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Politics: John Sinclair

As manager of the MC5, were music and revolution indivisible?

We proved that music will last under any circumstances and thought a revolution was really gonna happen. We were on acid too, so our perceptions were a little distorted. It’s a beautiful thing but it was an illusion, though it was fun while it lasted. I was brought down and spent three years in prison. I thought that was part of the process, so it didn’t destroy my spirit or fervour.

When did you realise it wasn’t going to happen?

The goals of this mass movement I was a part of were to get rid of Richard Nixon and end the war in Vietnam. And both of those things had happened by January 1975. Then for most people in the movement it was over. They got married and got jobs or went back to school. Meanwhile, those of us who wanted to have a thorough-going change in the social order and destroy consumerism were shrunk to a very small per cent of the population. When it became apparent that a revolution wasn’t gonna happen, I went back to being an artist and poet.

And what about the MC5’s role in it all?

[MC5 singer] Rob Tyner was a genius. He had the whole vision of what they would become. And we were all in it with him, totally dedicated to his idea of making the MC5 more than just a band. He wanted us to have an impact. Loudness was a huge part of the aesthetic. The MC5 tried to go out and murderise the audience every night. They wanted to leave them flat on the floor with the tops of their heads flapping back. Basically that was the goal: total destruction.

And radicalise everything in the process?

The music industry hated the MC5. We stood for everything they opposed. And we were taking so much LSD that we felt invulnerable. Then we’d run into trouble with the police. They’d try and shut down our shows and pull the electricity. You’d look out the window and see police patrol cars everywhere. The MC5 didn’t have a happy experience in the revolution, because like all left-wing activists everything they did was criticised by the people on their own side. They thought, ‘Fuck this, we’re just gonna make records and play shows. We’re not gonna do this anymore.’ I was furious, but what could I do?

Rob Hughes
Rob Hughes

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2008, and sister title Prog since its inception in 2009. Regular contributor to Uncut magazine for over 20 years. Other clients include Word magazine, Record Collector, The Guardian, Sunday Times, The Telegraph and When Saturday Comes. Alongside Marc Riley, co-presenter of long-running A-Z Of David Bowie podcast. Also appears twice a week on Riley’s BBC6 radio show, rifling through old copies of the NME and Melody Maker in the Parallel Universe slot. Designed Aston Villa’s kit during a previous life as a sportswear designer. Geezer Butler told him he loved the all-black away strip.