By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
The MC5 played just about every Friday and Saturday night for almost three years. We were "the house band." It was the realization of my greatest dream - I was a professional musician. We were paid $125 a night (in the beginning). That was enough for me to not only live on, but thrive on. We played there so often that we developed a real feel for the room and how to play the echo and make it all work for us. The Grande was designed for acoustic bands with horn sections, a piano, upright bass, maybe a single microphone for the vocalist, but nothing like what we brought to the stage. We were the first band in Detroit to own the new Vox 100-watt "Super Beatle" amplifiers from England, and they were loud. Louder than any other bands around. We were the Kings of Loud. We got grief from club owners all over the Midwest because of those amps, and we played them loud and proud. The Grande could handle all that volume and more. It was perfect there.
Halloween night, 1968. The Grande Ballroom.
As the poster art reads, the "Live Recording Concerts" are about to begin. These sets are going to propel the MC5 and the entire Detroit rock scene into the national and international consciousness. After all, Norman Mailer says the MC5 are the "electro-mechanical climax of the age," and Norman wouldn't lie about something so important. The place is packed full of beautiful girls and boys, city kids and suburban kids, freaks of all colors, and even a few straight folks.
Me and the fellows are hanging out in the dressing room. People coming in and out in a steady stream. Our pals dropping plenty of White Panther bops and re-bops and fist-touch secret handshakes. Brother J.C. Crawford - the colorful originator of much of our secret slang and the Oracle Remus of the Church of Zenta - enters in his black leather motorcycle jacket. He greets us all and fires up a joint. We all toke up, and he starts winding us up with his Southern-style Lenny Bruce-meets-Eldridge Cleaver-on-acid doublespeak. We're all laughing our asses off. J.C. is our master of ceremonies and does the James Brown Live at the Apollo-inspired intros for the band. He's pumping up the energy with some classic lines, like "It's time for a little revolution, brothers. Are you ready to get down with it, my brothers?" And we're all answering back in our evangelical way. Danny Fields, the Elektra Records scout who signed us, is backstage too. He has a couple of joints of the superbomb - African ganja for the gentlemen of the orchestra. Danny's looking cool as a cucumber in his dark-brown leather field jacket, the one with the epaulets. Dark glasses and great hair. He's ready for the gig of gigs to begin. We're all ready.
Fred, Michael and I tune our guitars on a small backstage amp. Rob Tyner, dressed in one of his original-design yellow-and-pink outfits, blows a C harmonica to give us the correct pitch of G to tune to. (This is back before anyone had invented those handy little digital tuners we all use today.) Now it's time to go out and do what we came here to do. The ganja has put us in just the right frame of mind to hit that mutherfucking stage and destroy this house. The crowd starts stomping out a beat that it spontaneously invented over the last year, and the pressure kicks up a notch. We all take the stage together.
Brother J.C. Crawford begins one of the most dynamic introductions in the history of rock: "Brothers and sisters, I want to see a sea of hands out there. I want to see a sea of hands." And with that, the whole crowd throws its arms in the air, waving and saluting with the peace sign and the "power to the people" fist. "I want to see a little revolution out there. Time has come, brothers. Time for you to choose. It takes five seconds to decide." We're all joining in the spirit - "That's right. Right on, right on" - as J.C. continues, "Five seconds for you to decide your purpose here on the planet. Five seconds to decide if you are gonna be part of the problem, or if you are gonna be part of the solution. You must choose. I want to know if you're ready to get down with it. I want to know if you're ready to testify. I give you a testimonial - the MC5!" It's a moment that is sanctified and celebrated. The crowd is screaming in unison. I leap as high in the air as I can, spin and land stage front for the guitar intro of "Ramblin' Rose."
I'm flying on pure adrenaline now, and I'm dancing my best James Brown through the first eight bars of the tune. Trouble strikes almost immediately. My low E string has slipped out of its saddle on the bridge, and it's about nine steps out of tune. But there's not a damn thing I can do about it now. I finish singing the first two verses and tear into the solo. Everyone in the band is looking great. We're all dancing, grooving, and - except for the tuning problem - it's all just perfect. We finish the song with a big fanfare and perfectly timed leaps, landing on the final chord. The fans are crazed, jumping up and down. They're yelling out political slogans, song titles, rhetoric and good old-fashioned whoops and hollers.