Friday, April 07, 2006:

MC5 -- Motor City Is Burning

MC5 -- Motor City Is Burning
MC5 were a proto-punk band from Detroit, like The Stooges, and in fact both of them were signed to Elektra at the same time. Their first album, which this track is from, is loud, muscular, and devastating, like Conan the Barbarian with a bloody maul.

Towards the end of the disc they drop "Motor City is Burning," a electric blues jam workout with a locked-in groove and the occasional guitar touches reminiscent of Magic Sam or Otis Rush or, more recently, Jimi Hendrix. The song comes off as relatively chill in comparison with the tracks before it (but not so much in comparison with the original by John Lee Hooker), but the lyrics are pointed and political.

The song is about the Detroit Riots of 1967, started after a group of police arrived at a bar to arrest everyone, including the two veterans fresh from VietNam and the 80 other people celebrating with them. The police in Detroit were overwhelmingly white, "protecting and serving" a population that was overwhelmingly black, and the police force was known for its brutality. It's the kind of scene that couldn't end well, for reasons that should be obvious, yet for some reason authority doesn't seem to grok that people don't like being subjugated.

After the police left, smashed windows led to days of looting and impassioned ineffectual pleas for peace, which led to Lyndon Johnson deciding the police couldn't handle the situation and maybe the National Guard could. By the time it was over 43 people had died and hundreds were injured. If you've ever been in a riot, or if you've heard of Kent State, or if you've seen much of the WTO protest footage, it probably won't be any surprise that a study of the riots found that the police and National Guard quickly became as disorganized, personal, and random in their violence as the looters, even after civilian violence had died down (specifically, Bergesen's "Race Riots of 1967: An Analysis of Police Violence in Detroit and Newark." Useem's "The State and Collective Disorders: the Los Angeles Riot/Protest of April, 1992" shows more of the same.)
[12th Street Riot writeup @ wikipedia]
[Rutgers writeup in need of a bit of proofreading]
[Allmusic bio of MC5]
[MC5 -- Kick out the Jams]

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HELL YEAH! Can't get enough of these guys! THey are so g-d great I have to end all my sentences with exclamations!!!! Put up more!

Good Job! :) for the Goldmine article I wrote on the band. Kramer, Thompson, and the Tyner family (among others) were all very good to me when researching the article, but Davis refused to assist in any way; too bad for him.

Huh, that's too bad... I always found Mike to be gracious and utterly approachable.

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