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It’s been more than 10 years since Wayne Kramer, Michael Davis and Dennis Thompson took the stage together in Detroit at Rob Tyner’s memorial concert at the State Theatre, and more than 30 years since they lurched their way through their final performance as members of the MC5 at the Grande Ballroom on New Year’s Eve 1972.
Thirty years is a long time in anyone’s life, especially when most of those years are spent in lives mired in frustration, poverty and despair. But once in a while a small miracle occurs, and all of a sudden everything is right back on the beam, and the future opens up on a brand-new note, and everybody who’s managed to survive is right back on center stage where they belong.
So, when Davis, Kramer and Thompson return to Detroit “in celebration of the MC5” at the Majestic Theatre on June 10, the disaster years will melt away and they’ll begin to enjoy a new day in the sun, bringing the noise from the glory years and illuminating the dismal present with the power of the music created by the MC5. It’s an amazing thing, but when you hear it and see it, you’ll know what all the shouting was about.
MC5 singer Rob Tyner and guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith have left us, of course, and it’s difficult to imagine the 5’s music absent them. But the essence of the MC5 was in its songs and the high-energy methodology the band developed to deliver them, and those are the core elements brought back to life by the DKT/MC5 celebration band. (DKT stands for Davis, Kramer and Thompson.)
“We’ve gone to great lengths with all the promoters to make it clear that it’s not an MC5 reunion,” Kramer says. “It would be wrong to call it that, because Fred Smith and Rob Tyner have passed on. They can no longer be with us, but we’re still here, and these shows are a celebration of the music of the MC5 and the work of Fred Smith and Rob Tyner. It would be an insult to their memory and to the fans to pretend that this is an MC5 reunion.”
While it’s impossible for anyone to take their place, Royal Oak native Marshall Crenshaw will fill in on second guitar, and singers Mark Arm (ex-Mudhoney) and Evan Dando (ex-Lemonheads) will share the lead vocal duties. But it’s Davis, Kramer and Thompson who know how it’s supposed to go, and they haven’t lost a step since the days of yore. Kicking out the jams is still the order of the day, and they’ll be up there doing it without reservation.
“I don’t feel like we’re from the deep, dark past,” Davis says with a chuckle. “What we’re bringing to the stage is just as urgent and relevant as it ever was, and not out of step with 2004. We might’ve recorded this stuff last year — and, in fact, we did!”
“The MC5 was hard-chargin’ and all out. There were no reservations,” Kramer reminds us. “The MC5 was visceral — all sweat and muscle and the whole concept of high energy. It’s a real thing. It’s not just a theory. It’s a way of life and a way to play music. It’s wonderful to share it.”
Yet the spirit of celebration is tempered by a simmering conflict. The Detroit show and the band’s subsequent world tour are unfolding in the midst of a protracted battle over the distribution of MC5: A True Testimonial, a critically acclaimed documentary about the band.
Lawyers are involved.
In the interest of full disclosure, as we say in the journalism racket, a caveat is in order. While this writer may be seen wearing several hats during the unfolding of the MC5 story, I’m here principally as a journalist attempting to negotiate the twists and turns of a fascinating tale and tell it the best I can.
I first met the MC5 in August 1966, the day after I was released from the Detroit House of Correction after a six-month sentence for possession of marijuana. They played at the Artists Workshop party celebrating my release. I saw them perform at the Michigan State Fair a month later, and I was there when they played at the opening of the legendary Grande Ballroom in October. I loved their music, missed few opportunities to hear them play, and gradually became close friends with Tyner, the band’s lead singer and chief theorist. I would also become the band’s manager.
Somehow, over the years, a popular myth evolved by a succession of reactionary rock journalists came to hold that the MC5 had been a bunch of innocent suburban rock boys who were corrupted, bamboozled and manipulated by their left-wing radical manager (that would be me) into fronting for his bankrupt revolutionary politics. But the fact is that Tyner was himself a radical firebrand and a charismatic front man who sang fervent pleas from the stage urging people to rise up against the government and to reject the constraints and constrictions of mainstream culture.
Let me put it as simply as I can: I was probably even more deeply influenced by Tyner’s thought and practice than he was by my own, and — with the possible exception of Thompson — so was the rest of the band. Tyner was our leader in thought and action, plain and simple. I was a poet, music journalist, underground newspaper writer and director of the Detroit Artists Workshop when I met the MC5. Tyner and I found that we shared a common outlook on what was wrong with our country. Our views matured and developed as a result of what was happening in the exact world we lived in, and we grew into radicalism together.
For the next year I attended virtually every performance by the band and spent many long nights scheming with Tyner over endless joints and periodic acid trips, attempting to find a way to make some kind of positive change in the world around us. By September 1967 I had somehow assumed the duties of full-time manager of the MC5 — not by contract or oral agreement, but almost by osmosis — and by the fall of 1968 had secured for them a recording contract with Elektra Records.
We cut the first MC5 album “live” at the Grande Ballroom on Oct. 30-31, 1968, dates declared by the Oracle Ramus — Jesse Crawford, the 5’s road manager and stage MC — as the beginning of the First Year of Zenta. The next day we announced formation of the White Panther Party as an organization of fiercely resistant white youths committed to the principles and practice of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. The founding members of the WPP included this writer, Pun Plamondon, Crawford, Tyner, Kramer, Smith, Davis and Thompson.
I served as the band’s manager until Crawford, Bob Rudnick and I were abruptly and summarily discharged in mid-June 1969. Others had convinced the band members that ideological advocacy would impede commercial success.
A month later I was convicted in Detroit Recorder’s Court of possessing two joints of marijuana and sentenced to nine and a half to 10 years in prison. I spent the next 29 months in Marquette and Jackson prisons before I was released on appeal bond in December 1971. My conviction was overturned on appeal by the Michigan Supreme Court in March 1972, and the state’s marijuana laws were declared unconstitutional on several of the grounds raised in my appeal.
By the time I was released from prison late in 1971, the MC5 was well along its protracted slide from the musical and commercial peaks the band had reached in 1970 to its ignominious demise in the final minutes of 1972. A succession of ineffectual managers and two failed albums for Atlantic Records — exacerbated by the destructive drug habits developed by several members of the band — led inexorably to the utter disintegration of the once-mighty ensemble from the Motor City, and the MC5 was soon consigned to the dustbin of rock ’n’ roll history.
But, oh, in its heyday the MC5 was truly a wondrous thing to behold, and above and beyond everything else was the power and beauty of an MC5 performance. Holding nothing back, the 5 pounded and pulsated with unbelievable energy and incredible stagecraft.
Though the MC5 itself had little commercial impact, millions upon untold millions of dollars have been made since by reducing and narrow-casting the musical concepts, maniacal stage antics, defiant attitude and blazing guitaristics perfected by Kramer and Smith and their brothers in the MC5 between 1965 and 1972.
The MC5’s go-for-the throat audio onslaught and over-the-top theatrics — though utterly stripped of their social context and creative intelligence — live on in the legions of heavy-metal huffers who’ve repackaged the sound and fury of the 5 and gleefully sold it to successive generations of rebellious teenagers without a cause.
The band’s reckless advocacy of recreational drugs and its all-out, gob-of-spit-in-the-face-of-god-and-art defiance of authority and social convention likewise inspired the punk rock movement and whatever has succeeded it. But the 5’s focus on musical invention, rhythmic thrust and social change was replaced by the embrace of a musically inept, socially sleazy pseudo-anarchism lacking comparable intelligence or emotional force.
The MC5 also pioneered in combining jazz and rock to make a new musical form infused with unbridled energy and improvisational freedom.
Even the MC5’s fearless commitment to radical social causes and incessant fund-raising for community organizations, political prisoners, victims of the dope police and other outcasts helped create the template for socially conscious popular musicians who would allow their art to be utilized to raise millions of dollars for worthy recipients who were otherwise without hope or support.
But all that is now just so much water under the bridge. There has been no MC5 for more than 30 years, and there will never be another time like that — nor another MC5 to illuminate it.
What remains is the music made by the MC5 and the way they played it.
For years the idea of an MC5 reunion has been a particularly abhorrent concept. The band was indelibly stamped with the heat of the moment of its time, and it seemed ludicrous to think that its members could shake off all the negativism and distrust that led to its disintegration. When Kramer, Davis, Thompson and Smith got together in 1991 to honor Rob Tyner, however, the music they made together was anything but ludicrous — the surviving members hit hard and deep, their fabled attack still fully intact. But no one seemed to have any intention to make it more than a one-time thing, and even if they had, there were no market forces that would make a reunion tour economically feasible.
So the MC5 survivors went their separate ways again: Kramer back to Nashville, where he was working as a finish carpenter and cabinetmaker; Davis to his ranch in Arizona and his musical assignments with a series of hard-edged young Southwestern rock bands; and Thompson to his home in suburban Detroit and his duties in the workaday world, from which he would emerge from time to time to essay various attempts at making music in public again.
Kramer, in fact, had pretty much given up on the music scene after spending the late ’70s and early ’80s trying to revive his career. Released from federal prison after serving almost three years on a cocaine conviction, he settled in New York City and did some lightweight touring with a band called Kramer’s Creamers, formed Gang War with guitarist Johnny Thunders, toured and recorded with Detroit’s all-star Was (Not Was) revue, then devoted several years to developing an underground gangster-rock musical, The Last Words of Dutch Schultz, with lyricist Mick Farren and a dedicated cast of musicians, singers and actors.
Kramer found paying work outside the music world as a carpenter and showcased Dutch Schultz at a succession of small venues in the city, but his efforts met with little success. So he finally packed it in and moved all the way south to Key West, where his musical opportunities were severely limited to the occasional bar-band gig. This situation proved so unsatisfying that he decided to abandon his quest for meaningful musical expression and concentrate on his woodworking skills.
But the reunion with his former bandmates in Detroit made Kramer start thinking about playing music again, and he got his chance when the owner of a Nashville recording studio where he was installing some cabinetry realized who his contractor really was and offered to trade him studio time in exchange for some additional carpentry work.
Kramer recruited a rhythm section and cut some tunes, then took the tapes to Los Angeles in a bid to get them released. Bret Gurewitz at Epitaph Records, a former member of the band Bad Religion, confessed that Kramer was one of his musical heroes and offered him a multiple-record deal with a cash advance sufficient to cover his living costs while he recut the tunes with a supporting cast drawn from the ranks of other Epitaph acts.
Kramer decided to resettle in Los Angeles to try to make the most of this unexpected opportunity, which resulted in four albums for Epitaph and the resumption of tours in support of their release. The label’s promotional efforts and the concomitant growth of the World Wide Web spawned considerable new interest in Kramer and his history with the MC5, but Epitaph was unable to garner enough radio play or adequate sales to advance his career, and Kramer soon found himself back at square one without a record contract.
In the middle of all this commotion Kramer was called back to the Motor City to mourn the untimely demise of his old comrade-in-arms, Fred Smith, who died in 1994. In recovery from years of drug and alcohol abuse, Kramer was moved to attempt to make things right with remaining MC5 bandmates Davis and Thompson. There was a lot of unpleasant history to overcome, but it became increasingly important to Kramer that they put the past behind them and celebrate the positive things they had done together while there was still time.
Then another minor miracle took place: A team of first-time moviemakers from Chicago contacted Kramer, Davis and Thompson about making a feature film that would document the story of the MC5. Operating as Future/Now Films, director David Thomas and producer Laurel Legler struck deals with Davis and Thompson with respect to their participation in the project. The filmmakers would form a company with the surviving MC5 members and representatives of the estates of Tyner and Smith, providing for any net profits the film made to be split among the members of the company.
Future/Now envisioned Kramer as the film’s central on-screen informant and interpreter of the MC5 story, while Kramer also saw himself as music supervisor for the film and producer of the sound track album. Kramer and his manager, Margaret Saadi, were organizing their own production company, MuscleTone Records, and wanted to secure the right to produce and release the sound track on their label. In return, Kramer would cooperate fully with the film production, perform as directed in several shoots for the film, and personally instruct his music publisher, Warner/Chappell, to provide to Future/Now a gratis license for the use of his compositions in the movie.
Kramer and Saadi worked closely with Future/Now for the next four years as the producers sought financing and distribution, put the film into production and slowly unfolded the MC5 story onto film.
“We became so involved in the creation of this film,” Saadi says, “because we thought it was a great story, which needed to be told, and because we had an agreement that there was a job for Wayne.”
She and Kramer introduced Future/Now to Warner/ Chappell, helped set up filmed interviews with Jon Landau, Danny Fields and this writer, and vouched for the fledgling film production company with potential lenders and distributors.
Completed in 2002, MC5: A True Testimonial follows the rise and fall of the MC5 from its origins as a teenage band in Lincoln Park, Mich., to its phenomenal local success as the kingpin of the Detroit rock ’n’ roll scene, its daring appearance as the only band to show up to play at the Festival of Life in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic Convention, its emergence as a touring act with an album on Elektra, its unique experience as co-founders and propagandists for the White Panther Party, its defection from the WPP and ensuing pursuit of conventional success in the music industry, its failure to gain popular acceptance or significant record sales, and its messy disintegration and dissolution in 1972.
David Thomas turns in a fine job in his directorial debut, marshalling the many disparate elements of the MC5 story into a coherent, well-paced exposition of the band’s explosive impact and denouement. Most impressive is his deft editing of the archival performance footage — shot sans sound in the ’60s with 16mm Bolex and Super 8 mm cameras by Leni Sinclair (this writer’s ex-wife) — to recorded performances of such MC5 staples as “Kick Out the Jams,” “Looking at You,” “High School” and “Shakin’ Street.”
The performance footage, most of it previously unseen, is tightly interwoven with intimate interviews, government surveillance film shot at the Festival of Life, still photographs and images of the musicians from childhood to the present; and a powerful sound track pulsating with the triumphal yet underacknowledged music of the MC5.
MC5: A True Testimonial had its international premiere in November 2002 at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam. The film was then shown at the Raindance Film Festival in London, the Göteborg Film Festival in Sweden and the Toronto International Film Festival, drawing enthusiastic audiences and widespread critical acclaim.
Going into 2003, everything seemed to be clicking right along. A new round of screenings would include the San Francisco International Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival in New York City and the Melbourne International Film Festival in Australia, and the filmmakers turned their focus to landing a DVD deal and signing with an agency to arrange commercial theatrical screenings for the movie.
But that’s exactly when the shit hit the proverbial fan. Kramer had been a little edgy since 2001, when Future/Now screened a 20-minute sequence from A True Testimonial that had been edited and tracked by director Thomas without Kramer’s participation.
More importantly, there was the matter of the absence of a written agreement between the parties with respect to Kramer’s services. Also undocumented was Kramer’s purported share in the ownership of the film and how he would be compensated for services rendered to the project.
Future/Now had incorporated an entity called Zenta LLC in 2000 to own the film and distribute the net proceeds among its members, who were to include the investors as well as the three living bandmates; Tyner’s widow, Becky Derminer; and the estate of Fred Smith. Membership in the corporation was contingent upon its members signing the Zenta LLC operating agreement, including an attached “publicity release,” a waiver which delivered all appropriate rights to the corporation for its use in commercial exploitation of the completed film.
All the pertinent parties signed on except Kramer, whose deal was somewhat more complex. He and Future/Now had exchanged contract drafts without resolving their respective issues, and Kramer was particularly adamant in his rejection of a stipulation that would have granted the filmmakers “the absolute and irrevocable right” to use Kramer’s name and likeness “for any purpose whatsoever, including but not limited to” the film.
“They want to own everything about me forever,” Kramer has written.
Kramer signed and returned the Zenta LLC operating agreement in June 2002, but not the attached “publicity release.” Instead he says he submitted language of his own which granted the use of his name and likeness “in connection with the promotion, distribution, and exhibition of the Film.” He also sought written confirmation that MuscleTone Records would have the “exclusive right to produce, manufacture, promote, and distribute … audio products … as the Film’s soundtrack,” reserving for MuscleTone final approval of the musical program, packaging, and promotion of the album.
Though still not accepted into membership by Zenta LLC, Kramer joined his bandmates in August 2002 in approving the issuance by their publisher, Warner/Chappel Music, of a gratis one-year music license that allowed Future/Now to screen the film at festivals in order to attract distributors.
“We didn’t want to stand in their way,” Kramer writes on his Web site. “We wanted them to sell their movie. We hoped that they would do the right thing.”
While Kramer and Saadi tried to resolve their differences with Future/Now so that A True Testimonial could achieve commercial release, another thorny rights issue emerged from an entirely unanticipated direction.
In Europe, Levi Strauss had issued an MC5 T-shirt in its Vintage Clothing collection and announced a complete line of causal shirts, jackets and other apparel that would “celebrate” the “revolutionary spirit” of the MC5 with designs using the band’s logo and the likenesses of its members.
Levi Strauss had licensed MC5 designs from artist Gary Grimshaw and photos of the band from Leni Sinclair, then secured to Levi’s satisfaction the rights to the MC5 name, logo and likeness. The whole deal cost Levi’s a trifling amount (less than five figures), and the textiler suddenly seemed to be the proud “owners” of the MC5 legacy.
Shocked by this new development, Kramer and Saadi thought first of a lawsuit, but decided on a course that could turn the situation to the advantage of the band while avoiding a court battle. When they contacted the Levi Strauss office in London, they had a bold plan in hand, and they found themselves talking to people at Slice, the company’s public relations firm, who were more than a little receptive.
MuscleTone’s concept was simple: Since Levi’s was “celebrating” the MC5, why not stage a musical celebration at a London venue that would bring together Kramer, Davis and Thompson with an array of sympathetic guest musicians and singers for an intimate, one-time, invitation-only concert — and film and record the event for release as a DVD. They would call it A Celebration of the MC5, and Levi’s would foot the bills as part of the promotion for the MC5 Vintage Clothing line.
Slice’s Alec Samways signed on to the project and became co-executive producer of the Celebration documentary with Saadi. As the plans for the project began to take shape, MuscleTone invited Future/Now Films to participate in the projected four-camera shoot, help with production of the film and DVD release, and also to screen MC5: A True Testimonial at the concert, scheduled to take place in March 2003 at the 100 Club.
But Future/Now, still operating without a signed agreement with Kramer, refused to participate, and rejected Levi’s invitation to show its film at the London concert. From this point on they seem to have regarded Kramer and Saadi — and, by extension, Davis and Thompson, both very much a part of the London project — as adversaries. The whole Future/Now project began to steer a very perilous course.
There is a certain cruel irony at work here: Three men in their 50s who had been bitterly estranged for 20 years are reunited in a creative context to make a film about their long-defunct band and the incredible music they made together. They begin to heal their wounds and build a new basis of artistic cooperation and trust by working together on the movie. They get cut out of what might have been a major licensing deal with Levi’s, yet manage to emerge smelling like roses, the heroes of a hot-ticket London concert celebrating their music that will be documented for release on DVD.
But the people who brought them back together to make A True Testimonial now seem to regard them as some sort of Frankenstein monster that’s grown out of control and come to pit the movie of the MC5 against the lives of the surviving band members.
So the two projects centered on the history and music of the MC5 rolled ahead on separate tracks. A Celebration of the MC5 was staged under Levi’s sponsorship to wild acclaim. Davis, Kramer and Thompson brought the 5’s music back to life in a series of rehearsals and were joined onstage for the concert by guest rockers Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, Nicke Royale of the Hellacopters, Ian Astbury of The Cult, Dave Vanian of The Damned and singer Kate O’Brien, plus imported former Detroiters Dr. Charles Moore on trumpet and Ralph “Buzzy” Jones on tenor saxophone.
The set list for the show included MC5 favorites “Lookin’ at You,” “Gotta Keep Moving,” “Skunk (Sonically Speaking),” “Rocket Reducer No. 62,” “Tonight,” “High School” and, of course, “Kick Out the Jams.” The sound was hot and fresh, the stage remained in frenetic motion, and the crowd went crazy. The British music press responded with equal fervor.
“After all, the MC5 created the blueprint for all that’s cool in modern rock ’n’ roll,” New Musical Express enthused. “They rip the 100 Club to shreds with a force-50 gale of everything you love about rock ’n’ roll.”
“You only get to see so many truly legendary gigs,” Mojo magazine summed up, “and tonight was definitely one.”
The concert’s success also inspired the production of a 30-minute MC5 documentary hosted by Mojo’s Andrew Male and Zane Lowe of BBC Radio 1 that was focused on the 100 Club show. Once the program aired on UK Channel 4, MuscleTone licensed the production for inclusion in Sonic Revolution: A Celebration of the MC5, the DVD that documents the concert with 60 scintillating minutes of performance footage.
By the end of 2003, MuscleTone had fully cleared all the music for the Celebration DVD and licensed it to Image Entertainment and its affiliates for worldwide release on July 6, 2004. To make things even rosier, concert promoters all over the world, excited by the reports from London, had begun to agitate for the chance to hear and present A Celebration of the MC5 on their own stages. Before they knew it, Kramer and Saadi had cobbled together a string of dates that would take the show all over North America, Australia, Japan and Europe this summer. Detroit is the second stop.
Meanwhile, A True Testimonial was careening along on a contradictory course: Future/Now had built the film’s enthusiastic reception by festival audiences and film critics into a deal with Avatar to book the movie into commercial theaters, plus a DVD distribution agreement with Private Music, a division of BMG. But Future/Now still had not concluded a working arrangement with Kramer for the right to use his name and likeness or his compositions.
Future/Now’s limited license to exhibit the film at festivals expired at the end of the summer of 2003, and Warner/Chappell informed it that the publishing house would not be able to grant them synchronization rights to the MC5 compositions until the filmmakers had worked out their issues with Kramer. A screening scheduled for Oct. 30 at the Detroit Institute of Arts — the film’s first ticketed theatrical exhibition — was allowed to proceed under a special dispensation from Warner/Chappell, but final clearance would be withheld pending Kramer’s authorization to proceed.
Despite this serious setback, Future/Now closed its deal with Private Music and accepted an advance, apparently maintaining that its licensing problems would be resolved by the projected release date, May 6, 2004. On the theatrical front, Avatar was arranging commercial bookings for the film in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans, Detroit, Ann Arbor and other cities for the spring and summer of 2004.
Evidently convinced that Kramer would not cooperate, Future/Now and Becky Derminer teamed up to file a motion in Los Angeles on Feb. 27, 2004, to reopen Kramer’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy case from 1999.
Future/Now claimed that Kramer had “entered into several agreements [in 1996 that] gave FN Films personality rights, and entitled and authorized FN Films to use all music and recordings in which [Kramer] held an interest.” Future/Now claimed further that “Under the agreements FN Films paid all of [Kramer’s] expenses in connection with various shoots and interviews, and agreed to give [Kramer] … membership interests in [Zenta LLC].”
Yet, eight years after all these deals purportedly were struck, no written agreement had been executed, and Kramer filed papers with the bankruptcy court denying that he had any income coming from MC5: A True Testimonial.
“Future/Now Films and their attorneys have asserted for many years now that there is no agreement,” Kramer states in his filing with the court. “I have since been denied membership in Zenta LLC because I have refused to give my story away for no compensation whatsoever. There is no income stream for me related to their film.”
Laurel Legler, whose nine-year film project languishes in limbo, counters, “I disagree with everything that comes out of Wayne Kramer’s mouth, because he doesn’t tell the truth.
“We never reneged on agreements with Wayne Kramer. We tried to give him everything he wanted.”
An equally exasperated Kramer says: “They have as yet made no concrete offer to solve their problem. We have lots of solutions for their problem, but it’s not up to us to fix it. And I find it amusing that their story keeps changing. They can’t keep their lies straight.
“No one’s more disappointed than I am. I worked hard on that movie, and I always anticipated that they would do what we had agreed upon.”
Kramer was furious about the court action, which he considered an attempt to pressure him into signing over the rights to his music, his image and his personal story, and decided to bring the torturous negotiations to an end.
In court papers, Kramer contended that the motion had been filed in an “attempt to scare, harass, and intimidate Mr. Kramer … Mr. Kramer will not support the Film Project.”
A week later Davis and Thompson declared their solidarity with Kramer by means of a letter from their attorney, Jay W. MacIntosh, to Future/Now. Dated March 4, 2004, MacIntosh’s letter says:
“Please be advised that my clients Michael Davis and Dennis Tomich (pka Dennis Thompson) do not support the release of, licensing of, screening of, and/or sale of the film ‘MC5: A True Testimonial’ until all issues have been resolved between the film company and MC5 band member and songwriter Wayne Kramer, and documentation of such has been provided to my office. Please note that this statement supersedes any statements previously made by myself or anyone else on behalf of Mr. Davis and/or Mr. Tomich. Any failure to recognize this shall be considered willful misrepresentation.”
The next day Kramer attorney Edward Saadi (Margaret’s brother) wrote to Future/Now’s lawyer to say that Kramer would do nothing “to assist Future/Now in its effort to obtain [the] license” from Warner/Chappell. He demanded that Future/Now “immediately and permanently” refrain from using Kramer’s image and pay Kramer any money already generated from merchandising, box-office receipts and other sources.
Warner/Chappell followed with a cease-and-desist letter barring further distribution of the film and mandating the cancellation of commercial screenings. Private Music had distributed advance copies of the True Testimonial DVD for media review, but the company was forced to announce that the film’s release had been delayed.
Thompson says he believes Future/Now “made some errors in judgment. They essentially were showing a film without a license.”
He hopes all the wrangling can be resolved.
“We’re all getting a little tired of hearing about it. Once it gets to the lawyers, who knows what’s going to happen?” Thompson says, adding, “I don’t wish them [Future/Now] any ill will whatsoever.
“But I support Wayne Kramer. Wayne and I have come a long way toward making amendments to ourselves as human beings. This is about the music and the band. Future/Now is not MC5. … It’s always this political cloud following us. There’s always this black hole.”
Rob Tyner’s widow, Becky Derminer, is confident that A True Testimonial will eventually see theatrical and DVD release.
“The film is a beautiful piece of art,” she says. “This movie’s going to come out. It’s too beautiful to be hidden in a closet.”
Derminer says she won’t attend the show at the Majestic.
So there it sits, the one vehicle disabled and fuming on the shoulder of the road, the other wheeling its way to the finish line with a full tank of gas and a precision crew at the controls.
Of course, MC5 fans the world over hope that A True Testimonial will eventually hit the screen and the DVD racks, but those of us in the Motor City and the other stops on the DKT/MC5 tour won’t have to wait any longer to see how Wayne Kramer, Michael Davis, Dennis Thompson and their friends are celebrating the legacy of the MC5 on stage right now.
“It’s great to get back together with Wayne and Michael and to be able to do this, and be able to bring this music to people who have never been able to hear it,” Thompson says.
“The bottom line is we’ve got a world tour coming up. We had great rehearsals out in L.A. We rehearsed some 35-odd songs, so we’ll be capable of playing any and all of the MC5 songs going all the way back to the beginning.
“This is about growth. This is about the MC5 attitude, the MC5 energy and spirit in 2004. This is not really the MC5. It’s really a celebration of the MC5’s music. If anyone is capable of playing this stuff, it’s Wayne, Michael and me.”
Kramer concludes: “It’s like uncorking some kind of nuclear device or something. This shit rocks hard, and we’re having big fun doing this. It’s one of those times when you can say that it doesn’t get any better.”
DKT performs Thursday, June 10, at the Majestic Theater, 4140 Woodward, Detroit. Call 313-833-9700 for more information.
John Sinclair is a poet, author and activist currently living in The Netherlands. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.