Power To The People!

From a time when revolution was more than just a marketing concept ...

Hard as it may be to believe now, there was a time when people thought that

rock 'n' roll could be a force for revolution -- not just in the sense of

changing the way people lived their lives, but in the sense of overthrowing

the government. The MC5 were the leaders of that school of thought, and

though they ultimately didn't revolutionize anything but some people's

ideas of what a band could sound like, they were thinking big from the

get-go.

Which is what Starship documents. A wobbly, distant audience tape

of a June 1968 live show in Sturgis, Mich., it captures the band a few

months before it was signed to Elektra Records but while it was still

spreading the gospel of sticking-it-to-the-Man across the VFW halls and

town centers of the Great Lake State. This was the time when the MC5 were

running into lots of problems with cops, as well. Their former manager (and

professional former credible revolutionary) John Sinclair tells the story

in the disc's liner notes, slaveringly explaining that the police "hated

the music, the noise, the fumes of sweat and illicit sex, they hated ...

teen-age girls without brassieres or drawers underneath their flowing

garments, tight jeans or miniskirts." As, y'know, who wouldn't?

Most likely, judging by the evidence of Starship, the real

problem was the noise: Even in this sub-awful fidelity, this sucker is

loud. Wayne Kramer's and Fred "Sonic" Smith's guitars are cranked up

all

the way, tearing at each other like fighting bears. If singer Rob Tyner's

demands for the people to come together and strike a positive blow for

blah-blah-blah-whatever meander into bad-Jim-Morrison territory --

especially on

the quasi-improvised "Revolutionary Blues" and their set-ending standard

"Black To Comm" -- it doesn't matter: They're mostly buried under those

glorious waves of guitar noise anyway. And when the 5 cover other people's

songs -- a long medley of then-current James Brown hits, "Tutti Frutti,"

Albert King's "Born Under A Bad Sign" -- Tyner's pseudoprofundity isn't an

issue.

That's another thing Sinclair gets wrong. He dismisses those covers

as holdovers from the days when the MC5 had to please teeny-bopper crowds,

which is disingenuous, especially considering that they kept playing "Tutti

Frutti" for years. The fact is that all the musical power and sympathy

for the black-power movement that the MC5 found in their Sun Ra and Pharaoh

Sanders adaptations (which also can be found on Starship) were just as

much in those blues and funk and rock 'n' roll covers. Their force and

directness, in fact, was what the band aspired to in its own

songwriting -- there's really not that wide a gulf between "awop bop aloobop

alop bam boom" and "Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa." Finding ties between themselves

and their fellow declared-revolutionaries was important to the MC5, but not as

important as finding the revolutionary impulse in everyday life and in the

rock 'n' roll that had sustained them and the young people at whom their

message was directed.