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.
For once, instead of the anodyne whitewashed authorised biography, here you get the ghastly stories and goss. Also, like Matt Johnson’s too-few LPs, “Long Shadows, High Hopes” has been a long time coming. It has the full co-operation of its subject (the book features on The The's website, so one assumes it's the authorised tome).
It comes with a cracking (if brief) foreword by long-time friend and collaborator Jim Thirlwell (you may remember him from such films as , and for his work as Foetus, Steroid Maximus and so on).
It's also a biography with the insights and detail one would expect of a writer of one of the Stones, or a Beatle. And that's because, in the UK and the USA, The The were bloody huge. And ... he walked away from vast fame, fortune and all the usual head-spinning hoo-ha which so many rock gods revel in.
Fraser has done an excellent job, remaining on friendly terms with his subject, maintaining an even perspective but still able to take issue with him at times. Rather difficult if you're a fan, which Fraser obviously is.
Now, I confess I thought The The to be just another English ’80s pop band. Wasn't my thing. But, upon being queried whether I had an interest in reviewing the book, I had a quick look at what Johnson's been up to. Wikipedia (the people's unrelyabull enscycloppedya) tells me that, apart from The The, Johnson is "also a film soundtrack composer (Cineola), publisher (Fifty First State Press), broadcaster (Radio Cineola), and conservationist/local activist".
So I changed my tune and put my hand up and, slightly startled, read Thirlwell's intro at the bus stop. Also, Johnson's first single was produced by Graham Lewis and Bruce Gilbert and that stopped me dead in my tracks. Now I didn't just want to review the book. I wanted to hear the man.
The very magical Iris Berry was one of the original L.A. punks. She, and a remarkably talented soul survivor by the name of A Razor, founded Punk Hostage Press as a way of serving the community, giving hope to the hopeless, and shining light on original voices from the real underground.
Together, they've released books by some of the best writers of our time.
This is an important contribution to our culture because, as you may have noticed, very few books, or films, or records, or plays, or any works of revealing truth or lasting value get made nowadays by the corporate media monopolies who primarily serve as cheerleaders for war, fascism and the bloodthirsty, winning is everything status quo.
“Brutal” was the first word that came to mind after finishing the posthumous autobiography of MC5 bass player Michael Davis and that adjective is still hanging in the air, 24 hours later.
Over 350 skilfully-written pages, Davis shines a spotlight onto the lives of family, friends, lovers, bandmates and associates over five decades, but it’s the glare cast on his own existence that’s the starkest.
By accident or design, “I Brought Down The MC5” only covers Davis’s life up until meeting his last wife, Angela, and moving to California in the late 1990s. It excludes the DKT-MC5 reunion with bandmates Wayne Kramer and Dennis Thompson, his fight with Hep C, charity work and near fatal 2006 bike crash.
All of that, and Michael finding redemption, could have made a dynamite second book, but Davis sadly passed from liver cancer in 2012, aged 68.
Orthodoxy is not the Richard Lloyd way, so this book was never going to be a straight-forward elucidation of the histories of his bands (“Just the facts”.) It’s a weirdly charged ride through the man’s life, using vivid snapshots and taking colourful detours, and it reverberates like his guitar playing.
Lloyd was the rocking yin to Tom Verlaine’s ethereal yang in seminal New York band Television. You could say he kept his guitar partner from lapsing into total six-stringed self-indulgence and flights of fancy, giving the band its rock and roll sensibility.
It’s an important point but his book is about much more than that. Lloyd is also a solo artist of note who has passed through the orbits of people like Jimi Hendrix, Anita Pallenberg, John Lee Hooker, Keith Moon, Buddy Guy and Keith Richards, to name a few.
What you need to know is that Lloyd has been in and out of mental asylums and rehab, used every drug known to Western civilisation (and probably a few that aren’t) and the scope and variety of his sex life would give the late Lou Reed cause for pause. He also has a unique philosophy on human existence.
Lloyd has always felt like an intruder in everybody else’s world, a fully-formed adult even as a child. He lived with bipolar disorder sitting on his shoulder, pulling him up and down. You get the feeling that his (at times impenetrable) brand of spirituality was either a product of that or his anchor, and it runs thematically right through his writing.
Bloody hell, Barman. I do one review of one poetry book and the bastard sends me these.
Now, I don't know how many of you enjoy poetry. Perhaps you consider it in the same memorable way that Lydia Lunch does, calling it 'poohetry'...
Anyway, despite much derision over the years, apparently appreciation of same is on the rise in the USA (I'm not sure whether to whoop or despair) and I'm here to tell you that, first, a poem or two at bedtime or on the bus (anywhere you find yourself titting about purposelessly on the internet or playing those squally games everyone seems to have on their bloody phones) will find your mood altered, your synapses snapping and you will either feel alive or disgusted. A comparison might be buying a 7" single at random ... or a compilation CD.
Second, modern poetry has a mostly deservedly bad name, but so do all forms of music. There are some utterly dreadful folk out there both unable to hold a choon or entertain to compensate. Ditto poets, really. So, if you ain't familiar with the patter of words on the page, think of poetry as another form of underground.