BOOK REVIEW | "THE HARD STUFF: DOPE, CRIME, THE MC5 & MY LIFE OF IMPOSSIBILITIES" BY WAYNE KRAMER
photo & text by nacrowe
the MC5 was an explosive, powerhouse DETROIT rock outfit that both infused revolutionary politics with an unbridled, kinetic energy that made good on the promise of the recent BRITISH INVASION. if anything, their sound was the answer to how AMERICA does BLUES-based ROCK AND ROLL and paved the way for THE STOOGES, NEW YORK DOLLS and PUNK ROCK in general. kick out the jams, indeed!
and essentially that is the starting point for legendary guitarist WAYNE KRAMER's stellar memoir THE HARD STUFF (DA CAPO, 2018). while this book does dive deep into his career and cultural influence, its focus is far more concerned on how his experiences in federal prison in the 70s on drug charges informed his politics surrounding social justice and drug policy.
first off i want to say that this memoir is remarkably well-written. cogent, thoughtful and very direct. in particular, his description of the lost promise and debasement of DETROIT from its post-WWII peak as an economic and industrial juggernaut to its steady fall from grace and how such affected long-simmering race relations (due to racist labor practices and union self-dealing) was artfully written. KRAMER expertly provides a vivid firsthand eyewitness account at the DETROIT riots of 1967 and how they were fueled by race resentment fear and resulted in a further distancing of the races by the subsequent WHITE FLIGHT to the suburbs, leaving the urban center destitute and long-suffering. you really get a sense of how destabilizing and demoralizing such was in the psyche of a young idealist. it basically set up DETROIT as a political metaphor for the 60s idealism and the frustrating limits of the AMERICAN DREAM, the very chaotic backdrop by which the revolutionary politics of the MC5 were born.
the mismanagement of the MC5 and their inability to make good on their promise, for a variety of factors both external and internal, resulted in a career that flat-lined, which saw KRAMER fall into the seedy drug underworld of DETROIT that had shifted markedly from the late 60s into the 70s. if anything it became more corporate and opiates had taken over. his decent into a series of bad choices involving relationships, drugs and money resulted in KRAMER going to federal prison in KENTUCKY for a period in the mid 70s.
a central argument from this book is the nature of recovery and rehabilitation and how such is seeded in hope. from his vantage point incarceration should be a place of providing opportunities and hope for inmates largely not equipped to function on the outside within the usual guardrails. they need assistance and providing them fear and discouragement only fuels their unsuccessful reintroduction to mainstream society upon gaining back their freedom.
its hard not to see the WAR ON DRUGS as a colossal failure. this testimonial only one more drop in that ever-growing bucket. i just don't see MIDDLE AMERICA ever waking up from their slumber and seeming existential fear of the other.
we need empathy and that is basically his realization. he caused damage from his choices and all he can do now is help others in this moment when possible. not in the future. now.
this centering of the locus of control in his mind from longstanding macro structural failures of the AMERICAN political and economic apparatus (that the MC5 fought against) to making good personal decisions in the moment is quite the narrative arc.
excellent read that i would recommend to anyone interested in the 1960s counterculture, PUNK ROCK, free jazz, revolutionary politics or rehabilitation.