Re: MC5/RA (Long!)

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#1 Fri, 1994-07-15 13:58
Dan Sullivan
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Re: MC5/RA (Long!)

Hello Saturnites...I've been lurking on this list for some months now, and enjoy it greatly. I came to Sun Ra's music via an interest in improvised and progressive/psychedelic rock music, and lack much background in jazz. But I know what I like, and it only took a few live Arkestra concert experiences to get me hooked!

The recent discussion regarding the Sun Ra/MC5 connection led me to play my copy of Kick Out the Jams for the first time in ages. The Sun Ra track is not Rocket #9, but rather Starship, and it would seem to be a collaboration, as per the credits. I'd guess it's Sun Ra lyrics set to MC5 music.

The confusion may be caused by the presence of an MC5 tune called Rocket Reducer No. 62 which ends side one of the record. Starship, however, is eight and a half minutes of feedback, proto heavy metal guitar riffing, space noodling, and poetry. Perhaps Trudy or someone else can identify the lyrics, which sound very much like Sun Ra to me...it begins:

    Starship, starship
    take me where I want to go
    out there among the planets...

The final verse goes something like this (it's rather poorly recorded and hard to make out clearly):

    There is a land
    whose _______ is almost unimaginable to the human mind
    clear (?) day we stand there and look further
    than the ordinary mind can see
    _______ far above the roof of this world
    we can emcompass vistas of the world
    there is a land where the sun shines eternally
    Eternally eternally
    out in outer space
    a living blazing fire...

The MC5/Sun Ra connection seems to be via John Sinclair, the Detroit poet/musician/jazz critic/cultural revolutionary. He "managed" the band (after a fashion) and sat in occasionally on saxophone (I'd also guess that it's Sinclair playing sax on the track Robert Campbell mentioned). His 1972 book, Guitar Army, contains a wealth of detail about this period.

Sinclair co-founded the Detroit Artists Workshop in 1964, a collective which produced poetry, jazz and electronic music concerts, film screenings, and so forth, and was a seminal component of the Detroit underground scene of the mid-60s.

After emerging from a six month jail sentence for marijuana posession in 1966, Sinclair says, "...all of a sudden there were hundreds and thousands of teen-age maniacs running around...playing and singing and dancing to rock and roll music which we hadn't even paid attention to before. We had been into John Coltrane and Archie Shepp and Sun Ra...and we had like an elitist attitude" towards rock music. The turning point for him was "when Cecil Taylor turned me on to the [Beatles'] Revolver album." Shortly thereafter he met and began working with the MC5.

He saw himself as bringing "some of the older [neo-beatnik] sensibility and seriousness...to the hippie scene and the rock and roll scene--we could turn them on to some of the things we had been into with the Workshop, and at the same time they could turn us on to what they were into, so we could arrive at some kind of new high energy synthesis." The Starship track, plus the MC5's use of costume, chanting, etc., seem to be examples of this process.

The book contains reproductions of a number of concert posters from this period, including two of interest to Saturnites: Sun Ra and the MC5 live June 18 1967, Community Arts Auditorium, Wayne State University (Detroit); and the epic Detroit Rock and Roll Revival concert, May 30-31 1969 at the Michigan State Fairground. This show was produced by Sinclair and featured MC5, Chuck Berry, Sun Ra, Dr. John, Johhny Winter, the Psychedelic Stooges (with Iggy Pop), Terry Reid, the Amboy Dukes (with Ted Nugent), David Peel and the Lower East Side, the James Gang and many more.

In the wake of massive police harrassment of their Sinclair, the Five, and their co-conspirators moved from Detroit to Ann Arbor in May 1968. I believe the Arkestra were living in Ann Arbor for a period around this time as well...can anyone confirm this?

The collective became increasingly radicalized, forming the White Panther Party, and Sinclair of course became an international cause celebre after he was sentenced to 10 years for posession of two marijuana cigarettes. But that's another story.

Hope this is of interest to some of you, and I look forward to any follow-ups once I return from vacation in a couple of weeks!

Dan Sullivansullivan@haas.berkeley.edu (+1)(510)642-1405