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Review: MC5 – Kick Out the Jams DVD

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One of my greatest claims to semi-fame/obscurity is the fact that I was present on the Zenta New Year in 1968 at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit when Kick Out the Jams was recorded. Recording took place over two nights and I was present at the first. The image of brother J.C. Crawford exhorting the crowd is forever etched …, etc. I was later a button-wearing member of the White Panther Party as it existed. That was how simple it was: “Want to join? Here’s a button, you’re a member.” Change society by any means necessary, but preferably sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

After all these years Creem magazine presents Kick Out the Jams a film by Leni Sinclair and Cary Loren. I was expecting a documentary on the history of the band, but in reality it is a series of still photographs and movies with a soundtrack of live performances by the MC5. There are psychedelic effects suitable for framing on the inside of your eyelids. The live performances are actually pretty good, ones I’ve not heard.

Any veteran of those years in Detroit will recognize various iconic images of the times. The DVD opens with shots of the Detroit waterfront and shots of the Ambassador Bridge. (Where, I might add, I viewed the beginnings of the riots of 1967 with a view of the fires on 12th and Clairmount from the walkway atop the bridge). Also making cameo appearances: Freddy “The Poet” Serber, Mr. James Osterberg, attorney Ken Cockrel, John Sinclair, The Spirit of Detroit statue, Wayne State University’s DeRoy Auditorium, and the Belle Isle fountain. Others, closer to the action as it were, will recognize their own mythical figures.

Viewing this on a big screen TV and a good sound system could possibly bring some of the experience of the MC5 to the viewer. But for the real experience you would have to use a time machine. God I’ve become an old fart.

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  • godoggo

    I’d like to hear more about that show.

  • Neal

    Alas, I remember little of the event. I wasn’t even stoned. I remember the producer Jac Holzman dressed in a suit and tie with a cigarette constantly dangling from his mouth while he was walking around. Wayne Kramer’s rave-up solo at the end of Ramblin’ Rose mystified me. I thought it was really fast and incredible. Now it doesn’t sound like much, but back then I was a learning guitar player.

    There were photographers strobe lights mounted on stands over the stage and they kept going off. The MC5 were all dressed in rhinestone outfits and they sparkled.

    I got a souvenir 1/4 sheet poster for free that has long been lost. J.C. Crawford’s rant “If you ask me this is the high society …” seemed quite appropriate.

    What I’d like to hear about was my ex-wife’s experience of seeing the Beatles at Olympia Stadium in 1964.

  • godoggo

    Regarding the Beatles: I love their records, but as far as live I’d want to have seen them in their leather and grease days. I understand that their early shows were wild, nothing like the cutesy teenybopper act that conquered the colonies.

    Regarding Kick Out the Jams, I learned from this frighteningly comprehensive website that the band wasn’t happy with the performance.

    I discovered the 5 as a teenage punk rocker in the early ’80s. I own 3 recordings: Kick out the Jams and High Times on Vinyl, and, best of all, a cassette-only compilation called Babes in Arms. I think if I could see any rock band in history, they’d be the one, and I think a lot of people feel the same. And I’d be fascinated by any memories of an actual White Panther, though one gets the feeling that you’re a bit bored by the subject (hence no other commenters).

    I think I read that Kramer studied with the great bebop saxophonist Frank Morgan while in prison, and that his playing has much improved, though I haven’t heard any of his comeback stuff, except for a show as part of avant-jazz guitarist Nels Cline’s New Music Mondays in the early ’90s, wherein
    Wayne’s guitar, along with a drum machine, accompanied Mick Farren reading is poetry. Well, at least Nels put on a good show, as always.

    Anyways, I get a wistful feeling whenever I see that mailing address for Trans-Love Energies on the back of Kick Out the Jams. I’ve always wanted to write to them.