MC5 guitarist offers guidance to young political activists
No longer extremist, Wayne Kramer still knows how to rock the boat and kick out the jams
Since the day in 1965 that he teamed up with Fred "Sonic" Smith to form Detroit's MC5, guitarist Wayne Kramer has been one of the most influential and important political rock and roll musicians of all time. The first MC5 album, "Kick Out the Jams," which opens by entreating listeners to "decide whether they are part of the problem or part of the solution," is still regarded by many to be the greatest live album in the history of rock music. On the eve of Kramer's appearance at this Saturday's Operation Ceasefire anti-war festival, The Eagle had a chance to speak to him about music, politics and the outrage of youth.
The Eagle: On Saturday, you'll be playing with much younger acts like Le Tigre, Thievery Corporation and The Coup. How did you get involved in Operation Ceasefire?
Wayne Kramer: Well, I'm friends with [festival organizer and AU grad] Scott Goodstein, and I'd worked with Punk Voter before, but really it's a way of life. I try to do what I can do to make the world a better place, because otherwise you're just breathing. You need to understand that everything matters. You can contribute something, whatever that may be, that day, whatever you have to contribute, you can! What else is there?
TE: So what kind of philosophy guides your activism today?
WK: Leave the place a little nicer than you found it.
TE: You sort of sound like a boy scout.
WK: I am a boy scout! [laughs] I deserve my civics merit badge. I'm trying to participate in real life, because I believe that democracy is participatory. It's not just a theory, it's something to do. It requires action and involvement. When things aren't right, you have to say something.
TE: I take it there are a lot of things in the world today that you don't think are right?
WK: There's a great deal that's terribly wrong. Contradictions in our society are pointed out with increasing vividness every day. When profit comes ahead of people, when corporate greed has a priority over human rights, when governments look the other way out of political and partisan expediency, these are always the problems. If government is going to be our parent, we have to hold [it] to high standards. These people are used to literally getting away with murder.
TE: Let's talk specifically about the war and your views about what we need to do next.
WK: I'm not the extremist I was when I was a younger man. It's academic how we got there, or whether Bush lied to get us there. Let's just wrap this thing up! [Wisconsin Senator Russell] Feingold has been saying some things that I really agree with, like, "Just give us a date!" Even if Bush has to move the date in the future, just give us some kind of idea of when we might get out of that country!
TE: You said that you're not the extremist you once were. In what ways have your beliefs changed?
WK: Oh, I didn't mean that my beliefs had changed, only my tactics. I still believe in people over profit, in the unglamorous, un-sexy business of civilization building. Health care, education, jobs, security, being able to live a good life in your neighborhood, have good relationships, a good life, raise a good family - that's not sexy, but it's what it's really about! Those things haven't changed, the tactics have changed. The language of outrage, the images of violence, those all grew out of the frustration of youth, and I'm certainly not a youth anymore.
TE: What's the biggest change in the world since you first got involved in politics and music?
WK: The biggest change is definitely the lack of agreement. When I was growing up, during the civil rights era, then the Vietnam War era, there was a near total agreement among young people, through the entire generation, that the country was headed in the wrong direction. There's no agreement today, and there's less concern among the young people. Cynicism is so high, there's no agreement among young people or even people in general. The emphasis is always on the partisan element, you know, red or blue state. This is not a partisan issue. This war is not a Democrat or Republican war, it's an American war. The American government got us into it, and the American government is going to have to get us out of it.
TE: And you're confident that they will?
WK: Well, it's not an easy thing to do. These guys are very well rehearsed at getting away with murder, and they're very well insulated. None are held accountable, and their kids aren't held accountable. Their kids aren't serving in Iraq. But we're going to keep on trying until some accountability begins and this war ends.