Before your favorite hard rock musicians were old enough to tie their own shoes, Wayne Kramer had already founded and dismantled one of the most influential bands of all time, put on one of the most legendary musical performances in the history of politics, gone to prison for selling drugs, and become a sought-after collaborator for everyone from punk rock legends to R&B singers.
But if you’re expecting to get the full tale of the MC5 guitarist’s rollercoaster career and personal life in his brand new book — appropriately titled The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities — you may be left disappointed.
“It was explained to me that a memoir is stories from a life, not the story of a life,” Kramer says. “I had to leave a great deal out, but the process of writing it was illuminating. I was able to look at what the crucial turning points were — where things went right or things went wrong — and marvel at how incredibly stupid I was.”
Of course, no matter how many poor life choices Kramer made back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, no one can dispute the lasting impact of the MC5’s 8-year run. When the quintet formed in 1964, genres like punk rock and heavy metal didn’t exist yet, and bands like the Kinks and the Animals were about as hard as rock music could get. But that all changed by the time Kramer and his Detroit-based bandmates released Kick Out the Jams a handful of years later and started the spread of in-your-face rock music designed to be played as loudly as possible.
“We always tried very hard to create music that would have historical validity,” Kramer says. “It was music that would outlast the current trends, and ideas that were built on style, not fashion. The music of the MC5 was rooted in the core rock ‘n’ roll of Little Richard and Chuck Berry, and it reached for outer space with the influence of free jazz and experimental music. I think that holds up pretty well, or at least so far, so good.”
Five decades later, Kramer’s still not done fighting the establishment and kicking out the jams. To celebrate the iconic record’s golden anniversary, the veteran guitarist built a supergroup of MC5 fans — officially known as MC50 — to perform the entire album with him each and every night of a full tour. It’s no surprise that members of super influential bands like Soundgarden and Fugazi are big enough MC5 diehards to spend their fall touring with Kramer, but the 70-year-old star wanted to make sure that he hired the right people for the gig.
“The interesting thing is that each of the musicians [in MC50] have their own connections to the music of the MC5, apart from their relationship with me,” Kramer says. “I think that’s important because it’s not just a job. The MC5 has a message, and that message is as central today as it was 50 years ago. It’s that there are endless possibilities at your fingertips. You can go out and change the world and make amazing things happen as long as you do what you’re doing completely and whole-heartedly.”
When he’s not writing, performing, chatting about the upcoming book (like the one on Thursday at Book Soup in West Hollywood), or helping rehabilitate prisoners by giving them guitars, Kramer’s constantly working on what he calls the “most important” project of his life: fatherhood. Having a 5-year-old son as he celebrates five decades of his most famous band might not be the most conventional thing Kramer’s ever done, but it’s certainly far from the strangest. At least until his son is old enough to take over the political protest mantle, the man who performed “Kick Out the Jams” at both the 1968 with the MC5) and 2008 (with Rage Against the Machine) Democratic National Conventions has some words of wisdom for all of the modern revolutionaries out there.
“As you’re smashing the state, keep a smile on your lips and a song in your heart.”
Wayne Kramer will be at Book Soup in West Hollywood on August 16 at 7 p.m. More information is available through the store’s website.
Josh Chesler used to play baseball for some pretty cool teams, but now he just writes about awesome stuff like tattoos, music, MMA and sneakers. He enjoys injuring himself by skateboarding, training for fights, and playing musical instruments in his off time.