Crime & Punishment: Wayne Kramer

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Were you brought up with a total respect for the law?

No, my mother was very street-smart and lived outside the rules of society. So while I had a respect for policemen, at least until I was a teenager, I always knew there were many paths one could go down.

When did you realise your revolutionary White Panther stance and MC5 rhetoric had you pegged as undesirable?

Very early on. We were already on the outside of mainstream thought, and we were part of a whole generation of young people that felt that our parents were going in the wrong direction.

_After the MC5 you became involved in illicit activities. If the state hadn’t already defined you as a criminal, do you think you’d have become as readily involved? _

I probably would, because I’d built a life on my talent and when the going got tough, talent isn’t enough. I was drawn into the world of the anti-hero, and I had a romantic view of crime. What it really meant was ruined lives, destruction on every level and, often, early demise.

You were incarcerated in Lexington Federal Prison following a narcotics charge. How difficult was it to acclimatise?

Probably the most difficult thing a human being can endure short of the loss of a child. As a matter of the loss of your liberty and having to serve a period of time, that’s a great lie. The reality is much more damaging. It’s a shock to the system. It’s humiliating, emasculating, confusing, you’re living with people who are mentally unstable and so damaged that they can only relate to other human beings violently and you never know what might happen the next day.

Is the internet a tool of freedom or oppression?

Altruistic reciprocity has proven to be one of our best ideas and in a sense the internet fits into that. It’s made the world accessible. As an artist, the internet is pretty exciting compared to the old way of doing things, the Faustian bargain with a record company. It’s produced a chart album for me. If you told me twenty years ago that I’d have a chart album today, I would have said you were crazy. It’s pretty amazing, and it’s a free jazz album at that. Even weirder.