a true testimonial - The I-94 Bar
After a few false starts and 16 years after being stopped in its tracks by court action, the long-stalled documentary "MC5: A True Testimonial" is showing signs of coming back to life.
The film tells the story of the MC5. In 2004 - after rave reviews on the festival circuit and on the eve of its commrcial release - filmmakers David C Thomas and Laurel Legier were taken to court by former Five guitarist Wayne Kramer over a claim he had been promised to be the film's musical producer. In March 2007, a court ruled in favour of Legler and Thomas, and the decision was upheld on appeal.
But the damage had already been done. Media preview copies had been widely bootlegged, and securing musical rights to make a commercial release viable proved problematic.
In March this year, a Twitter account with the handle @MC5movieshuddered into life. We now understand there are fresh plans to re-launch the film into movie theatres, digitally and in deluxe physical format...with a caveat: Be patient.
There's no timeline in place and the entertainment market has been severely disrupted by COVID-19. The only certainty is that it will happen evnetually and be worth the wait.
It's now appropriate to take a trip back in The Time Tunnel and revisit a 2001 interview by KEN SHIMAMOTO with DAVID C THOMAS, exhumed from our own archives. Settle in and soak it up while we wait for the main feature.
It’s a truism that stated fact sits at one end of the scale and fiction at the other, with the truth lying somewhere in-between. Ex-MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer has been a divisive figure at times - the stillborn “A True Testimonial” documentary, anyone? - so parts of his story will be disputed by some.
Ultimately, though, it’s pointless buying into all that. “The Hard Stuff” is Kramer’s own story and it’s told from his own perspective. None of the other people still standing are offering alternative perspectives (although the posthumous autobiography from bandmate Mike Davis is out there, too.) On its merits, “The Hard Stuff” is a rollicking read with only a few stones left unturned.
The plotline for dummies: Kramer’s the working class Detroit kid from a broken family who shook off the handicap of an abusive stepfather and forged his own musical way. He was a founding member of the radical chic MC5 and remains a compellingly lyrical guitar player who’s influenced countless others.
“The Hard Stuff” takes us through the rise and fall of the 5, Kramer’s slide into crime, his imprisonment for drug dealing, ongoing battles with booze and smack, career revival and personal redemption through hard work and love.
FLASHBACK: First posted October 16, 1999: It's been quite an odyssey for Wayne Kramer. From 1964 to 1972, he was point man and Fender guitar terrorist for the legendary MC5, the Ur-American garage band turned psychedelic radicals whose high-energy jams prefigured much of the next 30 years of rock and roll dementia.
Kramer sat out a couple of years at the end of the 70s in Federal penitentiary on a drug charge, but resumed his career when he landed back on the street in 1979, playing in Gang War with Johnny Thunders, recording with Was (Not Was) and others.
Then in 1995, when a lot of people had written him off, he roared back into action with an album on Epitaph entitled "The Hard Stuff". Since then there have been three more Epitaph albums and a plethora of side projects.
Brother Wayne joined me at the bar on three different occasions, twice from his home in Hollywood, California and once from the L.A. studio where he's currently producing an album for Damned founder member and former Iggy Pop sideman Brian James.