The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities

The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities

The first memoir by Wayne Kramer, legendary guitarist and cofounder of quintessential Detroit proto-punk legends The MC5 In January 1969, before the world heard a note of their music, The MC5 was on the cover of Rolling Stone. The missing link between free jazz and punk rock, they were raw, primal, and, when things were clicking, absolutely unstoppable.Led by legendary gui...

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Title:The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities
Author:Wayne Kramer
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities Reviews

  • Nestor Rychtyckyj

    Wayne Kramer remains a divisive figure in his hometown of Detroit. For all of the accolades he rightly deserves for helping create the MC5 and his long distinguished career in music after the MC5, there are many who dismiss him for various things he has done over the years. Why did he stop the release of the MC5 documentary, why wasn’t he at the MC5 50th anniversary celebration in Lincoln Park, why isn’t he including Dennis Thompson or any other Detroit musicians in the current MC50 tour? These

    Wayne Kramer remains a divisive figure in his hometown of Detroit. For all of the accolades he rightly deserves for helping create the MC5 and his long distinguished career in music after the MC5, there are many who dismiss him for various things he has done over the years. Why did he stop the release of the MC5 documentary, why wasn’t he at the MC5 50th anniversary celebration in Lincoln Park, why isn’t he including Dennis Thompson or any other Detroit musicians in the current MC50 tour? These questions and his motives are often discussed passionately throughout the Detroit music community. Wayne hasn’t addressed these issues directly, but now comes his autobiography – “The Hard Stuff” where Brother Wayne definitively tells his own story.

    “The Hard Stuff” is 311 pages of Wayne Kramer laying himself open to the world. As with his guitar playing – he holds nothing back. From his birth in Detroit through the history of the MC5, his subsequent prison term and his rehabilitation both personally and professionally, Wayne Kramer stands alone as a rebel who still passionately holds onto his beliefs. The story of the MC5 has been told numerous times and we all know that the band will implode after releasing three under-appreciated albums and inspiring generations of future punk rockers.

    The chapters on the MC5 are fascinating and provide as good a look into the band as we will ever see as three of the other four members have passed away. Throughout their existence they were plagued by bad decisions, lack of support from the record companies and their own irresponsible behavior. One telling point that Wayne Kramer points out is that the Mc5 were constantly late for shows and promoters stopped booking them. The political stand of the MC5 didn’t help sell too many records, but Wayne is hurt much more when the radical groups that the MC5 supported turn against the band for co-opting revolutionary change for profit. The death of the MC5 is described without any drama – their time had passed and it was over. Kramer walks off the stage at the Grande and closes that part of his life. He barely mentions his old bandmates anymore in the book until he’s told of the passing of Rob Tyner and Fred “Sonic” Smith and the creation of the DKT/MC5 many years later.

    The MC5 is over, but Wayne Kramer continues to slip deeper into drug addition and crime. He is eventually arrested for selling drugs and spends four years in prison. This Wayne Kramer becomes much more open as he details his long battle with drug and alcohol addiction. Punk rock comes along and gives his career a jolt as the MC5 along with the New York Dolls and the Stooges stand as seminal influences on every punk band in the world. The Clash write a song about Wayne Kramer and a benefit single to help raise money for Wayne Kramer is released. Kramer continues to write and perform, but only resurrects his career in the 1990’s with Epitaph Records.

    This part of the book really does resonate as Wayne Kramer bares his soul and finds a way (with help from many great people) to finally turn his life around. He finds love, builds a thriving career and even becomes a father. Wayne talks about making good with the people that he hurt; he works to settle the MC5 accounts with various record labels and to ensure that the members and their families are getting paid the royalties. He creates a charity called Jail Guitar Doors (jailguitardoors.org) that helps prison inmates adjust by donating guitars and sponsoring workshops and musical performances at the prisons. Of course, he also brings back Michael Davis and Dennis Thompson with the DKT/MC5 for a tour with many guest musicians to help celebrate the legacy of the MC5. (P.S. it was a great show at the Majestic)!

    And yet looking through the comments about the upcoming MC50 show in Detroit – there are still many here who seem to think that Kramer owes the people of Detroit some apology. He doesn’t talk about the MC5 movie in the book and admits that the relationship between him and the late Michael Davis and Dennis Thompson was not the best. Who really knows – the MC50 show is a sellout despite the griping and I for one am thrilled that Wayne Kramer has given us this book as well as so much great music over the years.

    Disclaimer: This review was written while listening to the MC5 and “The Hard Stuff” CD.

  • Sean Kottke

    Wayne relates his life with the same intensity that characterizes the MC5's music: vivid, painful, melodic and exhilarating.

  • Wendy Pakrul

    Wow!

  • Phil

    You can read my review of the book here:

  • Jason

    I think it is too perfect for words that Wayne Kramers's memoir has come out just in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. I wrote my master's thesis on cinematic representations of the events of August 1968, specifically the unrest that broke out in Chicago during the convention and the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. As Kramer mentions in passing, his group The MC5 were the only band that went to Chicago expressly to perform for the protestors there

    I think it is too perfect for words that Wayne Kramers's memoir has come out just in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. I wrote my master's thesis on cinematic representations of the events of August 1968, specifically the unrest that broke out in Chicago during the convention and the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. As Kramer mentions in passing, his group The MC5 were the only band that went to Chicago expressly to perform for the protestors there that summer. 1968 was one of the truly central years of the 20th century and The MC5 represented in more combative and voluble a fashion than any other rock band the youth movement's radical cultural and political cutting edge. The MCR and their manager John Sinclair (head honcho of the White Panther Part) famously stood for "Dope, Guns, and Fucking in the Streets." These were politically engaged hedonists with a radical agenda operating at a time when the future genuinely felt like it could be written by young men and women appalled by the status quo. The MC5 were central to all of this and Wayne Kramer was the prime mover behind the MC5. THE HARD STUFF moves ahead at a steady clip. It doesn't get bogged down in details or belabour its recounting. Kramer gets us through his youth and all the way through the rise and fall of his preeminent band in less than 150 pages. This is not to say that he fails to capture a vision of himself enmeshed in extraordinary historical processes. Not hardly. Perhaps the wildest and most powerful passages about the tumult of the 1960s relate to the Detroit riots of July 1967 (recently the backdrop of Kathryn Bigelow's DETROIT). Kramer imparts with palpable effect how it felt like the world as he knew might be coming to and end. While the THE HARD STUFF is indeed the memoir of a renowned guitar player who more or less lead one of the greatest rock bands of all time, it is also the work of a survivor. The book most likely would not exist at all and certainly would not take the form it takes if Kramer hadn't gotten clean and sober later in life. Towards the end of the book, Kramer sums up its (and his life's) themes: "love, music, prison, service, social justice, and political activism." I myself am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict and I immediately see in that simple word "service" one of the core principal tenets of twelve-step recovery. Though he claims to have some issues with what he calls "orthodox" recovery (clearly meaning twelve-step recovery), that is clearly how Kramer got sober and his book is generously arrayed with its lingo. He speaks earnestly and with wisdom about the infantile ego of the addict and the toxic self-seeking that characterized his life pre-recovery. Kramer puts things simply and could hardly be said to lecture; he may well have a message which will be of tremendous value to readers who are struggling with their own demons (and we addicts if nothing else have a tendency to share the same demons). Kramer was arrested and ended up serving two-and-a-half years in prison in his twenties after attempting to sell a sizeable amount of cocaine to an undercover agent. The first section of THE HARD STUFF focuses on youth and The MC5, the second part on crime and incarceration, and the third on the long road to recovery and genuine belonging. Part of Kramer's life of service dovetails perfectly with political activism and is born of his time behind bars. He and Billy Brag front an organization called Jail Guitar Doors (after a song by The Clash partially about Kramer) devoted to getting inmates to express themselves through music. It might seem reductive to say that THE HARD STUFF is a book about growing up belatedly, but it is indeed in no small part that, and genuinely growing up in this day and age is no small accomplishment. THE HARD STUFF does not go especially deep (speeding right along as it does), and Kramer isn't a whole lot more than a serviceable prose stylist, but it is a book that means a lot to me. My passion for the avant-garde of popular music forms means that I have long lionized The MC5, and my own experience of the trials and tribulations of getting clean and staying sober means that Kramer is not only one of "my people," but a genuine leading light. And who could not love a seventy-year-old rock icon excited at the prospect of teaching his five-year-old adopted son about Aristotle?

  • Carlton Duff

    A warts and all autobiography that is obviously a must read for any fan of the MC5 or Mr. Kramer’s other musical vehicles, but my 4 stars could be a little higher than this book deserves but, but “let me be who I am, and let me kick out the jams”

  • Alex

    I wanted to love this book, but I just couldn't. The beginning was okay, when artists go into their childhood, there are parts that can be interesting, but for the most part a lot of it is lack luster. I know they're trying to set the stage for what happens in their adulthood, but that's not what I'm interested in reading. I'm interested in The Hard Stuff, like the title says. That part of the book, was about a third of it, and even then, the hard stuff section wasn't super exciting, it had some

    I wanted to love this book, but I just couldn't. The beginning was okay, when artists go into their childhood, there are parts that can be interesting, but for the most part a lot of it is lack luster. I know they're trying to set the stage for what happens in their adulthood, but that's not what I'm interested in reading. I'm interested in The Hard Stuff, like the title says. That part of the book, was about a third of it, and even then, the hard stuff section wasn't super exciting, it had some interesting parts, but nothing really grabbed me.

    After you got past the hard stuff, and the later stages of life, the book tended to do what a lot of these old musicians do, drone on about the part of their life that only true fans care about. I want to read the juicy good stuff, not the part where you tell me about being 50 and drunk, it's tedious and boring. I'm beginning to expect this now from any musician that doesn't know when to call it a day. The legend certain bands and musicians have is based on a time and a place. Once they're past that and reliving it on stage in an older shell of themselves, it's just boring to me, which is that section of the book also.

    I felt like this book could have been edited down to half the length and it would have been way more exciting.

  • Matt

    Disappointing. Kramer's lived an interesting life, been in a cool band, had some hard knocks, but he doesn't go into any of it in depth or says all that much about it to make it sound different than your usual rock n roll story of excess, rock bottom, and redemption through rehabilitation.

    He seems like a really good guy, and is a fine guitar player (just saw him live with the MC50!), but wasn't blown away by this book all that much.

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