Brother Wayne Lays Down the Truth
Viva La Musica
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, "Kick 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 and future.
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 pike.
Pigdog: What do you see as being the hopes for advancements 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 big brother 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. Unfortunately none 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 serve.
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 bars...
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 him?
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 Tyner's car.
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 is now.
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.
Pigdog: What do you think of The Internet?
Wayne: We want a free media for a free people. It's part of the White Panther's ten-point program.
Pigdog: Do you have an email address or a web site?
Wayne: We're hooking one up. We're into the technology.
Pigdog: How do you feel about all the pirate radio stations that are popping up?
Wayne: It fits right into my idea of self-advocacy, of possibilities of making things happen on your own, and I encourage it. I support it.
Pigdog: Any last words, or final thoughts?
Wayne: Yes. Just remember, when you're smashing the state, keep a song in your heart and a smile on your lips.
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