guitarist for Detroit proto-punks the MC5, doesn’t need more than a nudge to start spitting out invective about possible Russian election tampering, the political weaponization of middle-class American angst, and why riots in the streets – a topic Kramer and his bandmates were intimately familiar with – probably aren't the solution for those feeling left behind.
“Today marches in the street don't mean much because the authorities can handle that,” Kramer said by phone recently, indirectly referencing the MC5’s performance during the notorious riots in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. “Look at the Women's March right after (President Donald) Trump was elected with millions and millions of people who showed up and it meant zero. It affected things zero. They don't care about street demonstrations anymore. What they care about is getting elected.”
Kramer has a lot of attention these days because of the release of a new book (“The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, The MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities”) and his time back on the road with a reconstituted version of the MC5 that is playing the band’s landmark album “Kick Out The Jams” in recognition of its 50th anniversary.
The tour visits the Mohawk nightclub on Friday, and Kramer will appear in conversation with Alejandro Escovedo on Thursday at BookPeople.
Kramer is the last full-time member of the group – founding drummer Dennis Thompson will play occasional dates – with co-founders Rob Tyner, Fred Smith and Michael Davis all deceased. In their place is an impressive bullpen of contemporary rock luminaries including former Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil and Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty.
After roughly a dozen shows, Kramer said the new players were bringing their own fresh energy and experiences to the material that has shaped generations of punk fans.
“One thing that sets it apart is each of the musicians in the band have their own relationship with the music of the MC5,” he said. “They discovered that music one day in their life and said 'Wow, what is this? I need to learn more about this. I want to do something like this.' It inspired them to move forward with what they did on their own paths and their own careers, so the fact that they have that relationship with the music, apart from their friendship with me, adds an extra dimension to it.”
Asked if he or his bandmates ever entertained the possibility that they’d be shaping musicians five decades into the future, Kramer said the likelihood of self destruction – both for the band’s members and for the country in an escalating Cold War – prevented them from looking or thinking about what the future could hold.
“During the height of the nuclear arms race we really doubted we were going to make it another 20 years, let alone another 50 years,” he said. “I thought if we could make it another 20 years we would go on to this beautiful, creative, utopian existence. Not only did that not happen. ... look at the mess we're in today.”