Wayne Kramer has seen it all, and then some. As a
member of the legendary MC5, Wayne
helped deliver an incendiary sonic assault of
revolution, that was unmatched by their
contemporaries. Even some twenty years later, their
seminal music is still used by the majority of rock
and roll bands. They laid down the blueprints of heavy
metal, punk and other genres. Their first record,
out the Jams" is regarded as an indispensable
part of any rock and roll music collection worth its
weight in salt.
As the White
Panther's house band, the MC5 also delivered some
of the most charged political messages of the 60's.
Their own label censored their first album, changing
Tyner's call to "Kick out the Jams Motherfuckers" to
the safer "Kick
out the Jams Brothers and Sisters" to satisfy Hudson's
chain-store's refusal to carry the album because of
the controversial remark (MC5's reaction? They took
out ads with just two words - "Fuck Hudson's"). They
played when Detroit burned
(yet again). They were on stage in Chicago in '68 when
the cops rioted. Their music and the message were
considered so dangerous by the Nixon administration,
that a brutal campaign of intimidation was launched
against them, which resulted in the band's manager
receiving an outrageous jail sentence for two joints.
After the conviction of manager John Sinclair, a broken MC5, while
still delivering their pulverizing trademark brand of rock and roll,
began to fall apart in a venomous haze of bad drugs, bad advice, and
bad blood. So bad was the experience, Wayne would not pick up a
guitar, much less talk about his band or his band mates. Left
embittered and without direction Wayne slipped down his own path
personal slaughter that included drug addiction and a stay in
prison. It wasn't until the death of lead singer Rob Tyner and
guitarist & lifelong friend Fred 'Sonic' Smith that Wayne would come
to terms and make peace with the powerful legacy he was part of.
Two decades later, a clean, sober, and sharper than a razor Wayne
Kramer is still with us. He is a man who is not only at peace with
himself, but could be your next door neighbor. I must admit that Wayne
is the first person that I was ever starstruck by. And even though I
had arranged the interview with him, I found it impossible to approach
him. Instead, he came up to me.
"Hi, my name's Wayne, how are you?" he said extending his hand,
with a smile on his face that could disarm a slave-camp guard. In less
than two seconds, he shattered all the preconceived notions that I had
expected of someone who has walked through the fires of hell and
back. A few minutes later, we sat down to discuss the past, present
Pigdog: Wayne, Welcome.
Wayne: Thanks. It's great to be here in this
new and improved age.
Pigdog:Let's talk about your music.
How would you describe it?
Wayne: It's kind of a report from the front. In
my continuing work I attempt to shine a spotlight on
things that I think deserve having attention paid to
them, and in a way attempt to have the courage to tell
the truth about things that I see and things that I
feel. My work is kind of as a messenger. The
same work I've been doing all along. But today, I'm
fortunate to have a label like Epitaph that know how
to record the kind of music I like, and know how to
promote correctly and make sure it gets out there to
the people. It's not often
that an artist gets recognized for his work, and
Epitaph does that. I'm very pleased.
Pigdog: In regards to your records, what
kind of messages are you hoping that people will catch
or hear from the recordings themselves?
Wayne: If anything, it's possibilities. If I
can create this music, if I can address these issues,
and I'm of average intelligence, then imagine what you
can do. That there's the possibility that you can
re-invent yourself or you could start your own online
magazine, or you could start your own record company
or your own band. The possibility that you could
change the world.
Pigdog:Looking ahead to the future, what
kinds of hopes and displeasures are you seeing
happening, or do you hope will happen?
Wayne: Well, twenty years ago in the MC5, we
weren't too sure that there was going to continue to
be a planet earth. We were pretty sure they were going
to fuck it up, they were going to blow it up. But then
we figured if we made it in twenty years, we'd all go
onto this beautiful creative existence. Well now it's
twenty years later, and it's still all fucked up. When
you got guys like Dick Armey in positions of power in
this country, it gets scary.
Pigdog:What's scares the hell out of you
the most in today's particular time space?
Wayne: Fundamentalist knee-jerk Republicanism.
Scary stuff. They work this fear of small minds, of
this kind of bible-belt constituency that they're all
terrified of, that they think are all ignorant. That
are ill informed and they play on that. They play on
their conservative fundamentalist beliefs and I think
it's a dangerous precedent. I think it opens the door
for Draconian measures, because there is no way to
deal with their fears, because they're just fears,
y'know? Out here in reality, there's whole lot of
problems that need to be dealt with realistically.
None of them have anything to do with
the kind of appeal that the George Bushes are trying
to deal with. This is the biggest load of horseshit
that's come down the
Pigdog:What do you see as being the hopes
for the human mind and the human race in general?
Wayne: If there's any hope, it's in the
concepts of self-determination and self-advocacy that
you can take responsibility yourself and make things
happen. I wouldn't count on the government or a system
or a corporation or anyone else to do anything for us.
We have to do it ourselves. We have to make this all
happen ourselves. We can't depend on big government or
to do anything for you. If there's any hope, it's in
your own imagination and your own ability to take
responsibility and make things happen.
Pigdog:Shortly before he died, Richard
Nixon said that he would like to have Pete Wilson for
president. Do you have any comments on this?
Wayne: Pete Wilson is the West Coast version of
Dick Armey. They all operate on a fear basis. Fear is
what motivates them. What grinds my balls, is there
are brilliant managers in this country. There are
brilliant strategists; there are very wise people.
There are qualified people who know how to run things,
to organize systems and make things happen.
of them go into politics. They all take shelter in
academia. They find a nice college campus somewhere
and they sit in the background and they write books
and they teach people. The people that end up going
into politics generally have the mentality of
street-rats, because it's all about
self-aggrandizement and power. This is what makes the
future scary to me. Wise people and knowledgeable
people aren't encouraged to take responsibility and to
Pigdog:Since the days of MC5, how have your
personal views and politics changed, if any?
Wayne: They haven't changed all that much,
y'know. Once an anarchist, always an anarchist. A
couple of things. I now know how to act with the
police now. I will not deal narcotics again in my
life. I will not provoke a police officer again. But
besides that, my basic stances have remained the same.
Pigdog:You spent some time behind
Wayne: Yeah, just over two years in the 70's
for illegitimate capitalism. It was after the breakup
of The MC5. I was only 24 years old at the time, and
the loss of the MC5 left a tremendous hole in my life,
so it was all part of a downward spiral of loosing my
band and my brothers who I had gone through the fire
with. And all of a sudden one day they weren't there
anymore. It took a long time for me to work through
all that, and be able to accept the end of the MC5 and
to be proud of being a member of the MC5 as being one
of the greatest bands of all time. But to reconcile
that with who I am today, and the work I do now. Make
peace with The MC5, and free to do 'The Hard Stuff',
and do my work today. Great history will not get me
through. Like having a great story to tell, that's not
going to pay the rent. The important thing for me is
the work I do today, and records I make tomorrow.
That's what counts.
Pigdog:Fred "Sonic" Smith. Do you miss
Wayne: Of course. But I have him. He's here. We
had our life together; we had our times together. We
grew up together; we were little boys together. I have
him back in my heart and in my mind, even if he's not
here on this physical plane. I have him back.
Pigdog: I'd like to get your view on this,
the FBI planting marijuana in the hubcap of Rob
Wayne: The government would stoop to no limit
of lowness to harass, repress and interfere with the
MC5. When we said we wanted to corrupt the youth of
America, and send them screaming into the streets to
tear down anything that would stop them from being
free by any means necessary, including this powerful
weapon Rock and Roll, they took us seriously. We
smoked a lot of pot in those days, and we laughed it
up pretty good. But some people in the Justice
Department - John Mitchell, G. Gordon Liddy, J. Edgar
Hoover and Spiro Agnew all took it seriously. So they
used everything they could against us. Ultimately they
jailed John Sinclair our manager on a 9 1/2 to 10-year
sentence for two joints. So that effectively broke the
back of the MC5. It was like they
were sending a message. To us, 'don't fuck with us',
to the Black Panthers they sent death squads.
Pigdog: In today's politics, is there
anything you would encourage people to do as opposed
to twenty years ago?
Wayne: I always encourage people to think. I
think thinking is where it's at. This is one of the
elements that make it real and make it work; that it's
about thinking. That the songs are trying to deal with
reality on some level. We have to chart our own way
out of all this mess; we have to figure out
our own path. There's no rulebook. There's no
guidebook about how to do any of this. That's where
the concept of self-advocacy comes in, that we have to
take responsibility and make it all happen through our
own sheer force of will. There's no other way that
it's going to happen. You have to make this happen.
It's the same as it was then, and it's the same as it
Pigdog: Is there a god?
Wayne: I don't think so. Me and my wife argue
this non-stop. And like the question of faith, I'm not
sure about faith either. I'm just not sure, I'm not
convinced. The idea of blind faith, of obediently
following some dogma just
doesn't sit right with me. I realize people find
comfort in it, but it just doesn't work for me. To me,
when you say "god"; it smells like the Catholics. Even
though there was an evolutionary break when
Christianity broke from the Roman Empire. The Romans
were pragmatists. All their gods represented something
specific, something that made something happen. The
idea of Christianity, and the idea that there was one
god and that there was a higher idea than "whatever
worked," that there was a concept of grace. It all
smells like Catholicism
essentially to me, and the Catholics are not to be
trusted. They are very scary people. All those
fundamentalists are scary. I just don't go for it. I'm
a Zen Buddhist; I'm a beatnik. I don't buy it. I think
you're here for this one bit of time that you get,
that you have to make the most of it, and you're dead
for a long time. I think you need to make the most of
time you have here. If you're going to make a
contribution, then now is the time to get down with
it. My friend Henry Rollins likes to say that there's
no such thing as spare time. That might be a little
bit right of my position, but I think he's essentially
on the money. I think your time is the most valuable
thing you have. It's the only thing that any
allegiance is owed to.