From Amsterdam, Protopunk John Sinclair, 72, Tells The Guardian About His New Album
March 6th, 2014, 6:48 AM
Sean O'Hagan of the London-based Guardian meets John Sinclair in a canalside coffee shop in Amsterdam, "where the vibes are mellow, the air perfumed, and the soundtrack a stream of vintage rock songs of the more laidback kind."
Sinclair, 72, "seems utterly relaxed, an ageing hippy blissfully at home in a city that still retains some of the libertarian values he fought so hard for – a fight that cost him his liberty at the tail end of the 1960s."
It is, however, a long way – literally and metaphorically – from Detroit, the city where Sinclair made his name, and that of the rock group he managed, the MC5, in the most dramatic fashion. Almost 50 years after those culturally heady and politically tumultuous days, when he found himself at the heart of the race riots that raged through Detroit, the 72-year-old now keeps the freak flag flying as best he can in a world that has become more liberal, and paradoxically more conservative, than his younger self could ever have imagined.
He has just recorded an album of jazz poetry, Mohawk. The rhymes, originally written in the early 80s, have been given a kind of post-modern jazz setting by his musical collaborator, Steve Fly, a soft-spoken young producer and multi instrumentalist who hails from Stourbridge, but now resides in Amsterdam, where his day job is managing another coffee shop near Central Station.
O'Hagan cites the 2002 documentary, "MC5: A True Testimonial" as showing how, under Sinclair's guidance, the Detroit-based MC5 soon became "arguably the greatest high-energy, hard-rock group of that, or any other, time."
Their only real rivals in the down-and-dirty stakes were that other great Detroit rock group, the Stooges, but unlike them, the MC5 had a radical political vision that was transmitted through the music. It was delivered with a visceral thrust that, even on grainy, black-and-white YouTube footage, is still breathtaking. The MC5's live sound, described by one rock writer as "a catastrophic force of nature the band was barely able to control", was nothing less than an incitement to revolution.
Which band does the old revolutionary find is kicking out the jams these days? Sinclair answers: Pussy Riot.
They are the first kick-ass revolutionary group since the MC5. They don't want a record contract, they don't want their own fragrance, they want to overthrow the goddam Russian government. Yes!"
He clenches his fist and raises it in the air, then falls back in to his chair, grinning. "Those girls don't give a shit," he says. "That's what being a revolutionary is really all about."
Note: Guardian readers praise Sinclair in the article's comment section.