The Hard Stuff

Dope, Crime, the MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities


By Wayne Kramer

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The first memoir by Wayne Kramer, legendary guitarist and cofounder of quintessential Detroit proto-punk legends The MC5

“Voyeuristically dramatic.”THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
In January 1969, before the world heard a note of their music, the MC5 was on the cover of Rolling Stone. Led by legendary guitarist Wayne Kramer, the band was a reflection of the times: exciting, sexy, violent, chaotic, and even out of control. The missing link between free jazz and punk rock, the MC5 toured the country, played alongside music legends, and had a rabid following, their music acting as the soundtrack to the blossoming blue collar youth movement. Kramer wanted to redefine what a rock ‘n’ roll group was capable of, and though there was power in reaching for that, it was also a recipe for personal and professional disaster. The band recorded three major label albums but, by 1972-it was all over. Kramer’s story is (literally) a revolutionary one, but it’s also the deeply personal struggle of an addict and an artist, a rebel with a great tale to tell. From the glory days of Detroit to the junk-sick streets of the East Village, from Key West to Nashville and sunny L.A., in and out of prison and on and off of drugs, Kramer’s is the classic journeyman narrative, but with a twist: he’s here to remind us that revolution is always an option.



Happy the youth who believes that his duty is to remake the world and bring it more in accord with virtue and justice, more in accord with his own heart. Woe to whoever commences his life without lunacy.




My mother was a pragmatist. Of French ancestry, she was born in Detroit on November 15, 1927. Family lore has it that her mother’s parents owned property in Paris, but immigrated to Sarnia, Ontario, just north of Detroit. They relocated to the Motor City between the world wars because my grandfather Max was a bricklayer, and there was a lot of new building going on there.

In the ’40s and ’50s, Mable Evelyn Dyell was a real looker. She was a natural brunette, but dyed her hair blond, and had a great figure. Marilyn Monroe was the ideal, and Mable came close with her voluptuous hips, full lips, and platinum hair set in the latest styles. She understood her sexual power, and had a sly grin and wink of the eye that made you feel like you were the most important person in the world.

But she was also tough. She told me that when she was young, her father abused her, and she wouldn’t let anyone abuse her ever again.

Once, later in her life when she was semiretired and living in Florida, a friend’s enraged husband came into her beauty shop and threatened her with a pistol. She looked him straight in the eye, and told him to put the gun away before she stuck it up his ass. He did. She was fearless, and also exceedingly lucky that the guy wasn’t crazy enough to shoot her.

Hardened by deep poverty and with eleven brothers and sisters—which meant no one got enough attention or food—she developed a resolute way of getting things done that I’d like to think I inherited. She was from the Great Depression era, and had a harsh life growing up in pre- and post–World War II Detroit. She had persevered through hard times, and her work ethic was written in stone.

My father, Stanley George Andrew Kambes, was of Greek stock and was also born in Detroit on March 16, 1926. His father, George Karoumbus, also came to America as an émigré from the island of Corfu. His surname was Americanized at Ellis Island. My father’s father was a chef and owned a restaurant, George’s, at Monroe Avenue and Beaubien Street in what is now known as Greektown. His family only spoke Greek in the home and well into his adult life he carried a pocket dictionary to refine his English.

I was born Wayne Stanley Kambes in Detroit on April 30, 1948, at Lincoln Hospital on Twenty-Fifth Street. We lived nearby on West Grand Boulevard. My earliest memory is of a single moment lying in bed with my mother under soft lamplight with my head on her arm, feeling absolutely peaceful, safe, and loved. (I took acid in the sixties, and had a hallucination of being in my crib as a baby. Later I asked my mother if there were baby birds painted on the headboard of my crib, and she confirmed it.) My sister Kathi arrived on May 5, 1952, when I was four. Otherwise my memories of childhood begin when I was around five, and we lived on Harsens Island.

Harsens is a small, marshy island on the north side of Lake St. Clair, in Anchor Bay, about 50 miles north of Detroit, and just across the river from the town of Algonac. The only access to the island was a couple of small auto-ferries. In the winter, days or weeks went by without ferry service because the river was frozen.

The island was a paradise. The woods and swamps were my natural wonderland. In the summers, there was swimming in the river; in winter, the canals and marshes froze, and I could ice skate all over the island. We lived there for about three years.

My father had served in the Marines in World War II, and fought in the horrific South Pacific campaigns. He was wounded, and had shrapnel in his back and leg. When asked about his job in the Marines on job applications, his response was, “paid killer.” He returned from the war a profoundly damaged man.

I remember him talking about his experience only once when I was very young. We were visiting some of my parents’ friends, a Filipino woman named Sita and her husband, who was also a Marine. He and my father were drinking, and they got into an animated discussion of battles they’d been in, vividly recounting how the planes were strafing the beach and the shells that were landing around them. They talked loud and late into the night, but I never heard my father talk about the war again.

My mother and father fell in love as teenagers before the war. They were introduced by one of my mother’s brothers, my uncle Donald. My mother waited for my father while he went off to serve. My mother said he was “different” after the war.

In those days, they called it shell shock. After he returned, they married and soon he became a full-blown alcoholic. My mother repeated the tales ad nauseam: how he fell over on the bed, passed out drunk on top of me or my sister when she was a baby, and how he could have killed us. The usual litany of bad behavior that accompanies serious boozing. I was aware that he was my father, but emotionally, I draw a blank. I do remember learning to spell my first word, “B-A-R. That’s where Daddy goes.”

Stan had invested in a few acres of property with one of my uncles, and was building a house for us. We lived in a trailer on the site while he was building. I liked living in the trailer; it was cozy, and I felt safe. One night my father and his buddies went frog hunting, and brought home a couple dozen big frogs for a fried frog leg feast. He dropped the still-living frogs off at the trailer, and went to the local tavern with his pals. The frogs were in a few large paper grocery bags on the kitchen counter. In the middle of the night, they escaped the wet bags and were croaking and hopping all over the living room and kitchen. Big, bellowing, bleeding toads were everywhere. My mother was hysterical. She woke me up from a sound sleep, screaming, “Wayne, help! Do something about the frogs!” I thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever seen. My mom was distraught, and was pleading with me to save her from the frogs. Which, of course, I did. Life in the country was good.

I marveled at my father’s building skills. With a few friends, he dug the footings, poured the concrete foundations, and began framing out what would be our new home. He seemed to know how to do anything and everything. In these moments, he was my hero. He’d be sweating out in the sun with his shirt off, drinking beer, and I just thought he was the best. My father was a professional electrician. I thought it was the greatest thing ever when he strapped on his climbing spurs and flew up telephone poles to connect the power to the property.

A hundred yards or so behind our trailer, my uncles had stored the parts for several pre-fab homes: completed wall sections and roofs, interior partitions, doors, windows, lumber, and roofing supplies. They were going to assemble them at some future point and create a housing development on the property they owned. The walls and roof sections were stacked like cards, leaning against each other, creating perfect forts and hideaways for me and my friends to play in. I was probably seven years old.

One morning, I decided we needed a fire in the fort, and got some matches to start one. The house sections were covered with black tar paper, which ignited almost immediately. At first, I thought I could put the fire out. I had a Tinkertoy container, a cardboard tube with a metal bottom. I ran to the marsh, filled it with water, and ran back to the fort where the fire had spread. Another trip, and another. I was running so fast in the muddy swamp that my shoes came off. I was crying; this was getting out of hand, and it was my fault. The cardboard tube was soaked through and disintegrated in my hands. My friends all ran home. The fire grew out of control, and there was nothing else to do but go tell the grown-ups what was happening. I was in a terrible state of overload. My memory blanks out, but I do recall a lot of fire engines and firefighters. It was a really big deal.

The fire went on all day and into the evening. Fire companies from the surrounding communities joined in to bring down the conflagration. My mother told me that I had to meet with some child-psychologist types afterward to determine if I was a pyromaniac. The authorities determined I wasn’t dangerous, just a kid who shouldn’t have been playing with fire. I felt really bad about all the damage and trouble I caused. One of the firemen showed me the burns he received on his arms fighting the fire. He seemed to be proud of it.

Once my father was hired to wire a hobbyist’s massive model train setup. He took me to work with him and I was captivated with the trains. The man’s setup had mountains, cities, roads and rivers, dozens of locomotives, and hundreds of cars. It initiated a love of both model and actual trains that has stayed with me my whole life.

My father read a lot, and I couldn’t wait to learn to read. He could draw a rocket ship if I asked, and he was an excellent Lincoln Logs constructor. He would sit quietly in an easy chair and read and drink for hours. We all lived in the same house, but beyond that, he is a shadow. I have no memory of him holding me or comforting me. I can’t see his face. I don’t know his body or his smell. He is unavailable to me.

One day, out of the blue, my mother sat me down to tell me that she and my father were breaking up, and that we’d be moving back to Detroit. My world collapsed. I loved living on Harsens Island. The idea of moving back to the city was the worst thing I could imagine.

Moving day was a nightmare. We left the island on a beautiful summer day, just like so many others. I hadn’t known this kind of pain before. I knew that things were changing for the worst, but there was nothing I could do about it. We drove into Detroit, to my Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Herb Farah’s large brick house on the northwest side of town. We were pretty tight with the Farahs, and often spent time with them. They would come up to the island in the summer, and I’d have a ball with my cousins, Hal, Michael, Poppy, and Cynthia. I loved being around them. They were loud and raucous, but good kids.

By the time we arrived at their house, the weather had changed dramatically. Tornado warnings were issued, and all of us kids were sent to bed as the wind kicked up. It was a hell of a day. My family was ripped apart, my father was gone, and I was taken out of the world I loved and thrown into my cousins’ dark bedroom with the threat of imminent death. Tornados are terrifying. Without a storm cellar or basement, you’re at the mercy of the elements. But the Farahs didn’t have a cellar.

We survived the storm, and afterward my mother, Kathi, and I moved in with Mable’s parents on Livernois Avenue. Grandma and Grandpa lived in a wood-frame duplex that was massive to me. We all lived in the upper unit on the second floor, along with my big strapping uncles, Max and Dennis. I loved waking up in their bed between the two of them with the bright sunlight streaming in the room. I had never felt safer. They were supermen to me. Smart, handsome grown men both with a great irreverent sense of humor. On the other hand, my grandpa was a mean alcoholic and was drunk most of the time. He was loud and a bully, and he scared me when he was around. He’d barge through the house, usually with some drama: a broken finger or black eye from a barroom fight.

A few months later, my mother found a small one-bedroom, second-floor apartment she could afford on Michigan Avenue at Thirty-First Street. It had a room in the front for her first beauty shop. In 1943, when she was 15, she had attended the Dearborn School of Beauty Culture, where she’d earned her license as a hairstylist. She had left school in the eighth grade, and thereafter was self-educated. She named her shop La Belle’s Beauty Salon, and there was room for three chairs. It was upstairs from Vi’s Sweet Shop, an ice cream and soda fountain with a jukebox.

My sister Kathi and I shared the bedroom in the back of the apartment, which always smelled of permanent wave solution. Mable slept on a hideaway couch in the living room. My sister and I were both assigned small tasks to help out in the beauty shop. One of my jobs was to remove the little perforated papers from the curling rods so they could dry out and then be reused.

Mable was raised in the Catholic Church, and she insisted that I attend Mass at St. Hedwig’s nearby on Junction Avenue. She never went with me; she always slept in on Sundays. Kathi was too little, so I went alone. This was a meaningless exercise for me because the Mass was in Latin, and I had absolutely no idea what was going on. Everyone kneeled, so I kneeled; everyone stood up, so I stood up. I didn’t know any of the songs they sang, and based on the mumbled singing, neither did they. I did get the idea that love was good, and if I sinned, I would burn in hell for forever.

Mable believed in the American dream; that with determination and hard work, she could achieve a quality life. She had gone hungry as a kid, and she was committed to making sure that her children would never do the same. In fact, she was obsessed with making sure we weren’t hungry. She used an egg timer to force my sister and me to finish all the food on our plates. If the food hadn’t been eaten when the timer rang, there was hell to pay. Pavlov in reverse. I was in my forties before I retired from the clean-plate club.

In our early days on Michigan Avenue, meals were pretty uninspiring. To her credit, though, we always had something to eat. Campbell’s Tomato Soup with rice added to make it more filling was one of my least favorites.

Around this time, I couldn’t wait to learn to read. I suppose it was natural for me to emulate my father’s love of reading. I wanted to read the Sunday newspaper comics. I’d even read the labels on cleaning supplies. My mother bought a set of Encyclopedia Britannica, and I could find information on anything I was interested in. She also had a series of booklets on child-rearing. These I found especially intriguing. I sensed that the books on troubled children had something to do with me, but I wasn’t sure what. I also really liked Life and Look magazines. My mother had them in her shop for the customers, and I’d devour them. Between the magazines and the encyclopedias, I knew there was a big world out there. Somewhere.

Many times, I suffered bottomless fear in the apartment. My mother would work all day in the shop, and at night she worked a shift as a barmaid in a club on Michigan Avenue. She would leave for work after I went to bed, but I’d wake up and worry about where my mother was. I was afraid of what might happen to me and my sister all alone. I didn’t know which bar Mable was working in, and I didn’t know when or if she would ever be home again. This was chilling; my fear was to the bone. I felt a great responsibility to take care of Kathi (who slept through the night like a rock). Nothing bad ever happened, but the damage was done.

One day my father showed up and had a talk with my mother. She told me he’d borrowed 50 dollars for a deal he had going in South America. We never saw him again, and he never paid any child support.

I decided I would beat my father up if I ever saw him again. My mother encouraged this kind of talk, and I cast myself as her avenging angel. She called him a “rat” and a “bum” for running out on us. I vowed never to marry, so I’d never have to go through the pain of a divorce. But except for resenting my father for abandoning us, I was okay, and felt pretty secure most of the time.



At age nine, I was more than happy running the streets and alleys around Michigan Avenue and Junction Boulevard. In 1957, the neighborhood was bustling with shops and shoppers. I loved the early mornings when the sun was just rising, the streets and buildings were clean and fresh, and anything seemed possible. Mable did well in the beauty shop, putting in long hours and building up her customer base in the neighborhood. We soon had a TV and a record player. Our refrigerator was bought on credit. It had a small timer box on the floor; we had to keep putting quarters in to keep it running. My mother collected S&H Green Stamps to exchange for toasters and other household items. On Friday nights, I could stay up late to watch Shock Theater on television and scare myself silly.

These were boom times in Detroit. The great American promise was coming true. After winning World War II and getting through the war in Korea, everything was coming up roses.

Detroit was a bustling industrial center with good-paying union factory jobs. Work was available, and money was flowing. If something needed to be built, it could be built in Detroit. People were emigrating from the South for jobs at Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, and at the many small machine shops that made components for auto manufacturing.

But black people who came north for jobs and better living conditions found that Jim Crow’s northern cousin was alive and well in Detroit. Motor City racism was institutionalized from the top tiers of industry down to its poorest neighborhoods. Despite this, people kept coming.

The earning power of steady work created a city that was the crown jewel of American capitalism with an unlimited sense of possibilities. I was proud of the fact that great American cars were built in my hometown.

People took care of their homes and lots, and the streets and alleys were well maintained. There were excellent public parks and libraries. Bus service was good, and electric buses used the overhead wire power system until the ’60s. The city hummed with productivity and growth. Major streets were filled with thriving retail businesses, and bars and restaurants dotted the neighborhoods.

There were movie theaters all over the city. The Crystal Theatre was just on the next corner, and further down Michigan Avenue was the Kramer Theater. At age nine, I spent many happy hours in these air-conditioned palaces, soaking up everything Hollywood dished out in the late ’50s. I was obsessed with the science fiction film Forbidden Planet. The idea that the robot could be a friend appealed to me.

I went back to see the film a third time at a Sunday matinee. I was enjoying the movie when a teenager tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to “loan” him a quarter. I told him I didn’t have any money and I got up and moved down front where a bunch of loud young men were laughing and cutting up. I figured I’d be safe from the boy and his partner, but the usher said I had to move to the back. When I did, the two older boys followed and started bracing me again. By then, I was getting scared, and since I had seen the movie already, I thought I’d escape. The two boys came out of the theater behind me, cornered me in the vestibule of a store and started roughing me up. They towered over me. Terrified, I broke free and ran home. I didn’t tell my mother because I was ashamed that I hadn’t fought back. My shame was deepened by the fact that I’d had a jackknife in my pocket, but I’d been too afraid to use it.

Mable sent me back to fight kids who messed with me plenty of times. She demanded that I even the score. I would get righteously angry and head back ready to go to war, but usually when I returned to the scene, the kid I was looking for was gone. It almost never worked out as she wanted it to.

Growing up in Detroit, I could ride my bike all over the place. Everything was a great adventure. I spent a lot of time out on the streets by myself. My mother was working, and the city streets weren’t considered dangerous.

I met a kid at school, Tommy Pope, who invited me to his church. There, I discovered the Southern Baptists. First Temple Baptist was huge; a large population of white southerners who’d relocated to Detroit had brought their religion along with them. The church was bright, sunny, and open; not medieval, dark, and gloomy like the Catholics at St. Hedwig’s. The minister spoke in regular English instead of Latin. I could understand what he was saying, even if most of it didn’t connect. But most importantly, the congregation was very enthusiastic. They were happy to be there, which was appealing to me.

After church let out, my friend explained that if I were “saved,” I wouldn’t have to burn in hell when I died. I had been sure that was where I was headed because of my growing obsession with girls’ breasts, hips, lips, and everything in between. I knew I was sunk, but maybe this was a way out.

I told my mother that I was going to Tommy’s church. Her response was, “As long as you believe in something.” Mable was working two jobs, and by Sunday she was exhausted. She didn’t much care where I went to church, as long as I went somewhere.

After giving it some thought, one Sunday, I went up the aisle in front of the whole congregation. There must have been 500 people there. The preacher put his hands on my forehead and hollered, “Save this child, Lord!” I don’t know if the Holy Spirit entered me, but I shook to my bones.

Later that day, I was baptized in a pool up front that had a tile mural of John the Baptist and Jesus at the river’s edge. No one told me what to expect; I just put on the robe they gave me, wearing only my briefs underneath, and climbed down into the baptism pool. The minister put a folded-up handkerchief over my mouth and nose, leaned me back over his arm, and dunked me under. I thought the guy was going to drown me. I swallowed some water, and sputtered it out when he let me up for air. Sopping wet, I climbed out of the pool, and he moved on to the next person. I hadn’t brought any dry undies to put on afterward, so I had to put on my clothes over the wet underwear, which was pretty uncomfortable.

Following the service, there was a long receiving line in the vestibule where everybody welcomed me to the new “born again” life. All the women hugged me, and I was so overwhelmed that I cried.

After a week or so of heavenly purity, thoughts of what was under girls’ skirts returned, and I was moved to fondle my penis again. What the hell was going on? I’d thought all this evil behavior was done.

I questioned Tommy. He said that this was called backsliding, but that it didn’t matter because I had been saved. “Huh? What do you mean, it doesn’t matter?” He didn’t understand my question, and I didn’t get his answer. I felt like a fool. I was embarrassed. I had followed his lead, and I’d been betrayed. Now I hated his church and his God, and all this religious bullshit. If thinking bad thoughts and doing bad things didn’t matter, then none of it mattered. It was all a lie. God’s forgiveness was a ruse invented by church people. The real world didn’t work that way.

I rejected God, Jesus, religion, faith, prayer, heaven, hell, and everything that came with it. If you could be sentenced to eternity in a lake of fire for sinning, how could it be possible to escape such a fate by having someone yell over you and then getting dunked in a pool? Then go back and sin again and keep a clean slate? It defied logic and insulted my intelligence. I was furious about the whole business. I never really understood what adults were talking about when they tried to explain religion to me, because none of it made any sense. I understood the consequences of bad behavior. If I did wrong, there would be punishment in the here and now. I knew the difference between right and wrong; my mother had drilled her honesty and hard work ethic into me. She was egalitarian and a living example of self-determination and self-efficacy, but there was never a supernatural element to it. All this God/church/hell/heaven stuff was inconsistent to a degree that I couldn’t live with.

Soon I had an opportunity to commit a real sin. It was in my mother’s beauty shop that I first started to steal. I knew she kept cash in the desk drawer, and I was convinced there was no way she could know exactly how much money was in it. How could she keep track? There must have been 15 or 20 one-dollar bills. I would sneak out of bed, creep into the shop in the middle of the night, and lift a few one-dollar bills from the desk. A few bucks in the hands of a nine-year-old was a fortune, and made me a big man out on the street. You could buy a lot of Snickers bars and Dubble Bubble gum with money like that. I could buy plastic swords, yo-yos, marbles, slingshots, peashooters, and more.

I started boosting from stores out on Michigan Avenue as well. If I browsed around long enough, I was able to lull the employees into ignoring me so I could lift small items and pocket them. My mother was just too busy and too tired to monitor my comings and goings. There was power in stealing. It became my thing. I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway.

Walking the city streets at night in 1958 was not a big deal for a kid. I walked the 20 or so blocks home after the Boys’ Club of Detroit on Livernois Avenue closed at 8:00 PM without a second thought. I liked being out at night. The neon signs lit up the sidewalks with a magical glow. I felt safe; this was my kingdom, my play land. The Jet Coney Island diner was halfway home, and I’d buy an order of toast with butter and jelly for ten cents. This was a real treat after a long afternoon of sports, games, and swimming at the Boys’ Club. It had a big Seeburg jukebox, and from it I first heard the glorious deep tones of Duane Eddy’s electric guitar on “Rebel Rouser.” There was something compelling about that sound, like it was from another dimension, and was speaking a secret language just to me. It hit me in my groin.

There was a song I had been hearing on the radio about a fellow called Johnny B. Goode who played an electric guitar and people came from far and near to hear him play and some day he would be famous. I found out the artist’s name was Chuck Berry. He played so many notes, he just dazzled me. The notes came out of his electric guitar at a velocity that grabbed my attention in a way that nothing in my young life ever had before. It sounded unearthly. Magical. Powerful. I wanted to be that guy in the song. And I wanted to play the guitar like that, too.

My mother had a teenage friend who lived a few doors up from us. Annie would babysit me and Kathi on occasion. Annie was very cute; I used to watch her getting undressed from the rooftop of the building next door. I was hoping I’d catch her removing her bra, but I never did. Annie had some rock & roll records. One in particular was mesmerizing: “Ready Teddy” by Little Richard. Like the Chuck Berry record, it grabbed me so hard that I would stop at Annie’s apartment on my way to school in the morning, just to listen to it a few times before heading out. That music powered me up for the day.

I saved up my 25-cent-a-week allowance to buy my first 45 rpm record. It was Jimmie Rodgers’s “Honeycomb.” I was convinced that the song had a hidden message in the lyrics where he compared his girlfriend to a honeycomb. I thought the lyrics were referring to sex, which was taboo, and enticing. He was hinting at something that was mysterious and I wanted to know more. I was getting drawn into the power of rock & roll. It was suggestive, motivating, and mystifying all at the same time. There were things I knew in a practical sense, but there were also things I didn’t know yet that pulled me forward.


  • "Voyeuristically dramatic."—New York Times Book Review
  • "[This] book comes alive when bringing the reader into the heart of the late-'60s scene, where revolution seemed not just possible but plausible...The Hard Stuff is rarely poetic, but in its brutal honesty Mr. Kramer may succeed in deterring future musicians from contemplating serious drug abuse."—Wall Street Journal
  • "Kramer has written one of rock's most engaging and readable memoirs."—Rolling Stone
  • "By the time he turned 30, Kramer had been the lead guitarist in a legendary but star-crossed rock band, a playacting Detroit gangster, and a guest of the American carceral system. All this living is covered in his new memoir The Hard Stuff, along with Kramer's roundabout path to the life he leads today."—NPR Music
  • "There's nothing like an autobiography when it comes to really digging deep. Kramer's The Hard Stuff does exactly that. It's simultaneously brutally honest, heartbreaking, hilarious, and life-affirming...It's a frankly wonderful read."—Detroit Metro Times
  • "Often harrowing, sometimes hilarious and always compelling."—Buffalo News
  • "The 1960s rocker and (sometimes) revolutionary pulls no punches in his autobiography, delivering a detailed look at his life good (leading the rock powerhouse MC5, political activism during the late 1960s and early '70s) and bad (drugs, prison) in a voice as clear as the vocals on MC5's 'Kick Out the Jams.'"—Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
  • "An honest accounting of everything the title states, from the rapid rise and fall of the MC5 over the course of three albums, the heroin addiction and drug dealing that landed him in prison, and ultimately the defeat of those demons, redemption, and late-in-life fatherhood that he calls 'the most meaningful thing I've ever done.'"—Orange County Register
  • "The book, while detailing the struggle of an addict and an artist, is layered with the optimism of a man committed to seeing past impossibilities."—South Florida Sun-Sentinel
  • "For all the hardness of his life, his insights into addiction-drawn from his own, and his absent father's alcoholism-are shot through with an enduring, thoughtful empathy that makes The Hard Stuff such an endearing read."—MOJO
  • "Kramer writes with a self-lacerating clarity about life in The MC5 and their chaotic slide into drugs, disorder and prison. Every grim inch of the trip from boundary-smashing idealism to dingy realty is here, with a twist of redemption at the end."—Q Magazine
  • "Relives those energising days of the late '60s, when Detroit's MC5 mixed rock and revolution with free jazz and exceptional hair...An inspiring and redemptive tale."—Uncut
  • "A book as suited to the sociology section as the music aisle."—The Guardian
  • "He defied death, drugs and detention. Now MC5 legend Wayne Kramer has written an equally full-on memoir...Eye-opening...Wide-ranging...His journey from fatherless child to musical maverick to junkie to upstanding survivor reads like a history of the late 20th century."—TheObserver
  • "The MC5 are the ultimate cult band: a rebellious group from late-1960s Detroit whose raw, proto-punk take on rock'n'roll influenced everyone from the Sex Pistols to Primal Scream. They never made it, though, and when you read this memoir by the guitarist and leader Wayne Kramer, you begin to see why. The Hard Stuff can be read as a manual of how not to become a rock star. Drugs, band feuds, jail and radical politics all combined to prevent stardom. This is a story of bad luck and bad behaviour in equal measure."—Times of London
  • "By blending his own narrative with the trials of MC5 and by merging musical rebellion with social justice, the author has penned a contemplative diatribe against political authority."—Library Journal
  • "A thorough examination of his life, including musical adventures and drug misadventures that ultimately landed him in jail... The Hard Stuff covers the entirely of Kramer's life, with no attempts to hide any warts."—
  • "The Hard Stuff is a raw account of Kramer's life growing up in the increasingly mean streets of post-World War II Detroit, the glorious rise and precipitous fall of the MC5, and his decades-long addiction to drugs that led to his two-year bid in a federal penitentiary."—VICE's Noisey
  • "There's no hyperbole in saying that The MC5 were one of the most important bands to emerge from America during the 1960s, which is why it's so great that Wayne Kramer, one of the founding members of the band, decided to sit down and write himself a memoir...The end result-The Hard Stuff-turned out spectacularly."—Rhino
  • "Kramer's life has been a raging roller-coaster of euphoric highs and bottom-feeder lows. The now-sober superstar talks about all of it-the student demonstrations, police riots, crazy concerts, drug-fueled debauchery, wiretapping, marriages and divorce, prison time, therapy, recovery, and redemption-in his new memoir...Sure, we've been awed by other rock autobiographies...but we've never encountered a tale as turbulent and gritty as Kramer's. The Hard Stuff is a brisk, brutal page-turner wherein the Motor City 'white boy with the wah-wah' candidly chronicles the formation of one of rock's most outrageous ensembles."—
  • "Wayne Kramer's story is an incredible tale of rock 'n' roll redemption. The MC5 crystallized the '60s counterculture movement at its most volatile and basically invented punk rock music. But Wayne's life proved to be as chaotic as his groundbreaking guitar playing. Rogue, rascal, rebel, revolutionary, artist, addict, inmate, poet, prisoner, and now proud papa, Brother Wayne Kramer is one of the wisest people I know, and he has earned that wisdom the hard way. The world needs to know this man's story. Here it is."—TomMorello, guitarist of Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, and Prophets ofRage
  • "Wayne Kramer is the biggest badass in rock 'n' roll. Period. And The Hard Stuff proves it. Between these covers is a story of survival, talent, madness, dope, guts, and a sheer, fearless commitment to bringing straight-up enlightenment to this fascist, prison-happy nation we happen to inhabit--even if it meant putting his own freedom, and his own unbelievably epic life, on the line. This just may be the best memoir of the year."—Jerry Stahl, author of I, Fatty and Permanent Midnight
  • "Wayne Kramer bore first-hand witness to an unparalleled era of rebellion, freedom, and total craziness. The Hard Stuff brings that milieu back-to-life with a wildly compelling, vivid, and eloquent portrayal. It's the next best thing to having actually been there. I binge-read the whole book and, for the next week, could smell and taste the Grande Ballroom in my mind."—Don Was, producer andfounder of Was (Not Was)
  • "Reading Wayne Kramer's painfully honest autobiography was like savoring a real-life reverse murder mystery: how he ever survive to write this? World-class rock and jazz musician at the age of 20, progenitor of punk with the MC5, political and cultural revolutionary, heroin addict, alcoholic, residential B&E burglar, drug dealer, federal convict, nothing's omitted. Future generations of disaffected kids will read The Hard Stuff to learn the miracle of a life of music and survival."—Mark Rudd, author of Underground: My Life with SDS and theWeathermen
  • "In the grand literary tradition of finding meaning in the course of a life, guitar legend and rock music icon Wayne Kramer's deep and insightful memoir The Hard Stuff stands out like one of his piercing Fender solos. This is the story of a man ahead of his time, who has managed to carve a real life out of the shards of the magical but self-destructive life of his youth. Real wisdom arises from pain and loss, and Kramer has the chops to claim his place as a modern-day sage. That he stays grateful and humble is the best evidence of his personal growth. Read this memoir for a glimpse into the deepest reality of the human experience."—Kenneth E. Hartman,former prisoner, justice reform activist, and author of the Eric HofferAward-winning memoir Mother California: A Story of Redemption BehindBars

On Sale
Jul 21, 2020
Page Count
320 pages
Hachette Books

DaCapo_9780306921544_Kramer_credit Jim Newberry

Wayne Kramer

About the Author

WAYNE KRAMER was a cofounder and guitarist of Detroit’s incendiary rock band the MC5, and a notable activist for racial and economic equality, which made him a target of the FBI’s counterintelligence program. After serving a federal prison term, he cofounded the charity Jail Guitar Doors with Billy Bragg, released a dozen solo albums, and has gone on to score countless feature films, cutting-edge documentaries, and notable series for television. He is considered a pioneer of both punk rock and heavy metal.

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