MC5

An Oral Biography of Rock’s Most Revolutionary Band

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By Brad Tolinski

By Jaan Uhelszki

By Ben Edmonds

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A riveting oral biography of the proto-punk Detroit rockers MC5, based on original interviews with the band and key members of their inner circle
 
Few bands have dared to ignite a revolution through their fusion of activism and art like MC5. Managed by the charismatic radical and hippie spokesman, John Sinclair, MC5 wasn’t just a band; they were a thunderous proclamation of dissent, amplifying the voices of the marginalized long before it was fashionable. From championing Black Lives Matter to rallying for cannabis legalization, they fearlessly thrust their beliefs onto the world stage. For their efforts, the rabble-rousing musical arm of the White Panther Party, the scourge of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI and other defenders of public decency, were often beaten with clubs, threatened at gunpoint, tossed into jail, and even unceremoniously dumped by their record company, right as their album was storming up the charts—and all while the Sex Pistols were still on training wheels.

What has been lost amidst this notoriety is MC5 itself, a band worth remembering not because they were bad boys, but because they were so damn good. In MC5: An Oral Biography of Rock’s Most Revolutionary Band​, music journalists Brad Tolinski and Jaan Uhelszki invite readers to reconsider this legendary group. Centered around a series of interviews with MC5, their manager, and their inner circle—many of whom are no longer with us—that Tolinski and Uhelszki inherited from CREEM Magazine founding staffer and Mojo's US editor Ben Edmonds prior to his death, this book presents a genuinely candid, funny, and moving portrait of rock’s most uncompromising and articulate band. MC5 also features a virtual “who’s who” of 1960s rockers, including Iggy and the Stooges, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, promoter Bill Graham, John Lennon, the Jefferson Airplane, and political firebrands like Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, and Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver.

As innovative, insightful, and inspiring as the band itself, MC5 is a fitting testament to the legacy of these iconic rock pioneers—told in their very own words.
 

  • “Our band moved to Detroit because we saw that MC5 and the Stooges were part of an incredible rock & roll scene with plenty of places to play and a community of real rock & roll fans, radio and press.  There was nothing like it anywhere else in the USA.  MC5 would just explode onto the stage, amps and energy dialed-up way beyond 11.  A tight rhythm section supporting the two guitar attack of Wayne Kramer and Fred Smith and then frontman Rob Tyner, who was a force of nature onstage.  MC5 were synonymous with Detroit rock, and always will be. And this book is a true testimonial to that.”
    Alice Cooper
  • “The MC5 were a revelation when I first saw them in 1969, kicking out jams with a commitment I hadn’t seen from any of the other peace-and-love bands of the day. The future of rock personified! Fuck, they were great, and so is MC5: An Oral Biography of Rock’s Most Revolutionary Band.”
    Billy Idol
  •  “With MC5, Tolinski, Uhelszki, and from his writing desk in the great beyond, Edmonds, have created the definitive work on a band that more than a half-century after its dissolution, is still undeniably—and perhaps terrifyingly—relevant.”
    Tom Beaujour, New York Times bestselling author of Nöthin' But a Good Time
  • “An unruly jumble of Detroit proto-punk, radical politics, censorship, hard drugs, and music business machinations, the sadly short-lived saga of the MC5 was among the wildest and most intense in rock history. MC5: An Oral Biography of Rock’s Most Revolutionary Band captures their careening story with a candor and blunt force worthy of the band’s legacy.”
     
    David Browne, Rolling Stone, author of Fire and Rain and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
  • “A loving but unflinching account of how the magnificent beast that was the MC5 was laid low by its two conflicting imperatives: to be the greatest rock band in the world, and to righteously serve and further a counterculture revolution against the American Ruse. Like The Clash almost a decade later, they fought the biz and the biz won.”
    Charles Shaar Murray, author of Crosstown Traffic, Jimi Hendrix and Post-War Pop, Ralph Gleason Music Book Award winner
  •  "The story of the MC5 has been told before, but never like this: an almost real-time oral history of the legendary group's history as told by the bandmembers themselves, as well as crucial associates like manager John Sinclair, Detroit artist Gary Grimshaw, and their far-too-often overlooked girlfriends and wives. Culled from dozens of hours of interviews conducted by writer Ben Edmonds, who was there at the time, and edited by Brad Tolinski and another who was there, Jaan Uhelzski, the book is a fascinating and endlessly revealing first-hand account filled with previously unpublished words, mostly from people who are no longer with us. MC5: An Oral Biography of Rock's Most Revolutionary Band is the final, definitive word on one of the 20th century's greatest, most influential and perennially under-recognized groups. It brings to life the words of singer Rob Tyner, written just before his death in the liner notes to a 1991 reissue 'Kick Out the Jams,' their debut album: 'People of tomorrow: From the deep past, we salute you! Thunder in the night forever!'"
    Jem Aswad, executive music editor, Variety
  • “I'm afraid the world has no idea and will never know the full musical authority, integrity and force of nature that the mighty MC5 boys were at their peak 67–69! No recording ever came anywhere close to accurately representing their sheer musical power. Certainly, they deserve adulation for their critical thinking, revolutionary defiant stands and posturing, but as a musical entity they ranked right up there with Little Richard, James Brown, and all the greatest soul music masters of all time. Wayne, Fred, Michael, Dennis, and Rob put their heart and soul into every song, every gig, every lick, every night unleashing a ferocity of tightness and musicality second to none. Sharing the stage with them with my Amboy Dukes and witnessing hundreds of their concerts, we all stood in awe of their unique and dangerous energy. Their performances pummeled the senses with outrageous sophisticated yet raw and primal virtuosity that forced every other band to practice harder and dig deeper. Those motherfuckers were something to behold!”
    Ted Nugent
  • “The MC5 were the Rosetta Stone of revolutionary rock and roll, bringing together the freest of jazz with the highest energy impact of the music's insurrectionary power to empower and enflame.  Their political idealism matched their moment in time, when all seemed possible amid intense confrontation.  If their tale went aground too soon, their influence and dedication will ever provide a beacon of liberation through the power of rama-lama-fa-fa-fa.This intimate and detailed eyewitness and ear-witness account, from those who were memorably there, is the closest we will get to what it was like to feel the wind from the amps as the music poured off the stage and into one's spiritual awakening.”
    Lenny Kaye, guitarist, author of Lightning Striking: Ten Transformative Moments in Rock and Roll
  •  “There are two epic stories at work here -- the glorious dysfunction of the MC5 and the book itself, a grand and ambitious project thankfully rescued from incompletion. Brad Tolinski and Jaan Uhelszki have kicked out the proverbial jams in bringing what the late Ben Edmonds started to life, driven by their own Motor City roots and their years of writing at the upper echelon of music journalism to confront and make sense of the complexities and contradictions that make the MC5's tale so compelling -- and entertaining. The words of the group members and those around them leave us mourning for what might have been but more often celebrating, and perhaps even testifying about, what was achieved.”
    Gary Graff, veteran Detroit music journalist, co-founder of the Detroit Music Awards
  • “Mostly overlooked and under-appreciated, the MC5 certainly knew how to bring the ruckus. They were one of the best live acts to perform on this planet and their inspiring but often calamitous career has always cried out to be detailed in book form. Now — with this fine tome — that story is available for all to read.”
    Nick Kent, author of The Dark Stuff and Apathy for the Devil
  • MC5: An Oral Biography of Rock’s Most Revolutionary Band is the book that Brothers Wayne/Rob/Mike/Sonic/Machine Gun have deserved forever. Only fellow Detroit born-and-bred-ites such as Brad Tolinski, Jaan Uhelzski and the late Ben Edmonds could have crafted this volume, out of Edmonds’ extensive archive of interviews with all the principles. It’s the closest we will get to an MC5 autobiography, with Rob Tyner’s voice taking center stage, as he did all those late ’60s nights at the Grande Ballroom. Now, as then, Tyner is the spiritual heart of the Five, a fount of calm, sweet wisdom. Be there as these guys invent punk, refine heavy rock, and embody Lester Bangs’ vision of a band combining The Yardbirds’ sonic science with free jazz’s wild ambition. Thrill, as they forevermore demonstrate that any rock ’n’ roll which doesn’t deal with gritty, real-life issues is just so much pathetic, pandering nonsense. Children of the future, we bring you a testimonial—THE MC5!!!”
    Tim Stegall, editor at The Tim “Napalm” Stegall Substack and author of Anarchy In The Studio: Punk Music 1970-19, The Rise of Punk Rock

On Sale
Oct 8, 2024
Page Count
304 pages
Publisher
Hachette Books
ISBN-13
9780306833014

Brad Tolinski

About the Author

Brad Tolinski was the editor-in-chief of Guitar World magazine, the best-selling magazine for musicians in the world, for over 25 years. His is also the author of Eruption: Conversations with Eddie Van Halen, Light & Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page, and Play It Loud. He’s based in New York.

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Jaan Uhelszki

About the Author

Jaan Uhelszki is a co-founder of the legendary music magazine, CREEM, where she became one of the first women to work in rock journalism. As head of the news department at Addicted to Noise, she won the National Feature Writer Award from the Music Journalists Association and three Deems Taylor Awards. She’s based in Palm Desert, CA.

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