Friday, September 4, 2015
By Bill McGraw
In 1968, the students returning to my suburban Detroit Catholic high school, Bishop Gallagher, had a surprise waiting for them: For the back-to-school dance that September, someone had booked the MC5, just as the band was starting to break out nationally as one of loudest and most outrageous acts of that tumultuous era.
There was a lot of good music in Detroit in those days, starting with Motown, Aretha Franklin, and Bob Seger, and hundreds of garage bands playing British Invasion covers. But the MC5 – originally the Motor City Five – were the only group promoting a 10-point revolutionary program that included a call for “total assault on the culture by any means necessary, rock’n’roll, dope and fucking in the streets.”
And in a city whose flamboyant acts have ranged from Iggy and the Stooges to Insane Clown Posse, the MC5 still stand out. They were part of a loosely organized group of politicized hippies called the White Panthers that had been co-founded by the band’s manager, John Sinclair, a poet-provocateur and admirer of the Black Panthers who called himself the White Panthers’ Minister of Information. (A Black Panther reportedly once dismissed the White Panthers as “psychedelic clowns.”)
Four months after playing in the Bishop Gallagher High School gymnasium, the MC5 were featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, and musicologists today are generally praiseful, with some considering them the first punk band, or at least an important link between rock and punk and/or heavy metal. In a used record store in Amsterdam 20 years ago, I saw a copy of an MC5 album that cost the equivalent of about $150. And it was not in good condition.
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