Thursday, April 04, 2019

Suburban Voice blog #138

Another reprint of a Maximum Rocknroll column, from issue #426 (November 2018) with a few edits... Incidentally, the final print issue is this month...


So there was something called MC50 out on tour last year and it was touted as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the MC5’s Kick Out The Jams album, which was recorded live in October,1968 and released in 1969. In fact, the tour ended in Detroit, a few days before the 50th anniversary of the two live shows that the album was drawn from. Wayne Kramer was the only original MC5 member involved—all the other original members are dead, except for drummer Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson, who wasn’t asked to participate. The personnel included people from Soundgarden, Faith No More, Pearl Jam, Afghan Whigs and, somewhat surprisingly, Zen Guerrilla (vocalist Marcus Durant) and Fugazi (Brendan Canty).

There was a Boston show and I could have probably scored free tickets from the publicist who handled the tour but I couldn't have imagined it'd be that great. I never did get to see the original band—I’m not that old, although I did see Brother Wayne on his first solo tour in the 90s and he played a few MC5 songs. It was enjoyable and he couldn’t have been nicer when I did an interview with him. I engaged in some total fan boy stuff—I had him sign my copies of Back In The USA and High Times, the latter of which I scored for a quarter at the Goldfish Pond flea market in Lynn sometime in the 80s. I caught a few clips here and there and, in retrospect, it might have been worth seeing for free, at least.

I’d imagine this was tied in with Kramer’s autobiography The Hard Stuff, which I read last year and it’s a pretty candid look at the ups and downs of both his musical career and personal life. One thing I learned is they recorded four songs for Elektra that were never released, since they got dropped by the label following Kick Out The Jams. Three of them were re-recorded for Back In The USA, which had some killer songs but rather tepid production. About the original recordings, Kramer said, “these were the best quality, most creative recording sessions we’d ever done, and it left me filled with confidence for the future.” Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have ever seen the light of day. I can’t find any other information on them.

Growing up, in the 1960s and 70s, I discovered most of the music I loved through the radio and various music magazines and books. When I was a kid, I had a little red transistor radio that I had tuned to the Top 40 station WMEX. I’d hear something I liked and ask my folks to get it for me and they usually obliged. The only time my mom refused was when I asked her to get me Bloodrock’s gory hit “DOA,” which details a plane crash in bloody detail and somehow made it into the top 40, despite being banned on a lot of stations (not in Boston, though). 

Usually, though, it was the standard hits of the day—Beatles, Rolling Stones, Animals, Paul Revere & The Raiders, etc. But I’d also hear more psychedelic stuff like Electric Prunes' “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night” and the Blues Magoos' “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet,” both of which remain favorites to this day. And here’s a bit of trivia--Erika Daking from the underrated late 90s/early 2000s LA hardcore punk band F-Minus’ dad is Geoff Daking, who played drums in the Blues Magoos! Yep, I’m just full of useful information… or not-so-useful. Or just full of it. But let’s move on…    

I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up and the ones I had didn’t tend to have the most-adventurous musical taste. But then my second cousins on my mother’s side moved back to our neighborhood, after having lived down south for a number of years. There were five kids and I started hanging out with the two oldest, Jimmy and Steve. They were both a few years older than me—I was 14 and I think Steve was 18 and Jimmy was 20. They were both big music fans and were mainly into blues-oriented rock. I’ve referred to them as my “stoner cousins” because they liked the weed but they didn’t share it with me. 

They did share their record collection with me, though, letting me borrow and tape them. They were musical mentors and opened my ears to a lot of great stuff. Some of those records ended up in my collection for good since they, uh, moved to Florida before I could return them. Things like Jimi Hendrix’s Smash Hits album, the first Captain Beyond, a terrific hard rock album that had a 3D cover, The Yardbirds’ Having A Rave-Up and Ted Nugent's Tooth Fang and Claw. I know, but as I joked in my April Fool column for MRR last year, it was pre-racist Nugent. They were both talented guitarists and Jimmy, who I’ve reconnected with in recent years, still plays in a blues band. And, for the record, he’s just as disgusted with the Nuge’s racist political views as I am.

Getting back to the MC5, I took a slightly different path to discovery. I’d probably seen the name here and there but hadn’t encountered their music. Anyway, when I was about 16, I was visiting my Aunt Bette and Uncle Bernie’s house and their son, my cousin Richard, was in his room listening to records. Richard’s about the same age as I am but we didn’t really like each other that much. I remember walking in and he was listening to America’s “Sister Golden Hair” and playing a flute along with it. That was one good reason to have a low opinion of him, with such dubious musical taste. And a flute? Not quite as cool as Jimmy and Steve’s guitars. They probably would have laughed at him or done something nasty with that flute. They were pretty bad-ass. My childhood friend Mark, who lived across the street from them, told me there always seemed to be a police car showing up at their house. They were troublemakers, but my mother loved them and they were always great to me.

Richard, on the other hand, was a studious, upper-middle class Jewish kid and a bit of a snot, to be honest. At that time, I was rockin’ out to Aerosmith, Bad Company, The Sweet, Blue Öyster Cult, and bands of that ilk. So the America record ends and Richard takes out another record and he said, in essence, we’re about to hear something completely ridiculous. I thought him playing America was ridiculous enough (although I’ll admit I liked “A Horse With No Name” when I was 11 or so). The record was Kick Out The Jams and, the minute the opening chords of “Ramblin’ Rose” burst through his stereo speakers, it was love at first listen. He thought this was silly, stupid music. 

I figured the record belonged to one of his older brothers or, less likely, his sister since he was the youngest of four kids. All I know is that it was some of the highest energy shit I’d heard up to that point. Around the same time, I also heard the censored, “brothers and sisters” instead of “motherfuckers” version of “Kick Out The Jams” (the song) on one of those cheapie comps on the Warner Bros. “Special Products” imprint. I found it at the Paperback Booksmith (later a Waldenbooks) in the Swampscott Mall. They had a pretty good record section and would have some decent cutouts, if anyone remembers what those were. I probably didn’t pay any more than $4 or $5 for that double elpee, which was called Heavy Metal but, while it had bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, it also had decidedly non-metal acts like The Eagles, Grateful Dead and Yes. I can’t recall if I picked that up before or after the visit to my aunt and uncle’s house.

Over the years, I always wondered whose record it was. As I said, Joanne, the oldest, was probably didn’t seem like the rock ‘n roll type. She was a Presidential scholar and I still remember the picture of her shaking hands with LBJ that was on top of my grandparents’ TV set.  That left the two middle sons, Jeff and Robert. I was at a family gathering a couple of years ago so I thought I’d try to solve the 40 year-old mystery. When I asked them, it turned out it was Robert’s record. That made complete sense, in retrospect, because I remember when they visited us at our cottage in New Hampshire and, at the time, Robert had mentioned how much he liked the Joe Walsh album with “Rocky Mountain Way” on it (and I still think it’s a great song and if that makes you laugh, piss off). So it turns out he was the rocker in the family and we had a good time talking about records for a bit. Better than talking about politics, because he’s a Trump-lover and retweets garbage from Ted Cruz. I sent him a picture of my three MC5 records through Twitter—and he got a kick out of it-- but I ended up unfollowing him after seeing some of the right-wing drivel on his page.

By the way, Richard grew up to be a pretty great guy and I find him a lot more likable now. He’s an economics professor at Wesleyan and writes books about banking and other financial topics. A bit different from the drivel I've been peddling for decades (oops). I didn’t get a chance to ask him if he’d ever changed his mind about the MC5, though. Maybe at the next get-together, I can play him some of their stuff on my iPhone. It is the 2010s, after all. I’ll bet those MC5 and America albums are long-gone…