R.I.P. Michael Davis of the MC5

Posted: February 25, 2012 in True Life Stories, Variations on a Theme
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-please hit the title for a link to the news that was the catalyst for this entry-

R.I.P. Michael Davis of the MC5

……………………….

The pale girl down the street was an MC5 groupie.  One grey day along the Detroit River, she began to tell stories.  She was instructed to pull off Sonic’s boots…

Groupies love fame.  They’re seduced by the specter of immortality.  And then the rock ‘n roll heroes slowly go to the grave. One by one the body degenerates and expires.  Maybe the radiant energy itself is immortal and transfers to the next Overnight Sensation.  Which is another way of saying that Fate is omnipresent and, in her personal favors, wildly fickle.

I remember the initial surge of the  MC5.  It can’t be understood without the suppressive weight of the Vietnam War and the draft.  Because I wasn’t quite 17 years old, I  got a fake ID to get into the Grande Ballroom.  The show was darkly fantastic with dangerous undertones. I loved how everything was sculpted from the local ore.  The show.  The music.  The mystique.

I’ve never seen anything better than the intro, with JC Crawford revving up the crowd to a revolutionary pitch before The 5 breaks into Ramblin’ Rose.  Wayne Kramer’s falsetto in front of the crashing-driving rhythm section was a mind-bender.  He sang  like a man with the devil squeezing his nuts.

But I never completely bought-in.  I  have a theory about the thin line that separates otherwise lumped and lumpen Whites. My dad owned a meat-market and I did as much backbreaking work as any assembly-line hack. But I had a personal investment in the business and no blind hatred for “The Man” in all of his racist, materialist and war-mongering manifestations.  Consequently my funk, anger and suicidal ecstacies were tempered by more than rank bourgeois manners.  I had a humble family estate to preserve.  I had a standard of beauty to preserve, too, although one really has to be low-born to consider a meat-market beautiful with its patterned displays,  fine-cuts and coiffed grannies in aprons.

In Detroit terms, that family business was like a Cadillac or an SS 396 Chevelle.  It was more than a means to eat, as a slick car was more than a means to travel.  Factory rats didn’t have such a wholly integrated life. Their sons knew.  Kids who were looking to supercede their dads and find work to love often started rock bands.  But that remains tricky to this very day, because there is often a contest to be the most raw and uncompromising talent.  I don’t think that  The 5 suffered from this affectation.  They weren’t acting wild. They were wild.  It’s their tragic glory.

The MC 5 groupie, by the way, was a nomadic child without a civic reputation to safeguard. Her parents were late migrating Southerners and, judging by her truant brothers, hucksters. One landed in Marquette Prison. My mother warned me against siring a love-child that would meld our families. The  groupie was an opaque kind of greaser-femme: awkward grace and black leather jacket.   She had the translucent complexion of X-rated royalty.  Small-breasted. Long-legged   Hawk-nosed.  She ended-up a stripper at Starvin’ Marvin’s down the street from my dad’s store.

The go-go bar was on Fort Street.  That’s the highway that leads from the Lake Erie swamplands, the duck hunters’ paradise, into the  core of Industrial Detroit.  It’s lined with working-class Whites of diverse shades.  How to explain?  I used to drink with a Detroit cop who joined the Flat Rock Police when he was laid-off.  He favored the ghetto over the sticks.  In fact, he absolutely hated working in the sticks. It was because, “When there was a domestic dispute, you ended having to fight Billy Bob and his brother Billy Joe, then their three drunk cousins too.”

There’s a tapering from rural to industrial bleakness as one travels north on Fort Street towards Detroit. The MC 5 used to practice  at the drummer’s house in the non-bucolic suburb of Lincoln Park. It’s true-blue-collar.  It’s a  hapless reservoir of laboring Whites.  It is, unlike Detroit and Ann Arbor, a cultural wasteland if hockey isn’t your #1 Thing.  So, local  kids with an artistic calling grew-up at an aching remove. Like the desolate hillbilly who only has the radio to connect him to Nashville.  This incubation remains good for the soul to this very day.  A bucking artist develops inner-torque.  Then one day he gets a guitar, a driver’s license and  a rusty ol’ Chevy.  The Great Avenging of his loneliness begins.

I never cared for The 5’s dissonances and White Panther buttons.  But I understood their collective fight as dirty Whiteboys competing in an alien world of IQ fetish, money-sharks and highly educated Machiavellians.  I  understood John Sinclair protecting the MC5  from others.  I understood John Sinclair protecting the MC5 from themselves, too.  They had a collective raw genius.  In which, as these things go, was the seed of their destruction.

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