Published on October 19th, 2018 | by Darren Paltrowitz0
MC5 Guitarist Wayne Kramer On His New Memoir “The Hard Stuff” & His Many Other Projects
As the co-founder of the Detroit-based band the MC5, Wayne Kramer is not only a rock icon, but widely credited as one of the founders of punk rock. Rolling Stone has included him on its list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time,” and Kramer has worked steadily in recent decades as a solo artist, in-demand collaborator, and composer for film and television projects. So even if you are not familiar with anthems like “Kick Out The Jams” (as covered by Jeff Buckley and Rage Against The Machine), “Looking At You” (as covered by The Damned) or “Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)” (as covered by The Melvins), you still probably know some of Kramer’s compositions by seeing Will Ferrell’s Step Brothers, Eastbound & Down or Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
2018 has brought the release of Wayne Kramer’s first memoir The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, The MC5 & My Life Of Impossibilities. Simply put, Kramer did not have an easy life, and he has overcome tremendous obstacles. Beyond the aforementioned memoir and composing work, Kramer also keeps busy with his Jail Guitar Doors — which provides instruments, workshops, and prison concerts across America — and his touring MC5 tribute called MC50 with members of Soundgarden and Faith No More; MC50 is currently in the midst of a U.S. tour, which will be followed with European dates.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Wayne Kramer by phone, and below are some of the highlights for The Hype. More on Kramer can be found online at www.mc50th.com, while more on The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, The MC5 & My Life Of Impossibilities can be found on the Da Capo Press website.
How long did you spend writing the book?
Wayne Kramer: Well it’s hard to say, because I started writing it about six years ago, maybe a little bit more actually, then you know kind of let it go for a while and then regained my enthusiasm for the project. Then when I had written about 90,000 words it looked like it was started to actually be a book and we got a publisher involved, Da Capo Press. Once we agreed on a deal that I was, you know, committed to, it took about six months of real work to take everything I had put it together with a bunch of new thoughts and new memories and go through the whole editing process. So you know you could say maybe it took a year to write the whole thing.
Were you talking the book into a recorder? Or did you actually yourself type it?
Wayne Kramer: I actually wrote every single solitary word in the book… I typed every word into my computer.
So now having spent that long writing it, ultimately I assume you made a lot of cuts and there’s a lot of things you left out. Does that leave you hungry to write a second book?
Wayne Kramer: Yeah it does. Actually I enjoyed the process. I’ve always liked writing and aspire to to be considered a writer. I mean, I’m a songwriter, but I also like narrative and prose. And so yeah, I’m thinking now about what are some things that I could talk about that might be useful.
It’s a very interesting time in your career, in my opinion, because not only of the book, you not only had the MC50 tour that’s been going on for a while. You also have Jail Guitar Doors, a lot of different projects… Do you still think of yourself primarily as a musician, as somebody that does a lot of projects, or do you have a different way of describing what you do?
Wayne Kramer: (laughs) I haven’t thought about that. Yeah I mean, first and foremost I try to think of myself as a human being and a father and husband. But in terms of my work and my effort in the world, the first thing would probably be that I’m a music person and then that shows up in a lot of different ways. I write music for film and TV. I write songs. I lead a band, play in other people’s bands. I run programs in prisons…
Now in terms of composing for film and television, I know you’ve worked on a lot of great projects. Eastbound & Down and so forth… What was the first project that you lent your hand as a composer?
Wayne Kramer: It actually started back in the 60s and in the original MC5. We had a couple of projects come in. One was scoring some scenes for a documentary film, Paradise Now, then we did some scoring for a really awful underground movie called Gold. So it started back… I think probably the thing that jumpstarted me was I wrote a theme for an extreme sports show, 5-4-3-2-1. That went well and the show was a big hit. So more work came out of that and I got to meet more people and they were ready for me to be “the new guy.” It’s kind of fun.
That’s very funny. And if I think about your career, you were in a cutting-edge band that still gets covered today, but of course there were some years where people didn’t want to know you, per se. When did you start to realize that the work that you did in the 60s and early 70s was influential?
Wayne Kramer: Well I kind of knew it right from the beginning. I mean, we talked about it a lot and we put a lot of effort into writing music and creating work that would have that would be of substance that wasn’t subject to decay with time. And so I always felt like the work had the staying power.
If the MC5 did get inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame next year, would the lineup playing at the induction ceremony be like the MC50 tour lineup currently playing with you?
Wayne Kramer: Well I probably would if we were, if we performed live, but I would certainly want Dennis “Machinegun” Thompson there to accept the prize.
Also on the MC5 end, is there any kind of update as to whether [the documentary] A True Testimonial might come out?
Wayne Kramer: Well I settled my legal questions with the filmmakers 10 years ago. So I am not stopping the movie today, and I’ve heard from people through the grapevine that some effort is being put into getting the film released. And I would support that — I never had a problem with the film My problem was always with the filmmakers… I would like to see the film come out, sure.
So in closing, Wayne, any last words for the kids?
Wayne Kramer: Kids, when you’re smashing the stage, keep a smile on your lips and a song in your heart.