One of the great things about taking on the job of music editor for the Metro Times seven months ago was the knowledge that I was not, under any circumstances, to write about the MC5. They'd been written about so frequently, in such a thorough way, what was left to possibly explore? The MT music blog is named after MC5 guitarist Fred Smith's best known post-5 song, "City Slang." At least three articles were penned (one by me) about a documentary film made to celebrate the concert venue the MC5 played at and recorded their first album in, the Grande Ballroom. What other words could be thrown together to describe their revolutionary rhetoric, their exceptional fashion sense, or their amped-up sound that served as one of the key inspirations for punk rock?
Last month, I had the following conversation about the above rare, signed photo when I was writing about Peoples Records in Detroit. Store owner Brad Hales purchased the photo from local music legend Willy Wilson.
"I found the MC5 photo at a flea market; I would say it is early 1966," Wilson says. "When Brad said he wanted to get the Detroit music museum off the ground, I was happy to make sure that the 5 photo went to a good place."
The image captures the group in a very pre-John Sinclair moment, looking like car mechanics who'd just started the heppest Howling Wolf cover band. Nathan Shafer is an employee for Peoples.
Metro Times: What's your favorite piece of memorabilia in the MAHS Museum and store right now? That Stooges poster is something.
Nathan Shafer: It's the signed MC5 picture right there on the wall. That's pretty cool.
MT: I've never seen that image before. And that's from when, like, 1966?
Shafer: It's got to be. Wayne Kramer still hasn't combed forward his hair. It's got to be '65 or '66. He's still combing his hair back. Dennis Thompson is still growing it out, and Michael Davis. And Rob Tyner too!
MT: Obviously Tyner doesn't have the Afro yet.
Shafer: He probably had to blow dry that to get it straight like that, you know what I mean?
MT: I wonder if he later had to perm it?
Shafer: I always tended to think he was naturally curly but kind of blow-dried out, like Roger Daltrey. Man, all these guys look like they could beat the shit out of you. They all just look totally frightening. Growing up, my aunt had this little paperback book of pop and rock questions and answers. It was this thing people would have gotten from a Scholastic book order in 1970. The MC5 were actually in there, and those guys were like the most frightening looking dudes I had ever seen at that point.
The rare photo, and many others, alongside dozens of rare items — buttons, posters, records, and musical instruments — will be on view at the Lincoln Park Historical Museum, in celebration of the band's 50th anniversary. You'll not only see original prints of iconic images taken by Detroit photographer Leni Sinclair, but also more rare images snapped by Lincoln Park-raised Emil Bacilla. The exhibit is called 50 Years of the MC5. Lincoln Park is the group's hometown, and the organizers of the MC5 exhibit reached out months ago to area citizens, encouraging them to dig through old boxes in order to uncover any handbills or photos they might find.
On Sunday, July 12, a special concert and picnic will be held in honor of the 5 at the Lincoln Park Band Shell in Memorial Park. Built in 1955, that space is one of the earliest sites where the MC5 ever played. Timmy's Organism, Rocket 455, and Chatoyant will perform their own versions of MC5 songs, as well as songs the group covered. According to the press release, during the afternoon concert, "a 'key to the city' will be presented by Lincoln Park Mayor Tom Karnes to each band member or family in recognition of the homegrown musical brilliance the MC5 shared with the world." Former band member Dennis "Machine Gun" Thompson is slated to be on hand and to join in. Kramer is unable to attend. Of course, all I want to know is who is going to attempt a version of "Black to Comm," and will they be tempted to try to play it for 45 minutes (pretty please)?
An opening reception for 50 Years of the MC5 will be held July 11 at the Lincoln Park Historical Museum, located in the lobby of Lincoln Park's art deco era post office from 7-9 p.m.; 1335 Southfield Rd., Lincoln Park; 313-386-3137; the event is free but donations are encouraged. The exhibit runs through Sept. 7; regular museum hours are Wednesdays and Saturdays, from 1-6 p.m. The concert and picnic take place at the Lincoln Park Band Shell in Memorial Park on Fort Street at London; it runs from 2-6 p.m.; admission is free.
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