Finally – the ultimate MC5 book that answers all of those questions that have been asked repeatedly and not answered for far too long.For those of us that weren’t around to experience the original MC5 – this is the ultimate answer.In 230 pages, Brett Callwood (a relocated Britisher living in Detroit) does more than an admirable job in bringing the story of the MC5 and their fascinating history to life.The story of the MC5 is the story of Detroit, filled with promise and success, followed by failure and then despair and concluding with rock & roll redemption.We all know the basic outline of the MC5 – formed in the late 1960s in Detroit, created 3 influential and commercially unsuccessful albums that later became one of the catalysts for punk rock.Unlike their fellow rockers the Stooges, the MC5 never had a personality like Iggy to keep them in the headlines for the years during which the band was in hibernation.Their return in 2003 was a major happening, but the MC5/DTK3 with both Rob Tyner and Fred “Sonic” Smith missing, could not quite capture the essence of the MC5.
Brett Callwood’s book captures the entire history of the MC5 from their beginnings in Lincoln Park through the wild ride that Rob Tyner, Fred “Sonic” Smith, Wayne Kramer, Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson and Michael Davis embarked on the years after the MC5 broke up.The first half of the book covers the early days in Lincoln Park, the formation of the band and their short-lived career.There’s plenty of sex, drugs and rock & roll here, but the politics and controversy takes center stage.Like other bands that just could not make that leap from sheer brilliance (my punk analogy is the Bad Brains) to commercial success, the MC5 would always have something happen to derail them from real success.Reading these chapters is painful in a way as chance after chance is frittered away through mistake after mistake, but bands like the MC5 are rarely destined for mass acceptance anyway.The three albums are described meticulously and you are forced to immediately listen to them again because you have obviously missed something.I just realized that my copy of High Times is missing and this sent me off on a frantic search through used record stores to replace it.
I was too young to see the MC5 in person, but was old enough to see most of the most-MC5 projects that were formed after the demise of the band.The punk revolution that swept through in the late 1970s also gave an additional lift to bands such as the ex-MC5-ers whose music and attitude fit in well with punk.I had ample opportunity to see Destroy All Monsters, Sonics Rendezvous Band, the Motor City Bad Boys and the other projects that the various ex-MC5-ers would do.For me, these guys were like Detroit rock royalty – their albums were mentioned reverently by almost all punk bands, but they were hard to find and definitely not heard on any of the local rock stations.For one reason or another, the post MC5 music careers never seemed to get going.The book discusses this in excruciating detail, but other than the Wayne Kramer records from the 1990s – there just wasn’t that much available from all of the post-MC5 bands.I know that a lot has come out after the fact, but one Rendezvous single and four or so DAM singles did not do these bands justice. The book has an excellent MC5 and post-MC5 discography and also discussed the never “officially” released MC5 documentary.My favorite recollection was seeing Rob Tyner, who managed the vastly under-rated and under-appreciated Vertical Pillows (sound familiar?).Their set often concluded with “Kick Out the Jams” and the Rob Tyner would sometimes (or at least once)take the mike and turn the world into a few moments of rock & roll heaven.I remember this distinctly from Lili’s and then tragically he was gone soon afterwards.I went to the Tyner tribute show and the DTK reunion show and cheered mightily when the remaining members of the MC5 ripped through all of those great tunes that I never had the opportunity to hear in person.Without Tyner and Sonic – this could never be an MC5 reunion, but it still brings us back to an era when one of the greatest rock & roll bands of all time came into existence right here in Detroit.
This book is a “must read” for anybody that cares about rock & roll and Detroit and we’re immensely grateful that the story of the MC5 has now been told.
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