Michigan legends the MC5 were presented with the keys to the city of their hometown, Lincoln Park (a suburb of Detroit) on Sunday, July 12, as part of the celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the band forming. The event took place at the Kennedy Memorial Park, where the band played some of their first shows as teenagers.
Drummer Dennis Thompson, who still lives in the city, arrived to accept the keys from Mayor Tom Karnes, and later performed the band’s most famous rabble-rousing song, Kick Out The Jams, with local band Timmy’s Organism, while guitarist Wayne Kramer sent a message from his Californian home.
“There was a time when we weren’t so popular with the law enforcement here,” Thompson said. “Mostly because we said this word. Now this word was not said in a hateful way. It was said to tell people we were with you, it was rough times, with the Vietnam war people were dying, there was a movement with the feminists trying to gain equal opportunity, there was a movement with black people trying to get equal opportunities, and the country was at one point split 50⁄50 down the middle about the war… And we took a stand against the war. Because we met a lot of intelligent people that said the same thing: what the hell are we doing here? It was insane. So we got chased by the police, the FBI, state police, county police, distress unit. But today I can say 50 years later much progress has been made. What Kick Out The Jams meant was do your best, find out what you love in life and do it with all that you have… Don’t settle for less, don’t give up, fight.”
The late guitarist Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith’s keys were collected by his daughter with Patti Smith, Jesse Paris Smith, a musician in her own right who plays in her mother’s band and in Detroit alternative group Belle Ghoul, and who was seven years old when her father passed away. She said: “People of every generation were there, there were 15-year-olds and there were people who were there at the time. Everybody is so passionate about that band, people were saying, ‘It’s as iconic as Motown.’ But it’s not just an important band musically but historically and politically, they were so active. They weren’t just playing concerts, they were really politically aware and well-spoken about what was going on. They used the fact that they were on stage as a vehicle to talk about important issues, and they were so young. I just watch them on YouTube and think ‘Wow, you guys are so awesome.’”
Kramer’s message, read out by family members, added: “Where you’re standing now is where the dreams of a local kid with a guitar began. The streets that you travel are the same ones that I travelled, we are all connected. But you know what? There’s a deeper connection between us. That connection is the belief that if you go for it with all your heart, all your soul and all your might, you can make it happen. I did and you can too. You can take the boy out of Lincoln Park but you can’t take the Lincoln Park out of the boy. Nor would I ever want to. I am deeply honoured by your acknowledgement and I thank you.”
As well as the ceremony, the city’s Historical Museum is hosting an exhibition, MC5 50th: Fifty Years Of The Motor City Five, featuring rare photos, posters and memorabilia. It runs until September 7.