The first memoir by Wayne Kramer, legendary guitarist and cofounder of quintessential Detroit proto-punk legends The MC5 In January 1969, before the world heard a note of their music, The MC5 was on the cover of Rolling Stone. The missing link between free jazz and punk rock, they were raw, primal, and, when things were clicking, absolutely unstoppable.Led by legendary guitarist Wayne Kramer, The MC5 was a reflection of the times: exciting, sexy, violent, chaotic, and out of control, all but assuring their time in the spotlight would be short-lived. They toured the country, played with music legends, and had a rabid following, their music acting as the soundtrack to the blue collar youth movement springing up across the nation. Kramer wanted to redefine what a rock 'n' roll group was capable of, and there was power in reaching for that, but it was also a recipe for disaster, both personally and professionally. The band recorded three major label albums but, by 1972, it was all over.Kramer's story is (literally) a revolutionary one, but it's also the deeply personal struggle of an addict and an artist, a rebel with a great tale to tell. The '60s were not all peace and love, but Kramer shows that peace and love can be born out of turbulence and unrest. From the glory days of Detroit to the junk-sick streets of the East Village, from Key West to Nashville and sunny L.A., in and out of prison and on and off of drugs, his is the classic journeyman narrative, but with a twist: he's here to remind us that revolution is always an option.
The Hard Stuff Review
- January 1, 1970JasonI think it is too perfect for words that Wayne Kramers's memoir has come out just in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. I wrote my master's thesis on cinematic representations of the events of August 1968, specifically the unrest that broke out in Chicago during the convention and the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. As Kramer mentions in passing, his group The MC5 were the only band that went to Chicago expressly to perform for the protestors there I think it is too perfect for words that Wayne Kramers's memoir has come out just in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. I wrote my master's thesis on cinematic representations of the events of August 1968, specifically the unrest that broke out in Chicago during the convention and the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. As Kramer mentions in passing, his group The MC5 were the only band that went to Chicago expressly to perform for the protestors there that summer. 1968 was one of the truly central years of the 20th century and The MC5 represented in more combative and voluble a fashion than any other rock band the youth movement's radical cultural and political cutting edge. The MCR and their manager John Sinclair (head honcho of the White Panther Part) famously stood for "Dope, Guns, and Fucking in the Streets." These were politically engaged hedonists with a radical agenda operating at a time when the future genuinely felt like it could be written by young men and women appalled by the status quo. The MC5 were central to all of this and Wayne Kramer was the prime mover behind the MC5. THE HARD STUFF moves ahead at a steady clip. It doesn't get bogged down in details or belabour its recounting. Kramer gets us through his youth and all the way through the rise and fall of his preeminent band in less than 150 pages. This is not to say that he fails to capture a vision of himself enmeshed in extraordinary historical processes. Not hardly. Perhaps the wildest and most powerful passages about the tumult of the 1960s relate to the Detroit riots of July 1967 (recently the backdrop of Kathryn Bigelow's DETROIT). Kramer imparts with palpable effect how it felt like the world as he knew might be coming to and end. While the THE HARD STUFF is indeed the memoir of a renowned guitar player who more or less lead one of the greatest rock bands of all time, it is also the work of a survivor. The book most likely would not exist at all and certainly would not take the form it takes if Kramer hadn't gotten clean and sober later in life. Towards the end of the book, Kramer sums up its (and his life's) themes: "love, music, prison, service, social justice, and political activism." I myself am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict and I immediately see in that simple word "service" one of the core principal tenets of twelve-step recovery. Though he claims to have some issues with what he calls "orthodox" recovery (clearly meaning twelve-step recovery), that is clearly how Kramer got sober and his book is generously arrayed with its lingo. He speaks earnestly and with wisdom about the infantile ego of the addict and the toxic self-seeking that characterized his life pre-recovery. Kramer puts things simply and could hardly be said to lecture; he may well have a message which will be of tremendous value to readers who are struggling with their own demons (and we addicts if nothing else have a tendency to share the same demons). Kramer was arrested and ended up serving two-and-a-half years in prison in his twenties after attempting to sell a sizeable amount of cocaine to an undercover agent. The first section of THE HARD STUFF focuses on youth and The MC5, the second part on crime and incarceration, and the third on the long road to recovery and genuine belonging. Part of Kramer's life of service dovetails perfectly with political activism and is born of his time behind bars. He and Billy Brag front an organization called Jail Guitar Doors (after a song by The Clash partially about Kramer) devoted to getting inmates to express themselves through music. It might seem reductive to say that THE HARD STUFF is a book about growing up belatedly, but it is indeed in no small part that, and genuinely growing up in this day and age is no small accomplishment. THE HARD STUFF does not go especially deep (speeding right along as it does), and Kramer isn't a whole lot more than a serviceable prose stylist, but it is a book that means a lot to me. My passion for the avant-garde of popular music forms means that I have long lionized The MC5, and my own experience of the trials and tribulations of getting clean and staying sober means that Kramer is not only one of "my people," but a genuine leading light. And who could not love a seventy-year-old rock icon excited at the prospect of teaching his five-year-old adopted son about Aristotle?more
- January 1, 1970Sean KottkeWayne relates his life with the same intensity that characterizes the MC5's music: vivid, painful, melodic and exhilarating.
- January 1, 1970PhilYou can read my review of the book here: Recollections and Recovery of a Revolutionary Rockstar
- January 1, 1970Wendy PakrulWow!
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