Tuesday, May 25, 2004

looking at you

i recently watched mc5: a true testimonial, the outlaw documentary about the detroit quintet who was an accidental architect of modern punk ... a harbinger of the anarchy-mongers ... blues rock gone wild ... true protest music. i say outlaw b/c the surviving members of the band are currently in a legal dispute with the filmmakers, which one would think would keep it from being shown, but it has apparently been screened at a movie theater in new york city, and perhaps elsewhere as well. but it is not sanctioned by the living members, despite their extensive participation in the actual flick, due to aforementioned legal issues.

anyway, these obstacles are a bummer, b/c it's a fine rock doc, truly capturing the band's moment and the moment's now-quite-extended aftermath. it's very poignant and inspiring, moving in many ways. it really articulates what the group -- guitarists wayne kramer and fred "sonic" smith (late husband of patti), singer rob tyner (also deceased), bassist michael davis, and drummer dennis thompson -- was doing, while at the same time mythologizing the process in the best rock 'n' roll legend style. it portrays an essential element of the group's development in the influence of john sinclair and the hippie-ish trans love express, nurturing the mc5 and its chaotic sound ... but it wasn't chaotic. it was well-rehearsed and indeed tight, plugged in to the cosmos as well. the movie shows a clip of them doing "looking at you" at an outdoor concert at wayne state university; there is so much collective energy and just ... controlled fierceness, an elemental power harnessed with electricity and strings. and tyner's vocals are way out front in what must be what was coming from the sound board, and he still sounds solid, sure, even sorta suave. seemingly unwavering. a great rock vocal.

the movie also evoked the excitement and sense of trailblazing that must have been so palpable in those heady days when they were making it up as they went along. stumbling, no doubt at times, into a formula for social change that really did threaten the status quo -- to the point where police harassment and brutality were the norm. the film illustrates the communal sensibility that was a root of the central players' relationship, emphasizing again and again the bond the 5 shared, having known each other since high school, and the pain the inevitable breaking of that bond caused. the scars it left ... i dunno if those are as clear, in the film. it isn't too intense with any dirty laundry, but it does show some amazing scenes of davis and thompson, who come off quite eccentric, you might say.

so, at last, a true testimonial was just that. it made me think about what the mc5 and their cohorts and companions risked. i was intrigued by how they talked about being "without fear," in both creative endeavors and in their social/political actions/affiliations. (hello, WHITE PANTHERS??) righteous, they mean. i am sure the impression i have is romantic, in the sense of envisioning grand historic wonderfulness occurring to people with excellent hair, but it resonates nonetheless. and watching them in their ferocious glory days, i reflect that we need another mc5 badly. we need the raw, guitar/blues-based sound, specifically. it has to come from the earth. there can be loops or whatever electronic shit, too, but the base has to be organic. calling butch vig, shirley manson, et al. -- this is what garbage should be doing right about now. inciting a motherfucker riot of love.

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