MC5's Wayne Kramer Talks 'The Problem With Revolutions on the Left' In Candid Memoir

Wayne Kramer
Jim Newberry

Wayne Kramer

Wayne Kramer wanted to kick out some jams with his new memoir -- but nicely.

The MC5 guitarist and co-founder publishes The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, The MC5 & My Life of Impossibilities on Aug. 14, and while it's a thorough examination of his life, including musical adventures and drug misadventures that ultimately landed him in jail, he's not looking to stir up controversy or hard feelings.

"I had no intention of writing a tell-all book or a get-even book," Kramer, who now resides in Los Angeles and composes film and TV scores in addition to his rock 'n' roll repertoire, tells Billboard. "I tried to be as honest and accurate as I could be and to be as kind as I could be. I don't have any axe to grind with anybody -- with the exception of the government, (laughs), but that's no secret."

The Hard Stuff covers the entirely of Kramer's life, with no attempts to hide any warts. "A couple of my friends have read it and their response is overwhelmingly positive," Kramer notes, "but it also comes out as, 'Wow, I didn't know all that. You really went through a lot.' I don't think about it that way, but I guess when you read it all, it is a lot." The greatest revelations, he feels, are in the MC5's relationship with the counterculture and political left during the '60s; Initially embraced as the musical arm of Michigan's White Panther party, Kramer says the group was ultimately let down by those he and his bandmates felt firmly in league with.

"We expected pushback from the authorities and from Nixon and the police and parents and prosecutors," Kramer says, "but we didn't expect to be clobbered by the SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] and hardline Marxists and our colleagues and comrades on the left. They were merciless on us. Some of them viewed us as the enemy. We weren't the enemy. We weren't running a war in Vietnam. We weren't polluting the planet. We were a band that shared the same ideas they did, and we were trying to tell the world about it.

"It's the typical problem with revolutions on the left. It's the circular firing squad, and they end up playing right into the hands of the people they're fighting or revolting against. That was very disappointing."

Kramer is doing more than just writing about the MC5 these days, of course -- he's also playing its music. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the live recording of the group's seminal debut album, Kick Out The Jams, at Detroit's Grande Ballroom, he's formed an MC50 all-star group that includes Soundgarden's Kim Thayil, Faith No More's Billy Gould, Fugazi's Brendan Canty and Marcus Durant from Zen Guerrilla. The group has already played shows in Europe with guests Matt Cameron and Don Was, while other cameos -- including possibly Dennis Thompson, the other surviving MC5 member -- are expected during the upcoming North American tour, which launches Sept. 5 in Fort Lauderdale and concludes with two shows in Detroit just ahead of the actual recording anniversary.

"Being a player, I like to play, and it's a not inconsequential time to acknowledge the record and the MC5's contribution to culture," Kramer says. "I was just kind of waiting for a good excuse to go on tour again, and when it turned out we were 50 years from the recording of Kick Out The Jams I said, 'Well, there it is.' And with my book to hang it on, why not? So I've got my guitar strapped on and my fellows on the bus with me and here we come." Kramer is pleased to report that "the MC5 has never sounded better," and he's even entertaining the possibility that the MC50 could wind up being a going concern.

"I don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but I could see it," Kramer says. "The most important thing is that it's a genial group of people who understand what we're doing and why we're enjoying it and have a basic enjoyment of the process. I've put up with a lot of prima donnas and ego trippers. I don't need it and neither does anybody else, so my main criteria was, 'Are they good people?' And if they are then the music will most likely be good, too."