Seeing the nominees for this year’s Rock Hall class, I’m starting to feel like the writers who, year after year, banged on the “Get Art Monk into the Pro Football Hall of Fame!” drums until it finally came to fruition last August. Or the disgusted Red Sox fans who want their beloved Jim Rice in Cooperstown — and have half a shot next year because steroids are making currently eligible sluggers look mighty artificial.
At the risk of sounding like a tired old dork even before I start, here we go: There is no reason on earth the MC5 should be held out of the Rock Hall one more year! These guys pretty much took the pieces of protopunk lying around the gritty Detroit garage scene in the mid-’60s–attitude, look, volume, aggressive playing, hardcore screaming, devil-may-care attitude toward political authorities–and fused them into actual punk. Heavy, 1960s Blue Cheer/Deep Purple-ish punk, but punk nonetheless. The MC5 influenced so many early (and late and even current) punks that it’s just too ridiculous to begin counting.
Why is the Rock Hall ignoring them? One writer with whom I frequently exchange emails (and who occasionally comments on my posts as MojoHater) has floated out the conspiracy theory that the Rock Hall is what he refers to as “a Jann Wenner circle jerk,” and because Rolling Stone whomped on the band back in the day, they’ve been unofficially blacklisted. I can see that happening, but I can also see how the MC5’s radical politics — which some might say were kind of a marketing scheme that backfired — might also be something the Rock Hall is ‘fraid to endorse. Oh wait. This is rock. Forget the political discussion. The more outrageous you are, the more beloved you become — whether you’re right or not.
Like a lot of flameouts from the 1960s, drugs slayed the MC5 before they made it Led Zeppelin big. Certainly, had they gotten their stuff together, they could have been the American answer to Zep during the 1970s, kinda the way the Beach Boys tried to be the American answer to the Beatles in the 1960s. I leave you with two tracks from the Purity Accuracy box, a rehearsal of their beloved Chuck Berry composition “Back in the USA,” and a little filler track proving that even the big, bad MC5 paid its dues playing weddings and bar mitzvahs.
There is no doubt these rabble-rousers belong in the Rock Hall, if for no other reason than they were the only band with balls big enough to play at a rally outside the 1968 Democratic Convention — many members of rock’s royalty had pledged to come to the outdoor festival, but every single one of them chickened out at the last minute, fearing the worst. How often do we see rock stars and celebrities practice their limousine liberalism, espousing the virtues of the working class but being afraid to walk among them?
MC5, according to the still-kind-of-unreleased rockumentary A True Testimonial (I’ve seen it, it’s bloody well perfect or close to it), weren’t scared. They showed up to an audience in Chicago ready to rock — and, apparently, riot — but the situation had deteriorated to the point where the band had no support. So they plugged into a single outlet from an extension cord a hot dog vendor was using to power his cart, kicked out the jams, and got the hell out of Chi-town as the helicopters circled and the Guardsmen busted out their batons, tear gas, and fire hoses.
Tell me, again, what Gene Pitney did to earn his place in Cleveland? Feh.