The MC5 man on the power and salvation of music…
Wayne Kramer

Rock And Rules: lessons learned by those who’ve been in and around the music business a while, relayed to you, the reader, to take on board. Pay attention, you might just learn something. This time, guitarist Wayne Kramer of the MC5 trips down memory lane for some vital recollections.

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‘Kick Out The Jams’ (obviously)

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Gain Power

“For the MC5 the problem wasn’t so much getting our message out, it was that it had to go through a record company. And their interests were not necessarily in alignment with ours. They were unwise in their business strategies. We told them that the album was going to have ‘motherf*cker’ on it and do not release it too soon. They rushed the album out, and when they did that, there was a backlash. Our plan was to wait until we were established as a bona-fide hit rock band, then they couldn’t stop us. But their shortsighted, short-term gain undid our plans. In the capitalist world of the entertainment industry, if you’re a bona-fide hit you have all the power, all the juice. The MC5 never quite got the juice.”

There’s No Room For Violence In Music

“The MC5 claimed to be ‘embracing violence as a viable political strategy’. I think it was a terrible mistake. It was something that we didn’t think through well enough, that it would engender a violent response from the authorities that was out of proportion with our thinking. For the Black Panther party, it earned them death squads by the American police. They murdered Black Panthers across the country systematically. For us, it got us prison terms and kicked out of the music industry.”

Move Forward

“You can study history and learn from history, but then you have to move forward. If you’re not going anywhere, no one wants to follow you.”

Music Is Therapeutic

“When I went to jail in 1975 for selling drugs, music was the singular most important activity that I could be involved in, because it gave me a way to process my problems and my anger. Art is anger management. It gave me study that I was committed to, to learn more about music, and it gave me an escape from prison. It gave me a couple hours every day where I wasn’t in that world anymore; I was in a different world.

“I set up Jail Guitar Doors USA, a non-profit organisation that brings musical instruments and education into prisons to provide human expression, because prison is designed to tell you that you are less than human. I’ve seen first-hand the positive effect in members of different races, different gang affiliations, different class backgrounds, all playing music together and discovering that they had more in common than they had indifferent. Plus, we know now through empirical studies that people that live in prisons that participate in arts in corrections programming have lower recidivism rates.

“The power of art is the only thing we know of that can touch people on a deep fundamental level. Education is important, but if you educate a criminal, you’ve got an educated criminal. We want to change hearts and minds.”

Live A Principled Life

“Be the person you say you are, show up on time, and do the best that you can do. Those are the things that matter: to give it 100%. A life in the arts is not a walk in the park – this is a very tough way to survive, and if you are an asshole people don’t call you back. It’s important to be genuine and to really do the best you can do. Learn as much as you can learn, and give it full measures.”

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As told to Simon Harper
Photo: Ivy Augusta

More Rock And Rules.

Check out Wayne’s ‘Lexington’ LP and get him to tour near you by visiting Pledge Music

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