MC50: Don't Forget The Motor City

are you ready to testify?

MC50: Don't Forget The Motor City

At the end of October, I headed to Detroit for two shows by Wayne Kramer and his MC50, celebrating 50 years since the release of KICK OUT THE JAMS. As I wrote for Pollstar, it was almost exactly 50 years to the day - KOTJ was taped, live, on Halloween — and given how large the 5 loomed in my musical life, felt like I had to go. This could have been a tactical error, but this ‘tribute’ MC50 was beyond all imagining. KIM THAYIL. BRENDAN CANTY. Marcus Durant from Zen Guerilla, who I was not entirely familiar with until now (but will avidly track his projects moving forward). Billy Gould from Faith No More.

But the best moment was that first night at St. Andrew’s Hall, when the charming pair of brothers next to me, whose elder brothers used to actually go to the Grande Ballroom, asked me, “What’s the second drum kit for?” I looked at the stage and the kit and managed to eke out, “I do believe that Matt Cameron might be here this evening.” He had been on the original roster and there had been some Instagram chat between him and the MC50 road manager (the legendary Danny Bland) about how there was a tour jacket with his name on it. And then, as JC Crawford’s legendary introduction blasted out of the speakers, out walked MATT FUCKING CAMERON along with the aforementioned roster, where he proceeded to play in concert with Brendan Canty all night, like some kind of otherworldly straight edge Grateful Dead.

When I saw MC50 at Irving Plaza — what a godforsaken awful venue that place has turned into — I said that I didn’t actually realized how much I needed to stand in the same room with 1,400 other people and yell KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKERS, until I did, and the hair stood up on the back of my neck. And to be able to do that *with* Wayne Kramer AND in Detroit? I was not at all prepared for how profoundly moving and emotional all of that would be, to sing those songs out loud, to hear that music that was born in Detroit, truly born OF Detroit, in Detroit.

Greil Marcus wrote in Mystery Train, when he was writing about The Band, that the music comes from the land — it’s a paraphrase, bear with me — and I have always believed and avowed and felt that to be true. It is more true in some places, and Detroit is one of those places, especially because of how entwined the industry was with the rhythm that produced the music and the history that brought that particular group of citizens to that city, and their communal experiences as a people, and as a community.

Caught up in all of this is the emotional impact of connecting with your tribe, especially in the case of art that was outsider, or at the very least, not fucking popular. I learned about the MC5 in some rock and roll history book; I had to wait to actually hear them until I could afford to buy the censored Elektra reissue with the pixellated, overprinted cover. Nobody in my high school was talking about the MC5. I couldn’t even be mocked for liking them because there was a complete void of knowledge of their existence. It was one of those musical touchstones that you carried with you, that you used to identify kindred souls.

(I tell the story of my first night of sophomore year of college, where I was at one of the two bars Fordham students could patronize, and someone walked in and ran up to one of my party and said, ‘I saw someone move into the dorm today with a NEW YORK DOLLS trunk, we have to find them,’ and I raised my hand, and was immediately instant fast friends with every single person in that group. I am still friends with one of that party today.)

Other Detroit notes: I revisited the Motown Museum, because the first time I was just so STUNNED that I did not pay close enough attention to details: it was worth it, because they opened up the old echo chamber they used in Studio A, and you can now! take! photos! in STUDIO A. I honestly went back so I could stand in the old reception area and sketch it out in my notebook so it would be fixed in my mind. I am obsessed with the reception area because of my research last year on Diana Ross for WOMEN WHO ROCK, how Berry Gordy wouldn’t sign the Primettes because they were too young, and so Diana and Florence and Mary would come to the office every day after school and sit on the couch in the lobby, which is why they managed to be there the day Berry Gordy needed some background singers.

The first time I was there, I asked the tour guide, “So, did the office look like this back in the day?” and she looked at me and I said, “…is this the actual couch the Supremes sat on” and she smiled and said, “The office has the same layout but that is not the original couch.” And now that I have been there twice, I have it all laid out in my head, I can read the stories and perfectly situate every single one.

This will be a book some day. I promise.


Things I have written lately:

Thanks for reading and thanks for your support.