Thursday, May 11, 2006

U. P. played role in MC5 tale

John Sinclair, one time manager of the MC5, refined his rock 'n' roll vision in the Upper Peninsula, but not by choice. That he served time at Marquette's branch prison is just one chapter in the fascinating saga of the greatest punk band Michigan ever produced. St. Ignace figures prominently in the story as well.

The MC5 (short for Motor City Five) were at the forefront a self-contained rock scene which developed in southeastern Michigan in the mid-sixties to early seventies. Other forces driving this surging independent scene included the Bob Seger System, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes, Frost, Frijid Pink, SRC, the Rationals, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, as well as a few other home-grown bands.

But the MC5 went beyond creating explosive music, they threw their rebellion in the face of the "establishment" and couldn't have cared less about the consequences. And, there were consequences.

They first received national attention when Sinclair arranged for them to play a free outdoor concert at Chicago's Lincoln Park during the riotous 1968 Democratic Convention. The show was filmed by the FBI, evidence the feds were paying close attention to the band. Their initial long-play, the incendiary "Kick Out The Jams," was recorded live at Russ Gibb's Grande Ballroom in Detroit two months later.

Released as a single, the title track had its raw opening line censored to "Kick out the jams, brothers and sisters," at the insistence of Elektra Records. Still the record stalled nationally at number 82 on the Billboard chart in 1969. In July, Sinclair was sentenced to a lengthy term at Jackson Prison for selling two marijuana cigarettes to undercover officers.

He was later transferred to Marquette and wrote the radical manifesto, "Guitar Army," while incarcerated. Sinclair was allowed a record player while in prison and listened to Big Brother and the Holding Company's "Cheap Thrills," Jimi Hendrix's "Are You Experienced" and the MC5's first album, of course.

Sinclair was released on appeal bond on Dec. 13, 1971, three days after a "Free John Now," rally was held at the University of Michigan featuring a performance by ex-Beatle John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The event drew attention to Sinclair, and the Michigan Supreme Court later overturned his conviction

Another member of the MC5's inner circle, Lawrence (Pun) Plamondon, referred to as "minister of defense" on the group's first LP, had another unpleasant experience with the law in the U. P.

Plamondon, a revolutionary activist, founded the White Panther Party with Sinclair and established a commune at 1510 Hill St. in Ann Arbor. He later went underground when he learned he was being charged with conspiracy in the bombing of the local CIA office.

The first hippie to make the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" list, Plamondon covertly returned to lower Michigan after traveling to various foreign locations. On July 23, 1970, he headed to the Upper Peninsula, where a hide-out had been arranged. Plamondon and two White Panthers were drinking beer as their Volkswagen bus, allegedly filled with guns, moved north, toward the Mackinac Bridge. When a State Police trooper noticed empties being thrown from the vehicle, he pulled it over and forced the occupants to retrieve the cans. Later, when police discovered Plamondon used a fake ID, the fugitive was arrested 50 miles west of St. Ignace.

Although he spent 32 months in prison, Plamondon's conviction was also overturned when the government admitted to wiretapping without a warrant. The case later proved crucial when Nixon resigned following the Watergate break-in.

Plamondon, of Ottawa descent, went on to work for Bob Seger as a bodyguard and also drove semi for Kiss and Foreigner. The author of a memoir on his life, Plamondon now lives in Barry County, and is a respected tribal elder.

Sinclair later formed the Blues Scholars as an outlet for his poetry and has released several compact discs. He emigrated to the Netherlands two years ago.

The MC5, meanwhile, played their last gig on New Years Eve, 1972, at the Grande Ballroom. They were paid $100 each. The band disintegrated amidst heavy drug use, their revolutionary dream unrealized.

While they released only three albums during their brief lifespan, interest in the MC5 remains unflagging today.


CedarElkWoman said...

Wow! Now I can talk back to Steve!!
And, by previous agreement, he doesn't have to read what I say!!
Well, I love the MC (Motor City) 5, and I had their vinyl record, but gave away my billion dollar record collection because my ears are too sensitive for vinyl, and because I am an idiot. Anyway, I bought the album on cd, for three times what the vinyl had cost. And the original words were not "Kick out the jams, brothers and sisters!" They were "Kick out the jams, *************!". Anyway, I am not old enough, but I heard from my grandparents that hippies throughout Michigan went around saying, "Two joints, man, two joints!!!!". We (they) all knew that Sinclair was in fact a political prisoner. (The FBI had a way of planting pot when they needed to bust, say, an underground newspaper, and the courts had a way of sending political activists away to prison for carrying two joints.) We (they) also went around talking about busting John Sinclair out of the prison in the UP. After all, the MC5 needed its spiritual advisor. Well, he got out without our help. So that leaves Michigan. Michigan birthed many bands, not to mention Mo (Motor) town!!!! And James Osterberg, aka Iggy Pop, grew up there...see I WANT MORE, Iggy's autobiography. And it birthed at least one political movement, the SDS, which was born in Port Huron Michigan with "The Port Huron Papers". The hard core eventually became the Weathermen (after the Dylan song) and then the Weather Underground, for obvious reasons (they went underground). OK, enough for today. Thanks Sweet, Smart Steve for letting me "ramble" - Ramblin' Rose, another MC5 Great Hit. Cedar Elk, aka Jenn from da UP...also part Ottawa by blood. See all the connections here! There are more - me, Sue, Steve, music, Ojibwas, underground newspapers...But, ciau for now.

Anonymous said...

You write some great articles, and I am really glad to see them here. I guess this means I need to tell my friend not to save the papers anymore? Nah! Don't want to hurt her feelings. I can enjoy the ads(ha ha). Anyway I will come back read more of them, and if I get my own Blog...I will let you know. Of course you probably are too busy to read all the blogs here. Some are hard to read when written in another language. Anyway, keep up the great work.