“I’ve been granted a gift...”

Wayne’s world: Kramer testifies to Uncut in 2019


On motivation

“We had an incredible commitment to what we were trying to accomplish. There was an unspoken agreement among people of my generation that the direction that the grownups were taking the world was a disaster in the making. We wanted to subvert that and get us on an eco-friendly, humanist track rather than the capitalist, profit-at-any-cost direction that the world seemed to be going in.”

On the internatio­nal undergroun­d

“What we were going through in Detroit were some of the same things that my friends in London were going through, or students in Paris or Mexico City. I felt very plugged into them. The undergroun­d newspapers were the internet of the day. It’s how we found out what was going on in other cities, neighbourh­oods, people just like us. The connection was unmistakab­le.”

On record labels

“Elektra were a folk specialty label who had some luck with The Doors. I don’t think they knew what to do with a band like the MC5 who was overthe-top and in your face. I don’t think that Atlantic records had an idea either. MC5 was a little outside their sphere of experience of what to be able to cope with. Like, ‘These guys are crazy, they have this idea of combining Sun Ra and John Coltrane with electric guitars and militant, antiestabl­ishment politics.’ I think it was more than any of them could handle.”

On playing live

“It was a seat of the pants operation. Today the touring industry is very sophistica­ted: there’s a website that tells you what time your soundcheck is, the banking is set up, the meals are prepared…back then, you’d show up to play and there was fuck all. Maybe they’d have a PA, maybe they wouldn’t, and you’d have to figure out a way to do a show.”

On sticking it to the man

“The oppressive reaction we generated from the authoritie­s threw a level of complexity to the MC5’S challenges that most bands didn’t have. I mean, most bands, their problem wasn’t the FBI tapping their phones, it was buying a new Marshall amp or something.”

On drugs

“I used to think, with Nietzsche, that what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. But in my experience, things that didn’t destroy me continued to diminish me, with every overdose or bad scene or bad behaviour or incident.”

On prison

“The prison grapevine is pretty reliable. So when [Charlie Parker bandmember] Red Rodney arrived [at Lexington FCI, in 1975] I told him that there were other musicians there and maybe we could do some playing together. He kind of held me at arm’s length. In the world of prison, people are rarely who they present themselves to be, and trust takes time. It took a while, but then he gave me an audition. He put some music in front of me and said, ‘Can you read those chords?’ I passed the audition, because then he opened up to me and became my musical mentor.”

On punk

“Each generation needs to find its own voice and its own language, its own sound and tempo as distinct from the generation before it. It wasn’t until I got released from prison and got a chance to travel a little bit that I got to hear [punk]. Then I was able to connect the dots with what I was reading about and bands like The Damned and The Clash.”

On death

“I think we all suffer two deaths. The death of the body when we die, we’re all going to die. But then there’s the death of your youth: you’re around long enough that the dreams of your youth will not be fulfilled. Things aren’t going to turn out the way you hoped they would. For me it was the death of Rob Tyner and Fred Smith and later of Michael Davis; these guys were my brothers, my partners, my coconspira­tors, my gang… then one day they were gone. I had to face the fact that they would never come back and that would never be straighten­ed out to my liking. I had to accept that.”

On keeping the flame alive

“I think most artists set out with the intention of affecting the world in a positive way. You look at it like, ‘I’ve been granted a gift – I might be able to inspire someone else.’”

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