The University Record, June 4, 2001

Bentley Historical Library’s MC5 exhibition kicks out the jams

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

The MC5, circa 1968. (Image courtesy Bentley Historical Library)
Confrontations with police and its reputation for radical behavior and political involvement followed the MC5 (Motor City 5) band to its peak of popularity in 1968. Fans packed its stage shows and couldn’t get enough of its albums and singles, especially its trademark rendition of “Kick Out the Jams!”

Born into the social turmoil of Detroit in the mid-’60s and nurtured by southeastern Michigan native John Sinclair, the band was renowned for its radical and political stage behavior.

Featured in an exhibition at the Bentley Historical Library as part of the celebration of Detroit’s 300th anniversary, “Kick Out the Jams!: The MC5 Rock Detroit, 1968” chronicles the band’s rapid rise and fall.

“Although the success of the MC5 was short-lived,” says curator Nan Curtis, “the energy, power, political message and reckless abandon, all of which were the band’s hallmark in 1968, have continued to influence subsequent bands. Most notable is the MC5’s influence on the first punk movement of the late 1970s and early ’80s, and the neo-punk music of the 1990s.”

Prior to Sinclair signing on as the band’s manager, the MC5 was reasonably successful as Detroit’s Grande Ballroom house band, but the group was unable to break into the rest of the rock club scene. “They frequently had to borrow equipment and transportation. They were frequently late, if they showed up at all, and were often drunk and played music that was too loud or irrelevant to the audience,” Curtis says. So, few club owners would hire them.

Even after Sinclair took over the band’s management, the MC5’s reputation preceded it. A gig in Jackson was prevented by police order. Police presence at MC5 concerts was the norm, with officers often appearing in riot gear. “The MC5 continued to confront the police and drew the audience into the confrontations,” Curtis says.

“Throughout the summer of 1968,” she adds, “members of the band and John Sinclair were maced, beaten, fined and arrested for charges including assault and battery on a police officer, and disturbing the peace.”

Still the band’s popularity rose. Audiences responded to its political message, encouraging the MC5 to become even more outrageous with its music, stage show and pre-show confrontations.

“Kick Out the Jams!” will continue through August. Admission is free. The Library is open 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri.