MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer knows why music and politics mix so well


From the earliest days as a band, the Michigan-based garage band the MC5 was political. The band wore their left wing politics on their sleeves and famously played at a 1968 rally outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago that devolved into a riot. So it's no surprise that guitarist Wayne Kramer, who has a new memoir out titled "The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, The MC5 & My Life of Impossibilities,” is still blending a life of rocking out on the guitar with advocating for a more progressive society.

In a wide-ranging conversation with Salon's Amanda Marcotte on “Salon Talks,” Kramer weighed in the current political situation, after a lifetime of being an outspoken leftist. Having done time himself in prison for drug offenses, he explained that the current approach to drug addiction is failing and it needs to be handled as a public health issue, not a criminal one.

And even though Kramer believes that the anti-war and civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s were incredibly effective at shaking political leaders and changing policy, he worries now that the system has grown too effective at corralling street demonstrations and believes it's time for the left to find innovative ways to protest.

But as fun as it is to talk about politics, at the end of the day, the MC5 and other work Kramer has done in his five decade playing guitar is all about the music. And Kramer had some observations about why it is that Midwest states like Michigan and Ohio, which didn't have the crowds or resources of a place like New York City, were still able to produce some of the most cutting-edge rock music in history.

“The world kind of looked down on us, it gave us an attitude. We pushed harder. We became more assertive or aggressive even and we have to fight a little harder to make some noise and be part of the conversation,” Kramer told SalonTV. “We weren’t hip. We weren’t cool. The industrial in Midwest, like nothing cool could happen in Akron, Ohio or Detroit, Michigan. I mean, they make cars there.”

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