Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry, Mastering by Sam Patlove
To properly understand the perspective that MC5 founder Wayne Kramer brings to his music, you would have to be something that you're likely not. You would have to do something that you likely couldn't tolerate, nor be okay with. You would have to lead a completely different life - one that had a history of horrible drug abuse and incarceration written into its finest print. You would have to be a person other than the one that's reading this, although, Kramer's story is one of fantastic redemption, of serving his time and getting in and out of the gutters to become someone who could be reading this in a way that could see the memories as the distant past - which is very unlike the memories never having happened, but still something different, something rinsed off. Though it was never anything mentioned in the brief time that we spent with Mr. Kramer in Austin this past March, the man's ideas about incarceration and what it actually did to him and what it actually does to other men, could have been some fascinating listening and - in ways - it is, in everything he writes, be it done in a straight-forward way or one of abstraction. Even writing as a younger man in MC5 - before he served nearly three years of a four-year sentence in a federal prison for dealing cocaine to an undercover officer, the song "High School," which appears here in this session, gives us these lines, "Kids want a little action/Kids wants a little fun/Kids all have to get their kicks before the evening comes," suggesting that trouble might not necessarily be troublesome, it just might be stifled playfulness, tread-upon innocence. Kids make mistakes, but kids seldom want to be menaces. They just feel their time as kids is running out and by golly, they're going to get away with some relatively harmless things before it's too late. They're going to mix it up and they're going to do some foolhardy things before all of the shitty responsibilities kick in, before a lot more is asked of them. You can't begrudge a kid for being a kid, but can you begrudge a man for being a kid - what about a man being a somewhat destructive kid? That all depends. But do you lock them up and treat them as third-rate citizens? This is where Kramer chimes in with an, "Absolutely not." He's been a crusader for prisoners - in a way, not unlike that of Johnny Cash - performing frequently in prisons across the country and doing what he can to help some of those people get to a place that he's gotten to, after all of these years, after being through what he went through. He's stable now, though, it would seem that getting rid of the impulses - even all these many years later - would still be a challenge, and an unwinnable one. Those can't go away. They just have to be dealt with in a steady manner and the man who faces them has to be able to see past the briars, to beyond the gates and the bars. Kramer has gotten past the briars and he seems to be standing in the middle of the patch, spreading an opening for those wanting to see the light on the other side, taking some punctures in the meaty parts of his hands. He sings, "But my hands were made strong by the hands of the almighty/Move forward in this generation, triumphantly/Won't you help to sing these songs of freedom/All I ever had, redemption song," on "Redemption Song," and it comes from a man who's made it on the will to turn himself around.